Josh Bitterman, MBA '22
Josh Bitterman, MBA ‘22, is a versatile entrepreneur with extensive experience in both sports business and finance. After earning his bachelor's degree in sports management from the University of Michigan, Josh worked in corporate sponsorships at Palace Sports and Entertainment, as well as IMG Sports and Entertainment. He then served as director of corporate sponsorships at the University of Michigan and later went into financial planning, first serving as VP of the independent financial planning firm Bloomfield Financial and then opening his own financial firm Insignia Wealth Management, which specialized in working with small business owners.
Today, Josh is the owner and general manager of Goldfish Swim Schools in the Kansas City metro area. “I originally got into the Goldfish business as an investor. Goldfish Swim School is a Michigan-based business that started in Birmingham, MI. It’s now franchised, with 110 locations open nationwide and another 80 or so currently under development.”
Josh and his business partner opened the first Kansas City location in 2018. Now as a student of the Michigan Ross Executive MBA Program, Josh is in the process of opening his second Goldfish Swim location, with plans to eventually open up to four locations in the area.
"When I left my undergrad program, as much as I loved it — I loved the professors, loved the campus, the whole experience — I definitely left feeling like I was lacking certain business skills. Despite my diverse business experience and being an entrepreneur for about seven years now, I always felt like I could gain a lot from going back.”
A true U-M Wolverine, Josh had kept his sights on the Michigan Ross Executive MBA Program.
“If I wasn’t here, I don’t know if I would ever have gotten my MBA done. The Michigan brand, the power of Michigan connections, the alumni network, the fact that I went to undergrad here — all of those things went into making this a very simple decision.”
Executive Multidisciplinary Action Project
At the start of his Ross EMBA journey, Josh's goal was to broaden his capabilities and knowledge of topics outside of his comfort zone. This made his ExecMAP project, a required 10-week project immersion course, a particularly valuable experience. Josh and his team worked on developing strategy for a tech startup. In the process, he was able to gain insight into how to effectively present data-based recommendations to clients and how to navigate tough client conversations.
It was a wonderful experience. It was a lot of work, but tremendously valuable in broadening my horizons. It gave me an opportunity to dive in and do something that I was not exactly comfortable with, and it all came together very well at the end.
The Leadership Development Program embedded into the EMBA curriculum has had a significant impact on Josh as a business owner.
“Michigan [Ross] is known for general management, but they’re really leaning heavy into people skills, how to build the right type of positive organizational culture, and leading with empathy.The program has done a really nice job of rounding out the functional knowledge with how to be better in terms of team building, building the right type of culture, and interpersonal skills.”
Josh said the Strategic Leaders Executive Education elective was an integral part of his EMBA experience. As a business owner, he appreciated the emphasis Michigan has on leadership for executives.
Just as I think back in my career and even interfacing with other CEOs, whenever you talk to seasoned executives about their challenges, it always seems to be around people, culture, and about how to motivate teams. It’s critical, and I think Michigan does a superb job for putting the right amount of emphasis on leadership.
The Michigan Model of Leadership also helped Josh understand his strengths and areas he wanted to improve in.
“As a leader, you have to be somewhat of a chameleon and understand when the organization needs you to shift between the quadrants; understanding not only to shore up weaknesses and build upon strengths, but also how to move between those quadrants has been a pivotal lesson.”
Putting Knowledge into Action
You’re constantly gaining things that you’re putting to work every day.
The format of the Ross Executive MBA allows students to apply what they are learning in real-time to maximize performance in their current roles. For Josh, there are clear areas where he is implementing the lessons he’s learned while working on opening new Goldfish Swim School locations.
“From the very beginning, the Ross program afforded me with immediately actionable knowledge that benefited our team and the organization. As we continue through this next phase of our growth -- whether it is in real estate negotiations, financing decisions, optimizing systems and processes or aligning our team around a shared vision -- the lessons I’ve learned and the confidence I've gained through this program have significantly upped my game.”