Maximillian C. Garcia III is viewing the global pandemic through the eyes of someone who thrives in a crisis.

As a senior honors student at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Garcia became a veteran of the annual and intense Leadership Crisis Challenge that throws real-world dilemmas at students, who have 36 hours to develop business and media solutions.

Students assume the roles of CEO, chief financial officer, and the like. During the challenge, participants meet with executives from organizations such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Blackrock, who act as boards of directors.

Students work in small teams and have no idea what crisis they will face until the challenge begins. The crisis situation evolves in real time and the feedback — from working journalists, shareholders and the public — is constant and tough.

Maximillian C. Garcia III graduated with a degree in finance from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.
Maximillian C. Garcia III graduated with a degree in finance from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. (Photo courtesy of Maximillian C. Garcia III)

“There are a lot of curveballs,” Garcia said. Their work is judged by U-M alumni, the media and the public.

Garcia participated in the challenge program as a sophomore and junior. One year, he and his teammates dealt with managing a devastating oil spill at sea. Another year brought a school filled with children sickened by food poisoning. Garcia said he loved the intensity and the deep immersion of the experience.

“You kind of walk into the unknown,” he said. “It teaches you a valuable life lesson.”

He sees how those lessons can be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic: Facts matter. Decisions should be based on knowledge. Not every decision will be right, but leaders should accept the steps taken and remain positive.

The Leadership Crisis Challenge is hosted by the Sanger Leadership Center and is open to all U-M students. Where most who participate do so once or possibly twice, Garcia intended to compete for a third time with the 2020 challenge. His plans were quashed by the closing of campus due to COVID-19.

Garcia majored in finance — “I’m definitely a numbers guy” — with a minor in performance arts management in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. He said he likes the language of music.

“I have always thought that music allows a person to convey their emotions much like an artist on a canvas does,” he said.

Complementing his academic work was his involvement with the U-M Fencing Club and the Michigan Research Community.

As a high school student in Rancho Cucamonga, California, Garcia initially planned to attend either community college or accept a scholarship to play football at a small college. Attending an out-of-state university never entered his mind because of the cost, he said. But an encounter with a persuasive U-M alumnus and a financial aid package led him to Ann Arbor.

“There hasn’t been a better experience in my life than the University of Michigan,” he said.

Garcia is now considering options to work in Boston or Seattle.

“I have always followed the words, ‘Run towards your destiny and you will fall at your future,’” he said. “Those words took me to Michigan and will take me to my next adventure.”