Today, we continue our Executive MBA profile series with a Q&A with alumnus, Jean Borno (EMBA ’17). Interested in connecting with current Executive MBA students and program alumni? Join Darden Admissions, members of our Black Executive MBA student organization and recent graduates on Wednesday, 17 February at 6:00 p.m. EST for a virtual networking event! During this event, attendees will have the opportunity to engage in small group conversations and learn more about the impact of UVA Darden’s Executive MBA program. Build your network as you explore your MBA options. Register for the event.  

Q: What have you been up to since graduation from Darden?

A: Since graduating from Darden in 2017, I have been working on the FinTech startup I launched from Darden and the i.Lab, 1787fp.

1787fp is a powerful digital financial planning platform for young professionals that makes it super easy to build a cash reserve fund, pay off student loan debt, and/or save for a first home/condo.

We secured a pre-seed round of investments, and that allowed me to pursue 1787fp full-time. We have been very fortunate to recruit some great board advisors to 1787fp including the former CTO of a publicly-traded online brokerage firm and a Stanford/MIT fintech expert and mentor. The process of building a new venture and team is very hard, and it has been a series of ups and downs. I have learned to use some of the setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve.

Q: Where did you get the idea for 1787fp? 

A: I worked at Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley as a financial advisor. I noticed these firms did a great job catering to investors with more than $1 million dollars of investment assets, but they struggled to offer solutions for a large underserved market of young professionals that had a “good income” but nowhere close to $1 million to invest.

I thought there had to be a better way to offer affordable financial advice, so I launched 1787fp from the UVA/Darden i.Lab to democratize financial planning and money management. The name 1787fp is a combination of 1787 + fp. The “fp” is for financial planning to distinguish 1787fp from many of our competitors that offer investments but are very light on actual financial planning. 1787 was the year of the US Constitution and represents independence and in our case, financial independence!

Q: How did you decide to pursue an MBA?

Jean Borno (EMBA ’17) with former Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis

A: I spent my career in financial services. and after completing the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation, I considered pursuing the CFA charterholder certification, but I felt that path would have really only helped me become a better financial practitioner. I realized I was interested in something broader, and I started researching what skills would I need to become a CEO.

I looked at the backgrounds of some of the CEOs I admired and found many of them had obtained MBA degrees from top business schools. I thought an MBA would offer both the training and the skills to build and run a national and possibly, a global company. From there, I researched the top MBA programs in the U.S. and narrowed down my list to a few top 15 programs.

Q: What led you to Darden?

A: When I visited Darden, I sat in on a case study class with about sixty students. The student energy was lively and engaging. I noticed the professor asked questions to prompt students, and the students debated back and forth on various courses of action the case protagonist should take, coming up with both answers and actions. This was a huge contrast to the lectures I observed when visiting other schools. At the other MBA programs, the professors lectured at the students, and the students took notes. That felt stale to me.

I live in the Washington, D.C. area, so Darden was convenient for me. Lastly, I was also impressed by the careers of some of Darden’s CEO alumni including Thomas Baltimore, Doug Lebda and Frank M. Sands, Sr. The combination of Darden’s case method of learning, students, professors, and tight-knit network sealed the deal.

Q: What has been the impact of your Darden experience?

A: At Darden, I was working full-time, pursuing a full-time MBA in an executive format and raising a family. So after Darden, I felt prepared to handle any challenge that might come my way!

In addition, over the 21 months of the program, I read and discussed hundreds of cases, across a wide range of function areas – Operations, Marketing, Accounting, Finance, the list goes on. Through this experience, and by being surrounded by such talented classmates, I came to really understand my strengths, but I also learned to seek expert advice for those areas where I didn’t have as much expertise.

Lastly, the program really emphasizes leadership development, and it definitely helped me understand how to place team members in positions where they can do their best work.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for prospective students?

A: I have a few pieces of advice for them:

  1. Follow your passions and do what you love, then work is easier and fun.
  2. Seek mentors that are a couple of steps ahead of where you want to be and reach back and mentor someone that is one or two steps from where you are today.
  3. Become a good storyteller to sell your vision of the future and your career.

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