Michael Smith has had a variety of experiences leading companies in various executive and advisory roles but he has humble beginnings here at UW-Madison. Michael graduated in 1983 from UW with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Marketing with concentrations in Statistics and International Business. After graduation, Michael joined Lands’ End as an Intern and over the course of 15 years worked his way up the ladder to eventually become President & CEO. Through his time at Lands’ End, Michael learned the importance of balancing right brain and left brain thinking within an organization. Michael commented “Most companies lean heavily one way or the other, but a balance is just incredibly powerful from a competitive standpoint.” Michael has used this left brain, right brain concept throughout his career and has helped many companies leverage this balanced approach. Michael has held President and CEO positions at LifeSketch, Nordstrom.com, Classmates, Full Circle, and Bag, Borrow, and Steal. He has also been a board member and advisor for REI, Outdoor Research, Thrival, Bournaki13, and Winona Capital Management.
Since 2016, Michael has been working as the Founder & CEO of his startup, Equinauts. The inspiration for Equinauts came from Michael’s early days at Lands’ End. Sales of Lands’ End products would see periods of strong sales and weak sales, but no one could agree as to what the causes of these fluctuations were. Some would blame the weather, others the promotions, and some the competitive environment. It was difficult to rule out what was truly causing the variations in sales. To overcome this challenge Michael developed a technique leveraging cohort tracking to help attribute each variable’s effect on sales numbers. This technique was the impetus for starting Equinauts with the goal of offering the next generation of data analytics to track the impact of business actions on the P&L of the organization.
Michael brings a plethora of leadership skills and managerial expertise to the Wisconsin School of Business Community across many different industries and organizations. He’s used this knowhow to bring valuable insights to the student entrepreneurs that he’s interacted with during his many years as board member on the Weinert Center’s Advisory Board. Throughout the years Michael has been a valuable mentor to many students and has a positive impact on many future entrepreneurs. Michael’s advice to current students is “Don’t be afraid to fail. The only failure in my mind is if you miss an opportunity that you felt like you should have taken. Everything else either works or you’ve learned from it, which leads you to other things.”
Thanks Michael for all you have done for UW students over the years. We are excited to see what the future holds for you and your support for the UW-Madison entrepreneurial community.