Excellence in Action
Michelle B. Techel ’96
Interviewed by Stephen Mendoza • December 6, 2017
Describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
Overall, I would best describe my career path as a recipe that includes three main ingredients: drive, desire to learn and a willingness to make leaps to adjacent fields. I have always tried to look for opportunities that will teach me the most, that foster my need to build new things and that continue to expand my horizons.
When I graduated from UCLA, I went straight to work at The White House, which provided me an amazing opportunity to travel around the country and the world. I worked on political campaigns and would travel with, in this case President Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton, and help set up the logistics associated with their public appearances or meetings. This opportunity broadened my horizons and opened me up to endless possibilities. I quickly secured advance and communication roles on the campaigns, the Presidential Inaugural Committee and The White House before moving over to the U.S. Treasury.
At the U.S. Treasury, I worked in the Public Affairs Department and helped launch the redesign of the U.S. currency and had more opportunities to travel to different parts of the globe, including Africa. I then earned my Master’s Degree at Northwestern University and during graduate school, I spent a semester overseas in Thailand. My continued desire to pursue a wider range of opportunities led me to my next position at McKinsey & Co., a strategy consulting firm, where I made it my mission to build and sharpen my business fundamentals.
I worked with clients across media, financial services and private equity while at McKinsey and then went to work for Wells Fargo. At Wells Fargo, I changed roles every 18-24 months and built a number of teams from the ground up. I had a chance to work in wealth management, brokerage, consumer lending and in my last role, I led digital payments and strategy for the Consumer Financial Services group. This involved being a launch partner for products like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay. I also built expertise in digital payments and payment security which I used to pivot into a role at Facebook where I’m currently working on commerce and payments products.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
I don’t know if it is a path as much as it is a journey. It has always been very important to me to learn new skills and be consistently exposed to new things. I don’t sit still very well. I was with Wells Fargo for 12 years and even there I don’t think I had the same job two straight years. So I guess my inspiration must come from my desire to keep moving and continue to challenge myself.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
Of course, the education and network were invaluable, but also some of the more practical aspects of what UCLA offers students. For example, UCLA provided workshops and classes on how to get an internship. As a sophomore, I attended one of these workshops and learned about internships at The White House. This workshop provided me with the tools and resources I needed to put my application together. Once I had the job at The White House, I got a job at the U.S. Treasury and once I had a job at the Treasury, getting to McKinsey was a clear path. I had a foundation to build from before I even graduated.
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?
A huge part of my professional network came from UCLA and from the relationships I cultivated there. A colleague from UCLA was instrumental in my most recent job search. I knew I wanted to make a change and was looking at technology and payments. This colleague is also in the payments industry, so I sat with him and he gave me sound advice on who to talk to and how to network. He provided me with great guidance throughout the process.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
I was wavering between staying in financial services – and moving up the executive ranks to manage increasingly larger teams – or to take a chance and move into a newer, more dynamic industry. By making the shift I would learn and expand my expertise, but I would not have as much credibility or a decade worth of knowledge and professional relationships. I spoke to the UCLA alumni that I previously mentioned, as well as other advisers, and weighed the pros and cons of each decision. I surveyed all sides, from a career standpoint, personal happiness, learning and growth and then chose to take the leap into new territory. This experience made me more aware than ever that there’s no such thing as a “right” path – after sound contemplation, the one you choose is your path.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your industry?
Invest in building core skills and knowledge while you have the time and opportunity to do it. If you’re making a choice between taking a class where you can get a good grade or a class where you can actually learn more and build a foundational skill, pick learning. Don’t undervalue the need for strong core skills in a variety of disciplines (e.g. analytic thinking, writing). A well rounded toolkit is important in any industry and gets harder and harder to build the more senior you become.
In the choice between having only classroom experience or taking advantage of some of the great programs that UCLA offers with first-hand experiences, take the first-hand experience. At one point during my time at UCLA I was heading toward medicine. I thought I wanted to be a doctor. After two internships in hospitals, I soon realized that this environment didn’t make me very happy. This was a really low risk way to test out this field because of the programs and internships that UCLA offered.
How do you support and participate in the UCLA community now?
I’m part of the alumni network. I do my very best to respond to current or former students when they reach out for advice or feedback. I also actively attend UCLA events and my kids regularly don UCLA gear.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
Honestly, it’s a part of my identity. I literally grew up in a family of Bruins. My parents met in undergrad at UCLA, I met my husband there, my aunt, uncle, sister-in-law all attended. My grandfather even went for a bit. It was synonymous with learning, education, aspiration and achievement. When I attended UCLA, it became a place where I got to explore a number of different careers and form lifelong relationships that are still relevant in my career and personal life 20 years later. Even if I exclude my family, I don’t think I go a day without talking to someone from UCLA.
Keep learning and expanding my horizons. Life is brief and this world is filled with amazing journeys and people. My career has offered me an amazing way to experience the world and contribute. On the personal side, I’d really like to visit Antarctica. I’ve visited all the other continents, so as soon as I can convince my three young sons to spend two weeks on an ice crusher to get there, we’ll be off.
Interested in learning more about UCLA alumni who are creating lasting impressions and impact in their industries? Visit Excellence in Action for the full collection of interviews.