Alumni in Hospitality: How This Veteran Landed in a “Rocket Ship” Startup
After spending time as an entrepreneur, Marine Officer and Big Four consultant, Patrick Weeks (EMBA ’18 and pictured above at center) pivoted into a hospitality, technology and startup role during his MBA studies at Darden. He now leads the Washington, D.C. market for Sonder, a tech hospitality company, as the company’s General Manager. In less than two years, Patrick has led the D.C. market’s growth as Sonder quadrupled its headcount and grew from thirteen markets to thirty. In this discussion, Patrick shares insights for transitioning from the military and into corporate and startup worlds, and how Darden and the Career Development Center prepared him to make that transition.
As a former Logistics Officer in the Marine Corps, what advice do you have for veterans considering Darden?
Initially I was worried about how I might fit in at a civilian MBA program. Honestly, Darden exceeded my expectations for how welcoming a school could be for a veteran like myself. There are many reasons I would highly recommend Darden for veterans, beyond the great benefits you see online. The culture among students and staff is hospitable to and familiar with veterans, and I was happily surprised to learn that over a quarter of my classmates were veterans. It’s easier to share and reference stories and experiences from my service when many understand and welcome that part of your personal story.
One mentor of mine recommended I target the best MBA school in the geographic region in which I wanted to work. Once you take this into account, along with the fact that the D.C.-Virginia region is the most active hub of military and veteran industry, you have an unmatched combination of network and job opportunities.
Darden’s Career Development Center (CDC) staff has helped hundreds of former military transition to new leadership roles in civilian companies. I was happy there was no need to reinvent the wheel.
What are your day-to-day and strategic responsibilities as General Manager at Sonder?
I was hired in early 2018 to launch Sonder’s thirteenth market in D.C. We’re an apartment hotel company — think the best of unique home sharing combined with the reliable, professional brand of a hotel. I lead a diverse team in building this market. My responsibilities span from leading strategy, building governmental and community relations, working with local developers to sign new real estate deals, and launch and operate new boutique Sonder hotels.
Today, we’re at 30 markets and growing, having quadrupled our headcount and business in less than two years. Every day, our company and my role evolve as we progress from startup, to scale-up to established, global brand. It’s been a rocket ship!
What skills does Sonder value in MBA graduates?
Sonder’s culture for operational leaders demonstrates a pervasive appreciation for MBA degrees. More than 80 percent of our General Managers have top MBAs, so it’s practically a prerequisite for the role. As a market leader of such a diverse set of roles, we’re responsible for running somewhat self-contained businesses.
As we see it, there’s no better certification for an education targeting the general business leader than an MBA. Personally, I can attest to many situations in which I hark back to specific MBA classes, cases and lessons — from leadership courses, communications, accounting, finance, to entrepreneurship.
How did Darden’s Executive MBA program prepare you for your career transition?
I use an incredible breadth of my MBA studies day-to-day. Since my role involves strategy, business development, communications, financial analysis and operations, I lean on most classes and experiences from my MBA.
In fact, to join Sonder as a General Manager, one of the interview stages is a 5-hour “take-home challenge” involving essay writing, generating a business plan and 12-month P&L for your market. It felt just like any other Darden test to me!
How did you partner with coaches and resources in the Career Development Center to be successful in your career search?
From the beginning, I hoped to use Darden as a launchpad to a new opportunity. I found the CDC to be a helpful resource in my search, especially in the following areas:
- Career search strategy: The CDC advised me on how to execute a career search for a very specific targeted role and geography.
- Interview preparation: We game-planned and practicing my pitch — there’s no such thing as too much practice!
- LinkedIn profile and strategy: There’s so much more art and science than I realized in something as apparently pedestrian as updating your LinkedIn. I invested an hour working through my profile with Jim Collins, which actually turned out to be a critically important move for me, as one of Sonder’s recruiters found me through a LinkedIn search. This job was exactly what I was looking for — but I had failed to find it through all my own efforts!
Any other thoughts or advice you’d like to share for prospective or current students?
Over the course of two years, many of my classmates found new, interesting opportunities. My top suggestion for future students would be to remain open to new paths — and lean in by meeting lots of people and learning about their experiences. If I had not had multiple coffees with somewhat random connections, I would not have been aware of a better fit for me.
Who knows what’s out there for you? Don’t be afraid to explore and make a few leaps along the way!