2019 MBAs To Watch: David Sunleaf, Texas A&M (Mays)

David P. Sunleaf

Texas A&M University, Mays Business School

I value autonomy, personal responsibility, and logical decision making. Emotions are often poor decision makers.”

Hometown: Dallas, TX

Fun fact about yourself: While I was working as a branch manager, a serial bank robber walked in and took a customer hostage with a 6” kitchen knife. At the time, I was auditing the vault with more than $200,000 sitting on the counter. However, he was in such a hurry that he didn’t make it to the vault room, so he left with less than $5,000 from the teller line. Thankfully, no one was injured, and the police caught him two hours later.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Baylor University, BBA – Finance

Texas A&M University, MBA – Finance

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Bank of America, Financial Center Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Deloitte Consulting (Dallas, TX)

Where will you be working after graduation? Deloitte Consulting, Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

MBA Association, Academic Affairs Chair

The Big Event, Volunteer

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of the time I was able to spend helping one of my classmates, a combat veteran, prepare for interviews. In addition to serving our country, he has excellent leadership skills, motivation, and a genuine care for those around him. While many companies love to advertise their support for veterans, too often recruiters are unable to understand how an individual’s military experience relates to the positions for which they’re hiring. However, this classmate refused to let this stop him from achieving his goals.

We spent several weeks preparing for his upcoming interviews. There were countless hours spent reviewing his military experience identifying his most impactful stories, each of which we then re-wrote several times to refine the language. In the end, his relentless drive allowed him to overcome and he landed an excellent position with one of the largest financial institutions in the world. I’m most proud of the fact that he trusted me to help.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a Financial Center Manager for Bank of America I was ranked 10 out of the 4,500 in the nation. One of the reasons I’m proud of this is because I was able to achieve it despite having some of the fewest new account openings. The issues with high-pressure sales tactics and unauthorized new accounts had just come to light at one of our competitors. Meanwhile, my team was focused on a simple idea—deliver an exceptional experience.

I knew we wouldn’t achieve our sales targets all the time. That didn’t matter. Performance was evaluated with a balanced scorecard that included more than just sales. By taking an ethical and sustainable approach to serving clients, my team was able to achieve more than we ever could have if we only focused on selling.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? While there were several fantastic professors, Dr. Mary Lea McAnally (Financial Accounting) has earned the top spot in my book. It’s so rare to have a professor who balances their passion for teaching with a genuine care for their students’ well-being. Dr. McAnally does it exceptionally well.

Another one of her strengths is her unique ability to maintain the attention of her students. Anyone can give a lecture on financial accounting. Some people can simplify it enough for others to understand. Dr. McAnally is one of the few people who can simultaneously simplify the material for those who are learning accounting for the first time while making it interesting enough to maintain the attention of those who’ve done it for years.

What was your favorite MBA Course? My favorite MBA course was Dealmakers in M&A. The course was taught by a former CFO of a multinational corporation and two co-sponsors—a partner from KPMG and a partner from a private equity firm. The course was taught on a two-week rotation. The first week we would learn about a specific topic related to M&A, then receive materials from a real M&A transaction the co-sponsors were involved in. The second week we presented our findings and recommendations to the co-sponsors and the analysts who were part of that M&A transaction.

The biggest insight I gained was how business is much more about relationships than it is about technical analysis. While the technical analysis is an essential step, its main function is to guide the direction of the transaction. Relationship, politics, bureaucracy, and even personal desires are the main driving forces behind business transactions.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Texas A&M University for three reasons.

First, Texas A&M has the strongest and largest alumni network in the State of Texas. Even if I went to school in another state, I knew that I wanted to move back to Texas afterward. By being part of the best alumni network in Texas, I’ve improved my odds of being able to find a job within the state.

Second, I decided I wanted to work for Deloitte in management consulting before I knew where I wanted to go to school. After talking to several friends who worked for consulting firms, I learned that Deloitte only recruited at select universities. I confirmed that Deloitte recruited from the Texas A&M program before applying.

Third, the ROI at Texas A&M is higher than any other school in Texas. The program is one of the only full-time programs in the nation that completes a full two-year curriculum in 18 months. As a result, it’s easy to see the financial benefits when factoring in the low cost of living, one less semester of tuition payments, and an extra six months of post-MBA income.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I advise everyone who is looking to get their MBA to start by identifying their long-term career goals. No school is inherently the right or wrong place. Each person needs to identify their own goals, preferences, and capabilities. Once a person understands those factors, they can evaluate each option objectively and determine which school will help them best achieve their goals.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Texas A&M has a very strong culture and military history. The Aggie Honor Code and core values are very important—not just something they talk about once at orientation and forget. People outside of A&M will sometimes refer to it as a “cult” because there’s a lot of pride in the school. Although it’s true that there is a distinct culture on campus, it’s built on core values than any form of “cult”.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish that I had known how helpful it is to understand my strengths and weaknesses—more specifically, StrengthsFinder. I’ve learned to align my decisions with my strengths and rely on others’ strengths where I am weak. This has not only made me more productive, but also less stressed. I no longer worry about the things I’m not good at because I’m able to see the value of each person’s unique strengths.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Business school was very transformative for me because of how much I learned about myself. Prior to business school, I had a general idea of the type of work I liked to do and what I didn’t like to do. However, what I didn’t know was that there is so much more to understanding one’s strengths and the value that it brings. It has dramatically improved my confidence because I’m focusing on the things I’m good at and leaning into other people’s strengths where I have weaknesses.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Joseph Weatherford – he is intelligent, has an exceptional work ethic, truly cares about helping other people, and does a great job balancing his family responsibilities with his professional goals.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My brother was the greatest influence on my decision to pursue business at both an undergraduate and graduate level. He is two years older than I am and has always been there to encourage me and give me solid advice. For example, when I was in high school, he helped me realize that finance was a more marketable major than general management. When I was procrastinating applying for the MBA program, he refused to pay me back for a joint family gift I bought until I finished my applications. It was simple, but he knew it would be effective.

What is your favorite movie about business? Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room: The biggest lesson I learned was how seemingly minute unethical/illegal decisions can balloon out of control, causing far more long-term damage than the right decision would have in the short-term.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? NIBCLs (“Nib-i-cles”) – Non-Interest Bearing Cash Liabilities.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…stuck in a cycle of thinking I should go to business school but talking myself out of it when I thought about the cost/risk of leaving a full-time job.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? The lifetime value-add of my MBA education is well over $1,000,000. It was worth more than I paid for it.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Travel to New Zealand to see the Southern Alps and Canterbury Plains
  2. Travel to Ireland

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me for my work ethic, professionalism, and desire to leave the world better than I found it.

Hobbies? Wood working, golf, and learning how things are made.

What made David such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

David Sunleaf is the champion of “process drives results.” As an MBA student, he worked hard every day to understand diverse views, clarify expectations, develop a plan, and drive toward excellence. Classmates, faculty, and staff admired his work ethic, his passion for constructive debate, his positive spirit, and his ability to keep track of both the big picture and a multitude of details. David brings brainpower, keen self-awareness and a big smile to everything he does. Depending on his teammates’ needs and goals, he will gladly take the wheel or ride in the back seat, so others can develop their skills. Very few students become a term in the class’s cultural lexicon. David is this rare student. The Class of 2019 coined the verb “sunleaf,” which means to transform something messy and sub-optimal into something well-structured and excellent. I will always remember the day I overheard one of David’s classmates say “let’s just get in a room and sunleaf the heck out of it.”

Dr. Janet Marcantonio
Executive Professor, Mays Business School
Texas A&M University