Michelle Martinez: Rowan MBA Fellow for Innovation and Impact, Change Agent for the Financial Industry

Michelle folds her arms on a railing inside Business Hall.

Today we feature Michelle Martinez, a Rowan Global student pursuing her master’s degree in business administration (MBA). Michelle is the inaugural Rohrer College of Business MBA Fellow in Innovation and Impact. In this selective role, she’ll leverage her professional experience to normalize financial literacy and advocate for greater diversity and inclusion in the finance industry. 

Learn more about Michelle, her experience as an MBA Fellow thus far and what responsible leadership means to her. 

From a very young age Michelle has always been determined to change a corner of the world in some meaningful way. Initially, she wanted to explore new underwater worlds as a marine biologist. Over the years, her interest evolved; however, she never lost her interest in math. During her last semester in high school she took a personal finance course and an advanced placement course in macroeconomics. From there, she was inspired to affect the world through the lens of finance. 

Michelle stands outside Business Hall.

Like many millennials, Michelle’s professional journey began at the onset of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. In the aftermath of the recession, she channeled her efforts into helping people interpret and overcome their financial challenges. At the time, Michelle worked for Cherry Hill, NJ-based Commerce Bank. 

“Commerce Bank was a place where customer service and attention to detail was highly important. During that time I saw a lot of people struggling to meet their financial needs. I floated around to different branches in different positions consulting clients on basic financial concepts such as budgeting and building savings, managing debt and using credit. The individuals whose stories stick with me the most are the ones I couldn’t help. These were the people who came to me trying to try and figure a way out of their expensive payday loans. I wanted to be able to do more for them, but I couldn’t,” Michelle says.

After graduating from La Salle University with dual degrees in Marketing and Management Leadership, Michelle went on to work as an investment specialist for one of the world’s largest mutual fund distributors, Vanguard Marketing Corp. There she helped clients with investment operations, portfolio management, financial planning and advisory services. She later went on to work at Morgan Stanley, where she helped direct and lead client/advisor support activities for a team of financial advisors handling several million dollars in assets under management. 

It was soon after her experience working with ultra-high net worth clients that Michelle began to witness firsthand the widening financial capabilities that marked her experiences as a financial professional. 

Michelle leans against a wall inside Business Hall.

“As I progressed professionally, I had begun to more clearly understand the role financial institutions played in easing the economic conditions that perpetuated the growing wealth divide. What I come to realize is that one of the many critical components of building wealth is guaranteeing access to certain resources in a self-sustaining manner. It’s not about guaranteeing specific outcomes,” Michelle says.

“Many people fail to grasp how dependent our financial systems are to one another. A vibrant economy is one that works for everyone. When certain pockets of people are excluded from these systems, we create a room for scarcity and codependency. 

“Not everyone gets a grand for Christmas from grandpa. Not every kid gets a car for their 16th birthday. Not having to choose between getting an education or holding down a job is a privilege. The idea that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps completely ignores the fact that wealth is not built alone. It takes an orchestra of events,” Michelle adds. 

Michelle stresses that financial institutions must proactively seek out ways to leverage cross-sector relationships in order to help solve growing social issues.

“With the ushering in of a more democratized financial services sector, there is an overwhelming opportunity to reorient wealth management to be more inclusive of the burgeoning potential of outcome-driven, minority-owned enterprises. This goes beyond philanthropy. Too often, portfolio managers lend their success to the securitization of distressed assets in already at-risk communities. 

“The collateral consequences of these traditional investing models perpetuate a long legacy of racism and redlining,” she explains.

Michelle stands in the lobby of Business Hall.

As a Rohrer MBA Fellow in Innovation and Impact, Michelle is on a mission to help disrupt this process. Innovations and Impact Fellows are committed to enhancing both firm and industry performance through the development and implementation of practices that maximize opportunity while minimizing the negative impacts operations have on the environment, people and economic systems.

The MBA Fellowship in Innovation and Impact offers three major areas of focus: Advocacy, Engagement and Research. Fellows will further participate in on-campus initiatives that further shared community connections and shape the culture in which students thrive. 

During her time as a fellow, Michelle will focus on conducting advocacy and engagement as it relates to financial literacy and helping to advocate for greater financial inclusion within the finance industry through community development. 

Michelle adds: “If there’s anything we have to take away from the last year dealing with the fallout of COVID-19 and the impact on vulnerable communities; it’s that healing is not linear. We take the momentum of incredible strides in history and we think our work is done. Except, atrophy starts to set in immediately after. And so, our work must continue.   

Michelle smiles outside Business Hall.

“Organizations have to start digging deeper to find shared values and work towards practices that strengthen our ecosystems as a whole. Guaranteeing opportunities is not the same as guaranteeing outcomes! 

“It’s about creating an enabling environment for all individuals to work hard, pursue life and exercise their civic duties. Is that not the American dream?” she says. “This is what responsible leadership means to me.”

In lending her experience to this growing social challenge, Michelle says she’s optimistic we can advance the equity and economic prospects of low-income Americans. 

Michelle resides in South Jersey and is the proud wife, mother and dog mom of two active goldendoodles. Follow Michelle’s journey on LinkedIn!

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Story by:
Michelle Martinez, Rowan Global MBA student

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