Michelle Fries participated in WBC’s Fellowship program in the summer of 2015, working on the Metro Chicago Exports initiative. Fries is a Senior Vice President and Private Client Manager at U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management. She works closely with high net worth clients to help develop tailored wealth management strategies. Fries has more than 17 years of banking industry experience. Although her primary focus is wealth management, Fries also brought to WBC her experience in client management within several lines of business including public sector, homebuilder, commercial real estate and consumer banking.
WBC’s Fellowship program offers professional development opportunities for prominent mid-level executives. Fellows work at WBC for 4-6 months and lead initiatives that align with their experience to drive growth throughout the region. Fellows build lasting relationships with public and private sector leaders, and directly impact Chicago’s future. After their time at WBC, Fellows are invited to join the Fellow Alumni Network, a group dedicated to Chicago’s continued economic growth.To date, WBC has hosted 53 Fellows from 31 companies.
WBC is currently accepting applications for the next round of Fellows, which begins May 5. For more information, visit worldbusinesschicago.com/fellowships/.
Below is an interview with Michelle Fries:
QUESTION: How did you benefit from your WBC Fellowship experience?
ANSWER: My Fellowship was one of the highlights of my career. I collaborated with individuals of varied backgrounds and expertise with the goal of growing exports in the market. I also developed a better understanding of the pain points of the business owner as my role involved meeting with business owners to better understand their businesses and share solutions on growing their exports.
Q: What were your main responsibilities during your Fellowship?
A: My main responsibilities included leading the business development role for the export initiative, Metro Chicago Exports. I led business development efforts to grow exports in the metropolitan area by meeting with key partners such as business associations, public sector organizations, and business owners to educate them about the importance and benefit of exporting and how to effectively do so. I did not have any extensive experience in exports prior to joining, but leveraged my experience of a 15-year banking career, which includes commercial real estate, public sector and wealth management, to have a broader conversation. I learned the specifics of exporting by meeting with key contacts such as trade partners within the bank as well as external key partners. I was also responsible for meeting with business owner grant recipients to assess how Metro Chicago Exports and World Business Chicago could help grow their businesses with the ultimate goal of creating jobs.
Q: Describe your overall experience, including non-project work such as VIP meet and greets, outings, and networking opportunities.
A: As a Fellow, I had the opportunity to meet with business and civic leaders throughout the community. One of the highlights for me consisted of meeting with John Rogers (Chairman and CEO) and Charles Bobrinskoy (Vice Chairman and Portfolio Manager) of Ariel Investments. Both were generous with their time and their experiences. They shared their struggles in the beginning and the confidence they had in themselves to succeed even at a young age. I also had the opportunity to meet with Presence Health CEO Sandra Bruce. Her candor on her career, life experience and advice were very honest and genuine.
Q: How did your company benefit from your affiliation with WBC?
A: I came back a stronger leader and more effective communicator. In addition, my company had the opportunity to host several events connecting U.S. Trust, Bank of America’s leaders with World Business Chicago’s leadership, while also raising awareness of the bank’s services. One event in particular featured a discussion on social impact investing, while other events showcased the bank’s community support.
Q: How do you feel you made a difference? What were your biggest accomplishments while at WBC?
A: I helped Metro Chicago Exports have a stronger presence in the market. I met with key partners in the export ecosystem, such as various business associations, state and local government service providers, and the business owners to collaborate and share Metro Chicago Exports’ mission. The Metro Chicago Export team launched a grant program that has assisted more than 50 businesses to help launch or expand their exports into new markets.
Q: How did your experience impact your professional development?
A: Fellows have the opportunity to connect with so many key business and civic leaders. I also learned so much from the other Fellows; each of one of us had a unique background and experience level. I look forward to remaining connected with my class and alumni.
Q: What were your biggest challenges and what did you learn from them?
A: The biggest challenge for me was not having experience with exports. I also had a shorter Fellowship term than most. However, I had the benefit of learning from a very seasoned export expert, the Managing Director of Metro Chicago Exports, Tom Hulseman. He is a fantastic leader; he empowers his team, and shares his wealth of knowledge and experience.
Q: What was a “surprise” for you?
A: The biggest surprise for me was the private sector style management of a public sector entity. I very much appreciated and enjoyed this. It was run effectively with the goal of being impactful in creating economic growth and jobs. I attribute this to the leadership of Jeff Malehorn, John Ramirez and all the strategy and business development managers. World Business Chicago is comprised of a group of very talented people. I feel privileged to have worked among them.
Q: What type of individual would most benefit from this Fellowship Program?
A: An individual that would benefit the most is one that is a self-starter, flexible and either a natural leader or one who would like to refine their leadership skills. The individual should also want to be exposed to new experiences, developing strategy, and collaboration. I was nominated by my company for this Fellowship and at first was a little hesitant as I was the first from my company. I am so happy that I pursued this opportunity. I learned so much about public sector, non-profit sector and business community. I also developed many new relationships which I hope to maintain over the years.