“Former professional poker player. Goldendoodle dad. Scuba, bonsai, and acroyoga enthusiast. Will try anything once.”
Hometown: Richmond, Virginia
Fun Fact About Yourself: In the last eight years I have lived in four different countries – five if you count Portugal, where I quarantined in a little beach shack just south of Lisbon for ten weeks during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Undergraduate School and Major: Virginia Tech, Political Science
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Self-employed, Professional poker player
Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of the school’s programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? McCombs’ MBA+ Program, without a doubt. Given my nontraditional background, I recognize that I will need to bridge the gap between my career aspirations and current skillset. I expect that the MBA+ Program will allow me to do just this, especially through its micro-consulting projects, one-on-one coaching sessions, and distinguished speaker series. The bonus? The program partners with industry-leading companies such as Deloitte, ESPN, and Hershey.
What club or activity excites you most at this school and why? Any seminar or conference in which Professor Kirk Goldsberry is involved. I am a big basketball nerd and was an avid reader of Grantland back in the day, so I am eager to take a deep dive into sports analytics and data visualization (especially those legendary heat maps).
Describe your biggest accomplishments in your career so far: Remaining profitable in each of my nine years playing poker, a stretch in which I wagered over $20 million across 200,000+ tournaments.
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Let me first say that the perks of playing poker professionally are hard to match. You are your own boss, you can travel whenever and wherever you want, and you meet a ton of interesting people.
However, poker is a zero-sum game. The point is to take as much as you can. You must find fulfillment outside of work. For me, the career was not sustainable.
Knowing that I was not in it for the long-haul, I started researching other professional poker players who made the switch to the business world. There are a ton of success stories out there, including Vanessa Selbst and Galen Hall of Bridgewater Capital and Robin Gainer of Solid State AI.
I was able to connect with two consultants at BCG, both of whom had previous stints as professional poker players. Not only had they made the switch to consulting, but they were thriving.
They persuaded me to go for an MBA and to not think twice. I started writing my admissions essays that day and here I am now.
What other MBA programs did you apply to? UCLA Anderson and UCLA Marshall. Both are amazing programs with unique strengths that impressed me throughout the application process. My final decision on which school to attend was not easy!
What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “Tell me about a time that you failed?” I have failed more times than I can count, so naming a time was easy. The challenging part was allowing myself to be vulnerable in front of a complete stranger. But the beauty of making yourself vulnerable is that it often leads to genuine connection, as it did in my interview. After I answered the question, the interview felt less formal and more like a conversation with an old friend.
How did you determine your fit at various schools? I prioritized three factors: location, experiential learning, and school culture. I spent countless hours researching online and consulting with friends. However, nothing was more helpful than visiting the programs in person. This is where all of the marketing material came to life. I was able to get a much better feel for what was real and what was just smoke and mirrors.
What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? I have been learning as much as possible about potential biases and blind spots that I may have at the end of my time in business school. To this end, almost everything written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb has been brilliant.
What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? I did not have one defining moment so much as I had a set of personal experiences in my late-20s that culminated in the realization that life is all about relationships. This realization allowed me to properly adjust my priorities before classes started so that I could make the most of my business school experience. I am here at McCombs to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. I believe that the best way to do this is to make my relationships my top priority and to trust that everything else will fall into place.
What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? The calculated risk taker in me loves to keep an eye on companies in the prediction market space. A good example is PredictIt, which describes itself as “the stock market for politics.” Companies such as PredictIt allow interested parties to bet on the outcome of future events, creating public data that can help anyone filter signal from noise.
To be clear, these companies are still in their early days. There is not enough volume and the fees are too high. But these markets are worth tracking, as they can provide valuable data points for decision-makers. More generally, the lesson here is to listen most closely to those with skin in the game (and read Taleb as soon as possible).