Akane Fukuda (MBA ’17) Shares Darden Experiences to Brazil, India, and Uganda

By Anelle Mensah

Akane Fukuda is a recent Darden graduate (as of this last weekend!) from Tokyo, Japan. She attended Baruch College, and earned her Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 2012. Prior to enrolling at Darden, she worked at Krusen Capital Management as a Business Development Associate.

As a Darden student, Akane actively participated in a number of the global academic programs offered through the school, gaining insight into the global business practices and perspectives of various countries. During her first year she traveled to Brazil on a Darden Worldwide Course (DWC), and in her second year she participated in the India DWC in January. This past fall, she worked with Mbarara University in Uganda on a Global Consulting Project (GCP).  Furthermore, in her role as an Ambassador for the Darden Center for Global Initiatives (CGI), she assisted in developing one of the newest global immersion courses to Japan.

Akane already had strong ties to Darden, several alumni served as sources of inspiration for her as she pursued business school options. As she sought out schools that had a close-knit community where she could get to know her peers as well as an educational experience with top faculty and programs, it became evident that Darden would be perfect for her.

During her time at Darden, Akane has been involved in many student organizations and initiatives including the Retail & Luxury Goods Club, where she served as the Vice-President for Conference and Alumni relations, and Net Impact as the Vice-President for Community Impact and Education. Furthermore, she worked with the Career Development Center (CDC), second year students, and alumni to design the marketing job trek to New York. Akane also served as a CGI Ambassador during her second year and recently worked with Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne and the CGI team to develop the Japan DWC, one of the newest DWC offerings.

In her role as CGI Ambassador, Akane advertised many of these programs during First Coffee,  as well as information sessions and events like Darden’s International Food Festival.  “I started as an Ambassador at the end of my first year. I’m originally from Japan and I wanted to help create more opportunities for students to be exposed to international culture. The fact that I went to Brazil in my first year at Darden and was able to have that experience and simultaneously share it with my classmates was amazing.  I really wanted to bring that excitement to students who have yet to explore different cultures,” she said.

Through being a CGI Ambassador, Akane further connected with her peers and built relationships with various members of the Darden community. “People would personally reach out to me and ask questions. Getting to know the school’s perspectives and the CGI team — it’s an aspect that students don’t always get to see. Darden students see the finished product but it was important for me to see the effort and work that happens behind the scenes,” she shared.

Her participation in the Brazil and India DWCs stemmed from a desire to learn more about those countries, engage in those cultures, and continue developing bonds with her classmates. “I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go by myself and experience these countries. Darden would offer me without the whole package. I have always been curious about developing countries and I wanted to be able to see the different energies that exist there. In Brazil, I formed meaningful friendships and had a learning experience that was really hands-on. In India, I saw how Indian companies function in comparison to U.S. companies and within a completely different cultural context than the U.S.,” she reflected.

In addition to Brazil and India, Akane participated in a global consulting project in Uganda working with Mbarara University Science and Technology (MUST). Her past global experiences at Darden influenced her decision to pursue this GCP, during which she learned important aspects of Ugandan culture and business.  “Global consulting projects are more hands-on with a select group of people. It really seemed like something that was a one-of-a-kind experience. In Uganda, the people are entrepreneurial, open-minded, and curious. When you’re in a team that has completely different strengths and weaknesses, you can make a great final product. You develop a strong bond after working through these differences and you come out strong. This trip also made me appreciate the simple things a lot more,” she stated.

Akane credits Darden’s global offerings as key to helping her learn and understand different perspectives and viewpoints. “It gives you a broader perspective. People should take advantage of what Darden is offering and a big part of these programs is visiting the companies — you wouldn’t have those kinds of opportunities outside of the program.” she said.

Akane looks forward to learning more about her strengths, seeing the Japan course come together, and graduation. “My plan is to look more at what I want to do in the future and focus on the industries that I’m interested in—technology and marketing.  I want to work on products that are meaningful. I enjoyed going back to Japan to see the DWC before graduating — a lot of the companies involved are those that I wanted to personally see — and I couldn’t wait to see my family,” she said.

Akane, bottom left, with peers on the DWC to Brazil focused on managing large projects.

Company visit during the India DWC this past January.

Akane, far right, with her GCP teammates and clients in Uganda for their onsite visit this spring.


Leave a comment

Leadership Insights from Greg Ergenbright (MBA ’93)

By Lauren Wallace

When Schindler Elevator Corp. President Greg Ergenbright (MBA ’93) saw that a UVA team had made it to the final round of his company’s urban design competition in Sao Paulo in April 2017, he said he was “extremely proud” as a Darden alumnus.

Ergenbright describes his company as one with a commitment “to global urbanization and innovation in mobility and sustainability in the future.” As an extension of that commitment, the North American subsidiary of Switzerland-based Schindler Group established the Schindler Global Award urban design competition in 2003 to motivate students and future architects to take into consideration issues of mobility and sustainability in current and future urban cities.

“My hopes for the awards,” Ergenbright said, “are that they drive the next generation to think about urban settings, to design the cities of the future. When you think about all of the complexities and challenges of extremely dense populations, mobility impacts everything. It impacts people’s exposure to nature and how they move freely from building to building. Even crime rates are impacted by urban design. Whether people have the ability to move around and interact freely impacts how people socialize — it really impacts everything. This competition is to engage architects to be future thinkers, and this kind of engagement will change the face of the future.”

While the Schindler Global Award is a current highlight for Ergenbright, his history in the transportation and mobility sector goes back to his earliest days after Darden. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Roanoke College in Virginia and his MBA from Darden in 1993. After earning his MBA, Ergenbright worked with another key player in the vertical transportation industry for 15 years before a four-year period as president and CEO of a private equity portfolio company.  He was then recruited back into the vertical transportation field by Schindler, where he has served as president since 2013.

When was a time you realized the true value of your Darden education?

I realized the value of my Darden education before I even went to Darden. I knew that it would unlock many doors in the future that might have remained locked otherwise. A few professors from Roanoke College who were mentors to me really encouraged me to continue my education at Darden. Darden was a great experience — there were people from all over the country and the world, and having grown up in Virginia, it opened my eyes and gave me great exposure to diverse people and different mindsets. Some of the opportunities I’ve had post-Darden would have been unlikely for me without my education there. I’m really proud of my connection to the Darden community. As I get older, I’m always looking for ways to give back to Darden.

What were some early leadership lessons you learned?

Leadership, for me, really boils down to two things: attitude and dependability. As a leader of an organization, you set the tone, and I believe you do that through your attitude and your consistency. If people know that they can depend on you, then they can trust you. Attitude and trust — it’s really that basic. I learned this through experience — through how I responded to people who have led me. The adage is true: “To be a good leader, you must first be a good follower.” Whom are you inspired to follow? I paid attention to and followed the people who inspired me, and the people who inspired me were the people with a positive attitude in whom I trusted.

What motivates you in life?

What motivates me is feeling like I’m the luckiest man in the world. Waking up thankful for the life that I have keeps me grounded and keeps me going.

How do you measure success?  What makes people successful?

People who don’t quit. The relentless pursuit of a goal. Whatever you want to call it, success happens for those who don’t quit.

What advice would you give to recent MBA graduates?

Don’t get too big for your britches. Your expectations for your future should revolve around your expectations of yourself. Expect a future you, not a future job; don’t base your expectations for your life on your degree. Be hardworking and committed to your pursuit. Life is a marathon, not a sprint — and Darden is just the five-mile mark on a 100-mile race. You still have a lot of running to do so be focused on the path in front of you and how you can make a difference along the way.

Leave a comment

Question and Answer with Jeffrey Zheng (Class of 2017)

Peilu “Jeffrey” Zheng (Class of 2017)        

Hometown: Zaozhuang, Shandong, China

Pre-Darden University and Major: Zhejiang University, Material Science and Engineering

Pre-Darden Employment: Colgate; LG Chemical

Current Employment: Boston Scientific


What motivated you to want to earn an MBA degree?  I worked in the sales industry for six years after college, and I wanted to gain more strategic training and a more global vision.

Why did you choose the University of Virginia Darden School of BusinessI choose Darden because it offers the best educational experience and a close alumni network.

As a non-native English speaker, how have you adjusted to the case method and life at Darden?  I’m glad I decided to come early for the language program. I have really enjoyed the case study method of listening and articulating my thoughts.

Describe one of your favorite moments at Darden thus far.  I really enjoyed my managerial psychology class because we talked about a wide range of topics, including humanity, leadership and oneself.

What advice do you have for prospective students?  If you have an offer from Darden, come! If you come to Darden, be ready for hard work and great fun. You will enjoy the hardest training in the United States, and you will have a true educational experience.

How did living in Charlottesville impact your MBA experience?  I think Charlottesville is one of the best small towns to live in.

What do you hope to do with your life post-Darden?  I hope to take part in a leadership program to grow into a leader that inspires others and adds value to the organization I’m serving

Leave a comment

Pragati Khara (Class of 2017) Shares Insights from Costa Rica and Uganda Courses

By Anelle Mensah

Pragati Khara is currently a second year MBA student from Mumbai, India, graduating  just a few days from now. She attended UT Austin and received her Bachelor’s degree in 2009. Prior to enrolling at Darden, she worked as a teacher through Teach For America in Houston, an education administrator for a charter school in NYC, and a Manager for Strategy and Impact at Teach For India in Mumbai.  Pragati served as a Section Representative for Diversity, a VP of Events for both the Consulting Club and Education Club, and on the board of the Business & Public Policy Club during her time at Darden.

Pragati has traveled to various countries through Darden’s global academic programs, namely Darden Worldwide Courses (DWCs). In the fall of 2016, she traveled to Uganda on a global consulting project and in March 2017, Pragati traveled to Costa Rica on a DWC learning about the business practices that exist, the role of sustainability, and the people who drive the booming sectors within the country. She took some time to reflect on these experiences:

How did you learn about Darden and why did you decide to attend the school?

When I was researching business schools, I wanted to focus on the case method because I knew that would push me in my own development. Darden came up as one of the top schools for case method and that’s when I looked into it more. Even though I was working abroad at the time and didn’t have a chance to visit, what I read online about its strong teaching and close community motivated me to apply.

Why did you decide to participate in the Costa Rica Darden Worldwide Course and what were some lessons that you took away from it?  What was most surprising to you about business practices in Costa Rica?

The Costa Rica course had a strong element on sustainability and this is something that really piqued my interest. As a small country, there are many things it has been able to accomplish for its development relative to Central/Latin America, and I wanted to understand the work behind that. In addition, having never taken a class with Melissa Thomas-Hunt before, I wanted to use this opportunity to get to know another wonderful Darden professor better!

The large and growing IT sector in Costa Rica surprised me.  People always view tourism or agriculture as what makes Costa Rica’s economy, but it’s also highly sought after by a lot of international companies for IT services etc., due to English proficiency and its proximity to the US.

Why did you choose to go work on the global consulting project? What were some things that you learned about Ugandan business and culture that you did not know before?

I wanted some hands-on experience at Darden where I would help solve a problem that is impacting people in another country. Despite having traveled to around 30 countries before, I had never been anywhere in the continent of Africa prior to this trip. Given that Africa is such a large and diverse part of the world, I wanted to challenge myself and explore a region that was new to me. In addition, the project in Uganda focused on education and since this was relevant to my pre-Darden background, I was excited to work on it.  After my trip, one thing that stood out to me was how sincere the people are (especially our clients) and how much of a gap there is between their abilities and the available resources.

How have your Darden global experiences impacted your world view? How do you plan to integrate what you’ve learned into your future career path?

Both my international experiences at Darden have given me a lens into work culture abroad and I’ve realized that at the end of the day, people are people, no matter where you go. The end goal for most of us is to be successful and provide for our families, whether you live in Uganda or the United States. Our ability to provide essentials and comfort to our families, and to make them proud, is what takes priority. Humans will all work hard toward doing that if provided with the right means or resources for being successful. In my future career path, I will always remember this and know that even if someone on my team comes from a very different place than I do, ultimately we have many shared goals and hopes. I will leverage these to create unity and a strong team culture.

Why do you think it is important for Darden students to have global experiences?

In today’s time, it’s impossible to be a business leader without also being a global leader. No matter where you live or work, you will inevitably interact with someone who is not from your culture or country. Global experiences help you understand the way things are run outside of your own bubble and they help you step out of your comfort zone. Most importantly though, they help build empathy and this is something the world needs now more than ever!

What is next for you after Darden?

After Darden, I’ll be headed to Houston to work as a Consultant at BCG. My long term goal, though, is to return to the education field.

Leave a comment

Journeying through Japan: A Look Into one of Darden’s Newest Worldwide Course Offerings

By Lauren Wallace and Trisha Hongcharti

Forty-eight students arrived in Kyoto on 11 May to begin their Darden.Worldwide Course led by professors Yael Grushka-Cockayne and Bob Conroy. This course is one of the newest DWCs offered by the Center for Global Initiatives. This course, focused on project management and innovation, takes place in both Kyoto and Tokyo over the span of eight days during which the group is touring cultural sites, visiting companies, and meeting with local Darden alumni. Take a look into the first few days of the inaugural Japan DWC below!

Day 1 of the inaugural Darden Worldwide Course to Japan went very smoothly.  See pictures below of our Welcome Dinner at Fortune Garden (located next to Kyoto City Hall and formerly a Shimadzu Corporation building – a company we will visit Monday!).

Double Hoo Helen Hwang (pictured with faculty leaders Yael Grushka-Cockayne and Bob Conroy) serves as the Principal Commercial Consul of the U.S. Consulate General in Osaka-Kobe. During the Welcome Dinner, she briefed the students with an overview of the business and commercial environment in Kansai (the region that contains the trifecta of Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka), provided background on trade between the US and Japan, and gave pointers on how to do business in Japan.

Day 2 has shown us fun contrasts in traditional and modern Japanese businesses!

We began the morning by visiting a family-owned textile factory in the traditional weaving district of Nishijin where the nontraditional owner kept the students entertained and engaged. A proprietor of 16 businesses, he also hosted the Darden students at his restaurant, Roku-Bori for lunch. Yohei Izutsu is a prolific Japanese entrepreneur who is vibrant and creative and has a passion for breaking the standard mold of the Japanese business scene. He offered students a unique perspective in his creative thought process and regaled the group with many stories and artifacts from his successful career.   The visits to his textiles factories showed the design and creation of beautiful fabrics that are used for Japanese Buddhist priest robes and shrine decorations.

In the afternoon, the Darden students visited the Kyocera Inamori Library, where they learned about the founder of Kyocera, Kazuo Inamori, the history of Kyocera, a leading multinational electronics and ceramics manufacturer, and the development of Inamori’s business administration method, amoeba management. The students appreciated the opportunity to learn about a company that has run a profit since its founding over 40 years ago, a testament to its successful management philosophy: Respect the Divine and Love People.

Day 3:  In the morning, we visited the Kyoto College of Graduate Studies for Informatics (KCGI), Japan’s first IT professional school, where we heard from the CEO, Professor Wataru Hasegawa, about the landscape of higher education in Japan as well as KCGI’s particular structure, with a focus on eLearning as a vehicle for expansion. We also heard from Professor Hideaki Kashihara on the topic of IT Project Management in Japan.

In the afternoon, we visited Kyoto University, where we ate in their cafeteria and participated in three different engagements. The afternoon was a collaboration between the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Kansai Chapter, Darden, and Kyoto University. First, we heard from Dr. Motoh Shimizu on Strategic Program Management. Following the presentation, he awarded copies of his books to the first three Darden students to ask questions. Second, we heard from Hidenori “Dino” Suzuki, Senior Director of Ticketing of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, on the current plan and issues arising in preparation for 2020. He also awarded an Olympic pin to the first Darden student to ask a question, appropriately, Heather Marrison, DSA’s incoming VP for Athletics. Lastly, Professor Will Baber of Kyoto University facilitated a case study role play between small groups of Darden and local students to learn how to work with stakeholders from different cultures with different motivations. Afterwards, the Darden and local students networked with the speakers.

Day 4: Darden students enjoyed a day of cultural visits in Kyoto, including the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Golden Pavilion, Bamboo Forest and Sake Museum tour and tasting.

Day 5: Today we had our last company visit in Kyoto before transferring to Tokyo. In the morning, Darden students visited Shimandzu, a manufacturer of precision instruments. Students were able to see Shimadzu’s products and how they contribute to society through science and technology.

After the train ride to Tokyo, we enjoyed a reception with alumni (see below) and are now looking forward to more company visits and speakers in Tokyo.


Leave a comment

Darden South Asia Society Celebrates Holi

By Rishabh Bansal (Class of 2018)

Holi – the festival of colors is the South Asian festival of spring. The occasion marks the incoming of spring and is celebrated with vibrant colors, good music, food, and of course friends.

This year, the Darden South Asia Society celebrated Holi on 26 April. Though this is almost a month after the actual festival in India, Charlottesville weather did not permit us to celebrate the festival earlier than late April.  The event featured over 150 lbs of color in shades of blue, pink, red, yellow, and more, Samosas – a traditional and well-loved Indian finger food – and groovy music by a young U.Va. DJ!

What more can one ask for?

The event although started off gracefully with students smearing color over each other – making sure we all looked as multi-color and multi-ethnic as possible – however, soon water guns came out, and people were left to drenching each other in water fights.


Leave a comment

President of Latin American Student Association (LASA) discusses LASA’s Global Involvement at Darden

By Christina Xu

Name: Matias Rabelo Rengifo (Class of 2017)

Nationality: Colombian & Brazilian

Pre-Darden Education: Universidad de Los Andes, 2005-2010

Work Experience: Prada Financeira, Equity Research Manager; Sr. Financial Consultant, Stern Stewart & Co.

Growing up in Latin America with exposure to multiple cultures and languages, Matias Rabelo Rengifo is a true “global citizen” who now finds himself at Darden, pursuing his MBA degree.

“I first heard about Darden when I was doing research for business schools and MBA programs. I was immediately attracted to the case method at Darden, and decided to pursue education in business management here. The case method doesn’t exist in Colombia, where I attended school previously. Nevertheless, I find it very helpful in that it encourages critical thinking in any given context. Prior to coming here, I also connected with a couple Darden alumni in Brazil, and learned from our conversations about the collaborative culture at Darden.”

As the incoming president of LASA (Latin American Student Association), Matias shared his perspectives on the organization’s goals and future plans. “LASA is one of the largest cultural groups at Darden, with membership from 30 nationalities. The organization aims to promote the Latin American culture within the Darden community from two perspectives: helping the Latin American population to adapt to the American culture and generating more awareness about the Latin American community on grounds.”

Matias shared some past and upcoming flagship activities organized by LASA, from both a social and recruiting perspective. “The largest social event that LASA organizes is the barbecue series. This year we have organized six barbecues. We invited all the Darden community to come together to unite and share good moments and food.” Meanwhile, according to Matias, LASA also provides strong recruiting resources for Darden members. “It is a two-way process. LASA helps Darden students reach employers and alumni to find career opportunities in Latin America, at the same time, the organization also develops relations with employers to increase the awareness of Darden among Latin American companies, through cooperation with Career Development Center (CDC).” Matias also shared signature programs organized through LASA: “We have the ‘LASA buddies’ initiative, where second year MBA students are paired up with first years in an informal mentorship to guide them throughout the recruiting process.”

In terms of future plans, Matias elaborated on his vision to develop more collaboration with other cultural clubs at Darden. “As cultural and regional clubs, we have similar purposes in serving the international student populations, and share the same challenges and opportunities. LASA intends to cooperate with these cultural clubs in the upcoming year, to organize social events to achieve energizing synergies.”

In addition, Matias believes that it is important for business students to approach business problems from diverse perspectives, and Darden’s global community helps significantly in that process. Matias talked about his experience in leadership courses at Darden. “In the leadership courses, we are often given real life business situations and are asked to develop strategies in groups. You will notice how people’s cultural backgrounds lead them to various approaches to the problem, as different countries have different leadership styles. We have deep discussions based on multicultural perspectives and benefit from all.”

Matias strongly recommends the Darden MBA to future applicants. “Darden provides robust academic programs, with an emphasis on the case method that helps develop critical thinking skills. The variety of international opportunities and global alumni network at Darden complements the education, and provides resources to conduct business in any country.”

Leave a comment

Geva Feller (Class of 2017) on Exchange to IPADE in Mexico

By Anelle Mensah

Geva Feller, currently a second year MBA student graduating this month, is originally from Petah Tiqwa, Israel. He attended Ben-Gurion University, earning his Bachelor of Science in 2009. Prior to attending Darden, Geva worked at Futures-Frist LTD as a Senior Analyst. Geva actively takes part in the global academic opportunities offered at Darden and lived in Mexico as an exchange student at IPADE this spring. He took some time to share with us his reflections on his experiences:

How did you hear about Darden and why did you decide to attend?
When I began looking at MBA schools I was introduced to Israeli Darden alums.  Throughout my conversations with them, Darden’s collaborative culture became apparent. I learned about the tight-knit Darden community, the academic standards and the personal treatment, which convinced me to select Darden.

Why did choose to go on exchange to IPADE?
IPADE is the leading business school in Latin America, and I wanted to gain more insights to the Mexican and Latin-American business environment. Also, I viewed the exchange period in Mexico as a great opportunity to improve my Spanish and explore Mexico and Central America. The Mexican cuisine was also a contributing factor.

How has living in Mexico transformed your worldview?
This experience sharpened my understanding of the different cultural emphasis between the U.S. and Latin America, both at business and in personal settings. The Mexican communication style is more direct and informal than in the U.S. and an entire business meeting can be spent on a friendly introduction. However, there are more commonalities than differences.

Why do you think it’s important for Darden students to participate in the global academic experiences?
I believe that understanding and experiencing different cultures is key to succeeding as a business leader and one of the most important goals of the MBA degree. Participating in a global academic experience is an excellent firsthand way to expand one’s global viewpoint and network.

What are some of your biggest takeaways from IPADE?
Only by experiencing different approaches, and comparing and contrasting them, can one truly realize and appreciate the pros and cons of each.

Leave a comment

EJ Nisbeth (MBA ’17) Reflects on Darden Global Experiences

By Lauren Wallace

EJ Nisbeth is a second year residential MBA student from New Haven, Connecticut. He attended Amherst College where he earned his BA in Biology. EJ worked in the biotechnology field before attending Darden, and during his time here he has gotten involved in the EVC Club, Soccer Club, and Music Club. After graduating this month, EJ will work as a consultant at Bain & Company in Atlanta, GA.

Which global programs have you been involved with during your time at Darden? What interested you in these specific opportunities?

I attended the Brazil Darden Worldwide Course in the spring of my first year. This course piqued my interest given its project management theme. Project management is a very useful skill that will be especially helpful to me as a management consultant and future entrepreneur, and the mini-consulting project that we undertook as part of the course drew me to this course as well. Also, I had never traveled to South America and wanted to take the opportunity to check it off of my list. I had the chance to attend the India Darden Worldwide Course in January of my second year. I was drawn to this DWC given its focus on data science. As a scientist who is very interested in the application of technology and the future business implications, I saw this course as a great way to learn about a professional passion of mine. Furthermore, I was drawn to the Indian culture and knew I would enjoy a trip to South Asia.

I also took part of a Global Consulting Project in Uganda. This experience seemed like a great way to continue honing my consulting skills while taking the opportunity to visit Africa for the first time. Moreover, as someone who is passionate about entrepreneurship, I found the specific project I was involved in to be a great way to engage in the field while assisting budding entrepreneurs.

Did you know much about Darden’s global courses before coming to Darden? If so, were these opportunities a contributing factor in your decision to attend Darden?

Yes, I knew that Darden offered many global academic opportunities. That definitely factored into my decision to attend Darden. Managers who can think and perform in global contexts are becoming increasingly valuable. I chose to attend Darden because I wanted to refine my global perspective on business.

Expanding on your India DWC experience, what did you do while you were there? What was one lesson from this experience that impacted you the most?

During the India DWC, I visited and engaged with companies of varying industries and sizes (from tech startups to Walmart and Coca-Cola). We spoke to representatives (some of whom held very senior roles) and learned about specific strategies they employed in the Indian market. I think a lesson that impacted me the most is that business culture in one country can be extremely dissimilar to that of another. I came to this realization when speaking to companies about business ethics.  I now feel that I am more equipped to understand and navigate important cultural differences when doing international business.

Please tell me more about your Global Consulting Project in Uganda. What was the project you worked on? How was your experience as a part of a GCP team leading up to and during your Uganda site visit?

For our Global Consulting Project in Uganda, we worked with Municipal Council of Mbarara on improving their entrepreneurial funding program. The government provides funds to eligible groups of entrepreneurs. The goal of the program is to help groups (mostly comprised of women or youth) create self-sustaining businesses. Our job was to do research and provide suggestions on how to improve the program.

Leading up to our site visit in Uganda, we had a couple of Skype calls with our contact from the Municipal Council to hone in on the scope of the project and start managing expectations. We also did research on entrepreneurial funding models used around the world. Once we arrived in Uganda, we interviewed groups who had received funding, to better understand their experience with the program. Towards the end of our site visit, we presented our findings to the Municipal Council, and conducted a brief training session with the entrepreneurs.

How have these global academic programs shaped your understanding of business around the world and how will you use what you’ve learned from these opportunities in your future career?

For me, these experiences have allowed me to navigate the similarities and the differences between American business culture and business culture abroad. In the future, I will have an easier time discerning important cultural differences where they exist. Instead of becoming surprised and frustrated, I will be able to adapt and get things done.

Would you recommend these global opportunities to prospective students? What advice do you have for students interested in Darden or Darden’s global academic programs?

I would highly recommend any of these global opportunities to Darden students. Not only do they provide a unique perspective while traveling abroad, but they allow you to travel with great people as well. As for advice, I would say that you should approach these opportunities to a way to step out of your comfort zone. The support and growth you will experience are invaluable.


Leave a comment

Robert Reton (MBA ’89): The (Global) Journey Is the Reward

Robert Reton (MBA ’89) currently resides in Tampa, Florida, where he works as the manager of business development in Latin America for Nortek Security & Control, but he has lived in various countries throughout Latin America. A steady parade of moves from childhood through his professional career set him on a global journey through much of Central and South America, not to mention Tokyo and New York City. Before coming to Nortek, Robert worked at Diebold, a banking and financial self-service company, where he served various roles that placed him in Mexico, Argentina and Chile. Through it all, he’s developed insights and advice about living and working internationally and a mantra that “the journey is the reward.”

What were your early years like?

My early years were somewhat different to most. I was born in New York City to an American father and Cuban mother. Due to my father’s work with Ford Motor Co., we were an expatriate family. I have, on average, moved every three to four years of my entire life. From New York at 2 years of age, we moved to Bogota, Colombia, for four years. From there, it went as follows: Detroit area of Michigan, one year; Tokyo, two years; Panama City, Panama, four years; New York City, two years; Caracas, Venezuela, three years; and then to undergrad studies at the University of Virginia (where I felt a bit of a foreigner at first). Obviously, I grew up bilingual in English and Spanish, and over the years of my education have studied French, Italian and Japanese.

Later as an adult, besides moving within the United States, I also lived in the Dominican Republic when I managed a cigar operation, plus postings with Diebold in Mexico, Argentina and Chile. Travel for both business and personal reasons have always been an important factor in my life, and I enjoy tremendously exploring the world with its peoples, cultures, foods, history, traditions, etc.

What were some early leadership lessons you learned?

People are more alike than different, so it isn’t really that hard to surpass social differences (barriers) and connect with them. All persons want to be respected, so always show respect. Most people want to do the right thing and do their work well. When they don’t, there are real reasons why not, and I would probably do the same thing under the same circumstances, so see about how to change the circumstances.

How would you define your leadership style?

Ideally, I like to think of myself as a coach: teamwork, but someone has to guide and lead (and take the hits for the team if things don’t turn out as planned). I emphasize that people learn to manage their areas and responsibilities with confidence and even some risk-taking. Don’t kick everything up to the top to be absolved of responsibility. If something turns out wrong, learn from it; no heads will roll.

How do you measure success?

I like to play, and I like to win. Metrics can vary, some are financial, but the principal measures are the feeling that something was accomplished and whether I would enjoy reliving the experience again. The journey is the reward. There are moments in my life that I don’t recall fondly, and when I analyze them critically, it was actually me who failed.

What kind of impact would you like to make through your work?

The first and most important impact is that the operation performs well in order that the associates and their families have some form of economic security and prosperity. Secondly, I enjoy seeing people learn, grow and develop their careers. More than once, someone has caught up with me at a later time and expressed how the time that we worked together was important to where there are today. Thirdly, no enterprise stands alone, so ones work will impact other connected parties, be it customers, suppliers, partners, communities, etc. Good work should have good impacts.

Please describe the current industry that you are in and how you see it evolving in the future.

Sadly, security is a global growth industry, for one reason or another, generally not for positive reasons. Like so many other solutions and products in the world today, communications technology and apps are driving the industry’s development and the offering to companies and consumers. It has already evolved to the point where you can be off in some distant corner of the world, and as long as you have access to the Internet, you can see and monitor your security systems in real time on your mobile device and control them remotely. That’s actually pretty cool stuff!

In what ways are you looking to further develop Nortek’s international business in Latin America? What have been some challenges and successes?

The strongest challenge in the security business for international development is the wide variety of standards and regulations from one country to another. This results in having to engineer multiple products to cover the international regions. Naturally, resources are always limited, so one must prioritize and focus on the areas of greatest opportunity. Latin America generates some additional challenges in the form of economic cycles and related currency fluctuations, which can totally derail a product development and launch plan. Long-term horizons, catching the next economic wave, are key to working in Latin America. However, shareholders and management generally seek short-term objectives and results. A bit of a balancing act.

How did working and living in Latin America for many years impact your worldview?

A lot of my world view was formed during my younger years living overseas. One has to be flexible and adapt. Not everything can be like in the United States, Western Europe, Japan, etc. Things can be, and generally are, different. Embrace the differences. Don’t complain. Don’t question why things are different or try to impose standards from outside. Ten years ago, many people in Latin America had not used a computer at work and even more did not have one growing up, yet companies expected employees to have computer skills. I recall in Mexico getting a corporate HR survey requesting the number and percentage of minority (e.g., Hispanic) associates in the organization. Really?

I always enjoyed hearing business contacts in Latin America comment to me that “doing business in [a particular Latin American country] is different from other Latin American countries.” They think that somehow they’re different, but, at the end of the day, they are very much alike. I admire the resourcefulness of people in Latin America and the Caribbean, where resources (money, spare parts, specialized labor, technology, etc.) are always in short supply. People have very open minds toward figuring out some sort of a solution to a problem, as long as they have an interest in doing so, of course.

Often I tell people, “In the USA, if the power goes out, everyone goes home because they can’t work. In Latin America, when the power goes out, people light candles and keep working.”

What, in your opinion, makes someone a global leader?

I believe that attitude is more important than experience, knowledge, or languages (although those things can be very helpful). You will never truly fit in and be one of the locals, so don’t try to be what you are not. Be open minded, flexible, adaptive, sensitive and respectful. Have the ability to realize that sometimes “the way we do it back home” may actually be the best way to do it locally, but work on how to persuade others that it is.

Generally, I see the greatest error of companies when sending someone overseas is that they send someone who excels in their function in their home country, without considering how they will interact with people in another country.

What’s next for you?

Good question, for which I have never had a real answer. I have always been open to new opportunities, changes, adventures and what have you, without necessarily evaluating them in the sense of overall career goals, so who really knows. The journey is the reward.

Leave a comment