Meet Rochester Simon’s MBA Class Of 2021

Darren A. Small 

Simon Business School at the University of Rochester

“Intellectually curious, driven, and passionate about making a difference in the lives of those around me.

Hometown: Jamaica, NY

Fun Fact About Yourself: I know how to knit and crochet. Winters in Rochester are cold, it will come in handy. Thanks mom.

Undergraduate School and Major: Middlebury College, Economics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: MUFG Securities Americas, Inc., Vice President of Operational and Enterprise Risk Management

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Starting a company. Prior to attending Simon, I started my company, Twilight. Named after Alexander Twilight, the first Black college graduate in the U.S., my company is focused on closing the ownership and wealth gap – especially in Black & Minority communities – by providing an outlet for first-time Millennial homebuyers to save for a down payment towards their first home.

In only a short amount of time, we’ve made some amazing strides. Most recently, my company was selected to attend CNBC’s 2019 Money 20/20 Conference. It is a great opportunity to showcase the first version of our app and meet some of the biggest and brightest names in the industry.

I’m proud of the progress made so far. I’m even more excited for the future and the possibility of transforming millions of lives!

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Thoughtful. Simon students are some of the kindest, most genuine, and thoughtful people I’ve ever met. Even in casual conversation, my classmates take the time to truly get to know me – remembering the smallest details and following up later to check-in. I’m honored to be a part of an amazing group. My classmates inspire me to be the best version of myself.

Rochester Simon is known for being “unabashedly analytical.” Why does the program’s focus on quantitative analysis and decision-making appeal to you? How do you intend to leverage this’ approach as a student and professional?  The focus on analytics and the reputation for quantitative rigor was one of the key reasons I decided to attend Simon.

The world is changing. Increasingly within today’s organizations, data and analytics are driving factors in setting the organizational strategy and influencing decision making. As an entrepreneur, I felt it was critical to not only understand how to think strategically and set clear goals but also understand how to effectively use data to achieve strategic objectives. My desire to learn the language of the future economy drove me to Simon. Even during my short time at Simon, I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned in class and apply it directly into my business. My framework for decision-making and critical thinking is already changing. I’m excited to continue to dive deeper and apply what I learn in the classroom almost immediately into practice.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? Aside from the analytics, the opportunity to build deep connections with my classmates was the key factor in choosing Simon. Simon’s small class size facilitates the opportunity to get to know my classmates on a much deeper level. Smaller career action teams, cohorts, and homework teams provide different opportunities to meet more of my classmates and build connections. I didn’t want my business school experience to be transactional. No picking and choosing of friend groups. With a small, tight-knit community of first- and second-year students, I can get to know everyone in the program. There aren’t many schools that can provide a similar experience.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? It’s a tie between the Simon Entrepreneurs Association (SEA) and the Simon School Venture Fund (SSVF). Making the transition from spending the past eight years in financial services into entrepreneurship requires building a new set of skills. SEA will allow me to connect with other entrepreneurial-minded individuals, while SSVF will help develop an understanding of key factors outside investors could possibly look for in my own business.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? My previous manager, Elaine Hutchinson – a CBS grad – solidified my pursuit of an MBA. Prior to applying to business school, I had been on the fence about the idea of business school. Despite my hesitancy, during our four years together, Elaine consistently highlighted the benefits of attending business school – an extended network, the opportunity to expand skill sets and knowledge, and set my career on a different trajectory. Once I started my company and had clear post-MBA goal, I knew business school was the right decision.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? CBS, Indiana (Kelley), CMU (Tepper), and Dartmouth (Tuck)

How did you determine your fit at various schools? There were so many factors I considered when applying to business school. Is entrepreneurship a buzzword or is it alive? Is there diversity on-campus? Will this be a place I can be successful? What is the culture of the student body? The list goes on. The best resource I found was to talk to current students. It’s pretty easy to tell how people feel about their experiences even if they don’t come right out and say it. When consistent themes or subtle cues keep creeping up, you can get an idea of what the university is like and what your potential experience could be like. My advice: Listen closely. Be engaged. Don’t ignore red flags.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? The day I met Timothy J. Cavanaugh, my life went on a different path. Tim helped found an organization called Run-to-Daylight (RTD), a program focused on helping inner-city youth in New York City to escape underperforming public schools and gain access to Preparatory schools by using football as a vehicle.

It’s funny how life works. During my sophomore year of high school, a classmate of mine who wasn’t even part of RTD told me about the program. About a week later, I found myself on a patchy, dusty, football field in Queens with my mom. After signing up with the program, I spent the next year visiting different schools throughout New England and was fortunate enough to be accepted to Pomfret School in Connecticut. This experience led to a transformation in my life.

Undoubtedly, without Tim and RTD, I would have never had the opportunity to attend Pomfret, Middlebury, or Simon, gain the amazing professional experience I’ve been fortunate to have, start my company, or meet my wonderful wife!

One moment transformed my life and I’ve never taken it for granted.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? Ringing Opening Bell of the NYSE as my company is being listed.

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