Meet Michael Feder
Michael Feder has an affable, laidback quality that makes you feel instantly comfortable. In speaking with him, one can tell why companies would want to work with him at their most precarious moments.
Shortly into his career, he became the president of a railcar leasing company that was selling its business through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“It was a long and involved process, and I was right in the middle of it,” he said.
Through that trial-by-fire experience, a career was born.
“I developed relationships with creditors, and they would come to me for advice on other deals,” he said. “I decided to hang out my shingle and start a bankruptcy consulting business.”
After running his own shop for 10 years, Michael joined AlixPartners, where he is currently a Managing Director in the Turnaround and Restructuring Services group, and received the firm’s Founder’s Award recognition in 2018.
He describes his career as like the “tortoise in the old fable,” meaning he has worked on a steady stream of interesting engagements for companies like Sara Lee, Energizer, and BI-LO.
For example, he handled a Chapter 11 involving DirecTV’s Latin America unit, which had stumbled out of the gate when subscriber growth substantially lagged targets.
“They had signed up a bunch of contracts with major content producers, but the demand wasn’t there,” he said.
Michael helped renegotiate the contracts and saved the business.
“I ran into DirecTV’s general counsel a few years ago and he said, ‘You know, that business you saved is now worth $5 billion.’ You realize years and years later the impact you had, which you might not understand in the moment,” he recounted.
Michael speaks similar candor and matter-of-factness when talking about his three sons—Dan (38), Abe (35), and Nick (32), two of whom are gay.
“My wife, Sally, and I kid around about Nick, because we kind of knew he was gay from birth. Dan, on the other hand, it kind of surprised us,” he said.
For each, the sentiment is the same.
“He’s our son, we love him,” he said.
Michael noted that as a parent you worry how the rest of the world is going to respond. In junior high, Nick was harassed by a group of older students, and Michael and his wife had to speak to the parents.
“The reaction from the parents was mixed,” he said. “Which was an early reminder that we could never get complacent.”
Like the tortoise, the role of an ally is to be in the race for the long run, continually moving forward.
As the local MD champion for the Chicago office of AlixPartners’ PrideMatters ERG (employee resource group), Michael works to ensure that everyone at the firm is comfortable expressing themselves, regardless of sexual identity or orientation.
“He’s really inclusive and approachable,” said Val Dunn, an Administrative Professional and another member of PrideMatters Chicago. “People know that they can come to him and be supported.”
“One time someone told a joke I didn’t appreciate, and I said something to them,” Michael said. “Fortunately, that was the only incident I can remember in my 21 years at the firm, so a lot of our focus with PrideMatters is how we can open the firm up further.”
His colleagues note that Michael’s active involvement in PrideMatters has set an example.
At an event celebrating Harvey Milk’s work, Michael shared a personal story about his family. “I think for someone who is as respected at the firm as he is to put himself out there really encourages others to get involved,” Val said.
Like his work with PrideMatters, Michael and Sally have consistently looked for ways to show unconditional love for their sons, like when they hired the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus to walk in with the cake at Nick’s 18th birthday. After the performance, members of the chorus came up to Michael and Sally to say how they wished their parents were as supportive as they seemed to be. “It was a poignant night for us,” Michael recalled.
Michael raised his family in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, the oldest officially recognized gay community in the US. When Dan was in elementary school, he would ask if the same-sex couples he saw on the streets were married. “We would tell him that while they weren’t married, they were a couple just like his mom and me,” Michael said.
Many years later, Michael’s sons are all married and starting families of their own. “When we all get together now, Sally and I just look at each other say ‘How much fun is this?’”
As Michael says, many of us don’t realize the impact we can make in a single moment until many, many years later.