20 Questions With Andy Johnson, MBA ’19, and Chin Weerappuli, BA ’11/MBA ’22
They also share a passion for Michigan football. So it’s no surprise that the two eventually met and connected on a common vision.
Together, Weerappuli and Johnson started Hail! Impact, a nonprofit that connects student-athletes to a diverse range of vetted nonprofit partners. The athletes give back to the Ann Arbor community and receive a stipend for the use of their name, image, and likeness. At the same time, students take part in an educational series organized by Hail! Impact to further develop their skills in entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and leadership.
In the first six months since the organization’s official launch, Weerappuli and Johnson have been heartened by the response their ideas have had among the wider U-M community. Hail! Impact has supported approximately 50 athletes across five varsity sports teams: football, hockey, women's basketball, gymnastics, and softball. Student-athletes have supported programs at six organizations, including Girls Group Ann Arbor, ChadTough Defeat DIPG Foundation, Ele's Place, Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor, and Peace Neighborhood Center.
To learn more about Johnson’s and Weerappuli’s backgrounds, their work with Hail! Impact, and their goals going forward, we asked them to answer our 20 questions.
You shared that Len Middleton, lecturer of strategy and entrepreneurship at Michigan Ross, introduced the two of you. What’s the story there?
WEERAPPULI: When I was actively seeking a job opportunity with Jim Harbaugh shortly after graduating, I took deliberate steps to network with passionate faculty and alumni who had strong connections to the Michigan Football program. Len and I had numerous discussions about Michigan Football during the fall of 2021, making him a natural choice to reach out to. When Len and I connected, his initial recommendation was to connect with Andy, who, in Len's words, "might be the only Michigan fan bigger than you." What was initially intended to be a 30-minute Zoom conversation turned into an ongoing and meaningful connection, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What sparked the idea to connect student-athletes and nonprofit work?
JOHNSON: When I met Chin, I couldn’t spell NIL, but I knew it was critically important for Michigan to lead in this new age of college athletics. I wasn’t interested in the commercial aspect as much as providing a platform for our student-athletes to get involved in the Ann Arbor community while augmenting their educational exposure to some of the best professors in the world. I felt like Ross gave me so much, and I’ve been determined to give back by utilizing many of the skills I developed there.
What are some of the challenges you face as an organization, and how are you combating them?
WEERAPPULI: In April, we launched our initiative with tremendous enthusiasm and garnered significant attention from the U-M fan base. However, the landscape was cluttered with entities claiming to be charitable organizations, yet their primary focus was compensating top athletes without a genuine charitable mission. In response, the IRS implemented stricter scrutiny in June for nonprofits seeking a 501c3 tax-deductible status, particularly those directly involved with student-athletes. This development temporarily halted our fundraising efforts, pending their response.
We are thrilled to announce that we successfully obtained our 501c3 status in September 2023. With this hurdle behind us, we are now back in full operation and eagerly anticipate the same level of financial support and enthusiasm that accompanied our launch in April earlier this year.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
JOHNSON: Seeing and hearing the enthusiasm from the student-athletes to use their name, image, and likeness for incredible Ann Arbor-area charities. Michigan recruits incredible kids, and I absolutely love the fact that Hail! Is able to plug them into meaningful engagements and pay them for their efforts. It’s perfectly Michigan.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your journey with Hail! Impact so far?
JOHNSON: The team of volunteers that we’ve assembled to further the cause. From our incredible board that also includes Mike “Don’t Call Me Rick” Leach and Shelly “the Legend” Kovacs; to our charity and player coordinators; our player advisory group; our esteemed professors from Ross, Law, and Kinesiology; and of course our student ‘ChInterns.’ I’m humbled by the experience, talent, and dedication of our team.
Who inspires you?
WEERAPPULI: My parents inspire me tremendously. They are the sole members of their family who immigrated from Sri Lanka to the United States, starting with virtually nothing but their love for each other. My father's dedication to working at Ford for 27 years, culminating in his retirement in December 2022, instilled in my brother and me an unwavering work ethic. My mother, on the other hand, is the epitome of kindness and selflessness. Throughout her life, she consistently prioritized my brother and me. Even when she faced the challenging journey of battling breast cancer a few years ago, she never uttered a complaint during her six-month treatment. Instead, she expressed regret that she couldn't cook for us. Both of my parents are my true heroes.
What were your dream jobs when you were young?
JOHNSON: Well, my eighth-grade career test had me headed toward becoming a radio DJ, so that was pretty cool. When U-M didn’t recruit me, my football dreams died quickly, but I did DJ some killer parties in college and landed a 2-6 a.m. radio spot in law school.
WEERAPPULI: I dreamt of being a professional athlete. In middle school, I was the captain of the Orchard Lake Middle School basketball team in West Bloomfield, MI, and the quarterback on the championship flag football team. Then I never hit my growth spurt and shifted to dreaming about running a business instead.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give the people you were 10 years ago?
JOHNSON: Go home. Take a vacation. The work will be there when you get back to the office. Ten years ago, life felt like it would last forever. Then you wake up, and you’re 49.
WEERAPPULI: Pause to appreciate life's simple pleasures. Often, we become so absorbed in chasing the next destination on the fast-paced train of life that we don't notice when six months have swiftly passed. While it's essential to stay goal-oriented, don't hesitate to savor the moments along the journey, especially with loved ones and family.
What was your favorite experience at Michigan Ross?
JOHNSON: I loved our MAP project, advising a beverage start-up company in Austin, TX. Not only did we get to taste a lot of session mead, but we also attended Austin City Limits as a team. What started as an operations project became a complete business plan and operating model overhaul. When Len Middleton told our team that we had likely saved the company, it was the most gratifying comment a professor had ever given me.
Did you have a favorite professor?
JOHNSON: This is like picking my favorite child! They were all amazing. When I reflect back, I immediately think of the wonderful classes taught by professors M.P. Narayanan, Gautam Kaul, Puneet Manchanda, and of course, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks!
WEERAPPULI: It is very difficult to pick just one, but I would highly recommend any EMBA to take a course by professors Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, Stewart Thornhill, John Branch, Marcus Collins, and Sue Ashford.
What do you miss about Michigan Ross/Ann Arbor?
JOHNSON: Everything. I tried re-enrolling right before graduation. It was seriously the best academic experience of my life. I miss the brilliant people: professors, staff, and my incredible EMBA cohort. I made friends for life and worked hard to keep those relationships strong. My colleagues from my time at Ross are huge supporters of Hail! Impact, and that means a ton to me.
How has your Ross degree helped you in your career?
JOHNSON: I can basically divide my career into ‘before Ross’ and ‘after Ross.’ Before Ross, I was a struggling lawyer looking for a credible way to expand my skills and experience outside of law. After Ross, I took on leadership of corporate development at my company, 3D Systems, recently became the interim CFO, and started a nonprofit at U-M benefitting student-athletes.
WEERAPPULI: I am immensely grateful to Michigan Ross for shaping my post-graduate journey. Without this institution, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet Jim Harbaugh shortly before I delivered the commencement address for my class. Additionally, I wouldn't have been able to advocate for a position on his staff, supported by heartfelt testimonials from my classmates.
Furthermore, my current professional career owes its existence to Michigan Ross. The program not only equipped me with essential soft skills but also provided valuable knowledge in finance and modeling. These skills have proven invaluable in my career.
I firmly believe that this experience is just the beginning, and I am profoundly grateful for the foundation Michigan Ross has provided me.
Do you have any advice for current or incoming Ross students?
WEERAPPULI: Don't dwell on the challenges and workload that you face, because someday you'll appreciate them. The journey through the Michigan Ross program is far from easy. It demands substantial effort, and there will be moments of frustration when you feel overwhelmed by the workload. However, it's essential to recognize that this pain is a privilege, and in the end, it will contribute to your personal and professional growth.
What’s your favorite quote?
JOHNSON: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” - Ernest Hemingway
WEERAPPULI: “Attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” - Jack Harbaugh
Favorite TV show to binge?
JOHNSON: Eastbound & Down.
Your favorite book?
JOHNSON: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.
WEERAPPULI: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides or Switch by Chip and Dan Heath.
Favorite comfort food?
JOHNSON: Tacos from Taco Boy in Grand Rapids, MI.
WEERAPPULI: An acai bowl with extra peanut butter and granola.
Favorite sport to watch?
JOHNSON & WEERAPPULI: Michigan Football!
Who do you think are today’s most influential business leaders?
JOHNSON: Tim Cook and Martine Rothblatt.
WEERAPPULI: Sal Khan and Satya Nadella.
If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would they be?
JOHNSON: Bob Marley, Bono, and Paul McCartney (we’d talk a lot about music).
WEERAPPULI: Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, and Tom Brady.