Hear Me Roar
August 2018 Issue
By Michelle Wycoff
Photography by Christian Lee
She earned her under graduate English degree at UGA, did her post grad work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), cut a distinguished upward swath through the technology career industry—including a stint at IBM—and for the past year, she’s been serving as Vice President of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. Whew. It doesn’t take a degree from MIT to see that our August #smartypants theme fits Michelle Wycoff to a tee. We can’t wait to hear her roar.
Were you always known as “The Smart Girl” in school? I wore glasses sometimes with the frame masking-taped together in the middle. I probably looked smart! I won my first science fair when I was nine. I built a computer motherboard and explained binary code to my class. In the 1970s, computers weren’t as pervasive as they are today. I think I shocked everyone, including my teachers.
How did an English major from the University of Georgia find herself up north doing post graduate work at MIT? I wanted to explore the world and write about it. Upon graduation from UGA, I had a chance to take the National Geographic “legends test.” Armed with the article’s working title, photos and photographer notes, they tested the ability to write photo captions to intrigue readers. Thousands submitted, 100 were selected, and two were hired. Even though I made it to the finals, I didn’t get the job. I was crushed. Years later, I learned the same skills needed for writing those short but captivating captions were also useful to explain and simplify complex technologies. One of my employers recognized this and sponsored me at MIT.
What was it like to attend grad school where EVERYONE was a smarty pants? Looking back, there were two experiences that taught me how small I am in a very large world. The first was MIT. The second was studying abroad at the Universidad de Granada in Spain. You realize your limitations—and your opportunities—when presented with broadened perspective.
What is the smartest career move you ever made? Surprisingly, the key was to not be stagnant. Management consulting for both of my employers, Accenture and IBM, meant engaging new clients, working with new teams, and solving different business problems across the globe on a continual basis. I loved this! Today, my husband and I have applied these experiences as entrepreneurs. We are on a mission to deliver data-based performance outcomes in golf. We are making custom club fitting smart by using predictive analytics and innovative technologies, like sensors and 3D optical motion capture cameras (like the ones used to create animated movies such as Avatar and Monsters, Inc.).
Your smartest personal move? I sat with Madeline Albright and a few top women executives for lunch at the Rainbow Room in NYC. While in awe of them, I realized women can’t have it all. Well, at least, most don’t. I walked away with an understanding of the sacrifices these amazing women had made to achieve success. Personally, I shifted my priorities to focus on family.
What is your definition of smart? Learning how to use what you are given—whether knowledge, technology, or something else—to make better decisions.
As the mother of two young children, do you think today’s kids spend too much time on smartphones and other “smart” devices?It’s tough. On one hand technologies like AI, IoT, Blockchain will change the world, but only if they can be effectively trained, trusted, and applied. The world our kids will live in (and work in) will use these technologies. On the other hand, excessive use takes away from other hands-on learning and outdoor recreation. I guess it’s finding the right balance.
What’s the smartest thing hanging in your closet? The organizer. If I didn’t have shelves and thoughtful spaces for my things, I’d be lost.
Who was the smarty pants in the family who chose to move to Hilton Head and why? Hilton Head Island presents amazing opportunities for young entrepreneurs and remote workers. After more than 15 years of consulting and around 200 nights a year on the road, it didn’t take much arm twisting to move here. With family as our first priority, we happily said goodbye to our Starwood concierge and airline status to live close to the beach, bike pathways, fishing, and dolphin watching.
What’s the smartest thing you’ve heard lately? Hmmm. I’d say it’s the One Cent Transportation project, which will widen and improve Island bridges. With over 8,000 workers commuting here each day, the referendum gives our community the opportunity to manage congestion in a smart way. These are the hospitality workers delivering the experiences worthy of accolades like “Best Island in the U.S.” by Travel & Leisure. These are the people who will care for our aging 65-plus population, teach our kids in our schools, and keep our community safe. If we don’t approve it, the alternative is a one-lane bridge during ad-hoc repairs, more tolls, and declining property values.
Do you eat smart? I try and it’s about to get a lot easier. At IBM, some of my peers came up with a smart app, powered by Watson, that makes food logging so simple, all you have to do is take a photo of your meal and Watson will automatically tally calories, food value, and provide personalized coaching to meet your individual goals.
What Makes You Roar? I am a wife, a mom (of two smart kids!), a board member of Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, co-founder of SwingFit, and Vice President of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. It’s hard to give 100 percent to all of it, all the time. As I child, I wanted to be perfect. As a teen, I realized that I was not. As an adult, I learned when you fail, fail fast. You just have to be smart, learn from each failure, and make that your next success!