2021 MBAs To Watch: Daniel Cortez, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Daniel Cortez

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

“Passionate about the intersection of business, culture, policy, and history. Focused on people and organizations.”

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Fun fact about yourself: I hiked the Camino de Santiago along the northern coast of Spain. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Rice University, B.S. in Latin American Studies & Public Policy

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Deloitte Consulting, Consultant

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? HP Inc, HR Management Associate Program (MAP)

Where will you be working after graduation? Deloitte Consulting, Senior Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Dean’s Scholar
  • Enjoyable Pain of Growth Academy, Board Member
  • Human & Organizational Performance Association, VP of Education
  • Owen Communications Fellow
  • Turner Family Center for Social Ventures, Academics & Experiences Co-Chair

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am proud of the work I did as the VP of Education for Owen’s Human & Organizational Performance Association. One of my primary responsibilities was putting together a series of workshops for first-year students interested in recruiting for HR. I love teaching and mentoring others, so this was a natural role for me. I am proud of the workshop materials I put together. It was uniquely challenging, given that we had to adapt a lot of our content for the virtual world. However, the experience came with many rewards. For one, I learned how to create impactful training content and deliver it in a virtual setting. More importantly, I created wonderful relationships with first-year students that I still treasure to this day.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While not related to my day-to-day work as a consultant, I am proud of my efforts to lead Deloitte’s presence at the Houston Hispanic Forum’s Annual Career and Education Day. This is a day-long career fair focused on educating Houston-area high school students about the various career options available to them. Prior to my involvement, Deloitte had never attended the event. I was responsible for coordinating everything from the booth set-up to volunteer turnout. This work combined my passion for education, mentorship, and community development. Many of the students we interacted with were not aware of professional services as a career path. Reflecting on my own experience, I too did not know about consulting until later in life. There was a whole world of careers in business I wish I knew existed earlier before applying to college. That is why I believe it is important to help younger students learn about the range of options available to them. The event was a success, and Deloitte was asked to return the following year. I was proud to harness the resources at Deloitte in the service of helping the local community.

Why did you choose this business school? There are so many reasons to love Owen. It’s vibrant community, fantastic faculty and staff, and personal scale all come to mind. However, one factor that bears mentioning is its location in Nashville. “Music City” is a wonderful place to spend two years. It has a legendary music scene, incredible food, and a fascinating history. From the perspective of a business school student, there are few better places to be. If you are looking for work, you can find it here. Nashville is in the middle of a renaissance. The skyline is dotted with cranes signaling the arrival of people and companies from across the country. With recent entrants like Amazon, Alliance Bernstein, and legacy companies like Bridgestone Americas and Nissan North America, there are many options to explore. Moreover, it is exciting to be part of a city that is buzzing with new energy. It is one thing to learn about the trends affecting our economy in the lecture hall. It is something else to step out the door and see those changes making their mark on the landscape.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? One of my favorite traditions is Humans of Owen. Every month, two members of the Owen community share their stories with the rest of the school. These stories can be tragic, triumphant, or hilarious. But they are always real. I am always amazed by how vulnerable students and faculty are willing to be with one another. However, I see it as a testament to the supportive nature of the Owen community. We may not share the same experiences, beliefs, or aspirations, but we respect one another and honor others for who they are.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Some people have this misconception that Owen is a party school and that students don’t take academics or their careers seriously. While it is true that Owen students like to have a good time (and Nashville is a great city for folks who want to have a good time), the truth is that many Owen students are dedicated to learning and to growing as individuals. I have been impressed with the level of discussion in classes and the desire for classmates to help one another achieve their goals.

What surprised you the most about business school? I never thought I would enjoy quant classes as much as I did. I have always been more “poet” than “quant”. During undergrad, I shied away from math classes. At Deloitte, I felt more comfortable in PowerPoint than I did Excel. That’s why it is so surprising that my favorite classes at Owen have been related to finance and operations. One of the most valuable takeaways from business school has been increased confidence when working with numbers. I actually plan on taking on more analytical roles after entering the professional world again.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Visiting the campus during the “Discover Owen” weekend was especially helpful. For one, it helped me better understand the school’s culture and offerings. The visit also allowed me to connect with current students and faculty. This was vital when it came time to craft my “why Owen” story. Finally, I met the admissions office face-to-face. This is especially valuable at a smaller school like Owen, where admissions officers strive to get to know applicants on an individual level.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? One of the students I most admire is Mikihiko Ibe. Miki is an international student from Japan who has a heart of gold and is extraordinarily dedicated to his friends and family. I am constantly impressed by his work ethic and curiosity. One moment that stands out occurred early in our first year. We were assigned a case study about the NASA Skylab controversy. Miki and I met up to discuss the reading and he mentioned that it had taken him over six hours to prepare the case. I had skimmed the reading in about an hour. He was still getting used to English as the primary academic language. He was also unfamiliar with the context about NASA that many Americans take for granted. However, through our conversation, it became clear that he understood the case way better than I did. I was blown away with his level of preparation and the depth of his analysis. Miki demonstrates this level of effort with him in all his classes. He constantly inspires me to not take learning for granted and to dig deeper in my classes.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The shift to online classes in March 2020 was a shock. It took a while for professors and students to adjust to the change. The first few weeks were full of technical issues and uncertainty. However, the community seemed to adapt quickly to what was working well. By the time my second year started in August, the school had implemented many of the lessons learned from the spring, and classes were relatively smooth. The biggest challenge was maintaining the social element of business school life. While this was a constant struggle, the silver lining was that the shock of COVID encouraged me to develop deeper relationships with a tight-knit group of friends.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? While many people influenced my decision to attend business school, my former manager, SueLyne, deserves the most credit. Not only was she a wonderful manager, but she also received an MBA. SueLyne was always supportive of my development, and she constantly encouraging me to go back to school. I looked up to her as an inspiration for what a good manager should look like. I wanted to follow in her footsteps and, well, here I am.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Work on an international project that requires living outside the United States for an extended period of time.
  • Start my own business or non-profit. I see the experience I acquire today as the foundation for what I build tomorrow.

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

“Daniel Cortez is a culture setter. Through his sharp and incisive intellect, coupled with his deep and abiding commitment to helping others realize their full potential, Daniel elevates the classroom and Owen as a whole. He does this through sharing his expert insights from his valuable consulting experience, pushing us to see every course concept and framework in a deeper, yet more practically impactful way. But even more importantly, he is always fearless in showing vulnerability, even when it means sharing a failure. He is the exemplar for deep learning, as his courageous humility paired with deep insight makes it easier for others to share, learn, and grow.

Daniel also went well above-and-beyond the call of duty in translating what he knows and what COVID has necessitated to develop a creative and impactful custom workshop for first-year students heading into their internships. The workshop clearly and powerfully illuminated how to negotiate expectations (and supports), how to effectively engage in upward influence, and how to successfully “job craft” their role to make sure their strengths shine. And it was also tailored to the world of virtual work. The workshop was emblematic of what makes Daniel so outstanding – sophisticated thinking that turns rigorous research into expert practical advice, a profound commitment to helping others thrive, and the skill to tie it all to the (virtual) demands of this. He did all of this and made it readily replicable for subsequent classes.

Daniel is a model of the growth mindset and humble inquiry that is a hallmark of great leadership and the foundation of psychological safety needed to bring out the best in everyone. He consistently and continuously works to elevate others in ways big and small be it empathically modeling his learning mindset or building institutions and sustainable programs that help his peers achieve their personal, professional, and social goals.”

Tim Vogus
Brownlee O. Currey, Jr., Professor of Management


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