Alumnus brings business savvy, leadership, back to Division
July 6, 2015
Michael Weiss traded in his white lab coat for a green eyeshade early in his career. Now, he’s bringing back some of his business savvy to his alma mater as an inaugural member of the Division of Biological Sciences Alumni Leadership Board.
Weiss admits accounting was not a career he originally envisioned for himself. Like many biology majors, Weiss first saw scrubs in his future. When he came to Mizzou, Weiss was accepted into the highly competitive Conley Scholars Program, which gives qualifying participants pre-admittance into MU’s School of Medicine.
“I probably had utopian views of wanting to cure cancer and save the world type of stuff,” he says.
However, once he declared biology as a major, Weiss says he really became fascinated with science itself. “Whether it was genetics, physiology, animal science, etc., it all interested me throughout college,” he says. He soon traded in his dreams of scrubs for a lab coat.
After he graduated with his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 1995, Weiss joined a research lab in Mizzou’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where he conducted research on a genetic link to hepatitis susceptibility in mice. He was still considering what type of career he wanted to pursue when he stumbled across some people in accounting whose careers, he recalls, “were moving a bit faster than my own.” His interest was piqued.
“I took a few accounting classes while still working as a biologist and then I just decided to take a risk and switch,” he says.
The risk paid off.
In two years, Weiss completed his master’s of accounting degree at Mizzou. He immediately landed a job as a junior staff accountant with Ernst & Young in his hometown of St. Louis. He rose quickly through the ranks. Today, Weiss is Executive Director of Advisory Services for Ernst & Young, where he leads the accounting firm’s outsourced internal audit services for the Central Region Energy Sector.
Although he did not pursue a career as a biologist, Weiss says his scientific training has definitely paid dividends in his career choice. “To this day, my science foundation has unbelievable benefits to me in business,” he says. “A lot of people say that science and business are different, but business is a science.”
The same elements present in traditional scientific inquiry, Weiss says, are important to the world of business. Why did one business succeed? Why did another fail? Weiss believes those questions have answers that can be known through careful and rigorous analysis.
“For me, there is always a reason. Everything can be explained,” he says. “The diligence to sit down and diagnose a situation and find a cause like a scientist does is a skill that, to this day, is still useful to me.”
Weiss is quick to add that, though his scientific foundation has been important, he ultimately credits the support of his family for his success. “It’s not my accomplishment — it’s our family’s accomplishment. My wife’s support has been invaluable. We are a great team.”
Though he didn’t forget his scientific training, Weiss admits that he did lose touch with his biological roots over the years. “I simply decided that I wanted to become an accountant and never really looked backed,” he says.
That is, until he got a letter last spring inviting him to be an inaugural member of the Division of Biological Sciences’ Alumni Leadership Board.
“It was exactly Mike’s career choice that I value,” says Dr. John C. Walker, Curators’ Professor and Director of the Division, who invited Weiss to be a member of the new Board. “We have a diverse alumni base, and I want our Board to reflect that diversity.”
The Division has many alumni who are doctors and research scientists. But, Walker says, they are also teachers, researchers, medical professionals, veterinarians, lawyers, business professionals, entrepreneurs, and more. Importantly, he adds, “many, like Mike, are leaders within their chosen fields and organizations.”
As for Weiss, he sees the Alumni Leadership Board as a great opportunity to reconnect with the department and help other alumni do so as well.
“I’m happy to be a part of that solution,” he says.
If he could offer advice to current undergraduate students, Weiss says he would encourage them to never close the door on opportunities.
“All your life, be willing to try something new,” he says.
Written by: Melody Kroll
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