As part of the “Perspectives on Leadership” series, David Klein (WG ‘13) talked about his unique leadership experiences, filled with courage in discovering his own path and following his intuitions. David defines a leader as “a pathfinder.” David, through his bold experiences, highlighted the most important tool before embarking on that journey: “knowing thyself”. As a leader, it is important to first find your own path before helping others discover their own.
One of David’s earliest self-discoveries came out of a difficult choice he had to make in his senior year of college. He had to choose between a teaching assistantship in Paris and a job at McKinsey. It was a tough decision; on the one hand, the teaching assistantship in France was calling him, but, on the other hand, how could he turn down a McKinsey offer? After weeks of agonizing, he followed his gut and chose Paris, and used the opportunity to go down an unbeaten path.
Paris was a transformational experience in his life. It was one of his most fulfilling years. David enjoyed the challenges of living in a new city: making new Parisian friends, playing American football with Frenchmen, and building networks among teaching assistants. He realized that this fulfillment was derived from a) meaningful connection to other people, b) other’s appreciation of your efforts and c) having the opportunity for self-discovery and self-expression. David truly enjoyed the ebb and flow of life in Paris. He also realized that his personal wealth had nothing to do with the size of his bank account.
A week after returning from Paris, David visited the JFK Museum, where a particular quote inspired him. “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic”. Myth is all around us. It dictates our decisions. It prevents us from being who we are or want to be. It is powerful. For David, Paris uncovered the myth of money and the myth of media. Yet he found it difficult to break the shackles of the myth that surrounded him. He joined McKinsey and American Express, even though he desperately wanted to go back to Paris. He even thought of moving to Spain with his girlfriend to be closer to Paris. Yet, for some reason, he did not act on his thought. He realized the futility of living in the myth only after losing a personal relationship to his indecision. David now felt that “Uncovering myth is only the first step to understanding who you are. It is important to act on it.”
This major life blow led him down a path to learn more about himself. He read books, ran triathlons, and started playing piano again. Even though he was in a corporate career, he felt the need for bold change happening slowly within him. David now reflects that he had to overcome the fear that stood in the way of paving his own path: fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, and fear of what others might think. His life experiences taught him this important lesson “You can de-risk your life by committing yourself to doing things that feel risky.”
David also started blogging about successful leaders passionately. In one of his bold experiences, he talked about how he got to interview some of the leading corporate leaders and heads of state at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Acting on his instincts he took a flight to Switzerland looking to “crash Davos.” And he did. All the hotels in Davos were sold out due to the conference. But through grit and luck, he was fortunate enough to find a room that opened up at the last minute near the conference center, which enabled him to network with many of the world’s eminent leaders. David learned more about commitment from this experience, “When you commit, things happen. You have to be smart and push things along, but things fall into place.”
David came to Wharton despite having a senior corporate role at American Express where he managed several people, including MBA grads. He came to Wharton with three priorities: Entrepreneurship, Social impact, and Leadership. He started early and invested all his energies in refining his entrepreneurial ideas through coursework, networking with other entrepreneurs, and Wharton’s entrepreneurial programming. David resisted all career management sessions, EIS, and did not build a resume for the resume book to avoid any other temptations. Now, David is the co-founder and CEO of CommonBond, a Series A-funded venture focused on helping students lower their financial costs of attending school, which has been featured in publications such as Inc. Magazine and The Wall Street Journal.
David’s experiences on leadership are best highlighted by this quote from William H. Murray, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
“Perspectives on Leadership” is an innovative attempt to explore the unique leadership experiences of the Wharton MBA student body. It is designed to challenge us to think about leadership from new perspectives, while celebrating the experiences of fellow students.