How I Got Here: Mike Mercado (MBA ’16)

The first-generation MBA graduate shares insights from his career journey in business strategy and the importance of following your curiosity

In this series, Kellstadt alumni share how they got to where they are today in their careers. Our next feature is Mike Mercado, a senior manager of product strategy for Discover Bank, the deposits arm of Discover. Mercado completed the part-time MBA program with dual concentrations in entrepreneurship and business strategy & decision-making in 2016. Chicago-born and raised, he now lives just outside of the city in Park Ridge, Ill.

Mike Mercado/Amanda Nippoldt Photography

As a senior manager of product strategy… 

I’m responsible for the strategy, financial performance and roadmap for Discover’s savings, Certificate of Deposit and retirement products. On any given day that could look like leading market research to better understand the needs of our customers, partnering with finance to understand how to meet these needs in a viable way or working with agile teams to build the features to meet those needs.

Biggest challenge of my job…

Balancing the needs of the customer and the business can be really challenging, particularly in large publicly traded companies. That is why it is so important to have a clear and properly socialized strategy in place. What is our vision? Who is our customer? How will we solve their most valuable problems in a sustainably differentiated way? If you know the answer to questions like these it becomes possible to make investments in long-term growth rather than chasing short-term returns.

What I like best about my job…

I love the variety of work you get to do when working in product. A lot of people say that working in product is like being a mini-CEO, which I think is true in terms of scope. If consumer preferences change or new FinTech challenges emerge, I’ve got to think about the strategic, financial and operational implications.

I also really enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out how to help people save more money.  There is so much that goes into that decision at the individual level. I find it fascinating to unpack the psychology behind it, and motivating to feel like if I do my job well, I can help do some good.

How I got here…

Over the course of my career I’ve worked in technology, marketing and strategy, so transitioning to product has felt natural, but it was not an intentional outcome. I am a first-generation high school graduate without many relatives who have experience in corporate America. As a result, most of the jobs I’ve held I didn’t even know existed before I started my career. I wish I could say things have gone exactly as I’d planned, but really my career path has been more about chasing opportunities to solve interesting problems, all while working for someone I could learn from.

Mercado with his “strategic analysis for competing globally” capstone course team in fall 2016 on the Loop Campus.

Things I did to help me get here…

I think the two most important things I’ve consistently done to help me get to where I am today are following my curiosity and deliberately working to improve my communication. I’m a naturally curious person—I love learning how things work. This drives me to constantly ask various forms of “why,” which has been such a powerful tool because if you ask “why” over and over you’ll either run out of “whys” and arrive at first principles, or you’ll run out of answers and arrive at new opportunities. However, you need communication skills to articulate these first principles or new opportunities to others. While I was in Kellstadt, I remember trying out different communication styles while working on group projects to help me figure out what works best in different situations and with different types of people.

The Kellstadt faculty member who helped me the most in my career…

Professor Rafael Tenorio and Associate Professor Zafar Iqbal both made a big impact on my career. Early in my career while I was working in technical roles, I got a lot of feedback that I needed to be more “strategic,” but no one could ever tell me what that really meant. Rafael and Zafar’s courses really helped me understand strategy as a discipline, and their debate-driven lecture styles gave me an opportunity to sharpen my point of view with my classmates. I’ve held strategy roles almost exclusively since graduating from Kellstadt and I don’t think that would have been possible without their help.

Advice for Kellstadt students interested in my career… 

There are a lot of different paths into product. If you’re interested but are having trouble breaking into the field then I think it helps to build a strength in one of the sub-domains, which in my opinion are technology, user experience design and strategy. I think it can be easier to find roles focused in one of these areas, which you can then parlay into a product role.

Read the other spotlights in this series:

Tommy Lubinski (BUS ’09, MST ’11, MBA ’15), product manager for adidas Basketball, talks about how he landed his dream job working in the sports apparel and footwear industry.

Angela Yang (MBA ’19), strategic analytics supervisor for FCB Chicago, describes how she transitioned from a career in advertising to healthcare strategy.


Posted on

August 19, 2021