Universities across Michigan attract Chaldean students with an inclination for business
By Ashourina Slewo
Looking at Alaa Kishmish’s current career trajectory, one would never guess that the business major on the cusp of graduating was once pursuing a career in anything other than business. With a refined acumen for all things business, Kishmish, 24, is looking at graduating in December 2019 from the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University with a bachelor’s in business administration.
The switch from pharmacy to business came after he took on a part time bank teller position at a local bank in Sterling Heights. In his post as a teller Kishmish’s passion for business presented itself and in turn, flourished.
“I was at Macomb for about a year and a half when I changed my major from pharmacy to business,” he explained. “It was a complete 180-degree switch, but I was honestly very happy with the choice I made.”
For the last five years, Kishmish has continued to excel at the local bank, further fueling his love for business. Starting as a part time teller, he advanced to a full-time relationship banker. After just a couple months, he was promoted and became a supervisor.
Today, Kishmish is the assistant manager at the Warren branch.
Through his work at this financial institution, Kishmish has established a number of long-lasting relationships that have ultimately contributed to his passion for business.
“After being fortunate enough to work at the bank, I met a lot of great people and I have had many great mentors and they taught me how important it is to build relationships with your customers,” he explained. “It made me want to be a business major after I saw how many relationships I was able to build in this field.”
Between Sterling Heights and Warren, the Chaldean community continues to grow. This growth is reflected in the bank’s clientele and not lost on Kishmish. A fluent speaker of both Aramaic and Arabic, Kishmish finds himself working with Chaldean customers regularly. This ability to help his community, he says, is rewarding beyond measure.
“There are so many Chaldeans that actually come to my bank and they will wait the extra 10, 15, 20 minutes to work with me,” he explained.
Having come to the United States from Iraq in 2008, Kishmish finds himself relating to his Chaldean customers as many are new to the country and just trying to find their way.
“It honestly has opened my eye to how many of our Chaldean neighbors and brothers and sisters actually struggle when they first come to America,” he said. “I honestly, at this point can say I am a part time assistant manager, full time therapist and guidance counselor and translator.”
For this young student, seeing his customers thrive in their new home is just another perk of the job.
“Having the opportunity to help them come up with financial plans to actually meet their goals and having them tell me ‘hey, we finally saved up for that car, we finally got approved for a mortgage’ after I helped them repair their credit, all of those stories are the reason I am in business,” he explained. “I love helping people and making a difference in their financial lives.”
In 2017, the Sterling Heights resident found a second home at the Mike Ilitch School of Business.
Like his work at the bank, Kishmish found that establishing and fostering relationships would be imperative to his success. With this, and the desire to continue his progression, in mind, Kishmish applied to become a student ambassador for the school of business.
In order to be considered for the position, applicants were required to submit a written proposal and three letters of recommendation. Kishmish came highly recommended by the chairs of finance and accounting. The applicant pool was pared down from 76 to 23 applicants. Ultimately, only 10 students were selected. Kishmish was among those chosen.
As a student ambassador, Kishmish is tasked with representing the school in a variety of volunteer capacities both internally and externally.
“As an ambassador I have had the opportunity to meet Chris and Marian Ilitch and take them on a tour of the terrace; I showed them how different classrooms are organized and how they are set up,” he explained. “They were very impressed. Seeing their faces and their reactions to how well it turned out has honestly been one of the most rewarding aspects of being a student ambassador.”
Reflecting on the last five years, Kishmish is thankful. Thankful for the job that ultimately changed his mind and his path, leading him to the Mike Ilitch School of Business where he has thrived.
“My journey at Wayne State has been extremely rewarding. I have had the opportunity to meet and connect with so many different people that I would not have otherwise met,” he explained. “Some of my closest friends, colleagues, and people I network with I met through the school of business. I would not have been able to do any of this if I had not been at Wayne State; it has provided me with several opportunities.”
Despite starting out as a pharmacy major, business, says Kishmish, is in his blood.
“As Chaldeans, business is in our blood,” he said. “Growing up, I had a lot of family members, cousins, uncles, and aunts who owned a lot of businesses – the most stereotypical ones are liquor stores and gas stations, but they do own them and I grew up around them.”
At just 15 years old, Kishmish worked alongside his cousin at his store. “Seeing that and seeing his entrepreneurship was very formative and positive for me.”
Post graduation, Kishmish has his sights set high.
“I envision myself working in wealth management for a company like Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley,” he explained. “These are companies where I can grow and work my way up and maybe even find myself on the 30 under 30 financial advisors list.”
Budding business major
Similar to Kishmish, Natalie Esshaki, 18, intended to pursue a career in medicine, but decided against it. At just 16 years old, she decided to pursue business post high school.
“In the back of my mind, I always wanted to pursue business,” Esshaki explained. “I was always encouraged to enter the medical field, though, and once I started volunteering in a hospital, I realized that business was definitely my passion.”
Graduating from Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills this year, Esshaki will be attending the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business this fall where she will be majoring in business administration and minoring in Spanish.
Business and entrepreneurship have become synonymous with the Chaldean community and Esshaki knows this. Learning by example, she wants to progress and positively impact the male dominated field.
“Seeing the successes of many Chaldeans in our community has inspired me to follow my passion for business,” she explained. “There are many more Chaldean men in the business community, but I hope to become a strong female leader within the community and represent Chaldeans through business.”
When it came to deciding which university she would attend after high school, the choice was a natural one for Esshaki. The Ross School of Business, she says is the perfect fit for her to learn and develop her abilities in the field of business. From the curriculum to the alumni network, Ross makes the most sense for the college freshman.
“Michigan’s Ross School of Business was my first choice because it is ranked fourth among other undergraduate business programs,” Esshaki explained. “The curriculum is based on learning by doing, which is very beneficial for students. Also, the Michigan alumni system is so extensive and I feel that I will be able to connect with many people across the nation.”
Looking to the future, Esshaki hopes to utilize her degree in either marketing or the management of a large and reputable company. However, nothing is quite set in stone for the student who has four years at the University of Michigan to look forward to.
“After Ross, I will most likely apply to law school for my law degree as well,” said Esshaki. “I don’t have an exact plan post university, but I am not stressed. I am sure I will discover my strengths and weaknesses over the next four years at the Ross School of Business and I am excited to see how it all turns out.”
In the meantime, Esshaki is filling her free time before she heads to Ross with some light reading that doubles as preparation for the years of business school ahead.
“My current involvement in the world of business is reading many articles about the successes of business leaders in Forbes,” she explained. “I am currently reading a book called Girl CEO by Katherine Ellison which highlights many women in the world of business and how they were successful by following their passions, which is inspiring.”