By Lauren Wallace

David Gabriel Peña, currently a second year residential MBA student at Darden, is originally from Barranquilla, Colombia. He received his B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Universidad de Los Andes in 2010 and worked in Investment Banking prior to Darden. David is a recipient of the Class of 1979 Trustees Scholarship and the William Michael Shermet Award, an award that recognizes students who have demonstrated academic excellence in the First Year program and who, by their determination and constructive attitude and service, have provided an example of responsible spirit to their classmates. While at Darden, David has gotten involved with several career and affinity clubs including the Private Equity Club where he was elected Vice President of Careers, the Latin American Student Association and the Darden Racquet Association. David took a few minutes to share his reflections on his time here thus far:

Could you tell us about why you chose to come to Darden and how you heard about the school?

I first heard about Darden from a family friend who graduated in the class of 2015. I was looking for a program that put me in the decision maker’s seat every day so I could get training in making tough decisions. Darden’s case method based-learning provided exactly that. I had the opportunity to visit the campus before applying and attended a class on Post Merger Integration, where I watched how students picked apart the issues at hand and helped each other form an opinion on what they would do if they were faced with a similar situation in the future. This is when I knew that case-based learning was for me.

What is the most unexpected thing you’ve learned from studying at Darden thus far?

I’ve learned there is no ‘one size fits all’ formula for leadership and for success; people and organizations can achieve success in very different ways. I’ve always admired great leaders from all over the world, but I have come to learn that there isn’t necessarily a common thread that made them such great leaders. They each had an ability to inspire the group they had in front of them and did so in vastly different ways. A certain style of leadership may be perfect for one situation and completely wrong for another. With the world changing as fast as it does today, leaders, more than ever, have to learn to adapt and to create bespoke solutions to the problems in front of them if they want to succeed.

What part about living in the U.S. has surprised you the most so far? How have your experiences compared to your expectations?

I’ve lived in Colombia my entire life other than my time here at Darden although I am a dual-citizen with family living all over the United States. After moving to the U.S., though, I was still surprised by the diversity of people and thought that you find here—the U.S. truly is a vast cultural melting pot. I was happily surprised by the diversity of thought I found at Darden; that individuals with similar backgrounds can have completely different values and worldviews and experiences. It is fascinating to be in a classroom and observe how similar individuals react differently to the same situation. In the classroom, you get to hear from everybody and learn from their experiences. That diversity is what makes Darden such a great place to learn.

How has the network been helpful to you so far?

In April 2015, as I was trying to decide which business school to attend, I was contacted by Dean Beardsley; we discussed my interest in Darden, some questions I had and my desire to go into private equity. We ended the call with an agreement that he would put me in contact with ‘someone who had worked in private equity before’ so they could field any additional questions I had. Not 20 minutes after we hung up, I received a call from Jim Cooper—a Darden alum (MBA’84), who at the time was chair of Darden’s Board of Trustees and who is founder of Thompson Street Capital Partners (TSCP), a private equity firm based in St. Louis. Jim and I chatted about my interest in private equity and near the end of our call it was clear that TSCP would be a great fit.  To my delight, Jim offered me a summer internship and I went to work for him following my first year at Darden.  This internship was an immensely rewarding experience both from a personal and professional standpoint.

I think this is a great testament to the power of the Darden alumni network. Jim went above and beyond to support the School, and I can say to this day that is the nicest thing a “stranger” has ever done for me. Now I am part of the Darden network, and I am making every effort to pay it forward.

What are your plans for after Darden? 

I am pursuing opportunities in private equity. One of the things that I enjoyed most about my job before Darden was to provide access to capital for entrepreneurs who were building great businesses. It was a rewarding experience to work closely with founders of businesses, work hard to understand their businesses and industries so we could approve loans that would help them expand their businesses. I look forward to continuing to do so but as a shareholder where I can provide capital and support to the management teams.