Justin Fishman, MBA ‘11: Bringing the Ross Network to Youth in Philadelphia
“My passion is putting people together to accomplish a goal,” says Justin Fishman, MBA ‘11. “With the fact that I can do it for a purpose close to my heart, I feel like I’ve achieved the ultimate career dream.”
For Fishman, this career dream comes in the form of his role as vice president of operations and programming at the KB Foundation, an organization providing mentoring and life skills development for at-risk youth in Philadelphia. “Our primary aim is to help young people connect with positive role models and gain a deeper sense of self worth and belonging,” he says. “To make this work successful, I have to have big dreams and a deep love for connecting with people.”
Changing the minds and hearts of young people
At the KB Foundation, Fishman brings his entrepreneurial mindset and passion for people to everything he does. His primary goal is expanding the organization, which started in 2017 with a single summer camp and, under his leadership, has grown to 10 programs serving more than 140 youth. Fishman, who joined in 2021, leads the organization’s programming and fundraising.
The primary emphasis of their programs is engaging prominent leaders in the community to educate youth, and Fishman’s zest for connecting people is exactly what the organization thrives on. “I look for mentors who can share valuable knowledge and open doors,” he says. “Most of all, I look for people who will inspire.”
Finding mentors who inspire is just what Fishman does. Recent mentors he has engaged include Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, Los Angeles Lakers center Mo Bamba, Top Chef winner and prominent chef Nicholas Elmi, and Federal Donuts CEO Tom Henneman, along with other prominent local business and community leaders. He even recently led a trip with Bamba to the Ivory Coast for youth to conduct leadership activities there in collaboration with a friend from the Ross School of Business. “Offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences that truly change the perspectives of youth is my goal,” he says.
Building connections at Michigan Ross
Prior to his work with the KB Foundation, Fishman explains that he struggled for years to find his career purpose, and it was this search that led him to Michigan Ross: “From a young age, I wanted to find my true calling in life. I thought Michigan Ross would expose me to a lot of options, and it did exactly that.”
“I loved every second of my time at Ross,” he says. “I was exposed to a wide variety of things that helped me see the world and my career in a new way.” One example was his experience in MTrek where students visit companies and learn about different jobs and cultures, as well as meet the Michigan Ross alumni who work there.
“I hiked in Iceland and the Swiss Alps and had some of my most memorable life experiences.”
Fishman says Ross’ emphasis on teams also benefited him. “Leveraging the strengths of teams and networks is what I do every day in my work. I’m constantly facing a lack of resources, and Ross gave me the mindset to be creative and draw strengths from different people.”
He and his wife, Rachel, who worked for the Tauber Institute during his time at Ross, say they loved the small college town atmosphere in Ann Arbor after having always lived in bigger cities.
“Most of all,” he says, “Ross gave me a great network. I got to know so many amazing people and made incredible friends.”
Finding his true calling
After business school, Fishman took a position working in finance and began climbing the ladder. In 2016 he went into the U.S. Navy, in part due to a connection at Ross, and in 2019 and 2020, he was deployed in the Middle East. Upon returning from active duty, Fishman, who is now a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, resumed his work in the finance sector, and again he found himself yearning for a change. “I was very successful in what I did, but my heart was never in it,” he says. “I wanted to do something I genuinely loved.”
In 2016, tapping into his long standing love of community service, Fishman began volunteering with Project Dad, a local youth organization, to expand financial literacy. In 2019, he won the U.S. Navy’s Medal for Outstanding Volunteer Service for this work. Wanting to continue these efforts, in 2020, he and Rachel started a mentoring program and began collaborating with the KB Foundation’s founder, Kirk Berry. “The more I became involved in this work, the more I realized this was what I wanted to do with my career,” he says.
He and Berry continued collaborating, and Fishman realized that the work of the KB Foundation was the perfect platform to apply his business background and expand the ways he could bring needed services to more local youth.
Leaping from finance to community service
Fishman made the leap to full-time work with the KB Foundation in 2021 and hasn’t looked back. “It’s been a huge change for me, in terms of income and job security. But I’m having a blast. The work that I do doesn’t feel like work; it feels natural. Some days are not easy; I confront very difficult social and emotional issues. But I’m doing what I’m meant to do. And it is a thrill.”
Fishman says the basis of everything he does is people. “I now know exactly what my passion is: Connecting people to needs and creating positive opportunities.”
In everything I do I’m tapping into the vast resources of the Ross network. Many of my classmates are out in the world doing great things, and I love connecting everything they have to offer with the youth we serve. The network is invaluable.
As far as advice he has for others, Fishman unequivocally says: “Find what you truly love doing. Many people choose their work based on the sector, when they need to focus on the task. Figure out the specific work tasks that give you energy, and then find the sector or cause that connects with your values. For me, that’s been the magic recipe.”
So many people at Michigan Ross have paved the way for my success, in a great variety of ways. I’m truly grateful.