2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Daniel Valdez, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)

Daniel Valdez

Arizona State University, W. P. Carey School of Business

“Loving father and husband, dedicated civil servant, adaptable veteran, innovative entrepreneur, and resilient underdog.”

Hometown: Denver, CO (AZ resident ten years)

Fun fact about yourself: I used to sing in competitive choir and auditioned for American Idol. Now, I mainly sing to put my little ones to sleep and in the shower.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Arizona State University, Bachelor of Science – Exercise and Wellness with an emphasis in Sports Performance. I am what is known as a double devil.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Before pursuing my MBA, I was part of a team that launched and scaled businesses. So I had three roles at once:

ATP Nutrition, Founder and Owner [Tempe, AZ]

ThinkBoxHQ, Director of Operations [Tempe, AZ]

NeuDayCo, Co-Founder and Director of Operations [Tempe, AZ]

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Adobe, San Francisco (remote)

Where will you be working after graduation? To be determined –I’m currently targeting product design and brand & product management openings in the consumer goods industry and consulting roles.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:


Impact Full-time MBA Scholarship

Community and Leadership:

Founder and Co-President, Accelerated Leadership for Underrepresented Minorities (ALUM) MBA student club:

ALUM focuses on making an impact in four core areas of engagement:

  • Uplift underrepresented minority communities by way of community outreach and business support.
  • Hold speaking engagements to prepare and develop our members into future leaders that will effect change.
  • Create and engage in Townhall events that serve as an open space for perspective sharing.
  • Form pipeline partnerships with top companies to recruit directly from our roster of underrepresented minorities and our allies.

Special Projects (Internal Consultant):

Work with internal stakeholders in the Arizona State University Career Management and Employer Engagement business unit to identify, diagnose, provide solutions, and present project deliverables for their complex challenges.

Peer Coaching:

Work with undergraduate and MBA students to optimize resumes and cover letters, prepare for interviews, and answer general career-related questions.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Getting ALUM off the ground is the achievement I am by far the most proud. My undergraduate coursework first alerted me to health disparities in lower-income minority communities, primarily driven by the lack of socio-economic benefits from well-paying jobs. It was extremely disconcerting to find out a lack of wealth is responsible for people within underrepresented minority communities living shorter and unhappy lives, having more health ailments, and being more prone to addictive and other self-destructive behaviors.

I had long held the belief that all Americans have the same opportunities. As I read about the significant impact adverse childhood events such as domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse can have on children from disadvantaged communities, my worldview changed. I also began to connect what I was learning to events from my childhood and within my own family. I realized it was on me to protect my children and grandchildren’s futures and advocate for underrepresented minorities.

When I was preparing to apply to MBA programs, I also came across sets of statistics that showed members of Native American, Latinx, and African-American communities are relatively unlikely to pursue MBAs. I am both Native American and Latinx, so this again was troubling.

When I started at ASU, I felt there was an opportunity to create a new MBA student club at W. P. Carey focused on enhancing the visibility and career opportunities of minority students. After the events of the summer of 2020, I realized it was time to bring the club to life. So, I immediately started reaching out to see who would join the cause, and our club became official August of 2020.

Along with Simone Bayfield and our fantastic leadership team, we have been able to turn the idea for ALUM into a club of 23 members. Our events to date include holding a leadership development event with our partners from the Arizona Black Chamber of Commerce and Lisa Urias, a prominent businesswoman, and entrepreneur. We have also formed partnerships with entities such as the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to offer pro bono consulting opportunities for their members.

We are currently in the process of partnering with high schools that have higher populations of diverse students to put on speaking engagements, tutoring services, and life skill development sessions. We are also forming an ALUM network with other schools and our peers to increase the opportunities of all underrepresented minorities and our allies. For this month (February), we will be hosting a diversity workshop and food drive in honor of Black History Month.

I feel tremendous pride when I see our ALUM team, including our first-year leaders, have so much energy and passion for what we’re doing. The talent every one of them possesses is why our club has had success. We have laid out a vision for moving forward, and it leaves me feeling confident that ALUM will help many people and affect change any way we can. Our club is made up of highly skilled and talented business leaders. They are leaders who genuinely care about the work we’re doing and aspire to elevate others while we learn and grow. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work amongst them.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud to say that I was able to make a living as an entrepreneur. Other entrepreneurs can relate to the startup struggle, having no money coming in, taking all profits, and having the wherewithal to put them back into the company. To have had the opportunity to get paid for something that I worked tirelessly on and created from the ground up was a remarkable experience.

These experiences and opportunities gave me critical exposure to every aspect of running a company: leadership, recruitment and talent development, supply chain, business development, brand and product management, distribution channels and logistics, marketing and analytics – everything. Not only were they great earned achievements, but they were also some of the best learning experiences of my life.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Arizona State University for several reasons. First, the entrepreneurial support I received in my undergraduate program was irreplaceable. ASU holds biannual startup competitions known as Demo Days, where local and student entrepreneurs can pitch their companies to investors and compete for over $400K in annual funding. I was fortunate enough to have earned several rounds of funding through the Venture Devils program, which provides mentorship, workshops, and critical feedback to improve ventures.

The entrepreneurship concentration at ASU is also taught and led by current entrepreneurs, investors, and the like, so we are getting real-world experience and lessons taught to us through the lens of acting entrepreneurs and investors. Lastly, as an entrepreneurial-minded individual, the fact that ASU was recognized as the most innovative college for six years running meant a lot to me.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Of the many highly esteemed professionals in our program, Ned Wellman stands out. He is an exceptional professor who continually challenges us to improve and frequently goes out of his way to help us grow, even if the topics we cover in his lectures are provocative in nature.

My first exposure to Ned was in a focus group on improving our executive mentorship program and our leadership courses. Among others, I mentioned it would be ideal if there were a bit more diversity in our mentorship program. Since then, Professor Wellman has been working to solve the current gap in diversity identified, which shows his commitment to positively benefitting the experience for all MBA students and a real focus on improving the business community.

Professor Wellman is also our faculty advisor for ALUM. When approached on whether he would be open to the role, he responded with an emphatic, “Yes”. We also later learned that Ned is an ardent advocate for diversity and inclusion and is now considered one of our strongest allies. He’s an exceptional educator as well as a caring and compassionate person.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Pre-COVID, I enjoyed going to happy hours and being with like-minded individuals. I love all my brothers and sisters from my time working for the Department of Defense as a federal firefighter dearly. However, there is something special about the connections I have made within our MBA community. ASU prides itself on the motto “Where business is personal.” I believe that motto went into how our candidates have been carefully selected regarding their individual skillsets and personalities, making it feel like family.

A great example of the ASU culture is when my wife and I had our daughter Francesca, year one, during finals. I was balancing being at the hospital, studying, and coming in to take exams. It was an incredible feeling to walk in for one of our finals and have some groupmates and the class all come up to congratulate me, hug me, catch me up on what I missed, ask about my wife Laura, and give us a present. My experience has indeed been a personal one, and I’ve developed relationships that I’m confident in saying will last a lifetime.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Well, hindsight is always 20/20. One of my biggest challenges was balancing spending time with my family, turning in exceptional work, and attending social events. We all know the importance of making strong connections during the program. Now, with COVID’s impact and the limitations around socializing, I wish I had gone to more social events in year one.

What surprised you the most about business school?I was surprised by how hard it was and has been! I am not a traditional candidate by any means, so I couldn’t ask around to anyone who had personally made it through a full-time program. I had researched it and read online about the difficulty. However, having graduated with honors in my undergraduate program while being a father and building my first company, I figured I would be just fine. But I really had no idea what I was in for.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I believe several elements helped me gain admission to my program. First, breaking into career firefighting is one of the most challenging goals to achieve. You’re competing against thousands of applicants, at times tens of thousands for sometimes three open spots. The hiring process is like MBA admissions but much more intensive.

You generally go through six or more rounds, including a polygraph test, a background interview with former or current FBI officers, and interviews with multiple panels – including captains, chiefs, board members, and the like. It generally takes about six years to get hired as a career firefighter. I went through many processes, which helped me become comfortable presenting my authentic self during stressful interview processes.

Perhaps my most significant edge was my entrepreneurship experiences and background. I accomplished a lot over five years, where I was completely immersed in building and scaling businesses. Those experiences allowed me to articulate a compelling story for my interview responses.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I could mention so many wonderful people here; however, Matthew Totlis gave a lot back to our program. When we first started the program, I admired how polished Matt was with his communication skills. He could articulate his thoughts and responses in a very professional manner without even trying. As the program moved forward, my admiration for Matt grew as I came to find that not only is he knowledgeable and strong quantitatively, he’s also an exceptional human being who frequently goes out of his way to help others.

A bit of context: I dropped out of high school after a few of my friends took their own lives. My uncle, who was like a father figure to me, was shot, and my little brother died. The highest math level I completed was pre-algebra, which made advanced quantitative analysis somewhat challenging.

However, if life has taught me anything, it’s that challenges are constant and you can’t control when they arise. What you can control is how you respond and react to adversity. After the life I’ve lived, I choose to react with unfettered resilient determination. So, as I approach all challenges these days, I dug my heels in and said “buckle up” and got to work when classes such as statistics posed obstacles to overcome.

Matt was a critical piece in that process as he went above and beyond in sharing his quantitative wisdom with me. The lessons learned from Matt translated into my success in school and my internship.

Despite quantitative analysis not being a strength at the start of the MBA program, with Matt’s help during our first year, I was later able to build out and lead our campaign marketing analytics process at Adobe. Our analytics process’s development and implementation empowered us to track campaign performance with a much higher degree of detail and accuracy, translating into optimizations and improvements each campaign rollout.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Personally, within the context of how classes were presented, the disruption was minimal. Before COVID, Arizona State University already had a robust online platform, which made the transition to ASUSYNC (the hybrid-learning model we used during COVID) very smooth. I had also worked remotely for about five years in my prior roles, which helped make operating in a remote or hybrid capacity a relatively easy switch for my courses and internship.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I believe for some of us, we must influence ourselves and be our own role models. I am a first-generation college student and, unfortunately, was merely trying to get through one day at a time when I was younger. When you’re living in that manner, it doesn’t leave much time for thinking about college or the future.

I was mostly raised by a single mother. We were on welfare and other social programs during different periods of our lives and did what we could to make it work. My parents and grandparents were hard workers and great models of strength: a strength that I frequently drew on to get through low points in my life.

However, the real decision to pursue business school occurred while working on my entrepreneurial endeavors. There came the point when I recognized I had many of the intangibles necessary to start a business successfully but lacked in a few fundamental business concepts. I then quickly identified getting an MBA as the most impactful way to learn as much as I can about how to run a business like a Fortune 500 CEO.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I aspire to retire with $100M in net worth and be one of few Latinx executives for a Fortune 500 Company, whether created by myself or by being promoted into the position.

Parting message or advice to prospects: I want to leave a parting message for anyone reading this that doesn’t feel like they belong or can make it into an MBA program or have any goal they think is not possible. You DO belong, and you CAN do it. You must remain resilient and highly flexible to adapt to how you respond to rejection and keep rolling with the punches, whether literal or metaphorical.

What made Daniel such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Daniel is a military veteran who realized while applying for his MBA that Latinx populations were underrepresented in top MBA programs. To improve the opportunities available for minority MBA students, he founded and serves as co-president of the ALUM (Accelerated Leadership for Underrepresented Minorities) MBA student club. The vision of the club is “to enlighten all members and collaborators to the hardships underrepresented groups face in their lives, while simultaneously developing a community of support and openness. To serve as a conduit for companies and W. P. Carey to attract, recruit, and retain high performing underrepresented minorities and their allies.” Under Daniel’s leadership, ALUM he has made great strides towards integrating our MBA students with minority businesses through outreach, hosting guest speakers, and planning pro-bono consulting engagements. The club has become a valuable platform for advancing a number of important diversity and inclusion causes for our MBA students.

Daniel is an extremely talented, engaging, and motivated individual. He has balanced his principled activism with strong academic performance and managing his family responsibilities. He has an unfailingly positive attitude, and embodies what it means to be a change-focused, servant leader. I think Daniel would be an extremely deserving recipient of this recognition.”

Ned Wellman
Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship
Faculty Director, Executive Connections



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