Illinois alumnus Mike Munson’s (BSEE ’89) life could best be described as a balancing act.
On top of his already heavy work load of an Illinois electrical engineering student, Munson managed to find time to lead the Illinois baseball team as a pitcher. In his four seasons with the team, Munson made 74 appearances on the mound, which places him at third all-time in Illinois baseball history.
In order to keep up with demanding schedule, Munson had to develop serious time management skills. Despite playing close to 72 games every spring, Munson said he never received any special treatment from professors because of his athlete status. As a result, he and his fellow engineering teammates would spend their bus rides to away games doing homework.
Homework, however, wasn’t a distraction for Munson once the games started. His skills as a pitcher were good enough to get him drafted by the LA Dodgers in 1988, but because of an insufficient signing bonus, Munson decided to take his talents much farther west than California.
“Upon being drafted, I was close to graduation and I was also job interviewing,” Munson said. “I was getting job offers for $35,000 a year, which was a lot back then… Then I got a call from a team in Japan, and they actually made me an offer to play on a minor league team that was basically owned and operated by IBM Japan. It was kind of the best of both worlds because I wound up playing baseball for a technology company.”
The Boulder, Colo., native went through a significant transition, as he’d never lived abroad. Munson was unfamiliar with the language and relied on a translator when he first arrived in Japan, but he was able to pick up Japanese from his teammates.
Along with being able to continue his baseball career, Munson was also able to put his degree to use for IBM Japan as an engineer in the facility responsible for the development of the four megabyte DRAM chip. He participated in the manufacturing process, as well as checking the quality of the chips being produced.
Munson had to once again balance engineering and baseball, but the challenge was much easier once he got to Japan because his primary job during the season was to play baseball. During his tenure with the Nihon IBM Yasu, it made a run all the way to the league championship game.
After three years with the team, Munson decided he wanted to return to the U.S. to focus on his engineering career.
“I got to know a lot of people in IBM, so once I was done in Japan, it was just a matter of calling on some of those folks with my resume,” Munson said. “By far, one of the big things that really helped me get a job in the U.S. was my degree from University of Illinois. It was such a prestigious degree from the engineering department that I had no trouble whatsoever finding a job.”
Once he returned stateside, Munson continued to work for IBM in Washington, D.C. before moving to another IBM division in Boulder. Getting the chance to move back home was something he was looking forward to after being away for so many years.
Despite working in his hometown, he still has a connection to the country where his career began. In 2007, his IBM division was bought out by Ricoh, a Japanese imaging and electronics company.
However, now when Munson visits Japan, it’s for business, not baseball. Having lived abroad in the early ‘90s, Munson feels IBM prepared him well for the shift in the industry towards a more modern global economy.
“IBM was decades ahead of the industry with regards to globalization,” Munson said. “IBM really knew how to run a worldwide company. Early in my career, knowing how to work in that environment was very valuable. To this day, it has been very fruitful to me. If anybody gets a chance to work overseas in a cross-cultural environment, I strongly encourage it because it is such an eye-opening experience.”