From Combat In Iraq To Investment Banking

Darden assisant professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne

Darden assisant professor and former Israel Defense Forces soldier Yael Grushka-Cockayne

It wasn’t so much the attacks themselves that motivated Rey to choose military service – it was the nation’s response to the attack. “The images we were seeing on TV, everyone was kind of pitching in to help. I wanted to do kind of anything to be able to help, and if that meant helping prevent something like this from happening again, as a member of the armed forces, that would be a good cause.”

He enrolled at the University of Southern California, and joined the ROTC. Next stop was the Marine Corps. In his seven years as a Marine, he developed skills in areas including leading teams, communicating, and managing resources. As a captain in Iraq, he led a platoon of 40 soldiers. “These are your guys and it’s your job using the men that you have and the resources at your disposal to get the job done,” he says. “You’re managing from the ground right from the start. You learn the managing skills by managing. You learn communication by communicating with the men you’re with.”

As his service was ending, he was thinking about his strategy for reintegrating with non-military life – how to leverage the abilities he’d developed as a Marine. “Where does this kind of translate to in the civilian world?” he wondered.


Rey started reaching out to officers and former officers who were in business school. He researched business education, schools, and business in general. “I took kind of a full dive into it,” he says, and came to a conclusion about B-school: “OK, this is absolutely what I want to do.”

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business attracted a lot of veterans, as did Darden. Rey and his wife were expecting a baby. He liked both schools’ tight communities, and Darden’s small-town feel, he says. Darden’s focus on the case method tipped him toward the Virginia school.

“What I found really awesome about the case method was it was a daily engagement activity,” Rey says. “You’re breaking down the case in so many different ways that you wouldn’t have done if it was just one professor lecturing.”

Rey found that the case method also offered something else: an education into various industries he was not knowledgeable about previously. “Every case is from a different industry,” he says.

And he’s discovered that his experience with ambiguity gives him an edge in B-school work. “You never really have all the details that you would like, but you have to go with it,” he says.


In his personal life, Rey had managed his own investments and retirement funds, and found the work interesting. More conversations with veterans led Rey to focus on a career in investment banking, a field that appealed to him not only because he enjoyed working with numbers, but because it also involved skills he’d refined during his military career: communicating, analyzing and interpreting data, managing processes, paying attention to detail, and carrying projects through from start to finish. At Darden, finance courses firmed up his knowledge base, along with core accounting classes. The Financial Institutions and Markets course was particularly helpful for providing specialized knowledge about how financial institutions operate, he says. And he especially benefited from strategy classes, he says. “It’s good to know finance, it’s good to know marketing, it’s good to know accounting. Strategy drives pretty much everything.”

He received an internship last summer as an investment banking associate with Barclays, in the Technology, Media & Telecoms group. This school year, his second in the program, he was a portfolio manager in Darden Capital Management, a student group that manages money for the Darden School Foundation board.

In business school, he’s built relationships as close as those he developed as a Marine. “There was a lot of camaraderie in the military,” he says. “There’s just as strong or not stronger camaraderie with the people you’ve gone to business school with.”

After his graduation from Darden this month, Rey will return to Barclays in a full-time investment banking position in the firm’s Atlanta office.

Grushka-Cockayne describes Rey as “very clever” and believes his attitude toward learning has been a prime factor behind his success as a student and budding investment banker. Never afraid to ask for help, he takes a positive attitude into problem solving, she says. “Maybe it’s his (military) experience that puts it into perspective,” she says. “Maybe it’s having a new family.”


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