H@H: Ep 45 – Alan Duong joins host, Paulina Lee on this week’s episode of Here@Haas. Alan, a US Army Veteran and Sr. Financial Analyst at LinkedIn, leverages his passions for photography, the outdoors and much more to give back to the community and causes that mean the most to him. Recently elected as the Executive Vice President of the EWMBA Association, he hopes over the next year to lead EWMBA students in a smooth transition back to an in-person Haas experience.
Fueling his passion to get involved with the community he founded Greenfoot Hiking, an equitable outdoors community, “I recognized that when I was growing up, I had a community center that helped me not fall into the wrong crowds. And I recognized that a lot of people […] don’t have the right social construct to support them.”
On why Alan pursued student leadership at Haas: “I’ve always been a proponent of getting yourself involved because if I only have one opportunity at a school that I always dreamt about going to, I better take full opportunity and go all in […] And I’d like to think that by the time I graduate, I’d like to be able to say, yes, I did.”
- Greenfoot Hiking
- Alan’s Photography: Website, Instagram and Ansel Adams Wilderness Montage
- Reel Asian Podcast: Subscribe & listen on Spotify and Apple Podcasts
- Organizations Alan Supports: Wonder Warrior, Sierra Club, Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley and Citizen Schools
- Professor Panos Patatoukas
- Professor Peter Goodson
- Eagle Peak Loop
- Whitney Houston’s Soundtrack of GMAT Inspiration
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Paulina Lee: I’m Paulina Lee. And this is here@haas, a student-run podcast, connecting you to all Haasies and the faculty that changed our lives. This week on here@haas, we are joined by Alan Duong of the evening weekend MBA class of 2022. He’s a photographer, podcaster, veteran, outdoor enthusiasts, and the newly elected EVP of the EWMBA association. Welcome.
[00:00:31] Alan Duong: Glad to be here, Paulina. This is really fun. This is going to be special. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:36] Paulina Lee: You know, you’ve had a really interesting journey to Haas and I would love for you to share about your background and how you ended up at Haas.
[00:00:44] Alan Duong: I’m born and raised in the Bay area. And growing up, my parents were Vietnamese refugees from the Vietnam war. And it was just my sister and I growing up. We had some very close families; cousins were super close, a very traditional Asian, like a Vietnamese family.
[00:01:01] You know, we grew up fairly poor. And I recognized pretty early on in my life that I kind of wanted something more in my life. But because of a lot of the financial limitations that we had in my family, I took the onus to join the military in order to, one, serve the country, to give back to the country that gave my parents a lot of opportunities.
[00:01:21] And then two, use that as a spring path to pay for college because my parents only had enough money to cover my sister and barely anything for themselves. And I didn’t want them to have any financial obligations towards my career or my education. So, I joined the military. They paid my way through school with the San Jose State Spark, what’s up.
[00:01:41] I was able to hustle and use a lot of the opportunities that I had in my business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, and got some really good lucky breaks. I ultimately always knew that Haas Berkeley was something I’ve always wanted in my life. And I took the GMAT. It was a two-year journey for me cause I’m not the smartest person around and I’ve just been very blessed to be in this position and just count my blessings every single day, to take advantage of every opportunity that I have to make sure that not only am I representing myself really well and my family but represented the greater Haas community as best that I can.
[00:02:18] Paulina Lee: I love that you were in AK PSI cause so was I, so I believe that makes actual brothers.
[00:02:24] Alan Duong: Oh, what’s up.
[00:02:27] Paulina Lee: Would love for you to talk a little bit about your military career. I think we’ve had a few veterans on the podcast and I think, you know, you guys always have really insightful life experiences, so we’d love you to share a little bit more there.
[00:02:40] Alan Duong: So, I’m an enlisted military member. I left as a Sergeant and I joined at 17 years old, so that required my parents to sign off for shipping me off to boot camp. I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Then afterward I came back from my senior year of high school, graduated, and then went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And I worked in the military as a finance guy. So, I’ve always had this path, always doing finance in the military, and my current job now, I’m a senior finance analyst at LinkedIn of all fricking places.
[00:03:15] Paulina Lee: Did you know, when you enlisted, that finance was where you want it to be within the military?
[00:03:21] Alan Duong: I’m going to be completely honest. The answer is no. So, for the enlisted folks who know, I’m not sure the officers do this, but you have to take this exam called the ASVAB. And then depending on how well you score, you’re open up to a variety of job opportunities. So, I scored really well and I had a lot of opportunities open up to me. And originally, I wanted to do something like military intelligence, but I remember I talked to my parents about this and they’re like, Oh if you do this, you’re going to die. And everything like hinged on my mom, like thinking I was gonna die for some reason. And ultimately, I decided something along the lines of finances would have a lot of transferable skills for me and my career in the future. But then also something that I felt that I was pretty good at, I was a math nerd growing up. I really enjoy math.
[00:04:06] And I thought, Hey, this could be something transferrable down the line. And honestly to God, like I wasn’t really thinking like 10, 15 years out of my life, the chips fell, and they just got me a really good position in my life and my career.
[00:04:17] Paulina Lee: And how long were you in the army before you did your undergrad at San Jose State?
[00:04:25] Alan Duong: So, I actually did a concurrently. I was a reservist, but I also worked there on normal orders because I had a really good sergeant who really took care of me. So, he put me on orders in order for me to earn money while I went to college.
[00:04:37] I worked for the military even though it was reserved as almost like full-time. And then I went to school like later in the afternoon and the evenings. So, it took me four and a half years to graduate undergrad but I left there with no debt, so I can’t really complain at all.
[00:04:52] Paulina Lee: And then after graduating, you continued on in the military for a few years.
[00:04:57] Alan Duong: Yeah. I continued in the military for a couple of years and luckily it just worked out because I was able to get a job at Lockheed Martin. It really helped because I knew the lingo. I knew the products and it was an easy transition into civilian life for me.
[00:05:10] Paulina Lee: Do you think there was anything in particular during your time in the army that prepared you or gave you a leg up as you transitioned to Lockheed Martin or in your career so far?
[00:05:22] Alan Duong: There are some military folks and in the army. They just really prepare you for the real world and shout out to all the officers at Haas right now, because some of you guys are so piece of work, they have varying personalities, they ask one thing, but they mean something else.
[00:05:37] And so early on in my life and in my career, I had the opportunity to work with very different personality types. Being exposed to that so early in my life and then continuing on through the formative years of my life really helped me get a leg up when I was able to transition it to Lockheed Martin because only a year into Lockheed Martin, I was accepted into a really prestigious finance program called the FLDP Finance Leadership Development Program. On average, it takes about two years to get into the program. But because I knew how to work with varying personalities of very senior folks, I knew how to talk to executives because when you’re working in finance for the army, you have to work with higher-level folks because you’re setting the budget for the entire unit. So, it just really worked out from my end.
[00:06:21] Paulina Lee: That makes complete sense. You’re working with a lot of strong personalities, not just any personalities. We’d love for you to talk a little bit more about your time at Lockheed Martin. You were there for almost six years. So, you had a very strong career. What were your roles? What did you learn? And why did you decide to move on?
[00:06:42] Alan Duong: Gosh, I, you know, I never really had a chance to sit back and reflect on my almost six-year career at Lockheed Martin. First off, I’ll sum it up by saying it was such an incredible opportunity for my life. For someone especially coming from my background. I had the opportunity to work with some of the most brightest people whom I’ve ever met in my entire life.
[00:07:02] You had research scientists who were always trying to discover the latest technology. You had people who were lifers. They’d been at Lockheed Martin for like 30+ years and you’ve also had people from a variety of backgrounds from Stanford folks to Berkeley folks to just run-of-the-mill folks.
[00:07:19] I mean, I’m getting a little emotional about it because my time there I’ve taken on a lot of mentors who guided me in my career and through my six years I’ve met mentors and friends who I will always consider my closest friends in my life. So, I can sum it up by saying without Lockheed Martin, I really wouldn’t be the man I am today. That’s completely 110% true.
[00:07:41] Paulina Lee: No, it sounds like you had a really great career, really great mentors. I totally identify with that as well. I’ve been with P&G for eight and a half years now. And it’s the people at this company and it is people that really make an impact on your life and shapes your career. I am super curious, it sounds like you had a really strong network at Lockheed Martin. What made you make the switch?
[00:08:05] Alan Duong: While I got in Berkeley and almost immediately afterward, I updated my LinkedIn and then boom, like 15 people message me like, Hey, like we love your credentials. You know you go to Berkeley, like, would you be interested? But one opportunity piqued my interest.
[00:08:20] Her name is Nancy Lee. She’s my current manager. She’s also a Haasie. She actually just graduated like the July before I came in August so, you know, we had a strong connection because of the Haas thing, but then also the reason why I chose to move on my careers, because, a couple of things, I wanted to go into banking using Haas as a conduit to go into banking and prior to doing that, I felt, gosh, like I kind of need to diversify my experience a bit more. I’ve been with Lockheed for at that time almost six years, I’ve learned everything. And the last thing I ever wanted in my career is to get complacent because even my mentors told me the same thing.
[00:08:57] Complacency will kill your career if you’re not constantly trying to improve. I was able to get the opportunity with LinkedIn. I spoke to a lot of close mentors about it and I talked to my study group, shout out to Greg Venay, Jenny and Gayda, they helped me kind of navigate it as well.
[00:09:14] They said, Hey, Lockheed has been a great spring path for you to build and get your career in a great trajectory, but this is an opportunity for you to spread your wings or fly like an eagle or something like that.
[00:09:26] This is my opportunity to show that I was more than someone who could work in defense and government. It’s only because I took the risk to get out of my comfort zone to try something completely new.
[00:09:37] Paulina Lee: That’s so true. I mean, even just coming to school is getting out of the comfort zone too, though I guess you also worked and went to school in your undergrad as well. So part-time school, full-time job, is something very familiar, I’m sure. Your GMAT process was two years. Mine was also multiple years.
[00:09:58] Kind of took it right out of school and it was like maybe I’ll wait. It expired. And then I spent a whole another year taking it. So, I’m just curious. Did you always know you wanted to get your MBA or what was that point at your time at Lockheed where you said, Hey, I want an MBA; I’m going to use this as a pivot point. And now’s the time in my life that I want to go after and get it.
[00:10:20] Alan Duong: I’ll start off with the last question then I’ll go into my GMAT journey. So, there’s two reasons why I wanted to get my MBA. One of them was that I wanted to do a pivot into banking. It turns out that at Haas, I realized that wasn’t really what I wanted to do.
[00:10:33] But then secondly, this is kind of my passion project that I wrote my essay on. I’m a big outdoor enthusiast. I founded my own backpacking club called the Greenfoot Hiking Club but I’m also a really passionate climber. Prior to starting my journey, I actually volunteered at this program called Citizen Schools for about two years.
[00:10:52] This organization focuses on equitable education for less fortunate communities and specifically schools. And so that’s something that I’m really passionate about given that I’m from that background. And I thought about wanting to marry my two passions together, helping people from less fortunate backgrounds and something that I truly care about, which is climbing. And when I was thinking about what I wanted to do in my career was building a pay what you can rock climbing gym specifically catered or focused on communities that are less fortunately served because I recognized that when I was growing up, I had a community center that helped me not fall into the wrong crowds.
[00:11:30] I recognized that a lot of people in my area and growing up in San Jose, that happens to a lot of kids who don’t have the right mentors and the right people watching over them. Kids who don’t have the right social construct to support them. I don’t like that. So, that’s why I wanted to pursue my MBA. The GMAT journey, whew, man, let me tell you, I began studying for this in 2015. I’m telling you this, like, just studying off the books. And I was like, this is pretty hard. I had to break out all of it.
[00:12:01] And I was like, I know I’m good at math, but why is this so difficult? Data sufficiency. Come on. What the hell? I began studying for it officially in 2016. That was my new year’s resolution. I was like, I’m going to get in Berkeley because that’s a school I want to get into. Boy that did not happen. I took my prep exam and I was like, I got a 7/20, let’s get this. I took that exam. I got a 5/40. I was like, what happened?
[00:12:27] Alan Duong: And so, I kept having a course. Correct. And ultimately it was a journey of ups and downs and I’m going to be completely honest, full disclosure. I took the exam seven times. The max is eight. So, the final time that I took it, I finally got like in the Haas average. And the first thing I did when I walked out there was, I cried in my car and I played Whitney Houston’s song, that song about like, children are the future, believing in what you and stepping out of your shadow, something like that yeah. I cried and I listened to Whitney Houston, big fan, by the way, rest in peace.
[00:13:00] Paulina Lee: That’s crazy. And I think it’s good to share because I think a lot of people when you’re preparing for the GMAT and you’re looking at the top 5, top 10 schools and you go onto Reddit and everyone’s just posting up 700 pluses, like, Oh, it’s fun. You study for an hour or two a day and you get a 700.
[00:13:19] Alan Duong: God, I know exactly what you’re talking about. You’re going to like a Reddit/MBA or Reddit/GMAT and then people like, Oh, Hey, here’s my guy to get into 7/60. I studied for two months using just this one source. I’m like, bro. No.
[00:13:34] Paulina Lee: Yeah. The rest of us normal people that didn’t, that’s not how it worked.
[00:13:38] Alan Duong: Not how it works.
[00:13:39] Paulina Lee: I’m just glad to be here.
[00:13:42] Alan Duong: Exactly. I’m like, I’m happy. I am just going to prod along and I’ll do the best that I can. Some of my classmates and I imagine some of our listeners too, and you guys are brilliant. You guys are awesome.
[00:13:53] Paulina Lee: I’m just here to absorb from them. That’s what I’m here for.
[00:13:57] Alan Duong: Exactly.
[00:13:58] Paulina Lee: And you said you wanted to pivot to banking when you first got to the hospital, but it sounds like you’ve changed course a little bit.
[00:14:06] Alan Duong: Yeah, isn’t that quite odd? Happens to a lot of us out here, huh? Yeah. I came in here with an assumption of what I wanted in my career but I pivoted over to thinking I wanted to do management consulting but didn’t turn out the way I wanted to, which is fine. And now I’m just kind, of course, correcting again.
[00:14:23] But the great thing is that because we’re at Haas, you know, we have the ability in the mind space to have that opportunity to do that. And at the end of the day, like I met LinkedIn, I’m doing pretty well for myself. I can’t complain. All I’m here is just doing the best I can and just take whatever doors are open for my career.
[00:14:39] Paulina Lee: I think that’s a really great example of how we all come in. Or even before we go to school, we have this clear idea of what we think we want to do, especially since we have to write it in all those essays and reiterate it in all our interviews. And then you get in, your like, Oh, what am I doing here?
[00:14:56] Or you start talking to people and everyone’s doing such interesting work and is so passionate about it too that you’re like, Oh, that’s what I want to do. No, I want to do this. And that’s what’s great about being in business school, I think, is that it is this finite period of time when we can try out a bunch of different things and figure out what really works or what doesn’t work.
[00:15:15] As part-time students, you know, we have three years in our program. We are one year down. What do you think has been the most transformative part of the MBA program for you over the last year or so?
[00:15:26] Alan Duong: Most transformative, I’ll preface this by saying it’s kind of fold. One is obviously the people and, two, the professors. So, in terms of the people, I’m specifically referring to my fellow classmates and alumni as well, it’s been extremely eye-opening to, exactly what you just talked about, Paulina, you think you have an idea of what you want to do, and then you talk to folks like, Oh God, that’s actually pretty interesting. And two specific professors, professor Patos who taught me for FIA, I mean, shout out to that guy. Great professor. And then also to professor Goodson, Peter Goodson. I took his turnaround’s class and his private equity/leveraged buyouts class.
[00:16:09] Those two classes really opened my eyes to what I really want to do because I really enjoy the operations aspect of private equity. And then Austin, who was our GSI, you know, he opened my eyes up to the world of search funds. And I talked to a couple of students in the class to learn more of that opportunity.
[00:16:29] I didn’t pursue it as much cause I was in the middle of pursuing management consulting. But now that I shipped this kind of sailed, I’m wondering if I still have an opportunity to connect back with those folks and say, Hey, know, like the first path that I thought I wanted to do didn’t work out.
[00:16:42] Is there still time for me to pursue something else specifically in this field? So that’s kinda my plan, but that’s honestly been the most transformative part is the amount of resources and willingness that people will have in order to help you. That’s just been such a powerful thing at Haas and I can’t iterate that enough.
[00:17:01] Paulina Lee: That’s a great example of just how you use the resources at school. And I think, and maybe I just didn’t do my research enough before going to business school, but I think we don’t do as good of a job of understanding, like what you’re going to expect when you come on campus and everything you’ll have access to.
[00:17:18] And how strong the network is, how great the professors are willing to invest. How your peers are willing to invest. So, I totally agree. And would love for you to kind of share how you got involved in student leadership. I still remember there’s great photos of you from WeLaunch, which for those who don’t know is Berkeley’s orientation of Alan leading his chant for his cohort because he just had all the school spirit. So would love for you to share about your involvement in student leadership on campus.
[00:17:49] Alan Duong: Oh, man, I feel called out, but it’s completely true.
[00:17:52] Paulina Lee: He has his own Slack emoji.
[00:17:56] Alan Duong: It’s great. And I think I got to give props to the co-president Kevin Shay for making those, so let me start off by saying student leadership, I am a firm believer in really being involved in school activities.
[00:18:08] I mean, I had a lot of school spirit when I was at San Jose State, but I didn’t really have the agency to do as much as I wanted to because I was focused on building my career. But now that I’ve established it and I got to like my dream school, this is my opportunity to like really be part of the student experience and the spirit at WeLaunch, I went all out. I enjoyed it.
[00:18:28] I, unfortunately, have a very loud voice because I was in the military. And so, I have this booming voice that my classmates are entirely aware of. And when it came time to student leadership, prior to that, I was leading like these gold 2022 consulting study group and Jillian Chu, she actually reached out to me because she really enjoyed the fact that I’ve been organizing this study group for our folks.
[00:18:53] Her and Kevin reached out to me and said, Hey, Alan, we really appreciate the work that you’ve done for our student body too and get them prepared for consulting. You seem to have a knack for this stuff. Would you consider running for EVP? I said, absolutely. I would, because you know, gave me an opportunity to be more involved. And then prior to that, I actually served as the VP of marketing for the finance club. I decided to run for VP of marketing because I want to get more involved with the finance club and learn the opportunities and get to meet more people across spectrums, cohorts, and programs.
[00:19:24] So, I’ve always been a proponent of getting yourself involved because if I only have one opportunity at a school that I always dreamed about going to, I better take full opportunity and go all in, because if I don’t, then four years, five years out of school, I’m going to wonder that I take full advantage of my opportunity. And I’d like to think by the time I graduate, I’d like to be able to say, yes, I did.
[00:19:47] Paulina Lee: I think that’s a great pitch for getting involved. And I still remember there was a panel during WeLaunch and one of the upperclassmen said get involved, find a club you’re passionate about, or get involved in the overall association because it forces you out of your comfort zone.
[00:20:05] It forces you out of your cohort and it forces you to just network more. And that’s what we’re in school to do. Yes. We’re here to learn and yes, we’re here to push ourselves, but meeting amazing people, creating those connections, making lifelong connections, both on the friends’ side or even potential business side is so important and so crucial to being a part of the full MBA experience.
[00:20:30] Alan Duong: Yeah, absolutely. And I just want to say like, to the program office, you guys do such an amazing job compiling, you know, not just a diverse group of students but diverse in thought, diverse in intelligence, diverse in backgrounds. And to be quite honest, diverse in opinions. That is important to me because I’ve had the opportunity to speak to folks with different backgrounds, different perspectives.
[00:20:50] And that always gives me an opportunity to learn more, not just about myself, but about other people, because everything is really nuanced in the world. And I really appreciate the program office for compiling that type of background for our student body.
[00:21:03] Paulina Lee: Completely agreed. Yeah. We are in the process of interviewing the whole EWMBA exec team so would love for you to share your vision for 2021 as a part of this five-member team and what you’re hoping to accomplish or what you’ll consider success a year from now.
[00:21:21] Alan Duong: One thing that I’m really focused on is the student experience specifically through COVID.
[00:21:27] So, there’s a high, more likely chance than not that by fall of 2021, there’s going to be some type of us being back on campus. So, one, how do we maintain the amount of student connectivity while we’re wrapping up our spring 2021 experience? That involves how do we go around or circumvent the being zoomed out?
[00:21:53] How do we go around that to maintain the amount of connectivity between programs in years? And then secondly, one thing that I’m really focused on and I’m going to be working closely with the leadership team and also with the program office is when we do eventually get back to campus, how can we make this as seamless as possible, but then more poorly, how do we structure the events so that folks are motivated come back and get involved as best as they can? Because I recognize that it’s kind of like a big paradigm shift going from, you know, working on a home in your sweat pants to wearing suits again. And how do we make that as easy as a transition as possible for our fellow classmates but on top of that, how do we continue to motivate folks who are applying to Haas that this is kind of the place to be, that we focus on student experience. And so, I want to make sure that being in this position that I focus on that because how do we set ourselves up for success so that further down the line, people look back and say like, this was the point at which these guys took leadership or took the challenge to address the COVID transition and then did so in a way that allowed everyone equitable opportunities to come back with their best foot forward.
[00:23:04] Paulina Lee: I think that’s so well said. I think, being on the current exec team, our task, though we didn’t know it at the time, was basically how do we transition fully in-person program to a fully remote and then manage all the complexities concerning COVID. And it’s definitely been a really interesting lesson and crisis management and communication, and, you know, working remotely across the board.
[00:23:29] And I’m super excited to just see what you and the team are going to do in this year because I don’t know if people truly understand the amount of impact that you guys have and will have on how the program moves forward and working closely with everyone in the program office and really being the voice of the student body. So, I’m really excited to see your vision come to life and we’ll be a hundred percent supportive of everything you guys do.
[00:23:55] Alan Duong: Yeah, that means a lot. I hope that just because I’m the EVP doesn’t mean that I’m above anyone, I’m just here to represent your guys’ concerns. And I think what I would consider successful is that you guys don’t know my name, literally, that’s it? Because if I do my job correctly, then I should not come up. I don’t care for recognition. And if I do my job correctly, then I can continue to be in the background and then allow everyone else to have the best experience possible.
[00:24:21] Paulina Lee: As you think about this last year, what do you think has been the most challenging since we’ve gone remote, but also what do you think has been a big benefit of going remote or at least being in a more virtual environment?
[00:24:35] Alan Duong: This goes without saying the biggest challenge is maintaining the same level of enthusiasm, vigor, and passion when you’re in an online environment. The reasons being, I don’t really need to state that much, but you’re sitting in front of your desk and if those of us in the evening weekend program you’re working and then you’re going to school sitting at the same spot.
[00:24:57] You don’t get a chance to walk through a Haas campus and say, Good God, I hated that day of work. You roll your sleeves back out, you put your pants back on, and then you’re like, okay, I’ll get the backpack out. And then walk five feet back to my desk. It’s not the same experience, you know? That’s obviously been the biggest challenge. But to be honest the surprising part is how willing people are and wanting to maintain some semblance of normalcy. So that involves Hey like I know this is challenging, but let’s hop on a Zoom call so we can at least see each other’s faces, or let’s maintain as much communication as possible.
[00:25:30] And on top of that, the weird benefit was that even though I didn’t get a consulting gig, I wasn’t able to go to almost all the events because I could just hop into a zoom call. I wish I played out in my favor, but at the end of the day, like being able to talk to folks across different spectrums and on top of that too, professor Peter Goodson mentioned this too, you could have speakers who we’d normally couldn’t have because of the location, but we’d had speakers from all over the world because the online format made it easier for them.
[00:25:59] Paulina Lee: Yeah, it presents a lot of access that I’m hoping as we transition back doesn’t go away though. Of course, I think that goes without saying everyone’s super excited to be back in person because being Monday through Friday, all day in Zoom, and then doing another few hours on the weekend, it’s doable, but it’s not the same.
[00:26:22] Alan Duong: It’s not the same.
[00:26:24] Paulina Lee: Exactly. What actually love for you to reflect a little bit, you’ve mentioned a few times your journey through consulting and how it didn’t quite turn out the way you wanted it to. I would love for you to share your story on how that consulting journey went and what you’ve learned from it so far.
[00:26:42] Alan Duong: To be quite honest, it was very new to me. I’ve never thought about thinking about problems and putting frameworks to every single thing. The journey was eye-opening to me because I immediately incorporate a lot of the frameworks and mindsets into my daily life and the shout out to the acronym, RRRN, which is recommendation rationale risk, and next steps.
[00:27:08] That is, I don’t know why, but that’s a great way to think about solving problems. So, shout out to the consulting club in Nepal Chen for giving me that acronym. Yeah, it didn’t work out. I didn’t get into the firms, I, or at least get an opportunity to interview for the firms that I wanted to.
[00:27:21] And, that’s okay. There’s a lot of great candidates out there and these firms are world-class and suck, I’ll be completely honest. I really wanted to score that but I think one thing that I’ve learned all throughout my life was resiliency and understanding that at the end of the day, I’m not in QA and I’m not sitting in 110-degree weather. Shout out to my fellow veterans who know that feeling because we’ve been in worse situations.
[00:27:47] And so I always try to put myself into context. I’m in a great place. I have a lot of great opportunities and I have a lot of great friends and family who cared about me and there will always be something down the line for my life. So long as I continue to work hard and I think this goes without saying, but continue to be kind to other people. I think that’s a really overlooked aspect that people tend to forget about.
[00:28:09] Paulina Lee: Thank you for sharing. So, wanted to transition and get to know a little bit more about Alan outside of Haas. So yeah. Like we said in your intro, you do a lot of things outside of your day job and outside of being a student. So, would love for you to talk a little bit about your photography and when you started, how you started, and what that means to you today.
[00:28:29] Alan Duong: So, I began photography at a very early age. I grew up with a dad who was obsessed with taking photos of myself, my sister, my mom, himself, and the rest of our families as we went to like trips to LA, for some reason, I don’t know why that warranted photos. But growing up photos were a big part of my life. He documented a lot of things and as I grew up, I had a very pivotal point in my life where I remember I took this painting class in middle school. And I remember a teacher specifically said to me, Alan, earth without arts is eh, so you take out the art and earth.
[00:29:04] And so she was implying that like, you need to have something creative in your life. And so, I took that to say, what are some of the things that I care a lot about? I can’t draw worth anything. Don’t even ask.
[00:29:16] But one thing that I always came back to was photography. My dad did it. I wanted to pick it up because it was an opportunity for me to carry on something that he loves and he still enjoys it. I do it today. I’ve been a photographer since I was in middle school.
[00:29:30] And really quickly about my Haas essay. I wrote about when my car got broken and all my photography equipment was stolen. And I wrote about the power of community because I found it a backpacking club and part of my job after founding it was documenting the stories, documenting the adventures. I wrote about how when my car got broken into, my backpack and club actually fundraised for my behalf and they fundraise money so that they could pay back and all the equipment that was stolen from me. And it showed that at the end of the day, it’s not the photos. It’s kind of the photographer and it kind of reinforced to me that my value as a person wasn’t in delivering photos, it was the ability to connect communities and connecting different parts of my friend groups and how they’re connected, why we’re important, why these relationships matter.
[00:30:17] So, that’s why photography support me. When I take photos either for clients or for my backpacking club, yeah, the execution and the quality of the photos are important, but when I take a photo, I always try to focus on what does the photo implies? You know, they say pictures are worth a thousand words. And I truly believe that. Every single photo that I put on my website and if you buy my prints, I donate like 90% of it to charity. Why does this photo matter? What was the story behind it? And I just want to put them in my shoes when I took the photo and what it means to me.
[00:30:48] So that’s why photography is, it’s just been such a gift in my life. And I hope folks who are listening have something that they can lean on to that, and that matters so much to them that they can consider it integral to their identity.
[00:31:02] Paulina Lee: You mentioned you’d donate 90% of your proceeds to charities. Would you like to tell us a little bit about those charities and why they matter to you?
[00:31:12] Alan Duong: Absolutely 50% of it goes to the Wounded Warrior. And I forget I changed their percentage recently, but the split evenly between the next two, which is the Sierra Club and Silicon Valley Food Bank, Second Harvest. Why do those matter to me? 50% of it, Wounded Warrior, I’m a veteran, I’ve lost some very close friends of mine in the military.
[00:31:32] Growing up, I was poor, so I had to rely a bit on food banks. So, I always give back as much as I can. I donate regularly. And the Sierra Club, because I love the outdoors. I believe in their mission and I believe in constantly giving back to organizations that protect our wilderness. So, those are the three pillars that making me feel as if I’m able to give back to things that matter to me.
[00:32:01] Paulina Lee: It’s really impactful. I love how you encapsulated that photography for you, yes, it’s a hobby you could say, but it’s really a passion point, and it really a reflection on how you view the world and how you interact with it. The way you’ve incorporated it into your communities, the way it plays to your creative side, and then also has social impact, right? It’s not going straight into your pocket to pay your tuition. Maybe a little bit does, but it’s really making an impact on, you know, those who view your art, but also directly from a monetary standpoint. So, I think that’s great. You mentioned your club a lot. And so, I really wanted to dig in there. We’d love to know the origin story. What is the club about, Greenfoot Hiking, and how people can get involved?
[00:32:46] Alan Duong: Yeah, so I founded it with my best friend who was my cousin, and my other very close friend, Steven, who was my CrossFit coach. So, it began because I recognize that in the Asian-American community or at least in the outdoor community starting there, there was a lack of diversity, and not only that but for the folks who are minorities, POC, when we do tend to venture outdoors, there’s not a lot of resources to understand like leave no trace. What are the best practices, which trails through, how do I get started? How do I get a reservation at your 70?
[00:33:20] How do you do all these things? Well, the benefit that I had is that I kind of cut my teeth in the outdoors growing up. And so, I know a lot of these ins and outs of the infrastructure of getting permits, backpacking. Well, the best practice is to leave no trace, et cetera. And I founded it. Greenfoot implying, you know, greenfoot is code for like you’re brand new. We founded it because I saw an opportunity to connect outdoor enthusiasts, specifically minorities, to a community of folks who were enthusiastic about it, but then also provide them the resources to learn about the outdoors in a sustainable manner. So, what do we do? We had a lot of backpacking one-on-one trips and that involved, what are the fundamentals of backpacking?
[00:34:06] Alan Duong: And I try to use as an opportunity to bring a lot of equitable opportunities for folks who don’t know anything about backpacking and folks who want to get into mountaineering, what are some of the steps you need to know?
[00:34:16] What about rock climbing? And so, I try to democratize a lot of this information because a lot of that information is hard to find and I’m going to be completely frank, a lot of the REI catalogs or a lot of the marketing like that targets these people.
[00:34:29] Therefore a Caucasian folks. And so, it’s challenging for us as POC to see yourselves in these environments when the marketing itself is not pioneered towards you. And so, I saw an opportunity to provide that to specifically the Bay area, an opportunity to learn about these fundamentals and I don’t charge anything at all.
[00:34:48] I believe the mission is if you’re passionate about the wilderness and you’re passionate about the outdoors, here’s our group. And so, after COVID is over, I would be happy to host the workshops again, it’s www.greenfoothiking.com. I will be honest. I am the creator of the website. It’s not completely done because I’ve been busy with school. So, my apologies. But once I’m done with that, I plan to take that on again. Because it’s something I care deeply about.
[00:35:15] Paulina Lee: I think it’s a great way to give back to the community. Again, it combines everything you’re passionate about too, which I think is great. Like if you look at all the things that you’ve talked about with me today, they all overlap and intertwine very well. So that, you know, I know looking at you and speaking with you, like this is the authentic Alan and the things you’re passionate about and have the energy for and derive energy from, it’s just so obvious.
[00:35:38] And it’s so great that you have found that path and gotten to where you are. It feels like you’ve culminated a lot of things really nicely. Do you think there’s anything in your past that was a defining moment or defining mentor that really pushed you to where you are today?
[00:35:59] Alan Duong: Oh man, there’s a bunch. I will say that it’s when is this going to sound a little weird, but it honestly came when I came back from this trip, this backpacking trip at Ansul Adams’ wilderness. It was a five-day, four-night backpacking trip with my cousins, my best friend, and a couple of other buddies. This is prior to us creating the Greenfoot Hiking Club. I took a photo. I did a pretty cheesy video and put a lot of John mere quotes.
[00:36:28] I’ll say that was fundamental to me because I came back and I remember I talked to my dad after the trip and I talked to a lot of my heroes about what I wanted to do with my life afterward. And this is when the idea of the pay what you can rock climbing, gym culminated. This is when the idea of the Greenfoot Hiking Club culminated. And it crescendoed into how do I get there? And it was, I gotta get back to studying for the GMAT or I, at least, I gotta get started on studying for the GMAT. And it was a snowball effect of thinking far out of these are the things that I want to do for the world because it’s important to me and I think there’s value behind it. And how do I get there? One was, I need to get myself connected to extraordinary folks and why does it go to the school that I always want to go to that I didn’t get a chance to when I was in undergrad because I didn’t have the funds. And coming back from that trip, I thought a lot about like, who is the man that I want to be in 10 years. And I was, I think I was 24 at the time. So, I’m like four years away from that. I just gave my age away, but I just thought to myself who is the man that I want to be. And is anything that I’m doing right now, going to impact the lives of those who I want to be a mentor to. And the answer was no. And so here are the things that I need to do to my life, to set myself to a path of success, but more importantly, how do I act as a conduit for folks who grew up in the poor side of San Jose or poor at all? How do I act as a role model to them to let them know that you’re so much more in life that you can do and how do I continue to set a great example for them?
[00:38:06] Yeah, I mean, I don’t know what to say other than I’ve just been so blessed to have great mentors and friends and family in my life and been extremely lucky to get in a Haas because, without that, I really want to be where I am. And I hope that by doing this podcast and by continuing to do the things that I believe in that one day someone could look back, at least in my path, and at least say something like, Hey, like this is someone who I see myself in. And if I don’t have someone who I look up to, like, this is someone who I can look up to and then be on a better path to do something better in my life to not just help myself, but those around me. Cause that’s always been my passion point is how can I help other people.
[00:38:50] Paulina Lee: And you can really see that come to life. So, I would say it’s a very strong passion of yours that we’ve talked about today and you can see that come through. And I think that it identifies well with one of the reasons, right. I love doing the podcast here@haas because you know, one of our goals is to do just that share student stories, but really share the journeys that brought people to Haas.
[00:39:14] So that hopefully someone out there listening, who’s considering going to business school, considering applying to Haas, that they can hear these journeys. They can hear these perspectives and identify with them and really solidify that Haas is the right place for them or that business school is for them no matter what their background is, no matter, you know, how they grew up or where they started from.
[00:39:36] Alan Duong: Yeah, absolutely. Echo that completely.
[00:39:38] Paulina Lee: And the last thing I wanted to touch on for Alan outside of school and work is your podcast. So, you have a podcast that you’re a host of and you have a great mic set up, which we love because we’re doing everything remotely. So, tell us about your podcast, how it got started, who you do it with, and why should people listen?
[00:39:56] Alan Duong: Oh, thank you for the shout-out. I’ll use this opportunity as a platform for my podcast that I co-host, it’s called Reel Asian podcasts. R E E L. How I got started, well, my best friend, my cousin, Ray and I firmly believe that one thing that’s lacking in Asian-American culture is a good representation. But then we thought about how do we connect our stories and how do we connect the larger Asian American experience to the world? And we thought about doing interviews with thought leaders or leaders in the Asian American community. But then we were like, you know, that’s not really playing a lot in our personalities.
[00:40:33] I’d like to think we’re pretty funny. I’d like to think so. So, my classmates are listening. I hope you agree with this. But then we thought, gosh, we really love film and film as a conduit for how larger Americans view culture and culture begets film and film begets culture. So, we thought, why don’t we use this as an opportunity to discuss films that portrayed Asian-Americans, and then we thought, what about Asians?
[00:40:57] So we thought about how can we connect our stories are the way we grew up, the way that we were taught. And how do we relate that to films that are prevalent in larger Hollywood and how do we dissect them? How do we make it fun? And how do we put it into the larger macroeconomic sense of what does this mean? And so, we set out on a journey of making this podcast to one, make episodes about Asian-American films that we’ve watched, the popular ones, like Crazy Rich Asians and Mulan 2020, which I think by the way is an abomination. And if you listen to the podcast, you’ll know why it’s an attack on femininity.
[00:41:33] Alan Duong: But on top of that, it got started because we cared about the Asian-American story and how do we get folks to listen? And it’s about making it funny, make it relevant. And I got like, let’s talk about films that people want to talk about. The last one that we did was the movie Last Christmas with Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke. And we just thought, I mean, it’s funny, it’s on the theme of the holidays and let’s do it. It just gives us an opportunity to use our platform to discuss larger issues in the world, especially in the Asian American and Asian communities.
[00:42:05] Paulina Lee: And we’ll make sure to link out to the podcast so listeners can check it out. Give you guys some downloads.
[00:42:12] Alan Duong: Give us the five-star ratings, everyone. That’d be great.
[00:42:16] Paulina Lee: Perfect. I want to transition to some kind of quick ender questions for our interview today. So, of course, or in school, what are some electives that you’re taking in spring or that you have your eye on in spring, summer, or fall for next year, you kind of talked about you took turnarounds already FIA, which is financial information analysis. What else are you looking forward to?
[00:42:37] Alan Duong: So, I’m a typical guy here. I love classes with professor Peter Goodson. So, professor, if you listen to this, I just want to say you’re awesome. I am already signed up to take his mergers and acquisitions class. I think he’s a great professor. But given that my original path was banking and then consulting, I was kind of catering my electives to that. But given that didn’t happen, that was an opportunity for me to take classes that sound exciting to me. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I think that’s the benefit of the kind of being in this position.
[00:43:03] It’s all like this here on out and now I get an opportunity to take classes that I think could be beneficial, not just to my career but can make me a better person or make me more entrepreneurial or make me more, I don’t know, funny. I hope.
[00:43:19] Paulina Lee: Love that. I’ll be an M and A with you. I’m taking M and A and Superhuman right now. So, I’ll also have to wait for ad drop. So, join me in Superhuman and we’ll be super cool. Was together while also acquiring companies.
[00:43:32] Paulina Lee: What’s your camera set up?
[00:43:34] Alan Duong: Oh, here we go. I’m about to get nerdy. So, I used to be a Nikon guy for like over a decade. But now I am a Sony advocate. And let me tell you how I got there really quickly. So, I dove into the financials of both Sony and Nikon, and I thought, and I looked at their photography division, and I was like, Sony is diverting a lot of R and D for their camera business.
[00:43:58] This means that they’re probably going to pump out a lot of great products. And I looked at like the of their products and Nikon, unfortunately, was kind of putting subpar mirrorless products and I got to shout it out to professor Panels because he gave me an opportunity to really understand the numbers.
[00:44:14] And I was like, you know, this probably means that Sony’s going to turn out a lot of great products. And I took that opportunity to switch over. I’m using the Sony A7R4 camera right now.
[00:44:24] So yeah, I took a very like rationed, financial approach to how he switched cameras because I saw the numbers supporting Sony, and lo and behold, they are popping out significantly better products because I know they’re able to divert a lot more money in the R and D.
[00:44:39] Paulina Lee: That’s so great. It reminds me of our Apple case where we did a strategy where it was like Apple dedicated 2 to 3 X percent of their sales dollars to R and D. And that’s how they got to where they are. But I agree. I also have a Sony setup, even though my dad worked at Kodak for 20 plus years, but you know. So, we know how Kodak ended up. So, Sony it is.
[00:45:01] Paulina Lee: Favorite trail or area to hike in the Bay area?
[00:45:06] Alan Duong: Oh man. Geez. That is a hard question. It really is God, absent of like distance and whatever I will say, Oh man, this is hard. It’s like I’m choosing which child is my favorite. Um, my favorite trail would be the Eagle Peak Loop, starting in Mitchell Canyon and Mount Diablo, $6 for parking on 14.
[00:45:35] Paulina Lee: All right. All right. Uh, what is your must-have post backpacking meal?
[00:45:41] Alan Duong: Oh, I immediately go get a burger if in and out, if I’m feeling adventurous, I will drive straight from the trail to In-N-Out. I go ham there. I’m talking four by four light salt and the patty, fries, light. Well, two of them and then a Neapolitan shake if I’m feeling adventurous, but if anything else it’s gotta be a burger and fries and a beer, always a beer.
[00:46:09] Paulina Lee: Love that, love that. Well, Alan, thank you so much for being on here@haas with us this week. We’ll make sure to link to all of your websites, your Instagram, we’ll plug all your things. So, listeners, please check out the show notes to get links to all of Alan stuff.
[00:46:27] Alan Duong: And I just want to edit up by saying, thanks for having me here. I just want to say for folks listening to this one thing I hate is cynicism and I always believe the best in others, that people have the best intentions. I think so long as you work hard and if you think Haas is the right choice for you or the right fit for you, keep working at it. There’s amazing people here. Work hard, be kind, and amazing things can happen to you and your career. So, thanks again, Paulina.
[00:46:53] Paulina Lee: Great way to close it. And thanks for tuning into here@haas. Know a Haasie that has a story to tell? Nominate them on our website, haaspodcasts.org. And if you enjoyed this week’s episode, please subscribe and leave us a rating and review. And don’t forget to share out this podcast with your favorite bears.
[00:47:11] This episode was published with help from one of our associate producers, Nick Gerwe, and edited by Kyle Cook. Until next time. I’m Paulina Lee and this is here@haas.