St. John’s Alumnus Q&A: Career Pivoting with a Masters Degree
For Michael T. Chidester ’98MBA, going back to college to pursue an advanced degree meant turning the page to an entirely new chapter in his career.
After earning his B.A. in Industrial Engineering and working in industry positions for more than half a decade, he decided to earn a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) degree at The Peter J. Tobin College of Business to take his career to the next level. Fast forward more than 25 years later—and after many great experiences, including operational and consulting roles at large companies like IBM and Coca-Cola—he finally found his true passion: entrepreneurship and cheesesteaks.
In the following Q&A, Mr. Chidester unravels his astonishing journey from working as an industrial engineer to owning a fast-growing cheesesteak restaurant, Chiddy’s Cheesesteaks.
Q: It’s intriguing that your B.A. is in Industrial Engineering. Did you pursue a career in that field first? And if so, do you feel it contributed to your success in business?
Michael Chidester: Yes. I took a job with the United Parcel Service of America, Inc. (UPS) in their Industrial Engineering department. I spent nine years with them, working through various industrial engineering and operations management jobs. I believe my background in engineering provided a great foundation for methodical thinking that has been invaluable to me as I pursued new ventures in many different business areas.
"Combining an engineering degree and an M.B.A. is a sound educational path for any business career.”
Q: How do you think your in-field experience before grad school prepared you to pursue an M.B.A.?
Michael Chidester: Going back for an M.B.A. after more than six years in the working world made it very enjoyable, as I felt I could contribute to class discussions and roundtables. The insight I shared about corporate life and management, along with what other alumni brought to the table, benefited the students who went directly from their undergraduate program to graduate school.
Q: Fast forward to postgraduate school. What was your first job like after earning an M.B.A.? Did you initially have any setbacks, and how did you overcome them?
Michael Chidester: Soon after I graduated from St. John’s University with my M.B.A., I left UPS to pursue a career in consulting. The most significant factor in facing new challenges is to believe in yourself. As a consultant, you must sell yourself and your abilities to be an impactful team member. Having a solid educational background and work experience helps your self-confidence.
"You will always have setbacks in your career, but you can learn as much from your successes and channel them toward future accomplishments.”
Q: You’ve gone on quite a journey from working in industrial engineering to pivoting to the sales/operations of another company to owning and operating your own brick-and-mortar business—that’s impressive! Would you say you were always an entrepreneur or was there a specific turning point in your career?
Michael Chidester: This is a great question, and I attribute the turning point to a specific class at St. John’s. I took what I remember as an organizational behavior class. We spent the entire semester reading and reviewing the original version of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.
I truly embraced the learnings from that book in my personal life and realized that my goal was to pursue a career aligned with my values. I excelled when career opportunities allowed me to achieve that goal.
The desire to combine hard work with a passion for controlling the results of my efforts ultimately led me to explore my entrepreneurial side. Building a success story that motivates others became a personal challenge. I have been inspired by the small successes each year that have been the stepping-stones to building a growing enterprise.
Q: Being a business owner takes a lot of work and, of course, comes with its setbacks. What challenges do you often experience in your business that you believe graduate school helps you overcome?
Michael Chidester: It’s essential to prepare for the unknown and the unexpected. You must have the fortitude and positive energy to face the challenging realities of owning a business. The group work that makes up the majority of the St. John’s M.B.A. curriculum demonstrates the benefit of incorporating a variety of inputs to build the best solution. There are typically better ways to address a business challenge, so the ability to listen to others and develop a collaborative approach is critical. Grad school provided that for me.”
Q: What inspired you to pursue cheesesteaks?
Michael Chidester: I developed a love for cheesesteaks during my childhood when we took family vacations to the Jersey Shore. I became obsessed with eating a cheesesteak daily from a beachside grill in Cape May, NJ. I then continued to try the Philly staple from as many spots in Pennsylvania as possible and, unfortunately, could not find a good one on Long Island. So, it became my duty to the community to bring authentic Philly Cheesesteaks to Long Island!”
Q: Are any exciting new ventures or business concepts coming down the pipeline?
Michael Chidester: Just like the secret recipe of Coca-Cola tucked away in a vault in Atlanta, GA, I can’t tell you our big secret. We are very excited about 2023! We plan to expand Chiddy’s Cheesesteaks through franchising and expect to open new locations in the New York City boroughs and at additional Long Island locations. Also, thanks to our great partnership with Coca-Cola and Citi Field, you can find our cheesesteaks on opening day at Citi Field this spring. We are excited to build a new fan base from this terrific opportunity!