Michael Wagner started a transportation company that’s growing so fast it’s on the Inc. 500 list. He has 22 employees, and he just bought a second home in the mountains. And he thinks it won’t be too long before he splurges on a Lamborghini, his childhood dream car.
Sometimes the 34-year-old has to stop and pinch himself. Is this really happening?
After all, the founder of Target Freight Management, which negotiates logistics contracts for small- and medium-sized manufacturers, wasn’t exactly voted the most likely to succeed in high school. He came from a poor and troubled background. He didn’t know his father and had a strained relationship with his mother. Things were so rough at home in Brookline, he often would crash at the homes of his friends, girlfriends and coach. Distracted by the turmoil he barely eked out a high school diploma.
To the outside world, he looked like a hopeless screw-up, not an entrepreneur in the making. “Nobody thought I would amount to anything,” he said.
Even his high school guidance counselor told him he was not college material. He proved naysayers wrong by earning a baseball scholarship to Erskine College. But when his daughter was born, he dropped out to support his family in Pittsburgh.
He studied two years at Community College of Allegheny County before transferring to Point Park University, the institution that changed his life.
From the start, Point Park seemed to see something special in Wagner. He was offered a new baseball scholarship but told then-head coach Mark Jackson he wouldn’t be able to play because of family obligations. To Wagner’s surprise, Point Park gave him the scholarship anyway.
To support his wife Pam and daughter Lexi while pursuing a business degree, he maintained a full course load and worked at FedEx. The young couple only had one car, so he would wake up in middle of the night to take his wife to her job that started at 4 am. It was an insane schedule, but he forged ahead.
Giving 100 Percent
He loved the intellectual stimulation he received at Point Park and found two mentors in Dimitris Kraniou, Ph.D., professor of international economics and global management, and William Breslove, Ph.D., professor of business management.
Wagner, who earned an M.B.A., immediately impressed Breslove. “Everything he does, he gives 100 percent,” Breslove said. “Most people go through the motions and check out other people’s reaction. I don’t think Mike has ever been concerned about impressing other people. He is only concerned about doing it right.”
Wagner remembers Breslove telling him, “Mike, you are going to be a real success. You just have to find out what you are great at.“
Turns out, he was a great salesman. He landed a job with a freight management company worked his way up to the position of national sales manager. The boy who had barely finished high school was now earning $150,000 a year.
Life was good for the father of two, but he couldn’t shake the idea starting his own company. Risks came naturally to him. “I grew up with nothing. If I lost it all tomorrow, it was not the end of the world.”
But launching Target Freight Management in 2009 turned out to be harder than he’d imagined. Other transportation firms were going out of business as he was starting up. He worked 80 works a week trying to land his elusive first customer. But then he started landing clients, and sales keep multiplying.
He said his background makes him want to prove people wrong. “People are shocked at what I am able to do. All my motivation comes from my childhood and people doubting me.”
Text by Cristina Rouvalis
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University