Amy Muntner (BSE IOE ’88) was born to compete. Her willingness to face one challenge after another – as an athlete, student and executive – has repeatedly transformed potential into skill. She was good enough in high school to play soccer for the State of Maryland. Tough enough to skate for the Harvard Blades, a women’s ice hockey team. “They won a championship with me in the goal.” She’s discovered karate. And her tennis game is spirited. “I’m not great, but I’m getting much more consistent.”
She summed things up simply. “I guess I like a good challenge.”
That ethic served her well in selecting a school – she wasn’t afraid to tackle U-M. “It looked strong in a number of areas. I saw how diverse the community was – that appealed to me.” She paused before saying, “It also looked like a fun place to go.”
“I’ve had a really fun couple of decades simply by following paths that were interesting, rather than expected.” -Amy Muntner
Muntner arrived on campus in 1984, ready for an LSA curricula with highly varied and challenging courses, including Japanese studies, which would prove to be very valuable. But she also liked science and math. “The engineering students were interesting, and when I saw the opportunities that engineering opened up, I switched from LSA. I met some terrific people on North Campus. We studied and played hard together.”
Muntner joined Alpha Epsilon Phi and eventually became its vice president. She was also a member of Tau Beta Pi and Alpha Pi Mu honor societies. “All of the organizations were a good complement to each other and very important in my development.”
In the summer of 1987, she studied at Sophia University in Tokyo, then returned to Ann Arbor for her senior year. Harvard followed fast on Michigan Engineering’s heels. She got her MBA in 1993 and headed out on an enviable career path. Employers tapped her skills in programming, design, development and implementation of systems, as well as her talent for business strategy. Noting her background in Japanese language and a general fascination with the world, companies put her to work in Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, New York and New Jersey.
Each stop along the way was notable for a variety of reasons – more than can be mentioned here – but there were highlights.
Andersen Consulting introduced her to the world that she’d live in throughout her career. (“It was fast-paced and grueling, but fun and interesting.”) At McKinsey & Company she developed strategies for blue-chip companies and even helped renegotiate an underperforming JV between top Japanese and British powerhouses. She made stops at KnowledgeCube, Toys ‘R’ Us (“It brought out the kid in me”) and finally at Sesame Workshop.
“I discovered the incredible power of Elmo. But to have so much license revenue dependent on one person, character or thing is risky. My assignment was to create a Muppet that would resonate with girls and take the pressure off of Elmo.”
Muntner led a cross-functional team that created Abby Cadabby, a three-year-old fairy-in-training who, among other things, helps families and their children adopt healthier lifestyle habits.
It was during her years at Sesame Workshop that Muntner realized her priorities and definition of success had radically shifted. “I was an executive with a family; it was hard to maintain any kind of balance. I wanted to spend quality time with them. Something had to give.”
She left Sesame Street in 2008 to spend more time with her husband, Kevin, and their daughters, Alison and Lucy. When Kevin got a job opportunity in London, the family took off on another adventure across the pond. It was there that she served on the Host Committee for the first-ever University- wide event at the House of Lords. “London has been a great place for us – it’s calmer than Manhattan but just as stimulating in a different way.”
“I’ve had a really fun couple of decades simply by following paths that were interesting, rather than expected. This includes professional (choosing to work as an officer at Toys ‘R’ Us and an executive at Sesame Street rather than returning to the higher-earning professional services), geographic (making many, many moves) and personal (taking time off to be with my kids).”
Muntner, now settled in London, is considering multiple opportunities including an entrepreneurial venture as well as non-executive director positions. “I think it’ll be one more thing that I’m very proud of, one more step in a rich and varied experience that started at Michigan Engineering. That’s where I got my foundation. It opened up a world of possibilities and prepared me for each and every one.”