Bahara Stapelberg, Class of 2023

Bahara Stapelberg (Class of 2023) is an Executive MBA student based in Malibu, California. She is an attorney with extensive marketing experience in the the surf industry (Quiksilver and Rusty), and recently took on a new role as the Executive Director of SurfAid, an international NGO based in Australia. Stapelberg is pursuing the Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) option, which means she will have the opportunity to participate in four global residencies during the program. We caught up with Stapelberg to talk about her MBA journey, her new role and her recommendations for prospective students considering the Executive MBA program.

Q: You made an exciting career change through the program. Tell us about your new role.

A: I am now the Executive Director of SurfAid (USA), an international NGO based in Australia. Our mission is to “significantly improve the health, wellbeing and self-reliance of people living in isolated regions connected to us through surfing.”

Although it is a non-profit, it very much has a start-up feel. When I first joined, one of my mandates was to restructure everything operationally. Now that is behind me, and I’m currently focusing on our strategy for the next three years. In my role, I do a little of everything, which is giving me a wealth of experience running a company. Since it’s a non-profit, I wear many hats, especially while we are restructuring. That has been a rewarding part of the work — being able to do a variety of tasks where no two days are the same.

Stapelberg with her Learning Team during a Leadership Residency in Charlottesville, Virginia

Q: How did you find this opportunity? Tell us more about the strategies and tactics you employed.

A: Through my network! I’ve known one of the board members for almost 27 years and another board member for about 10 years. They were talking to a mutual connection and my name came up as a possible candidate. Between my surfing industry experience and network, my legal background and now earning my MBA, they felt I might be a good fit and approached me about the opportunity.

All those were important factors in helping me stand out as a candidate, but I would say one of the most important factors that separated me from the rest was my knowledge about Development Economics, which I learned in my “Transforming Societies” course with Professors Frank and Veronica Warnock. Not only was I able to bring what I learned in class into the interview, but I also met with Professor Warnock before my interview, and he helped me prep.

I also heavily relied on Career Coaches Jim Collins and Kellogg Leliveld with the Darden Career Center. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in my case, “it took a village to land me the role!” My strategy was not only to use my existing network to get a foot in the door, but to also utilize the many available opportunities at Darden to prepare me and ultimately help me land the role.

Stapelberg with classmates and Darden leadership at an alumni speaker event at UVA Darden DC Metro.

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

A: I can’t emphasize enough the impact Darden has had on me both personally and professionally. I came here for a degree and will be leaving with so much more. The friendships I’ve made here are priceless, the real world experiences I’ve had, through things like the Darden Executive Fund (DEF), have been invaluable, the academic rigor of the program has prepared me for the next phase of my career and the caliber of professors and the relationships I’ve built with them has been truly incredible. I am a better person because of Darden.

Darden Executive Fund Team Members 2022-23

Q: Any advice you would like to share with prospective students?

A: You have a finite amount of time in the program, so say “yes” to what inspires you and take advantage of the opportunities at Darden while you can! I’m a GEMBA format student and serve on the Executive Student Association (ESA) Board as Vice President for Friday Night Live, our regular speaker series. I also serve as CEO of the Darden Executive Fund. It’s a lot of work but its been an invaluable experience to serve in this way, and these experiences have also allowed me to form lifelong friendships, learn beyond the classroom and grow both personally and professionally.

Darden Executive Fund (DEF)

The Darden Executive Fund (DEF) is an independent study providing Executive MBA students hands-on experience researching, pitching, and directly managing a portfolio of active investments in publicly traded assets.

Hear from Darden Executive Fund (DEF) board members CEO Bahara Stapelberg (Class of 2023), CIO Alex Arinsmier (Class of 2023) and Director of Research and Events Jonathan Dengel (Class of 2023) on the ExecMBA Podcast episode below: