Christopher Michaelson and podcast logo.

Bestselling Author Ayad Akhtar Appears on New ‘Work in Progress’ Podcast

Although the words “Work in Progress” are in the title of a new podcast produced by the Melrose and The Toro Company Center for Principled Leadership, its host landed a guest worthy of an established podcast following: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ayad Akhtar.

Host Christopher Michelson, the Opus Distinguished Professor of Principled Leadership, said that the overall plan for the “Work in Progress with Christopher Michaelson” podcast is to explore work through the lens of the arts and humanities. At the beginning of each episode, he shares that he will discuss “every working person's work in progress, namely, our quest to be fully human in a working world that all too often makes us feel like machines.”

Work in Progress podcast logo.

The third episode features Akhtar, who wrote the acclaimed novel Homeland Elegies. The book was named to many lists in 2020, including The New York Times’ “10 Best Books of the Year” and former President Barack Obama’s “Favorite Books of 2020.”

“[The book] is an examination of the moral foundations of capitalism in our society,” said Michaelson, who also is the academic director of the Melrose and The Toro Company Center for Principled Leadership.

Michaelson tag-teamed the interview with Azish Filabi, J.D., the associate professor of ethics and executive director of the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics in Financial Services at The American College of Financial Services. The three explore the role capitalism played – and continues to play – in simultaneously building and crushing lives in the name of the American dream, said Michaelson.

In other podcast episodes, Michaelson has covered artificial intelligence ethics and the good, the bad and the ugly of social networking.

He said he hopes that the podcast will be a resource to the St. Thomas community, particularly students, scholars of meaningful work and the Twin Cities business public. The podcast also could potentially bring a greater national focus on St. Thomas and its thought leadership.

As the nation approaches the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the podcast will feature a multipart series that includes interviews with survivors of the terrorist attacks.

“I thought that this was an appropriate time – especially since our first-year students, for the most part, were not even born in 2001 – to record some history,” Michaelson said. “[I also want] to explore the question of, ‘Can the lives that were tragically lost still teach us about living and working meaningfully?’”

The series will include conversations with an executive from investment firm Piper Sandler, which lost 66 people on 9/11; representatives of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund; and Jennifer Tosti-Kharas of Babson College, with whom Michaelson has collaborated on research about meaningful work.

As Michaelson is a co-editor for the Books (and More) Reviews section of the Journal of Business Ethics with Melrose and The Toro Company Center for Principled Leadership Executive Director Nicole Zwieg Daly, he expects more authors to appear on the podcast as guests.

Christopher Michaelson speaking.
Christopher Michaelson. (Liam James Doyle/University of St. Thomas)

He also wants to add discussions about TV shows and the ties to principled leadership (or lack thereof) to the mix. Top possibilities include conversations around the shows “Succession,” “Billions” and “The Office.”

“I know that ‘The Office’ has been off the air for a long time, but it continues to resonate with audiences because of the misery and absurdity of the workplace that a lot of people experience every day,” Michaelson said. “The fact that that experience resonates with so many people speaks to a need to make our workplaces more humane and more fulfilling.”

Michaelson expects that eight to 10 episodes of the podcast will be produced per year. “Work in Progress with Christopher Michaelson” is available on all major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.