Steve Mikhlin is a Risk Manager at Morgan Stanley. His work is mainly concerned with managing the organization’s cyber, fidelity, fraud, and aviation risks. Prior to joining Morgan Stanley, Steve was the Risk Manager for the Port Authority of NY/NJ, handling its real estate, marine, rail, transportation infrastructure and airport/aviation risks. Before working for the Port Authority, he worked for Marsh & McLennan and as a manager of inside sales for an aviation maintenance and repair company in New Jersey.
Steve’s aviation career began as an aircraft and powerplant technician for Tower Air, before moving on to British Airways as a Line Maintenance Engineer. From there, he joined Matsushita Avionics Corp. serving as a Field Service Technician.
Mr. Mikhlin’s pursuit of aviation began as a child, having always been drawn to airplanes and aviation. From the days of his immigration from the Soviet Union to the United States in 1980, Steve was enamored by the uniforms, formality, and respect aviators commanded and the many flight and cabin crew members he met along the way from Moscow to Austria and JFK International Airport.
Upon his arrival to the U.S.A. Steve’s choice to pursue his love of aviation was very clear and he attributes his success and much of what he has accomplished in his life, thus far, to the influence, education, and discipline he learned at Aviation High School as a graduate of the Class of 1989. Here, he earned his diploma and FAA Airframe & Powerplant license as well as an FCC General Radiotelephone Operator’s license. He obtained his B.S. from Vaughn College of Aeronautics.
1 How did your experiences at Aviation High School and Vaughn College shape your career path?
Attending Aviation High School (AHS) was perhaps the single most important decision of my professional life. It shaped my career and in many ways my view of the world. AHS taught me how to work in a zero-tolerance industry where everything matters. I learned that one’s reputation precedes them and that being punctual, detail-oriented, and having respect for others are three key ingredients of a successful reputation. I formed relationships that endure to this day, many of us from the Class of 1989 continue to stay in touch.
In many ways, Vaughn College was a continuation of my experience at AHS. I attended classes taught by some of the best professors in the industry. Their ability to teach complicated topics in physics and math gave me a whole new appreciation for the subjects and, quite frankly, gave me the tools I need in my current profession.
My passion for AHS is what prompted me to found the Aviation High School Education Foundation (AHSEF). I wanted to do something positive and lasting for the AHS. And what better way than to create an organization that will benefit students and graduates alike.
2 As a student did you see yourself working as a maintenance technician, or was the business side of aviation always your plan?
I took the AHS entrance exam in 1985 with one thing in mind – I wanted to fix airplanes for a living. However, I found the business of aviation fascinating – pilots, flight attendants, fuelers, and mechanics – working together as parts of a diverse, multicultural community working towards a common goal.
I have met many aviation professionals whose experiences fueled my passion. They shared stories of their challenges and shared information about the rewards available if we were fortunate enough to get a job with one of the big airlines. They talked about the generous compensation, benefits, and paid time off. Frankly, there was only one benefit that meant anything to me at the time – flight benefits. I envisioned myself jetting off to exotic destinations, visiting distant shores, and experiencing new foods, languages, and customs.
3 What made you change career paths from the technical side to your current role within risk management?
After many years of working the midnight shift, I managed to complete a bachelor’s in science degree in Aerospace Technology. Almost immediately, opportunities came my way. One of which was with a group of investors, who at the time were focusing on FAR 145 repair stations. As Manager of Inside Sales, I helped to build a little-known repair station into a formidable competitor within its space.
I would argue that there are many parallels between aviation technology and risk management. Both fields require a technical aptitude and an ability to understand systems, processes, and comprehend complicated, often highly nuanced language. Both industries are highly regulated, requiring knowledge of laws and policies. My aviation career training was a great springboard toward risk management.
After I earned my Aircraft and Powerplant licenses, I set out to earn an FCC GROL license, which I obtained through self-study. I also managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in aviation sciences while working full-time as an A&P at JFK Airport.
The senior management at the small airline I was working for recognized my resourcefulness and offered me an opportunity to move into a managerial role.
4 Can you tell us about your current position as Vice President, Risk and Insurance Management at Morgan Stanley?
When people ask me whether I like my job I often say, “No. I love my job.” I work for a multinational, highly respected, world-class organization that prides itself on its ability to recruit and retain top talent. I am very proud of being part of this group of professionals. My responsibility is to help protect the Firm against financial losses stemming from any variety of events, including financial and personal injury to its employees, clients, or arising out of its engagement with its vendors. I do this, primarily, in two ways: I help to negotiate agreements with our counterparties, and I procure insurances that protect the Firm from losses.
5 What advice can you offer people interested in pursuing a career within aviation?
You need to start with a passion for aviation, this will sustain you through the turbulence you will experience in your career. Prioritize your studies and build a network of like-minded professionals.
Make sure to build a solid reputation for knowing your craft AND for working well with others.
Remain flexible, you may need to take a job that isn’t within your primary discipline. For example, you’re an avionics technician and the position offered is interior maintenance. Take the job! Always keep an eye out for new opportunities and professional growth.