Michael Wallace Named 2019 SunTrust Distinguished Leader of Merit

michael wallace

Crummer Early Advantage MBA student Michael Wallace will continue his leadership journey as a Guest Experience Manager with The Walt Disney Company at the Walt Disney World Resort.

It was a week Michael Wallace describes as hard to put into words.

Just three days before being named the SunTrust Distinguished Leader of Merit, Crummer’s highest honor for leadership, Michael also received an offer for his dream job: a management position with the Walt Disney World Company.

“It was everything for me. Being named the 2019 SunTrust Distinguished Leader of Merit was the capstone of my Crummer experience,” said Wallace. “It was very emotional because I knew I had also received an offer from Disney earlier that week.”

Created to recognize students who show exceptional leadership development and commitment, the SunTrust Distinguished Leader of Merit award is given each year to a second-year student in Crummer’s Early Advantage MBA program.

The criteria for the award includes behavioral assessments, participating in leadership programs and coaching, course completion in leadership, and community service. Students who meet the criteria develop a leadership portfolio that includes their future leadership objectives, written reflections, and references. The entrants are then judged by a panel of Central Florida business leaders who serve on the Leadership Center’s Business Advisory Board.

Gillian Dobbin and Sophie Chateauvert were honored along with Michael as the finalists for the SunTrust Distinguished Leader of Merit Award.

“Gillian and Sophie are terrific individuals with a bright future and to be recognized as a leader among leaders along with them is remarkable. I had the pleasure of working with them throughout the MBA program and they both have bright futures in what they want to pursue,” said Wallace.

Throughout his leadership journey at Crummer, Michael led an international consulting project along with five of his fellow students for his Integrated Capstone Experience. During this project, he made two trips to Mexico, working directly with executives from TOKS Restaurante Group on developing recommendations to advance TOKS’ corporate social responsibility strategy and ultimately, bring an end to poverty in Mexico through job creation.

suntrust distinguished leader of merit

Michael was instrumental in helping launch the Crummer Speaks speaker series that brought in multiple C-Suite level executives to share their story with Crummer students. He was also heavily involved in the Center for Leadership Development’s Lunch and Learn series, where business leaders were invited to share their advice for young leaders and their own paths to leadership.

“Michael is the embodiment of a global, responsible and innovative leader,” said Dean Deborah Crown. “He, along with the other nominees, exemplifies not only our focus on leadership education, but our goal of creating leaders who directly impact their organizations and community. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for him.”

Michael moved to Central Florida after graduating from Siena College in New York and accepting a position as a frontline cast member at Disney. Not long after being in Orlando, he started to realize the power of a Crummer MBA degree. With aspirations of becoming a leader within the Walt Disney World Company, Crummer and its top ranking as the number one master’s program for leadership by HR.com started to pique his interest.

He first got an idea of what to expect out of the MBA program by completing the mini-MBA program offered by the Management and Executive Education Center. He enrolled full-time at Crummer in fall of 2017.

During his first year, Michael did everything he could to absorb what it takes to become a business leader.

It was in his second year, where he says his transformation as a leader started to take place.

The Crummer mentor program, offered to students who have completed their core curriculum, matches students with a business leader who can help accelerate the student in their leadership journey and their career.

For Michael, it was his mentor, Leigh Anne Nieman ’07MBA, who was instrumental in helping him become the leader he is today.

“She helped mold my leadership style into the Disney framework and the Disney way. So that was a transformational point, having those discussions along the way with her meant a lot in terms of reflection,” said Wallace.

Nieman, who works at Disney Vacation Club herself, says Michael was a willing and coachable mentee.

“One of the best qualities about Michael is his willingness to be open and take feedback knowing it will only serve to make him better. I saw him persevere and digest a lot of information, which eventually led him down the successful path he is on today,” said Nieman. “His continual interest to grow as a leader and a person was truly inspiring.”

Michael also says his experience participating in the Integrated Capstone Experience with TOKS Restaurante Group was his second transformational point of his leadership journey.

distinguished leader of merit

“That was the other transformational point. Really being able to apply everything into a very specific consulting project that is really end to end. You’re designing it, developing it, and having checkpoints along the way with executive leaders,” said Wallace.

Dr. Mary Conway Dato-on, the professor facilitating the international consulting class, says she saw Michael grow not just academically, but as a leader as well throughout the Integrated Capstone Experience.

“Multiple examples of Michael’s leadership capacity were evident during the course. One that stands-out is when he spearheaded the panel with the consulting project clients and alumna Lauren Maxwell ’13MBA. Michael needed to communicate and coordinate across numerous stakeholders to motivate students to attend while facilitating a high-quality learning experience,” said Dr. Conway Dato-on. “The event was a great success. I have enjoyed working with Michael immensely throughout the project and look forward to continued interaction on what I’m sure will be a very successful career.”

Dr. James Johnson, Professor of International Business, another influential faculty member during Michael’s MBA journey, echoes the sentiments shared by Dr. Conway Dato-on.

“Michael’s leadership qualities were evident from the outset of the MBA program,” said Dr. Johnson. “The purpose of the Distinguished Leader of Merit award is to recognize an individual who best exemplifies the qualities of ethical and responsible leadership, and who has applied these characteristics and practices at Crummer and in the community. I can think of few students who match this description as well as Michael Wallace.”

After graduating from Crummer, Michael will be joining Disney as a guest experience manager at Coronado Springs as part of the Disney Hospitality Leadership Program, which is their management training program.

“To be able to take my MBA and now go and help others within the Disney operation is incredible,” said Wallace.

Equipped with a Crummer degree and endless leadership potential at his dream company, Michael can’t thank the Center for Leadership Development enough for taking him through this process.

The Center’s Assistant Director Selina Vik says a service-focused perspective is exactly what they look to provide for students navigating through the leadership roadmap.

“A legacy of leadership development excellence is being built here at Crummer,” said Vik. “We are so proud of all our students who applied for the SunTrust Distinguished Leader of Merit award and know they will all be successful in their future endeavors.”