The Most Important Things I Did At Darden

Last night the outgoing and incoming Darden Student Association (DSA) teams had dinner with Dean Bruner. He thanked us, and we each received a framed copy of the photo below, which perfectly captures our playful spirit as a group (i’m the lady sitting on the left). It made me think – what’s the most important thing I’ve done at Darden? Looking back over the 65 (!!!) posts on this blog since beginning school, I seem to have learned a lot, including: how to successfully use massive levels of caffeine, play Words With Friends, function on 3 hours of sleep, what Vineyard Vines is, how to productively use the hours between 9pm-midnight, the miracles of Arch’s Frozen Yogurt Wow Cow, work through Princess Problems, read a 27-page Harvard cases in under 10 minutes, live half of my life/flirt via instant messages, enjoy cocktails often (and responsibly) and survive a cold call. When I really think about it, though, the top 5 most important things I did at Darden are:

5. Learned to use Excel (and became functional at finance in general): I’ve come a long way since Baby’s First If-Statement. Proof: I did a quick-and-dirty discounted cash flow in under 25 minutes last week – not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t catch that part of the assignment (oops!) and was scrambling to get it done before class. Who am i? – pre-Darden me could never have done that.

4. Landed a job I’m thrilled about: some people say this is what b-school is all about. It is a huge part of the equation, since i have to eat. I feel really lucky to be consistently over-the-moon-happy about my new job. I’m going to a great company in an awesome industry (beer), the function I wanted (marketing/brand management) all in an environment where they let me sparkle. It’s definitely worth the hours (months) I spent despairing about being unemployable, networking and interviewing.

3. Learned what I’m actually good at: if you’d asked me before Darden, I would have given you a very different list than I have now. Now I think I have a handle on my strengths and a clear eye on my weaknesses, all because Darden pushes hard and simultaneously doesn’t give you any room to fool yourself. Not to mention, I had to practice doing things I hate doing, like asking for help and saying “I don’t know” (both not so bad, once you get used to them).

2. Made some terrific close friends. I’m grateful to know amazing people at Darden, and my dear friends here are precious and wonderful. I am woeful at the thought of life without Miss MBA, Finn, SF and G within spitting distance and without my roommate to share living room floor picnics and daily dramas with.

1.The most important thing: served on the Darden Student Association as VP of Social. One year, 28 events (parties) and hundreds of hours of effort later, I feel like it’s been my honor and privilege to hold the role. Doing this job threw more challenges and triumphs my way than I could ever have imagined, and taught me more real-time leadership, communication and management skills than any class could or would have. Working with the 10 other people on the DSA was a complete treat, and I couldn’t imagine better colleagues to have. Not to mention getting to know my awesome Social Committee, tons more of my classmates, faculty, administration, staff and everyone who makes Darden run. I’m a better person and a better manager as a result.

To sum up: coming to Darden was the best personal and professional decision of my life. I did a bunch of hard stuff (gross understatement) and a bunch of fun stuff, and it’s been the best 2 years of my life so far. I’m pretty sure it keeps getting better and that I’ll keep blogging at this address, with perhaps a title change (Sierra After Darden?) and a few weeks off for travel.

Darden Student Association 2010-2011


Pageant chest, sandbags and prissy


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Prissy (adjective): finicky, dainty, particular, fussy, discriminating, persnickety.

Yep, I’m prissy. I begged my (horrified) mother to let me be a debutante (she refused and threatened to disown me), I don’ t like to get dirty unless it’s riding horses, and I always, always do the dishes before going to bed. My favorite word is “fabulous” and I like everything to be just so. And so you might be surprised that I’ve been regularly and voluntarily going to a dirty, smelly warehouse for almost 3 months now. Why? It’s the home of CrossFit Charlottesville. I heart CrossFit.

Lots of people have asked me lots of questions about it. Yes, it’s hard, requires commitment and lots of grit and is most definitely not for everyone. But if I can do it, anyone can. It’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. However, it can be pretty intimidating for a newbie, so, from my time as a potentially the prissiest person at CrossFit Charlottesville, here are some handy tips.

Posture. The way to think about this is having “pageant chest”.  If you were in a pageant, or a parade queen on a float, how would your posture be? That’s what they want. Now, when the trainer wants to remind me that my form is lacking, all he has to say is PAGEANT CHEST and I clue right in to what I’m supposed to be doing.

Grip. When you grip a barbell, you’re supposed to use the hook grip. Obviously I’d never remember that, so I call it the Captain Hook grip. Arrr, matey.  The absolute WORST thing you can do when barbelling is to display spirit fingers, as I’m prone to do. Captain Hook grip is the opposite of spirit fingers.

Circus Seal

Equipment.Sometimes we jump on and off 12”-24” boxes. These boxes are painted red and look like the type of box a circus seal would perform on. Hence, they’re circus boxes. I dare you not to make seal noises the first (or next) time you’re jumping on one.

What’s a nice girl like you doing with a sandbag like that? Warning: “sandbag cleans” (a fancy way of saying get the sandbag off the ground and onto your shoulder while having pageant chest) will give you naughty, naughty neck marks. Remember high school? That kind of neck marks. NEVER wear a tank top on sandbag clean days. And be prepared for people to roll your eyes when you say you got a naughty neck by throwing a sandbag around. Sure you did…

Attire. And, speaking of attire, be careful. You never know if you’ll be upside down, halfway sideways, hanging from a bar or crawling around on the floor. Running-type shorts with undies built in are a good thing since the danger of a flashing incident is reduced. Luckily, most people are concentrating too hard on their own workout to notice any potential wardrobe malfunctions anyway.

Yelling. Yes, there’s yelling. It’s 95% encouraging-you-can-do-it yelling, and most people forget that YOU CAN YELL BACK!  I’m not a yeller by any means, but one day I was doing lots of terrible things called burpees (throw yourself on the floor, do a pushup, jump up, repeat). The instructor, a nice man I call SuperDave, was next to me yelling at me in a very encouraging way. I finished my set, yelled right back at him, and went to cool down. I hadn’t planned it, but it definitely felt good.

Men. Yes, men tend to practice CrossFit. And what fine lads there are at a CrossFit establishment! It’s eye-candy-central. I’m so busy checking out the muscles on those manly menfolk that I don’t care if they’re watching me fall off a circus box or see me refuse to use anything but the pink kettlebells. Added bonus: it’s a rule that everyone has to know the name of everyone else in their class. What does this mean? Hot, muscley men are regularly introducing themselves to me as soon as I arrive. Hello, hotties.

Muscles. I want muscles, lots of ‘em. Don’t you? Yes, doing CrossFit gives you muscles – this is a good thing. Especially strapless dress muscles, which broadly means the group of muscles on show when you wear a strapless dress (back, chest, shoulders, arms). These muscles are especially attractive when they happen to be exercised routinely by CrossFit workouts. What woman doesn’t want gorgeous strapless dress muscles?

There’s been a recent mini-movement of Darden SYs to CrossFit Charlottesville, and if anything could be considered an MBA-type workout, this is it (friendly competition, timed exercises, defined goals and metrics, endlessly challenging, etc.). I still get nervous gym tummy before I go, but I’m always glad I went. I’m proud of my bruises (mostly from being naturally clumsy), love the post-workout feeling of accomplishment and even am coaxing my reluctant triceps to come out and show themselves. Oddly, I also want to eat better and run more so I’m better at CrossFit. It’s weird, but I’m going with it – and someone should call CrossFit St. Louis to warn them there’s a priss coming to town…

Grit, beets and Follies

I especially enjoy advice from successful entrepreneurs who come back to Darden to talk to us, and I’ve collected a heap of one-liners so far. Somewhat contradictory and amusing key learnings:

• Do what you’re good at/Be good at everything: um, ok… how am I supposed to get good at everything?

• Experiment often/fail quickly: aha! Get good at things by experimenting and failing (quickly).

• Know what you want/be open to opportunities you don’t think you want: does this mean being flexible enough to take experimental opportunities you may not want in order to fail quickly?

• Take venture capital, but not too much venture capital: apparently too much money in the coffers makes one sloppy.

• The best startup CEOs are those who have failed before/don’t hire a newbie CEO to fail on your business: apparently, you want to catch an entrepreneurial venture CEO at that perfect career point of post-failure. Trouble is when everyone wants a failure survivor and no one wants to be the survivable failure….

Most of our visitors are successful and also seem like semi-overconfident, tenacious people who just plain stuck to it. Another way to say it? They have grit. In fact, a study about grit including a scientific “Grit Scale” measurement, says that grit may be “as essential as talent to high accomplishment.” This same study also found that grit wasn’t linked to IQ. So you don’t have to be smart to have grit, and grit makes your likelihood of success much higher? Well, at least I’ve got grit going for me…although I think it’d be very interesting to have class speakers who are in any stage of entrepreneurial failure and hear their advice. It’s probably harder to recruit for that… “Excuse me, are you failing? Wow, great! Would you mind coming to talk about that to a bunch of students who will ask theoretical MBA-type questions? Super, see you Tuesday!”

In other news, I recently worked on a top-secret submission for Darden Follies, our annual hilarious compilation of videos/live-action comedy show at the end of the year. It’ll be hard to top last year’s “Darden Dancing”  but we may have a strong contender. (For reference – we’re not the only silly ones out there – lots of b-schools have Follies. See: Columbia Business School’s “MRS”, based on Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and NYU Stern’s “We Didn’t Start The Crisis” based on Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”). Darden’s Iron Chef competition is this week as well, with an awesome secret ingredient: beets! Since I’m now retired as VP Social, I get to actually participate in the competition! Winner gets a $100 gift certificate to local sustainably-sourced restaurant Brookville. I’m also looking forward to a sushi/karaoke party this weekend and Darden Days are here, which means 1st and 2nd-round accepted students are visiting Cville for the weekend. With the mentality that current students are the best way to see what it’s really like here, there are a slate of fun activities for the visiting prospectives. I’m on a student life Q&A panel on Friday and very much looking forward to the annual Darden Days outing: students, partners & prospectives are all taking a lovely get-to-know-you jaunt to King Family Vineyards for dinner. 40 days and counting (gasp!) till graduation….

What's not to love?

Fandom, NFLPA and digging it


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Today I had the terrific pleasure of listening to DeMaurice Smith, UVA Law graduate and the director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) speaking to us as part of Darden’s Leadership Speaker Series. He’s a brilliant speaker and easily seems charming, accessible, funny and compelling – in short, everything you want in a lawyer. I’d hate to face him in a courtroom or across a bargaining table. A self-proclaimed “whiteboard guy” who illustrated his points with big, bold numbers on a dry erase board, he excels at simplifying complex ideas and situations for bite-size consumption. And really, once you take the first bite, find it palatable and maybe even delicious, isn’t it easy to take the next one? His examples were peppered with great football names – Brady, Brees, Peterson, and he also skillfully called upon testimonials from the two ex-NFL players who are also current Darden students.

His concise take on a decidedly messy situation included the expiry of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the dissolution of the NFLPA as a labor union and a shaded but convincing summary of what the owners want vs. what the NFLPA wants. To sum it up? “We’d rather not be locked out.” And what about the fans? Simply, “our fans dig our players.” And the whole big mess? Well, America is in a recession, you know. How terrible is it to deprive football cities and the US economy of a $9 billion dollar industry?

I was impressed by him, the total package of charisma, smooth speech, intelligence and wit. I respected his style and his smarts – and two things made me decide I respect him as a person as well. One, he mentioned his wife is a breast cancer survivor and even his bad days are a walk in the park compared to what survivors have experienced. And two, his take on leadership: “Leadership is when you can inspire and pick talent so that your organization is better off with you and not worse off without you.”

My last job before Darden was in sports marketing. I loved it for a variety of reasons. Yes, for the glam factor but also for the power of sports to incite people and provoke passion, emotion and irrational behavior (body painting in 10 degree weather?). People care about sports on a basic level, for better or for worse, and I love that. You could say I’m a fan of sports, or a fan of being a fan. I hope the NFL players, past and current, get a fair shake when it comes to healthcare and controlling interests. And I’m begging everyone – the owners and league and players and lawyers and agents – to compromise and play nice in time for a 2011 NFL season that we can all dig.

List-less and Limitless (aka, highlights of Spring Break)

It’s the last night of Spring Break before SY Q4 starts, and if I were the counting type, I’d say it’s 56 short days until graduation. WOW! Since the Egypt trip was cancelled, I stayed stateside and really enjoyed the time off, visiting friends & family and generally relaxing. While i should be prepping for my 8am class (who takes an 8am class in SY Q4?), instead i’ll share highlights of Spring Break:

Waking up utterly distraught, then realizing why: I hadn’t made a list in 4 whole days. That’s 96 hours! For a confirmed, committed lifestyle-list-maker like me, that’s almost sacrilege. No wonder I felt so relaxed. (Don’t worry, I’m operating fully in list mode now. One can only get so loosey-goosey before things just fall apart…or so i hear).

Sporting around Scottsdale, AZ, enjoying the desert heat, West-Coast sensibilities, hanging out with my awsome brother and driving his zippy Volkswagen GTI 6-speed that’s peppy, turbo-quick and so fun to drive. Unexpected side effect of driving a car like that? The impulse to race almost everyone next to me whenever I’m at a stoplight. Just a bit of pretending like I’m at the wheel of a Mini Cooper in the Italian Job can’t hurt, right?

Seeing Limitless, a great movie about accessing all of your potential brainpower via a pill. Highly recommend – if indeed humans only use 20% of their brain, can you imagine the possibilities of fully engaged brains? Would you use your new superbrain for good, profit, evil, hedonism? And I couldn’t help thinking how the ethical situations presented in this movie would make an excellent Darden case. I liked it so much i’ll probably see it again before it leaves the theater.

Toddlermania! Playing with the adorable little people my coupled-off friends have produced. Parenting = tough stuff. I should call my mom & dad and say thank you….

Smackdown: potential vs. pragmatism. Discovering a complete infatuation with an unfinished studio space in St. Louis that I could design myself and have built to be the perfect, perfect apartment space. And then, thankfully, the injection of pragmatism from friends who reminded me it’s no fun to manage contractors and I’m on a budget and i’ll need to focus on my new job. Oh, right. Maybe a full-service rental apartment is the way to go…

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf iced blended drinks. Yum! Luckily there’s no equivalent in Cville, or i’d be in trouble…

Spring Training baseball – watching awesome players like Ichiro Suzuki and the Seattle Mariners and enjoying the 11,000-seat mini-ballpark featuring lawn seating with picnics, $5 parking, and positively laid-back-looking MLB players showing off for the crowd.

Hiking Camelback Mountain and the unbelievable 360 degree view, and the sense of accomplishment as knock-kneed, bow-legged me managed to climb 1,200 feet in elevation in just 1.2 miles.

Mellow Mushroom trivia with my roommate & his dad. And my boy-band phase (circa 2003) finally paying off – since I knew where the band O-Town hails from.

Gorging on books – reading Little Bee, The Imperfectionists, The White Tiger and The Great Gatsby (all Business Ethics reading seminar assigned reads) cover-to-cover in great chunks of free time.

Camelback Mountain

Prezis, rhinos and cactus


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Spring Break! I’m mushy-brained after papers, papers and more papers and one lone exam, all turned in today. Even as an English major trained to write (see Miss MBA’s post about a recent WSJ article claiming MBAs can’t write), I think I prefer exams. Exams are a quick, finite, high-performing capsule of time – whereas agonizing over papers takes inordinate amounts of time (the actual writing part goes swiftly). As a delightful form of procrastination I’ve attacked my Words With Friends/iPhone Scrabble app with renewed vigor, and currently have 6 games going at once with friends all across the country. What, that’s not normal? Says who?

You have to try this.

I learned something new and fantastic this week from one of our Swedish exchange students:  Prezi! It’s only the coolest presentation software ever, and a welcome change from PowerPoint. Prezi gives you an artboard-type workspace, like a blank desk, and you add content and animate it into an almost-3D-like movie. Working on our Prezi for an in-class presentation made me rethink everything about how I approach presentations. Instead of slide-by-slide bullet points, Prezi forces visually cohesive, dynamic creation – sort of mind-mapping. I spent hours this weekend making mistakes and experimenting with it, and am already scheming about where else I can use Prezi.

Another cool project that I’m starting now for Q4: Project Black Rhino. A classmate and I are co-writing a new case to add to the Creative Capitalism/Ethics curriculum. The inspiration was an article in BusinessWeek we discussed in class – about a game ranch in South Africa that breeds the endangered Black Rhino and also sells permits to hunt and kill the Black Rhino. After a lively discussion (is it ethical? is it productive? is it conscious or creative capitalism?), the professor asked for volunteers to write a case about it (another awesome thing about Darden). We moan and groan over the dry cases we have to read, but not this one. This one will be a thrilling page-turner full of captivating characters and slippery questions that prompt provocative classroom conversations, a sure best-seller! ($10 says my alliterative tendencies will get vetoed by the editing committee…)

For Spring Break, I’m off to Phoenix to see my brother, and it just so happens that Major League Baseball Spring Training is in full swing! Hello, sluggers! Come here often? Can’t wait to see Cactus League games in the sunny 80-degree weather. I’m arriving with a suitcase full of books for my Q4 Reading Seminar, “Business Ethics through Literature” and of course my trusty Virginia t-shirt. After all, we alums are everywhere…

Black Rhino. Sassy-looking fellow, isn't he?

Cocktail napkins, anyone?

This past weekend three friends, folks who graduated last year as Darden 2010s, visited me and wanted to do all the fabulous fun things I do pretty regularly – nightlife at the Corner, lunch on the Downtown Mall, a visit to Darden Grounds, delicious frozen yogurt from Arch’s, etc. Their delight in coming back to visit along with the real-world post-MBA perspective was a bit unsettling. It was a good reminder that being here in the bubble is tremendously fantastic compared to the workaday life. I quizzed them carefully about life “out there” in the real world, what it’s like, how the student loan payments really are (crippling? manageable?) and how to make the best of the time off before work starts. Speaking of, my start date was announced as July 11, 2011 (so soon!) which prompted me to begin the interesting process of internet-apartment-hunting in St. Louis (any/all suggestions welcome!). I’m so excited for my new job and the next adventure – and simultaneously sad about leaving.

Next week Q3 exams are due, and my Creative Capitalism class requires a business plan in lieu of an final exam. I have two distinct ideas that I think are viable and have social benefit (one financial services, one horse-related), but beyond that I’m not sure how to proceed. Frustratingly, the professor stood in front of us and said the wrong time to write a business plan is up front, before you work on your idea, because the business plan will be very large – the size of the business plan is equal to the size of your ignorance. He said it should fit on a napkin. As tempted as I am to turn in a cocktail napkin (monogrammed, of course) as my final, I’m more tempted to explore enough to produce 2 solid business plans, one for each idea, and see what happens. I didn’t particularly come here thinking of myself as an entrepreneur, but I may leave here itching to be one.

In social news, I’m thrilled that we have a whopping 18 teams registered for the Chili/Curry Cook-Off this week! They’ll compete for Best Chili, Best Curry, Best Overall (includes décor, spirit, accessories) and the new Generic Antacid Honorable Mention (since I didn’t secure a name-brand sponsor like Pepto). Also, Darden Student Association elections are complete, which means I’m a lame duck VP of Social. My successor is a Double Hoo like me, and also a student blogger – Darden Poet – and all around rocks. She officially takes over on April 1st (happy April Fool’s Day!). It seems I really do have to leave the bubble…but thankfully, not quite yet.

Obviously, it's a business plan in the making.

Callings, challenges and crockpottery

We’re deep into Q3, and I’m running into challenges. In that Darden-integrated-curriculum way, three of my classes are converging to present interwoven questions and answers. The guest speaker in my Religion class asked today “Do you need to have a caller (i.e., God) to have a calling?” with the follow up question “and is business a calling?” I’m still not sure how I feel about those two questions.

In Creative Capitalism we’re exploring social entrepreneurship and what separates business entrepreneurs from social entrepreneurs. A social entrepreneur is a “transformative force” who works to solve major societal problems with new ideas. Think Henry Ford assembly-line-type disruptive innovation applied to hunger, education, rural health care, etc. In his book How to Change The World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (which I highly recommend), David Bornstein says the difference between the business entrepreneur is “not in temperament or ability, but in the nature of their visions.” Combining the two questions – are certain people called to business, while others are called to social entrepreneurship? If so, called by whom or what? Where does the inspiration for innovation come from? I feel better prepared in each individual class because i’m experiencing the combination of all three classes. I’m really excited about my Creative Capitalism final: a social entrepreneurship business concept/plan – and very grateful to have context from my Innovation and Religion classes to blend into the mix.

Outside of school, I’ve decided it’s time to get back into shape. See fellow blogger Brilliantly Titled’s rant for context on b-school and fitness – all i can say is for me, this time, it’s serious. Crossfit serious. For someone who hated P.E. and Gym class growing up, this is kind of weird. The only way I can describe it is like P.E. for grown ups – intense circuit-type training with all sorts of balls and kettlebells and weights and rings and stuff. I always dreaded P.E. class and am the slowest, least-coordinated person I know. So far, three things are making me stick with it, despite the fact that I get nervous gym tummy every time I go – 1) the first rule at the gym is “No Ego”; 2) everyone is super friendly and encouraging and 3) It’s more challenging than anything physical I’ve ever done before.

And I’ve rediscovered my crockpot! My crock pot may be a hand-me-down, sturdy oval adorned with a fancy ivy design, but this thing works. With the 5th Annual Darden Chili/Curry Cook-Off coming up, I’ve gone on a chili campaign. After a strong first round of Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili, the current household favorite is White Chicken Chili, and a hearty batch of Taco Chili simmered through the wee hours last night. You may think a crock pot is a vestige of 1970s housewifery, but I’m here to tell you otherwise. It’s really a magical vessel from which deliciousness springs!


Beyond the bubble

I was signed up to go on a Darden Global Business Experience (GBE) in Cairo, Egypt over Spring Break.  The trip was cancelled because of the political situation there, and as Miss MBA puts it, So much for Cairo. Of course I’m disappointed, we all were – and now I compare the news each morning from CNN, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and only get the sense that things are getting worse before they get better. I’m not even sure what to write…


How does Q3 feel? Something fantastic is happening in the classroom…I look around and see friends EVERYWHERE. I could be considered the excitable type, but it’s wonderful to go to class and see people I can’t wait to catch up with. I may be a sentimental softy, or possibly the fact that it’s cold and everyone’s wearing fuzzy sweaters, but some classes seem positively cozy.

We’re a pretty small community of 300 or so, but it’s still my first time being in a classroom with a some people. Some of us are known quantities in terms of what we’ll say, predictably funny or serious or intense. An added layer of familiarity is a general awareness about our classmates’ future jobs – roughly 65% of us have job offers and/or know where we’ll be going to work post-Darden. It used to be that we knew each other in the context of what we’d done prior to Darden – now there’s a rich layer of our cumulative 1.5 year experience being silly, serious, stretched and smushed together plus our future jobs. There’s the Southern gentleman/former consultant who’s going to a technology company in Korea, the ex-Marine operations whiz going to strategy consulting, the past journalist going into brand management. I find my examples in class are less financial services oriented and more beer-related. Classmates send me articles on the latest interesting beer marketing, or suggest new beer flavors in passing. I give tips on moving to Charlotte or Seattle, and look for tips on living in St. Louis. It’s a great sense of community and yet another reason being here is so wonderful.

And speaking of beer, we had our 2nd annual Wine, Beer & Spirits conference last Friday, and it was terrific! The definite highlight was the keynote speech by Lyons Brown, a Darden grad and founder of Altamar Brands, a luxury spirits company. As he and the various presenters talked about industry dynamics and challenges, it hit me again: I’m so lucky to have a dream job in the alcohol industry, a fascinating gig I never would have had a chance at without an MBA. I’m grateful and still amazed when i think about the sheer fabulousity ahead of me.

Bucket list update: checked off BBQ Exchange in Gordonsville, VA (try the Hog Fire sauce) and a visit to Keswick Hall for delicious mimosas. Also dressed as a ninja (a first) for our Pirates vs. Ninjas Winter Doldrums party. Coming up this weekend is the Darden Shelter for Help in Emergency benefit auction, black tie (swoon! my favorite, and for such a good cause) and the Super Bowl (go Packers!). Life continues to be grand…