“I find it inspiring to watch students and business leaders tackle complicated concepts and personal challenges and come out on the other end stronger, more confident, more grounded, more prepared,” says 2013 MBA graduate Michele Equale. She’s turned her passion for progress into a career at MassMutual’s Boston Seaport office, where she is Head of Strategic Initiatives & Administration for the Investment Management division—a role in which she not only helps set strategic objectives, but also focuses on developing and enacting the “tactical action plans” that allow the group to achieve those objectives effectively.
“Whether it’s evolving our talent practices, or relocating our offices to Boston, or formulating breakthrough portfolio-reporting capabilities, I support the organization’s transitions—both the operational transitions and those of individual team members—and I ensure peak productivity throughout the process,” she says.
A Driven Leader
In June, at its annual Business Leadership Awards ceremony, Isenberg honored Michele with its Driven Leadership Award. Earmarked for a recent graduate, the honor recognizes success in business, community service, and engagement with the school. Michele credits her Isenberg MBA studies with boosting her own transition into the role of change leader at MassMutual, because a senior leader who valued her new degree brought her into the Insurance Operations division as a member of the strategy team. “It was in this role that I was exposed to change leadership and began my journey as a transformational student/leader,” she says.
Her MassMutual colleague, Head of Human Resources Consulting Brittan duBose, says Michele’s leadership was instrumental in helping the business go through its major relocation from Springfield to Boston. “She led the way by managing the everyday tactics while also listening to employees who were dealing with a lot of change and constructively pushing the company to provide them the best employee experience during the transition and once they settled in,” duBose says.
The changes Michele manages aren’t all focused on immediate business benefits. As treasurer for MassMutual’s Women’s Business Resource Group, she is deeply involved with the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts. “I believe diverse teams are the strongest teams and I work to ensure diversity of thought and team design at every opportunity,” she says. “I’m passionate about the promotion of women in the workplace and seek all opportunities to ensure that women are mentored, sponsored, and supported to achieve their career aspirations.”
Part of that work involves countering the notion that women lack financial knowledge. Michele says that she had a conversation with a female mentor years ago who posited that women aren’t invited into board rooms and executive teams because of a real or perceived lack of financial and investment acumen. “From that conversation to today, I’ve worked to ensure that I and many other women do our work to build technical financial and investment skills as well as confidence in speaking about our skills, so we can dispel this perception,” she says. One way she’s done this is by founding a company program called Lean in to Learn that’s focused on teaching women financial and investment skills. Brittan duBose says Michele’s focus on personal development is inspirational to their colleagues: “She encourages others to do it every day and demonstrates it by seeking out every opportunity to learn, think about things differently, and get feedback.”
Focus on the Future
She also actively mentors women in Isenberg’s undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as alumni. She was recently appointed to a three-year seat on the UMass Alumni Association board of directors, a position that she plans to use to promote mentoring and sponsorship connections between alumni and students—particularly women. “I want to make sure that corporations and nonprofit organizations have sustainable practices, and a huge part of that is ensuring that current and future talent pools have the skills, adaptability, grit, and perseverance to perform at their peak potential,” she says. “In the end, I strongly believe, as a mom and stepmom of four bright young people, I do for others as I hope others will do for our children.”