From an early age, Al Dea (MBA ’15) recognized the power of networking and building relationships. His parents 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. She went on to graduate, establish a successful corporate career and earn her MBA,” he says. “She told me that despite working hard and being disciplined, 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 grew frustrated and anxious, concerned 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 evolved into his formula for networking and relationship building. It also shaped him as a leader and, in part, drove his decision to pursue an MBA.
He began his career as an analyst at Deloitte Consulting, and after a few years realized business school was the next step to advance his career. With recommendations from his roommates and co-workers, he chose UNC Kenan-Flagler.
Soon after arriving in Chapel Hill, Dea dove into the leadership offerings. He benefited from the incredibly supportive UNC Kenan-Flagler community, he says. “The people here are genuine in their interest and eagerness to help each other. They go out of their way to support you, and do what they can to pave the way for you to succeed. That’s something special – and something I’m grateful for.”
After he was elected vice president of diversity for the MBA Student Association, his top priority was to empower classmates 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.”
Dea worked with students as a coach in the Business Communication Center and mentored first-year MBA students. Years later, he called on that experience to start his own career coaching business. “My time in the Business Communication Center helped me realize that a lot of people are challenged by the recruiting process. At the core of it was helping others uncover their talents and strengths, and then using them to find a meaningful and rewarding career.”
The same concepts of learning and teaching, and sharing stories motivated Dea to start MBASchooled, a blog dedicated to sharing what it’s like to attend an MBA program and the stories of students and graduates. “I wanted to share my knowledge and theirs on a broader scale, so others could learn and use these insights to grow their careers,” Dea says.
In 2020, he scaled the blog into a new book: “MBA Insider: How to Make the Most of Your MBA Experience.” It’s a how-to guide for prospective and current students to get the most value from their MBA experiences and achieve their career goals.
The book features 12 UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni who share their experiences from business school, tips and advice. While he was writing the book, Dea tapped other members of the UNC Kenan-Flagler community. “Professors, administrators and staff provided support and guidance to me to bring this book to life. Whether it was providing feedback and edits to the book, helping me secure student interviews or spreading the word about it, I could not have done this without the UNC Kenan-Flagler community.”
After graduation, Dea returned to Deloitte Consulting as a management consultant in San Francisco. In addition to serving clients, he led the coaching and training of new hires, and served on internal leadership teams to improve the performance management and career development process. “The experiences allowed me to take my passion for learning and teaching, much of which I cultivated at UNC Kenan-Flagler, and use them in new ways to drive impact.”
He made a career change in 2019 after reaching out to classmates for guidance and to identify opportunities. With the help of Jason Perocho (MBA ’15), he transitioned to a product marketer at a software company. “It was uncomfortable because consulting was the only job I knew, but I also recognized I’m at my best when I’m learning and acquiring new skills.”
Dea’s experiences at UNC Kenan-Flagler has had an enduring impact on his life.
“UNC gave me the confidence and skills to take an idea, strategy or project that I believe in, rally a group of people behind it, and bring it from idea to execution – the book is a great example of that,” says Dea.
“It also gave me the confidence to keep leaning into my strengths and interests and find ways to use them to drive positive impact, whether at work, with my friends or in the community,” he says. “And finally, it taught me that when you collaborate and help others, you get the chance to be a part of something bigger than yourself. I’ve tried to take all of those lessons, and to apply them as ways to live the best possible life. I feel a sense of gratefulness and gratitude for the opportunities I have in front of me, and the people I’m surrounded by.