Michael Liss is the most comfortable when he is uncomfortable. Liss, a Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business Executive MBA (EMBA) alum, works as the Senior Vice President, Head of the Americas Desk in China at HSBC Commercial Banking. He’s kept his mantra of seeking challenges at the forefront in every facet in his life, from running marathons and pursuing an MBA, to moving to Shanghai, China.
“I’ve always had this mandate for myself that if I’m afraid of it, I need to run straight at it,” said Liss. “I’ve used that throughout my entire life as I evaluate different goals.”
Liss has challenged himself in his career from the get-go. As an undergraduate, Liss was a liberal arts major who studied painting. Realizing that while he had a talent for painting, he really enjoyed working with and leading people, Liss went into the financial services industry where he worked initially in the insurance industry and later on a closed end country fund desk as a stockbroker. After a recruiter reached out to him about a position in the banking sector, Liss gladly accepted the offer, which presented a brand-new challenge for he didn’t know much about banking. That didn’t deter him - it only excited him.
Fast-forwarding a few years, Liss turned to Scheller’s Executive MBA program to not only learn more and further his career as a banker, but to achieve one of his goals of working and living internationally.
“Going to business school seemed like an excellent idea if I was going to further my career as a banker but also work and live internationally,” said Liss. “Scheller’s global business specialization was a new program only in its second year at the time. It seemed exciting. I liked the match of technology with business. It seemed like that was going to be at the forefront of driving change.”
The EMBA program not only provided Liss with a deeper understanding of business and the opportunity to work with a diverse group of students, it also introduced him to his future home of Shanghai through the international residency portion of the program. Liss and his classmates visited China and it was then that Shanghai moved up to the top of Liss’s list on where he wanted to live and work.
“I always thought since I spoke fluent Spanish that I would end up in Latin America. In terms of a challenge, Latin America just seemed like it would be too easy. Given the size and scale of China’s economy, its rise over the last 20 years, and all of the things I learned about in the program and traveling there, I thought that this could be a really interesting experience to live and work here,” said Liss.
The opportunity arose for him to move to mainland China at the beginning of 2018 when Liss interviewed for his current position after serving as Senior Vice President, Global Relationship Manager and Senior Corporate Banking Manager for HSBC in Atlanta.
“I was interviewing with the head of corporate for the U.S. and he said, ‘You applied for a posting in Shanghai and one in Hong Kong, I’m assuming like everyone else, you want to go to Hong Kong.’ I said to him, ‘Actually, I 1,000 percent want to go to Shanghai.’ He said ‘Really, why would you want to do that?’ I responded, ‘I like to get really uncomfortable.’”
After moving across the world to Shanghai, Liss recalls that it took about a month to realize that he wasn’t there on vacation or for a study abroad program. He even went through a week of complete bewilderment, re-thinking his decision.
“I had heard that the first year of living abroad could be stressful. I’m a marathon runner and the idea of dealing with pain for an extended period of time is not unfamiliar to me, so I relied on that experience and that feeling of pushing through. I knew that once I got past that first year that many of the rewards of living abroad would come. It didn’t even take me that long. I would say six months in, I really was ecstatic to be here and I still am. It’s an extraordinary experience.”
From running marathons and competing in triathlons to moving more than 12,000 miles across the world, Liss has always leaned into the uncomfortable. So much so that he was featured in Tommy Breedlove’s Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling book Legendary.
“I had always dreamed of living internationally ever since I was an undergraduate and here I am. I knew going into the global business specialization of the Scheller Executive MBA program that I wanted to be an international banker. Every single class played into educating me and preparing me for this experience,” said Liss.