2018 Best MBAs: Declan Nishiyama, Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Declan Nishiyama

Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology

“Former Chemical Engineer turned Technical Product Manager for cloud computing at Amazon Web Services.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Ashland, KY

Fun fact about yourself: As a hobby, I make ice cream. Recently, I made one of my classmate’s favorite cereals into a flavor, Captain Crunch ice cream. She liked it so much that she literally cried!

Undergraduate School and Degree: North Carolina State University – Chemical Engineering in Raleigh, NC

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? ExxonMobil – Business Analyst in Beaumont, TX

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Amazon Web Services in Seattle, WA

Where will you be working after graduation? Amazon – Senior Product Manager, Technical Products in Seattle, WA

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • I was elected by my classmates to be the Class Vice President of Finance. In this position, I implemented several new funding sources for our class organizations, increasing our budget by 20%. I used that funding to facilitate new events and to establish a new committee that helps capture the interesting stories, experiences and activities of our students to share amongst ourselves and with external communities, like prospective students. That committee recently started a podcast series in which students are interviewed about their summer internship experiences. These podcasts help current students evaluate whether the company would be a good fit and help prospective students understand the MBA internship experience. I also digitized our reimbursement system, improving processing times from over two weeks to one day.
  • My classmate and I initiated the Scheller Student Speaker program, giving students an opportunity to share their stories and passions with the rest of their classmates in a Ted Talk format.
  • I’ve been the captain of our MBA intramural indoor and outdoor soccer team, which is the equivalent of herding cats due to our busy schedule of classes, homework, and other extracurriculars. Luckily, our MBA program is close-knit and has a lot of people like me, who aren’t necessarily gifted athletes, but enjoy being active and being a part of the team. After a harrowing loss in the outdoor playoff finals, we’re still looking for that Grad League championship trophy. The indoor playoff finals are coming up and things are looking pretty good for our team!
  • There have been ample opportunities to give back to the Atlanta community while in business school. I volunteered at the Veteran’s hospital and at Open Hand Atlanta, delivering meals and spending time with people in need. In my spare time, I volunteered at the soup kitchen of the nearby United Methodist church, serving meals for the local community. I also enjoyed volunteering at the Fulton County Science Fair, encouraging students to pursue their passions in STEM. There were many outstanding projects and one middle schooler had even built his own robot!

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am part of Scheller College’s Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:GER) program, and I’m most proud of the success my team achieved in the Indus Entrepreneur Business Plan Competition. Through Scheller’s TI:GER program, I’ve teamed with a Georgia Tech PhD student and Emory law students to commercialize the PhD student’s research on autonomous vehicles. This competition was our opportunity to defend the business plan we developed. We placed 1st in the semifinal competition and advanced to the finals. Despite having several members sick with the flu during the competition, we won $1,500 in the finals. The funding was a great reward, but the lessons we learned in feedback from the judges and mentors was more valuable. We took what we learned and applied for a National Science Foundation I-Corps grant to perform customer-discovery interviews to further refine our business plan. We were awarded the grant and given $50k to travel the West Coast conducting 100 interviews. We’ve gained valuable insights into the industry and have pivoted our focus to capitalize on what we learned through these experiences. In addition, we recently received a Georgia Research Alliance grant for another $50k to simulate our technology in new vehicles to further validate its effectiveness.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At ExxonMobil, I am most proud of the work I did to improve the safety of my coworkers. I worked at a manufacturing plant, which can often be dangerous due to the use of hazardous materials at high temperatures and pressures. Utmost care and attention is needed to ensure that everyone can return home safely to their families every day. I was given the opportunity to lead a team of eight engineers and operators to identify risks related to H2S, a deadly gas. We scoured the facility drawings and diagrams and performed safe, in-person examinations to understand all potential exposure points. We were able to implement several solutions to ensure that exposure to the gas would be impossible. For this initiative, the site leadership selected me for a 212° award, which recognizes employees who go above and beyond the normal call of duty and demonstrate the “extra degree” of effort.

While at ExxonMobil, I also dedicated my time to the community. Each month after work, I would drive two hours to Houston to participate in civic hack-a-thons, during which software developers would team with local government and small businesses to work on projects benefitting the community. For one project I helped a small non-profit, Trees for Houston, manage their enormous database of planted and maintained trees. Although I was a mediocre programmer, I was able to add value to the project. My team and I created a map of all the planted and maintained trees to help their sponsors, clients, and employees visualize their significant impact in Houston and inspire them to continue their commitment to the organization’s mission. The impact I was able to make on that project helped me finalize my decision to change careers and to become a Product Manager.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? That has to be Charles Mulford. It would be hard to pick anyone else, since he’s won the Core Professor of the Year award 11 times and Elective Professor of the Year award five times. He stands out because he is able to do the unthinkable: he makes accounting fun and interesting for everyone. He also shares amazing advice for valuing micro-cap and nano-cap companies, which can be much trickier than valuation of small- and mid-cap companies. These techniques have been helpful for me to develop the business plan of the autonomous-vehicle startup, which is the focus of my TI:GER team.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Scheller because of their unique TI:GER program, which is allowing me to work on commercializing research on autonomous vehicles. There are many amazing companies that have come out of the program. One example is LymphaTech, which recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fight Lymphatic Filariasis all over the world.

For my TI:GER project, I work with a PhD student from the College of Computing who is focused on autonomous vehicle technology. His research replaces decade-old technology at the core of today’s self-driving cars. This improvement will greatly increase safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles by facilitating faster calculations of cars’ projected trajectories. Through the TI:GER program, I’ve been able to work on developing the business plan to bring this project to fruition. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience that Scheller is uniquely positioned to provide.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Get to know us! Talk with current students or come in for a classroom visit. We have a smaller than average class size and that really allows us to build up a strong community that you have to experience.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My first year, I made the rookie mistake of taking a Thursday evening class. That’s the time that our program holds social events, so I ended up missing ice skating, a trip to the aquarium, several bar crawls, and a movie night. Don’t make my mistake.

Aside from that, I wish that I had participated in more business case competitions. Several of my classmates traveled to Colorado to participate in the Race & Case Competition, which is half business case competition and half skiing race. Really.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My classmates wgi have had babies during the program. I have a hard enough time taking care of my dog and doing the MBA. I couldn’t imagine doing that with a newborn!

Another would be my wife. She’s technically not a student, but she did win the “Honorary MBA” award at last year’s MBA prom. She comes to just about all our school events: socials, tail gates, even our intramural games. The only thing she doesn’t do is come to class with me. Over the summer, she even moved her business to Seattle so that we could be together while I interned with Amazon. I’m grateful for how supportive she’s been over the last two years while I learned and had a blast, but made practically no salary.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I had a co-worker who left our company to get his MBA a few years before me. Prior to him leaving, I didn’t think it was possible to live without a salary for two years and to actually pay tuition instead. I thought that the process would be too much of a setback financially and career-wise. His departure and post-MBA success (he now runs his own search fund) showed me that it could be done.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…caught up on all the TV shows and movies in my Netflix queue, but working in an industry that didn’t fulfill me.”

What are the top two items on your bucket list? My wife and I want to visit all 50 states. Road tripping to Seattle this summer to start my internship at Amazon helped us approach our goal, but we’re still missing a few in the Northeast and then Hawaii and Alaska. Every state has such a unique personality and it has been amazing seeing all that America has to offer. So that’s really the top 10 items on my bucket list.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as the guy who was a good friend and wasn’t afraid to be embarrassed.

What would your theme song be? Eminem–‘Till I Collapse. This is a great motivational piece that explores inner strength and finding inspiration in your work. This was my hype music before our intramural dodgeball games. We ended up winning the dodgeball Grad League championship. Was it because of Eminem? If I weren’t the worst player on the team, I might think so.

Favorite vacation spot: India! My wife and I traveled there during my winter break. We met up with several MBA classmates in their hometowns of Mumbai and Delhi. We are huge fans of Indian food and were not disappointed. The architecture was absolutely stunning. It made it very apparent that the U.S. is only ~250 years old.

Hobbies? My favorite hobby has been working on my app, EtymologyExplorer. While studying for the GRE, I finally grew from hating words to finding them interesting—how they’ve evolved and how similar words are related. I got so invested that I taught myself programming and developed an app to show word etymologies visually. The depiction looks like a tree with word roots and descendants. The Android version recently surpassed 15k installs. Since starting business school, I’ve finished an iPhone version and a webpage. The value from this has been developing new skills, not making any money; I put ads into the app and that led to a whopping $200 in revenue.

What made Nishiyama such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Declan every week for the last year since he served as the Vice President of Finance for the Graduate Business Council (GBC), our MBA Student Government Organization, and I meet weekly with the GBC leaders. Declan is truly a leader among our students. In his role he helps manage more than $50K in funding for student engagement initiatives, fairly distributing this to student committees. He works closely with all the committee to help increase their student activities to improve the student experience. He serves as an advocate for students, representing the student body and sharing their concerns with the administration so we can continue to enhance student programs and support. He really cares about his classmates and his efforts have helped create a close-knit student body.

In addition to serving as a GBC leader, he mentors three first-year MBA students to help them succeed in the program and in the internship search. He also takes initiative to go outside his formal leader role and mentor role to create new opportunities for students. For instance, to help students form closer relationships, he worked with a classmate to launch the Scheller Student Speaker Program in which MBAs give Ted Talk-like presentations about their personal stories and the challenges that have shaped them. He is also a committed member of his TI:GER team, working with a team of students to help commercialize autonomous vehicle technology. Declan is an outstanding member of our students community and a role model for our first-year students who now need to step into leadership roles as our 2nd years prepare for graduation and their full-time positions.”

Nancy Gimbel
Assistant Dean of MBA Student Engagement
Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST: CLASS OF 2018