Ben Shoesmith (Class of ’23) is a second-year Darden MBA student focused on corporate strategy and development. Last summer, Shoesmith completed an internship at Walmart, where he worked as a strategy and finance intern on the corporate development team. Outside of classes, you can find Shoesmith on the basketball court (as the President of the Darden Basketball Club) or hanging with his daughter, Addy, who was born during Q4 of First Year. As he completes his final year at Darden, Shoesmith was also able to work part-time as a research economist for KPMG. After graduating, he will be joining KPMG permanently as a senior economist covering the international economy with a focus on Southeast Asia. For more information about Ben Shoemith, please check out his LinkedIn.
Shoesmith recently completed a weeklong Darden Worldwide Course in Vietnam focused on sustainability and offered some reflections on his experience.
1) Tell us about yourself Ben! Why did you decide to go to Vietnam for your DWC?
Born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I grew up loving the basketball of Tobacco Road and craving biscuits ‘n gravy. I attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington for undergrad where I became enthralled with monetary policy and competed on the Federal Reserve Challenge competition team (it’s more riveting than it sounds). While completing an MA in Applied Economics from Georgetown University, I had the opportunity to work at the International Monetary Fund, which redirected me toward international economics. I popped around a couple more companies in foreign exchange hedging and econometric modeling before deciding to broaden my strategic viewpoint via an MBA from Darden! It has been a circuitous route, but I have learned a great deal at every stop!
On the personal side, I’ve been married to a wonderful woman for almost four years and have a daughter who was born during First Year Q4. I still love playing and coaching basketball—this year the Darden Basketball Club traveled to Harvard Business School and represented proudly!
I had been interested in Southeast Asia after a few class case discussions about the region and thought this would be the best opportunity to see more than I would as a tourist. The historical relationship with the United States was another factor. I was very curious to see how Americans are viewed in a country with whom we’d had a relatively recent conflict. It turns out that the people couldn’t have been more welcoming and showed us an unforgettable time in two fascinating cities (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City… aka Saigon)!
2) What was the most memorable experience from your DWC?
There are two that stick out.
The first occurred when I arrived exhausted in Hanoi, took an ill-advised nap, slept through three alarms, and missed most of our opening night cooking class. I speed-walked twenty minutes to meet the class at the restaurant, but went to the wrong location. Who would have thought that the 25-hour travel time would mess with my thinking? Anyway, I explained to the manager where I needed to go, and he told me to hop on the back of his motorcycle. Three minutes of holding on to a strange man later we arrived at the correct location, and I didn’t have to go hungry that night!
The second was sitting and chatting about families, upbringings, relationships, and life after school on an abandoned wharf with a few classmates for hours as we prepared to leave Ho Chi Minh City. Seeing the lights come on and hectic city traffic slow was wonderful. It was the perfect ending to a trip that I’ll treasure.
3) How will you incorporate what you learned in Vietnam into your future career? Is there anything specifically that you will take with you?
I’ll be working as a Senior Economist for KPMG, post-business school, focusing on Southeast Asia. The DWC to Vietnam greatly influenced my career path. It set me up to see strengths and opportunities in Asia and envision a set of problems that I’d like to explore. Questions relating to US/China “de-risking,” winners/losers of trade restrictions, sustainability’s place in the value chain for developing countries, and nearshoring versus friend-shoring are relevant to most multinationals, and I hope to build competence in these areas. Reading about economic and political events half a world away doesn’t compare to tangibly experiencing a country and speaking with the business leaders who are shaping its future.
The most interesting lesson was that many businesses enjoy the political stability that comes with a unified national ideology via single-party rule, rather than the near-constant legislative back-and-forth the United States sees when the congressional majority switches.
4) You also were able to participate in a GCP (Global Client Project). How has both your GCP and DWC experience impacted your time at Darden? Have there been any unexpected benefits?
Oh my—YES! I was fortunate to work with Matt Wyckoff and Boris Paris on a consulting project for Thevasa (founded by Himanshu Wardhan, Darden ’11), an Indian apparel retailer that is making a US market entry.
Being able to visit both India and Vietnam gave me a more well-rounded view of Asia. I believe both are going to be growth engines in the coming decades for the broader continent. The entrepreneurial spirit and drive of these booming populations is admirable, and I can’t imagine a world where they don’t improve their global economic standing.
When I signed up for these courses, I was expecting to learn a great deal, but the benefits have been more concrete. For my current economics work, I actually reconnected with a speaker from the Vietnam DWC to help formulate ideas on supply chain realignments, and the value of different forms of government depending on the growth stage of an economy. In another situation, when speaking with a KPMG client, I was able to use work from the Thevasa project to inform the strategic applications of economic and e-commerce data.
5) Do you have any advice for students considering participating in the Vietnam program?
Don’t be afraid to go a full 12 time zones from Charlottesville, but make sure you have sufficient support at home. I couldn’t have gone on both trips without enormous help from Ginny, my wife. She solo cared for Addy, our one-year-old daughter, while I traipsed around the globe making both the GCP and DWC possible. Vietnam’s culture and history are rich, food is incredible, prices are great, and business visits have depth… besides, half the joy of the trip is getting closer to classmates that you may or may not have known prior. You won’t want to miss Ha Long Bay, Hanoi’s train street, crossing the dangerously busy roads (not joking: don’t look, just start walking), eating a delicious banh mi, drinking egg coffee, or the Bamboo Circus at the Saigon Opera House—I could go on, but there’s really nothing like seeing it for yourself!