Darden Worldwide Course, Student Perspective

Miguel Gomez Ramirez (Class of 2019) Shares Leadership Lessons from Normandy

By Kate Beach-
miguel-gomez-ramirez-class-of-2019-shares-leadership-lessons-from-normandy

Miguel Gomez Ramirez, originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, is a rising second year student at Darden.  He is spending his summer in the San Francisco Bay Area interning with Walmart E-commerce in Product Management. Before starting his degree at Darden, Miguel earned his Bachelor’s degree at Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey and worked in management consulting and ecommerce strategy. Miguel took a few minutes to share his thoughts on the Darden Worldwide Course to Normandy this May. In his own words (and photos):

From the first day at Darden, I knew that I wanted to make my experience as international and as experiential as possible, not only for professional but for personal growth as well. When I learned about the Darden Worldwide Courses (DWCs), one-week international programs, and specifically one that drew leadership learnings from one of recent history’s most powerful yet heartbreaking events, I knew I would head to Normandy, France. I was also drawn to this course because of the Darden faculty lead. Mark Haskins is an outstanding accounting professor who infuses teachings on ethics and leadership into all of his content. Also, who would say no to chocolate croissants?

The academic objective of the Normandy DWC was to learn about middle management decision-making and leadership based on the Allied invasion of France launched on June 6, 1944. We reviewed the historical events and key figures surrounding the largest seaborne invasion in history, and then visited locations where decisive events unfolded on the Normandy coast. The visual history – the landscapes, historical remnants – was fascinating but the stories of the planning, preparation, decision-making, and personal sacrifices that culminated in the liberation of France were remarkably stirring.

Statue on Omaha Beach of a soldier dragging a wounded comrade with the inscription, “Ever forward,” commemorating the soldiers of the 29th infantry division who landed first to lead the invasion.

The trip succeeded in delivering many leadership takeaways. In true Darden style, many of the takeaways were not specific conclusions but rather an understanding of the challenges faced by leadership. I still think about the commander who ordered his men to conduct a frontal assault on a long, narrow bridge occupied by the enemy: while he knew that such assault would cost the lives of many men, he also knew that the bridge was a critical asset for the continuation of the operation. There were no middle-ground alternatives, he had to make a tough call. How would you have felt as a soldier in the assaulting company? What would you have said if you were the commander in charge of the men whom you would probably not see the next morning?

My experience and learnings from the Normandy DWC have been especially relevant to my current internship. During the course we discussed the difference between preparation and planning. Which one would you dedicate more time to? While both are necessary, planning is vulnerable to uncertainty. I have a roadmap of my project in my internship, but I understand that the more I know about the company, the team, the resources and the objectives I will be better equipped to deal with inevitable changes to the plan. I also revisit the stories and events we studied every time I feel I am in a “high-stakes”, “high-stress”, “high-risk” environment – it helps me keep a healthy perspective.

While the topic and reflections during the course could be emotionally draining, sharing the experience

Statue of a paratrooper at La Fiere bridge. Below, in the red jacket, Dr. McKenna, lead of the trip and a real paratrooper.

with 26 other Darden students made the experience more constructive and rewarding. Traveling with a group of peers, all of whom shared a common objective and passion, was great. I formed strong bonds with the other students and the experience was richer because of the diversity of the group. It was great to connect with other members of my class in deeper ways and continue to have conversations with those I already knew going into this course.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to two leaders who made the Normandy trip such an outstanding experience: Dr. Gordon Rudd and Dr. Doug McKenna. It is a privilege to have you both as members of the Darden community! Dr. Rudd, Dr. McKenna, Professor Haskins and his wife Leslie, along with the 26 other students with whom I travelled made the trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I look forward to Second Year beginning. I look forward to returning to the Darden community with new experiences to listen and share and with renewed energy after spending some time completing my internship. The DWC in Normandy is one piece of a big journey that I started in August 2017 which has been full of learnings, new bonds and great memories.

Cultural stop to visit Mt. Saint Michel

 

Wonderful crepes with classmates.

 

Omaha Beach looks so peaceful today.