Michael Simons MBA '18 and Chris Sommers MBA '18
Michael Simons MBA '18 and Chris Sommers MBA '18 met in Concordia Irvine’s MBA program. Within a month of graduating, Chris hired Michael to be his company’s vice president of finance.
“I said, ‘I know this guy I went to Concordia with for two years, and worked on projects with him,’” Chris recalls. “I knew he was extremely responsible, smart and a cultural fit for the team.”
When they first met, Michael was director of finance for a build-your-own pizza franchise with forty locations. Chris was the new president of Excel Packaging, a family-owned business serving giants like Nestle Purina and Procter & Gamble, and small startup brands, in the pet and human food packaging industry.
Michael had chosen Concordia because it was designed for working business professionals.
I thought it was a really good fit because Concordia was focused on having professors and students in the business world, and using that to learn.
“I thought it was a really good fit because Concordia was focused on having professors and students in the business world, and using that to learn,” he says. “I also liked the fact that it is a Christian university, and having those values behind the education of business is really important to me as well.”
Chris had an undergraduate degree in design and digital media and wanted more business education as he began to lead the company his father founded thirty years ago.
“I had exposure to business in practical settings, but wanted to learn more,” Chris says. “At Concordia there was a lot of synergy and learning from each other. I could bounce ideas off of people who had strengths in different areas, whether it was marketing, finance, operational or management. When you get a group like that with synergy and creativity, cool ideas grow out of it.”
After earning his MBA, Michael was in the market for a new job and was close to accepting a position as head of finance for a company in Irvine when another call came — from Chris. A position had opened up at Excel.
“It was a good fit for both of us,” Michael says. He now oversees the company’s finances and is in charge of getting their packages from their Seoul Korea factory to Los Angeles ports and then to customers.
“We’ve created some new processes,” Michael says. “I live by spreadsheets.”
Excel’s packages — which include pouches, flat-bottom bags, large gusseted bags, and more — are used by brands such as Natural Balance, and can be seen in any PetCo or PetSmart. The company’s challenge is to create flexible plastic packages that catch customers’ eyes while protecting food and looking good after thousands of miles of shipping.
At Concordia there was a lot of synergy and learning from each other. I could bounce ideas off of people who had strengths in different areas, whether it was marketing, finance, operational or management.
“Our competition is multi-billion dollar companies with tens of thousands of employees, so we are an emerging company in the flexible packaging world,” says Chris. “Brands are doing their best to stand out amongst each other. Our job is to print their package, bring it to life, and give them direction about what it can look like on the shelf. We have a cool market position, being a young company. Most of our employees are younger than the competition and we service from a different perspective. We’ve been growing.”
Chris and Michael are now using their Concordia education to branch out into new markets.
“Concordia gave me the contrasting skills to the ones I had, and an education and exposure to so many great subjects,” Chris says. “Law classes, for example, and negotiation class were amazing and gave me skills I wouldn’t have had. I got a really holistic look at business and a lot of skills I can use in running the company now.”
Michael says that Concordia’s program “was challenging, but you felt like you learned something. I am a much better, well-rounded finance professional and accounting professional because of the capstone class and building out the business plan. It was a good feeling. You never want a participation trophy. You want first place.”
Together, the two alums, who became friends and then co-workers, are taking on the competition in their market space.
“We work side by side and I believe Michael’s going to help me take the company to the next level,” Chris says.
MBA Testimonial: Michael Simons
MBA Testimonial: Chris Sommers