EPIC Spotlight: Michael Cummings

First, he was managing a hamburger restaurant. Then there was a brief stint practicing law in southern California. When he realized the legal profession wasn’t his calling, Michael Cummings taught business law in the city known for its casinos and glitzy entertainment.

They were all good experiences. But Cummings and his growing family were looking for a place to settle – one that was more like his childhood home near Salt Lake City. He began sending out résumés.

“I didn’t apply to a lot of places, but this is one of those that I was most interested in,” he says, sitting in his Walton College office.

Cummings joined Walton’s Department of Management in summer 2017 as an assistant professor and teaches Entrepreneurship and New Venture Development to undergraduate students.

The oldest of seven children, Cummings was determined to get a college education. He began saving money while in high school by working at a local restaurant, eventually attaining a management position while earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Utah Valley University in Orem.

Cummings says pop culture – John Grisham novels and the Matlock TV series – played a role in his pursuing a law degree. “It showed the fun side of law,” he says.

After earning his law degree, Cummings stepped away from the restaurant business and worked at a small law firm in Pasadena, California. Many of his cases involved family law, often with emotional clientele. That, alone, could take its toll. One thing he noticed, however, was that the clients who could easily afford lawyers were often entrepreneurs, whom he found fascinating. When he realized law wasn’t his calling, he returned to college – this time at the University of Minnesota – to earn a Ph.D. in strategic management and entrepreneurship.

The idea to return to college for a doctorate was a big career change but wasn’t exactly radical. Cummings’ family includes several professors who offered guidance during his Ph.D. journey. “I got some advice about sticking with your dissertation even when it seems impossible or has lost its original allure—in the end what matters is that you see the project to completion,” he says.

His endurance paid off with a doctorate and an assistant professorship at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, where he taught for three years.

Other than the presence of Walmart, Cummings admits he knew relatively little about Northwest Arkansas. When a professorship opened in Walton’s management department, he applied and was invited to the University of Arkansas campus for an interview with his first overnight stay at the historic Inn at Carnall Hall, a former women’s dormitory built in 1905. “I was impressed with the beautiful campus and sense of history that’s here,” he says.

When he gave his presentation, which was part of the interview process, he was pleased to see a strong turnout from departmental faculty and students.

“They came and asked really good questions,” he says. “They were just really intellectually curious.”

Cummings also discovered the faculty to be “collegial and productive.” He and his family seem to have found their new home. “The kids are really happy with their schools, and we love the beauty of the ‘Natural State,’” he says.

Presented with the opportunity to teach an introductory entrepreneurship class, he took it. Cummings says he likes to help students catch a vision, whether they plan to start a venture or not, to help them better understand how to recognize and pursue valuable opportunities. Although he doesn’t often stray from his Walton office, he really enjoys visits to the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, a working space and training center for new and early stage entrepreneurs in Northwest Arkansas just west of the downtown Fayetteville Square. “There’s an element of creativity in entrepreneurship that’s really invigorating,” he says.

His wife, Shaughan, whom Michael Cummings met in law school, is a management instructor at Walton and teaches Strategic Management.

Cummings’ research includes studying new markets and how entrepreneurs get their resources, such as through equity crowd funding. He’s also interested in how immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States invest their money. His work has been published in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, the Journal of Business Venturing and others.

While not at work, Cummings enjoys spending time with his family, hiking and fishing. “It’s fabulous to live in such beautiful mountains,” he says.