2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Deon Provost, Cornell University (Johnson)

Deon Provost

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“My humble origins have inspired me to make the world better than I found it.”

Hometown: Lynwood, CA

Fun fact about yourself: I backpacked “off-the-grid” in Chilean Patagonia as a part of the Johnson Leadership Expedition to Patagonia.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Boston University, BA Economics, BA in Philosophy & Political Science; University of Pennsylvania, MA in Urban Spatial Analytics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Destination XL Group, Inc., Manager of Analytics

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? McKinsey & Co., Atlanta, GA.

Where will you be working after graduation? Deciding between Consulting and Private Equity

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: VP, Consulting Club; Johnson Leadership Fellow; Johnson Board Fellow at the United Way of Tompkins County; VP, Johnson Sports Analytics Club; BR Consulting; BR Ventures; Career Liaison, Consortium for Graduate Study in Management; Interviewer, Johnson Admissions Group; Consulting Career Work Group Leader; Head Teaching Assistant, Core Critical and Strategic Thinking; Teaching Assistant, Corporate Finance Immersion, Entrepreneurial Finance, Johnson NYC Curriculum Fintech Intensive, Management Cases, and Management Consulting Essentials.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As a first-year MBA, I was invited to join BR Ventures, Johnson’s student-run venture capital fund. After performing due diligence on an early-stage CPG company, I had the unenviable task of informing them that we would not be investing at that time. I provided constructive feedback on what the company needed to improve to better position them for future fundraising. Months later, when I ran into the CEO, the company was doing amazingly well. It had raised over $250K and was generating lots of buzz. The CEO thanked me for making the recommendations, which catalyzed their current trajectory. Most people seek an MBA in hopes of making an impact. I’m incredibly proud and thankful that I was able to experience that feeling so early in my tenure.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? A month before our Board of Directors meeting, I was assigned a “stretch” project. I worked closely with senior leaders, staff, and their data to build a spatial model that would improve our store planning strategy and financial forecasts. It was audited by an external firm and, when it was announced to the Wall Street analysts that covered our firm, our stock price jumped 50%.

Why did you choose this business school? First, the people, at all levels, are incredibly warm and inviting. From my first visit, everyone was genuinely interested in me and invested in my success. Johnson felt like a place where I would be both nurtured and challenged to be my best self. Second, I came to business school aspiring to become a better leader. Not only is leadership training interwoven throughout Johnson’s curriculum, but the community is so close-knit, the culture of feedback is so robust, and the prospects to lead are so plentiful that I knew I could get quality leadership opportunities while also being held accountable. Lastly, I had spent all my life in major cities. I wanted to get out of the big city and try something different. The idea that I could hike a gorge, sail or snowboard on a whim was very appealing.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Act. Reflect. Share. Business and leadership are contact sports; don’t be afraid to fail. Johnson is a place full of real people interested in getting to know the real you. Show up authentically and enthusiastically in everything that you do. Find time to reflect on the source of any fear, anxiety, adrenaline, or exhilaration the application process presents. It isn’t the feelings themselves that are noteworthy, but rather we want you to share what you’re learning about yourself and what you will do in the face of competing emotions and priorities in the future. Cornell is a place for “any person, any study.” Lean into it.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that we’re just a “finance school.” We have great preparation for—and pedigree in—consulting, tech, entrepreneurship, and many other industries and functions. I came to Johnson in part because I was unsure if I wanted to pursue a career as a product manager in tech or management consulting. I knew that whatever I chose, I’d have the resources and support to be successful given Johnson’s strong track record.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have done more indoor and outdoor sporting activities with classmates and professors. While I’m a part of our bowling league, I didn’t play enough golf or squash or take advantage of skiing, skeet shooting, and rock-climbing classes.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Sofia Huther. She’s the most humble and authentic person I know. She’s intellectually brilliant, fun, thoughtful, cultured, and unassuming. She effortlessly adds value in every environment she enters. Whether discussing diversity and intersectionality, the nuances of leadership, classwork, professional aspirations, or family life, she always provides a unique perspective or killer question, which propels you forward in your thinking and outlook. Sofia does nothing for show; everything is borne from a deep conviction of character. She epitomizes empathy and authenticity. She shows up for everyone and, yet, most would never know. As the poet Sean Carter (Jay Z) once said, “The highest form of giving is from anonymous to anonymous.” That is Sofia in a nutshell. It wouldn’t surprise me if Sofia was advising heads of state or executive coaching one day.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business? Derrick Walker. He was my SVP and the first mentor who not only believed in me but actively worked to provide me with growth opportunities, feedback, and coaching. I’ve borrowed more from his style and personality than any other leader. I recall my first meeting briefing senior leadership as a new manager in the boardroom. I got a pat on the back and an “attaboy” from what seemed like the majority in attendance. Derrick sat me down afterward and asked me how it went. I said, “Well,” and he disagreed. He said that it went fine for a manager who was comfortable in that role, but he saw me elevating the role and myself such that I would be considered a decision-maker and senior leader-in-waiting. This was the beginning of seeing myself as a future executive and thinking long-term about how I would achieve that goal.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Work in the front office of a professional sports franchise and take a public company private.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Deon made time for me.

Hobbies? Coding, coaching, cooking, basketball, and soccer

What made Deon such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“I had the pleasure of working with Deon in our Corporate Finance Immersion, which includes a capstone project where students analyze growth initiatives for finance executives at major publicly-held companies. Throughout the semester, Deon demonstrated a commitment to learning the language of finance and gaining a deep financial modeling skill set. Deon has a charismatic leadership style and brings a great energy to the classroom. This, coupled with his inquisitive mind, contributed significantly to enhancing my classroom’s active dialogue, making for a fruitful experience for all students. During several lecturers with practitioners, Deon actively raised some tough questions that were clearly grounded in a desire to gain a deeper understanding of the praxis between finance and strategy in managerial decisions.”

Jack Ferrer
Visiting Lecturer of Finance and Director, Investment Banking & Corporate Development


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