July 15, 2009

Finance and Piano Lessons

Michael Friedman ’02 notes a parallel between his career in music and pursuing his MBA: discipline.


Michael Friedman ’02 has worn many hats over the course of his life. He fled his birthplace of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) for Israel in the mid-’80s before landing in New York City. “The Soviet Union was not a particularly friendly country to Jews or dissidents,” he says. “My family fell into both of these categories.”

And his path toward an MBA was not typical: he began his career as a concert pianist. Friedman is a classically trained musician who has performed at Lincoln Center—his favorite music to play is Chopin’s—and completed his PhD in philosophy and performing arts at New York University before choosing to pursue an MBA.

“I thought I would quit my academic career only if I got into one of the top business schools,” he says. “Given my aversion to moving in general, I thought that the only place for me was Columbia.”

The School is where Friedman met the people who would launch his career as an entrepreneur. In his second year, scientists approached him in his entrepreneurship class with a potentially market-changing medical device to test for a major complication in pregnancy. He shaped their invention into a business plan that won a Lang Center entrepreneurship award and a small grant that afforded him the money to obtain a provisional patent for the device.

“I built part of my curriculum around this business plan, and I used that as a way to examine its pluses and minuses,” Friedman says. “The plan was used and modified constantly.”

Success didn’t come right away, however. “I literally starved for three years after graduate school,” he says. “In an ideal scenario, I would’ve worked for a year or more at a large company or done consulting. This would have been preferable, given my quick metamorphosis from concert pianist to businessman. But unfortunately 2002 was the year of the crash of the dot-com economy, so jobs were hardly available, particularly for people with my background. I had to start a company right away and finance it with occasional piano lessons.”

Friedman’s company evolved from a one-man operation into what is now AmniSure International. It manufactures, markets and distributes a fetal membrane test, which was approved by the FDA in 2004. The company is one of the few experiencing growth in this economic climate. (“I’m looking for a general manager, if anyone is interested,” he says.)

Ultimately, Friedman hopes AmniSure becomes an empire in the same vein as Johnson & Johnson, a company that, he says, “started with one tremendously good product that provided the cash, resources and platform to build on and expand.”

To do this, Friedman will likely use the one parallel he says he found between music and pursuing his MBA: discipline. “Without discipline,” he says, “nothing can be achieved.”

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