Ted Michaels has always been a high achiever, so his success today would be no surprise to anyone who knew him as a student at Drexel. However, if Michaels’ classmates can’t quite place the name, it’s because Ted’s birth name was Theodore Mykolajtchuk, and he used that surname throughout his undergraduate years. It was only after completing his MBA at Harvard Business School in 1986 that he changed it to Michaels.
“Changing my name simplified life a bit at the time,” he said, “but Citigroup has over 200,000 employees, and now when I look at the roster, there are more people with the name Mykolajtchuk than Michaels!” Times change.
Based in the Los Angeles area, Michaels is Executive Vice President of Banamex USA, part of Citigroup, providing full banking services for companies and individuals that do business in Mexico and the United States. Banamex USA is the U.S. banking arm of Banco Nacional de México (Banamex), Mexico’s premier bank. Banamex accounts for a significant percentage of Citigroup’s earnings. Michaels leads and manages all aspects of the international credit card business for Banamex USA, comprising consumer and business credit cards, merchant services, e-commerce, insurance, and loyalty programs in the United States, Mexico, and Latin America. In addition, Michaels through his additional roles as Internet Banking Officer and Chief Information Officer supports all of the bank’s business lines. Most recently, Michaels added more responsibilities working directly for Banamex in Mexico City focusing on the super-affluent segments in Latin America while maintaining his current responsibilities at Banamex USA.
Michaels’ work takes him to Mexico City about once a month, and recently, he visited Santiago, Chile, and Lima, Peru. In his job, he has traveled to places most Americans never go, including Bogotá, Colombia; São Paulo, Brazil; and Caracas, Venezuela. On a break from business, he had the opportunity to take a personal trip to Machu Picchu, the pre-Columbian Inca site that is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
“Our major market is Mexico,” Michaels said, “but opportunities are opening up throughout Latin America, and the future looks bright. Our goal is to offer unique, world-class multilingual products. We are the only bank in the U.S. that is fully bilingual. We can manage risk for unsecured credit cards and help determine which companies and individuals to offer credit to. Recently, we have expanded our business throughout all of South America, as well.”
Michaels speaks fluent English and Ukrainian. He is quickly becoming fluent in Spanish and is knowledgeable in Russian. He also understands some Portuguese, and as he does more work in Brazil, no doubt he will master that, too. “I’m pretty multicultural myself,” he said. “I have dual citizenship in the U.S. and Brazil.”
Born in Brazil, Michaels was just 9 months old when his Ukrainian parents moved to the U.S. “My dad died when I was 6,” he said, “and Mom worked in a sweatshop for a time to support us. She always pushed my brother and me to get an education. She told us if you can get an education, you can have more choices in life.”
Both sons took their mother’s advice seriously. Michaels’ brother, Jurij Mykolajtchuk, earned a master’s degree at the LeBow College of Business in 1986, and later went on to graduate from Rutgers School of Law. He currently practices law in the New York and New Jersey areas.
As a student at George Washington High School in Philadelphia, Michaels received the Max E. Rosen Scholar Athlete Award. After considering several universities that offered him soccer and academic opportunities, Michaels selected Drexel and entered the Chemical Engineering program, but he later transferred to the Commerce & Engineering Program within the LeBow College of Business. “Back then the B.S. in Commerce and Engineering had a serious engineering component to the program,” he said.
While at Drexel, Michaels accepted several awards for achievement in academics and leadership, including the Wall Street Journal Award and the Charles E. Etting Award. He had thought seriously of playing soccer in college. “In hindsight,” he said, “I wish I had played soccer at Drexel, but overall, I had a great college experience. Drexel is a terrific school, especially the Co-op program.”
The missed opportunity in soccer notwithstanding, Michaels kept busy with many other extracurricular activities while at Drexel. He served as Vice President of Community Affairs, Vice President of Finance in Student Government, President of the Ukrainian-American Club, and Vice President of the Student Programming Association, which improved the social life on campus significantly. “With the Ukrainian-American Club we started a social event my sophomore year that by my senior year expanded into one of the coolest things in the history of the university. We named the event Spring Daze. The Student Programming Association took the seed that we planted and transformed the event into a week-long social event that included a block party and concerts by Squeeze, Flock of Seagulls, and Robert Hazard and the Heroes. We actually staged concerts in the Main Building and Creese Student Center that were awesome!”
Before joining Banamex USA in 1996, Ted held progressively responsible positions with NatWest Bank in Delaware from 1995 to 1996; Advanta Corp. from 1991 to 1995; American Express, where he got his start in credit cards, from 1986 to 1991; and Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson Company, from 1982 to 1984.
Michaels and his wife, Bonnie, have two teen-aged daughters, Heather and Holly, and he remains active in volunteerism. He received President’s Volunteer Service Awards from the White House in 2007, 2008, and 2009 for serving as a West Valley Soccer League Youth Coach and for mentoring college students as part of the Citi TELACU Scholars Mentoring Program. He also serves as a director for FC Barcelona LA, supporting underprivileged youths with international soccer experiences. He has served as a board member of the Family Literacy Advocates of Southern California, the Fort Lauderdale Jaycees, and the Harvard Business School Club of Southern Florida, and he is a former Chief of the Cheyenne Tribe for the YMCA’s Father/Daughter Program.
Michaels currently is expanding his role with Drexel’s Alumni Association in Southern California, and his global view is evident. “I think Drexel is one of the greatest secrets in the world,” he said. “There are 38 Drexel graduates in Mexico City, and there is no reason we can’t look at Mexico and South America to promote Drexel as a place to get a great education.” As far as Michaels is concerned, the possibilities are limitless.