From an early age, Alex Dea (MBA ’15) recognized the power of networking and relationship building.
His parents have always encouraged him to find ways to help others – and to learn from them. “My mom didn’t know anyone when she came to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a freshman in college. Despite this, she not only graduated with her bachelor’s degree but established a successful corporate career and eventually earned her MBA,” he says. “She always told me that she wouldn’t have found success without help from others – those who reached out to offer help and those she reached out to.”
As a teenager, he enrolled in a top private middle school but soon grew frustrated and anxious, concerned that he was not as smart as his peers. “That just means that there’s something you can learn from each of them,” his father told him. “And I bet there’s probably a thing or two they can learn from you. Learn and teach.”
It’s a lesson that Dea has carried throughout his life. The “learn and teach” mantra has not only evolved into Dea’s tried and tested formula for networking and relationship building – it’s also helped shape him as a leader and, in part, drove his decision to pursue an MBA.
Dea began his career as an analyst at Deloitte Consulting. In addition to gaining experience as a consultant, he found opportunities to learn and teach – serving as an advocate for career development for junior analysts and holding leadership positions in the firm’s campus recruiting, training and development, grad school prep and mentoring programs.
“After a few years at Deloitte, I had an idea of what I was good at and what I needed to improve upon,” he says. “At multiple points, I received feedback that I have the potential to be an exceptional leader. After some self-reflection, I realized now would be a great time to go to business school and hone in on my strengths, work on developing in certain areas and work towards becoming the leader that I not only want to be, but the leader I think I’m capable of becoming.”
Dea’s roommates at the time – both Carolina graduates – suggested he look into UNC Kenan-Flagler, a sentiment echoed by several Business School alums he worked with at Deloitte. The School’s emphasis on leadership development made it a natural fit.
Soon after arriving in Chapel Hill, Dea dove headfirst into the School’s leadership offerings. Throughout his first year, he met one-on-one with an executive coach that he’d been paired with through the Leadership Initiative. “The sessions were really insightful,” he says. “They helped me unpack some of my past leadership experiences to assess my strengths and weaknesses and identify action-oriented steps to improve my leadership skills.”
Putting his newfound insights into practice, Dea sought out opportunities that would allow him to not only learn and lead, but also teach and share his expertise. He ran for and was elected MBA Student Association (MBASA) vice president of diversity, excited for the opportunity to make an impact on his classmates and the greater UNC Kenan-Flagler community.
In his MBASA leadership role, Dea’s top priority is to empower fellow MBA students to be their authentic selves and to welcome and embrace their differences. “Our experiences are enriched because of those differences,” he says. And when it comes to relationship building, everyone has something to learn and something they can offer. “Everyone has a unique set of talents. And there’s usually a story behind them.”
That philosophy was the inspiration behind Tar Heel Talks, an initiative founded by Dea. The intimate gatherings – open only to students – provide an opportunity for MBAs to share their personal stories and experiences with classmates in a safe setting. “People have remarked how incredibly insightful and inviting it is to get to know our classmates on a much deeper and personal level,” he says. “It’s done a lot to create stronger bonds and build a sense of trust in our community.”
And Dea has a special appreciation for the “incredibly supportive” UNC Kenan-Flagler community. “The people here are genuine in their interest and eagerness to help one another. They go out of their way to not only support you, but to do what they can to pave the way for you to succeed,” he says. “That’s something special – and something I’m grateful for.”
When he’s not hitting the books or coordinating MBASA initiatives, Dea can often be found working with students in the School’s Business Communications Center – where he works as a communications coach – or mentoring first-year MBA students, offering feedback and guidance on navigating various aspects of the MBA experience, such as recruiting.
Networking and relationship building are two-way streets, he says, noting that the most valuable outcomes occur when the endeavor is as beneficial to the person giving their time or sharing their expertise as it is to the person receiving it.
“The most successful people are the ones who are continuously learning and sharing their knowledge with others,” he says. “As a result of helping others, I’ve often been the one who has been helped the most.”