Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Paul Niedfeldt, University of Virginia (Darden)

Paul Niedfeldt

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“Husband. Father of four. Die-hard BYU football fan. Amateur Ultimate Frisbee player. Outdoorsman.”

Hometown: Crystal Lake, IL

Fun Fact About Yourself: Over a period of 2 weeks each year, Disney hosts early morning canoe races on the Rivers of America within Magic Kingdom where ~75 teams of 10 rowers compete against one another. For the past two years, my team has been crowned champions!

Undergraduate School and Major: Brigham Young University – Master of Accountancy; Double Major: BS Accounting, BA Chinese

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: The Walt Disney Company – Senior Financial Analyst

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? The case method drew me in for 3 main reasons: (1) It is the most captivating and active way to learn; (2) It best approximates actual decision making in a functional management structure; and (3) It cultivates humility as you learn from those around you and recognize your own weaknesses.

Aside from your classmates and the case method, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Darden is well-ranked in a number of categories that I highly value, including alumni usefulness, overseas study and best programs for consulting. However, if I had to pick just one, it would be their #1 ranking in Education Experience for the last 9 years. I came to business school to transition careers, but I picked the two-year full-time MBA because I wanted a transformative experience in which I could focus completely on my education. Darden promises to provide an education experience nonpareil.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? If I had to pick one word to describe my classmates, it would be balanced. My classmates are some of the most sociable, outdoorsy, fun-loving people I know, but they are also pragmatic and modest.

What makes you most excited about starting business school here? What makes you most nervous? I am most excited to start business school here for the long-lasting relationships with students and world-class faculty that I hope to build.

Aside from the uncertainties generated by COVID-19, what makes me most nervous about starting at Darden is the recruiting process. I keep having to remind myself to just take things one day at a time.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: While at Disney, I directed the finances of a Deluxe Resort with $100M in revenue. As the only finance professional at the resort, I was responsible for financial planning, forecasting, ad hoc analysis, managing financial risks, and approval of significant expenditures—essentially functioning as resort CFO reporting directly to the GM.

During my first year in the role, I suggested to the GM that we create and host a New Year’s Eve event at the resort to satisfy guest demand for holiday events and capture additional revenue. My GM agreed and asked me to drive the event with our entertainment and operations teams. I negotiated pricing and reduced costs to ensure that the event would receive executive approval and organized advertising through appropriate channels. I also branched out of finance to collaborate with the entertainment team to plan the evening’s agenda. The party was a huge success driving 13% year-over-year total revenue growth at the resort. As a direct result of this success, the GM became a close friend and mentor to me and that has been as important to me as the success itself.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Over the last five years, I’ve seen how decisions are made at different companies and submitted multiple decision proposals and analyses, but I want to have the knowledge, experience and authority to MAKE the decisions that will define the strategic direction of the company. The two-year MBA is the most transformative of the MBA options and it would have been more difficult to leave the workforce for two years after my next promotion. As a result, I made the decision to pursue the MBA at this time to obtain the strategy, operations, and marketing background that I need to be successful as a consultant or corporate executive.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, Harvard Business School, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Cornell University’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? How would you define diversity?

Since being accepted, what have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? Since being admitted, I have read a number of business books, including How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen, The Ride of a Lifetime by Bog Iger, and The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. I have also participated in multiple pre-MBA programs to begin to get to know some of my target companies better. Finally, I have completed Darden’s Career Development WhyFinding (CDWhy) program, which helps students prepare for fall recruiting by completing activities that help them (1) understand their strengths and weaknesses, (2) identify target companies/roles, (3) craft their story, and (4) update their resume and LinkedIn. 

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? Ever since high school, I have dreamed of getting an MBA. In February 2019, I had a great job at Disney with great co-workers, work-life balance, friends, and work perks. I often wondered: Do I need an MBA to get where I want to go? If I’m happy doing what I’m doing, why should I leave to pursue something unknown? Am I being greedy to want more out of my career and my life when I have something great already?

One day, I told my wife that it would be easier on her and the kids if I just stayed at Disney and just aimed a little bit lower. She wisely replied, “You could do that… but that’s not you, so it won’t work.”

That day I learned something about myself: When it came to big decisions, I could never take the easy way out; otherwise, I would lose respect for the man in the mirror. And that meant pursuing a top MBA.

What is your favorite company and why? Not surprisingly, I have chosen The Walt Disney Company for its determination to stay true to its founder’s inspired vision and for its ability to bring joy into the lives of people around the world. As cast members in Disney’s theme park business, we often discussed Walt Disney’s vision and accompanying philosophies. One philosophy that resonated with me is Walt’s belief that if you take care of your employees, then they will take care of your company.


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