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This August when Brad Johnson ’17 begins classes in the MBA Program at the Harvard Business School he will rely on his Dominican University of California experience for an edge.
“I’m coming in with the unique small, nurtured culture of Dominican that will give me an advantage over someone say from a state school with like 500 people in their class,” says Brad, who will be leaving his job as Director of Tech Banking for First Republic Bank in New York City.
“I think those students are not necessarily used to that environment where you are incredibly close with your professors and know how to build relationships both professionally, academically, and personally and how to engage your small ecosystems in your small community like I did at Dominican. A lot of that is ultimately what I’m going to take with me to Harvard.”
Brad drew on the Dominican name in his opening line when he summited his application essay to the Harvard MBA Program, noting that the small Bay Area school provided him with big opportunity.
In his essay, Brad quickly transitioned into his Dominican experience that began as a first-generation college student from Yorba Linda High School and ended with him receiving a scholarship from the Dominican’s Scholar at Oxford program that enabled him to study economics at Oxford University and an internship with First Republic Bank that evolved into him becoming its Director of Tech Banking in New York City.
He believes the story made a difference, as only about 11.5 percent of Harvard MBA applicants are accepted.
“It’s pretty tough to complain about life right now,” Brad quips. “I’m just planning on quitting my job and going back to school, going broke, having fun. Things are going pretty well.”
Brad, a 6-foot-7 team captain and MVP at Yorba Linda High, was recruited to Dominican to play NCAA Division II basketball. He was a redshirt freshman on the Penguins’ last men’s basketball team to qualify for the Pacific West Conference tournament in 2016, but he zeroed in on his academics as a business administration major.
“When narrowing it down to a few schools, Dominican had the best `feel’ when I visited,” Brad recalls. “It seemed like the faculty and coaches really bought into supporting the students.”
During Brad’s senior year he was selected as a recipient of the Thomas and Joanne Peterson Endowed Scholarship for Dominican Scholars at Oxford. It was the highlight of his Dominican experience.
“It was the most unique experience I had at Dominican,” says Brad, who graduated Summa Cum Laude from in 3 ½ years. “It was my first time leaving North America, so it was a great opportunity to push my boundaries, and, not to sound incredibly cliché, `find myself.’ It never would have been possible without the support of Dr. Christopher Leeds and Dr. Francoise LePage, so I am forever grateful to them for that, along with my whole college experience. Some of my best friends today are people I met while studying at Oxford.”
It was Dr. Leeds, professor of Management in the Barowsky School of Business and Dominican Faculty Athletic Representative, who suggested Brad, who describes himself as a very social person, interview for the internship at First Republic Bank.
“It was kind of an interesting balance of working for a bank which is finance, but also in an extremely people-driven role,” Brad says. “I thought `That would be cool fit’ I interviewed, loved the people, and have been here ever since.
Until the Harvard MBA program came calling. Brad had moved to New York City on his own and found a 500 square foot apartment. When COVID-19 hit, Brad felt boxed it. He said he had a mid-life crisis at the age of 25.
“There’s got to be more to life than sitting in an apartment on Zoom forever,” Brad says. “Not knowing what to do – and business school is a great place to not know what you want to do – I didn’t want to regret it and think ‘Damn I didn’t go to business school because I didn’t try.’ I wanted to go all out.”
Brad scored so high on the GMAT exam that he decided to apply to seven of the top MBA programs in the country “with Harvard being the pipedream.”
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The day after his office’s holiday party, a notification message appeared in his Harvard portal. It was his acceptance letter.
“This can’t be real,” Brad recalls.
Brad believes his essay and his assessment of big moments in his life (“Every room that I found myself in I ended up being a leader”) plus his letter of recommendations set him apart in the Harvard application process. One of those letters was from a First Republic Bank colleague who led a group of 10, including Brad, in an intense COVID-related project during the pandemic. That group leader told the group that he owed each one of them a big favor they could ask of him any time in their lifetime.
That leader became CEO of the bank.
“That’s when I tapped the favor,” says Brad, who asked for a letter of recommendation.
Brad will start at Harvard in mid-August. His goal is to explore big management consulting with an eye on financial service. Or he could pursue a strategy and operations role.
The dream job for Brad would be entrepreneurship-related by the time he is in his mid to late 30s when, he says, he can rely on “an accumulation of skills and network to kind of rip the cord and do it myself.”
Whatever career track Brad takes he feels his experience at a small, private university such as Dominican has prepared him for the learning environment in the Harvard MBA program where he suspects, initially, he will blend in with 90 or so MBA candidates in the same classroom in the same seat. The individualized attention he received at Dominican, he says, will make the transition easier for him.
“That’s just what Dominican does. Faculty buys into students that buy into that,” Brad says. “Even in the case of Dr. Leeds I was probably more of knucklehead, and he was tough on me, but I respected and appreciated it.”
Two years ago, Brad accepted a Dr. Leeds request to join a panel of a half dozen Dominican alumni to address incoming first-year students on a Zoom call. They answered questions and offered advice.
“Don’t worry as much about your concentration or a very specific job that you want after college and start getting work experience as early as possible to see what you like and don’t like,” Brad said then. “Think more about what `lifestyle’ you want personally and professionally, and then seek careers that fit that mold and can help you find the best fit. Lastly, don’t be shy to leverage the learnings and experiences of the faculty and alumni. Penguins love to support other Penguins, and anyone can ping me on LinkedIn if I can help them along their college journey.”
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Reminded of that advice for Dominican students two years later, Brad was asked if he would give them different advice now. He said he would amend it.
“You have to align with the people. When you come to Dominican, you’re coming to a small school to align to people that have varied relationships. You need longevity to see impact,” Brad says. “You really need to commit yourself to finding people who align to you as an individual. Find the people you want to be and do everything in your world to make their place easier so you can absorb their knowledge and insight.
“So, when those rare opportunities for your life to take a hard pivot into a more improved place – and often you don’t even know when it’s happening – you’re the first call but you’re also ready to capitalize on it. Those big moments if you feel under prepared or don’t have the right people, those moments will slip, and you will miss out on an entire life you didn’t even know existed.”