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 A Servant-Leader Overcoming Obstacles to Find Success: Meet Darren Holcomb, Full-time MBA ‘24

To celebrate Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business students, we interviewed a few outstanding Full-time MBA students to learn more about their journey at Scheller. Meet Darren Holcomb, Full-time MBA ‘24.
Darren Holcomb, Scheller Full-time MBA ‘24, stands next to the Georgia Tech mascot, Buzz.

Darren Holcomb, Full-time MBA ‘24

Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business students come to learn, explore, and build community. As they move forward in their careers, they take everything they've learned and use it to power innovation in industries and businesses across the globe. In celebration of Spring 2024 Commencement, we sat down with a few students to learn about their experiences and the wisdom they've gained in the process.     

Meet Darren Holcomb, who is graduating from the Full-time MBA program.      


Staten Island, NY

Undergraduate School and Degree: 

Strayer University, Bachelor of Business Administration

Describe yourself in 15 words or less

I’m a family-oriented and empathetic servant-leader who overcomes obstacles and leads by example.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? 

I served just under 21 years in the Army. Thirteen of those years were spent in a fantastic special operations organization, 75th Ranger Regiment. I served in a variety of logistic roles starting from automotive mechanic and culminating as the senior maintenance logistic advisor in a large military organization where I analyzed maintenance operations and supply chain efficiency. Also, did I mention that I jumped out of planes?

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? 

The proudest achievement of my professional career was my graduation from Ranger School, one of the military’s hardest combat leadership courses. The course consists of 61 days of training and execution of realistic small unit combat operations carried out in three locations in the forests, mountains and swamps of Georgia and Florida. 

It required rigorous physical conditioning, knowledge of military tactics, leadership, and deep motivation. You also had to be away from family and friends during the training, and I was a 22yr old husband with a 1yr old son. I had to compete for a position in the pre-Ranger School course before I could even attend the training. Historically, graduation rates hovered around 50 percent and it was rare for a for a mechanic to attend and pass the course. 

I failed my first attempt in 2003 and felt dejected. Maybe a mechanic from inner-city New York expecting to live out in the woods and successfully lead combat operations was too much to ask. I had spent so much time in preparation only to waste three months and be dropped from the course. To add insult to injury, I watched the graduation of all the people that I had started the course with. I vowed to return and be on that graduation field. 

I focused on my weaknesses, preparing harder than I ever had and 18 months later I was back in the course. Although I had setbacks, I persevered and graduated from the course just in time to celebrate my son’s fourth birthday. About 550 people started that class with me and 90 were at the graduation ceremony. My journey to graduation helped develop the mental toughness, leadership, and motivation that would propel my career in the Army as well as my educational pursuits. It was by far the most significant accomplishment in my Army career.

Why did you choose Scheller? 

As a former military servicemember it was very important to me to go to a business school that had a great reputation for pivoting careers. When researching schools, Scheller had countless stories of people from peculiar backgrounds that moved into various business functions that were extremely different from their previous roles. 

In addition, being at the cutting edge of technology and business, Scheller offers so many opportunities to interact with fantastic companies and alumni. The size of the program was also a huge selling point for me. Everyone in the program knows you by name and it makes for a much more intimate learning environment. The high ROI and post-graduation outcomes were the cherry on top.

Community work and leadership roles at Scheller: 

I have always placed a high value in community. Scheller is a community of communities. In my first year, I was a member of the Strategy and Innovation Club, Operations Club, Consulting Club and MBA Veterans Club, and the Blacks in Business Club. Because of the academic demands of the first year, I was not as active socially as I initially thought I would be, and I made a commitment to change that in year two. 

In the second year, I committed to contributing to a smaller number of clubs, albeit in a behind the scenes role. I served as a case interview coach for the Consulting Club helping our first-year MBA candidates learn the ins and outs of the dubious consulting case interview, something I am very familiar with. I had some great case coaches last year to help with my preparation and I wanted to make sure that I provided the same service to the incoming class. 

I also am a member of the Women in Business Club. I deeply value the contributions of the women in my life so it was particularly important for me to be an ally and support these brilliant classmates that will go on to be examples of why gender diversity in the workplace is a great thing. I also am still actively involved in the MBA Veteran’s club and Blacks in Business (BiB). In fact, as a collaboration between these two clubs, I am hosting a panel on bridging the wealth gap through the military for Black History Month. 

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud during your time at Scheller? 

I am most proud of the impact that I have made as a Consulting Club case coach. I worked with our fantastic first year MBA students in the Consulting Club. As we all know, the first year of the MBA is hectic as you try to absorb all the new information that you’re presented, both in and out of class. Some students have relocated thousands of miles to a new city, country, culture, and way of doing business. They are trying to understand how to approach learning the MBA curriculum while also understanding how to intelligently think through business problems in a structured manner with time constraints. 

As a coach, I was able to interact with them during this stressful period. I strived to coach with compassion and empathy, making sure that the people I worked with truly understood the entire process in a relatable and easy to replicate style. I also offered my time outside of coaching to work with first-year students on all of the other aspects of business school, like resume review and elective class selection. It was truly a rewarding experience, and I made a lot of connections that will continue past my graduation.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? 

My favorite professor is Manpreet Hora. He taught the Service Operations elective. At the beginning of each class, he would ask us about a service failure or a service success that we had witnessed since the last class. (I felt like I only observed service failures!) We would then dissect all the elements of the services that were mentioned and discuss how to better manage the service experience from multiple different perspectives. 

Professor Hora facilitated these discussions as case studies, which always left me feeling much more informed about how process improvement looks in a wide variety of service settings. His humor and genuine enthusiasm for teaching was very evident in every session. You could always find him having engaging conversations with students about relevant current events and he regularly sought feedback that would help improve the class. Professor Hora is exactly the type of professor that I would aspire to be had I chosen a career in academia.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? 

My favorite course was E-commerce. I learned so much in this course that it’s almost too much to write! D.J. Wu is one of the most knowledgeable, prepared, enthusiastic faculty members I’ve encountered in the program. The classes went into great detail about the origins of some of the most successful e-commerce businesses in the world as well as cautionary tales about some of the less successful ones. Every week, there were industry professionals that would speak to the class about their experiences as entrepreneurs starting e-commerce businesses, investors funding e-commerce businesses, or professionals deeply involved with e-commerce businesses. 

This blend of theory and practice really supercharged the learning experience. I was fortunate to have taken this class just after the public release of ChatGPT. The professor immediately modified the curriculum and pushed us to think of ways to harness the potential of this groundbreaking technology in a multitude of business settings. It was a fantastic class.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at Scheller? 

My favorite tradition is the annual MBA Crawfish Boil. It brings together current students, faculty, alumni, and prospective MBA candidates in our lovely courtyard to network and celebrate the school while enjoying one of the most delicious southern traditions there is. There is plenty of great music, great food, and great conversation. It is toward the end of the spring semester, so it is a great opportunity to close out the academic year on a high note. I volunteered to greet and register the visitors last year and I really enjoyed the festive atmosphere and positive vibes of the event. I will participate every year if my stomach is willing.

What is the biggest myth about Scheller? 

That there are only engineers! It was a bit intimidating getting accepted to a business program in one of the top engineering schools in the world. My expectations were that I would be the only non-engineer in the program and that there would be an extremely steep learning curve to get on the same level as my fellow classmates.

The opposite proved to be true. The program office did a fantastic job of selecting candidates from all walks of life and purposefully combining our strengths when creating core teams. There are still many engineers in the program, but the program benefits from the blending of skills across all business functions and insights from all students. It made for a great overall experience.

What did you love most about Scheller’s location in the heart of midtown Atlanta? 

What’s not to love about Atlanta? For starters, you are never lost in Atlanta because you are always one block away from Peachtree. Whether it’s Peachtree Street, Peachtree Place, Peachtree Road. There’s even Peachtree City nearby! But seriously, the mixture of diverse cultures, easily accessible greenspaces, and the food scene are all top notch. Plus, the city just keeps improving with the help of alumni from all the great institutions of higher education within the city. It also helps that some fantastic sports teams call Atlanta home.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? 

My internship was with PwC Advisory Services in the Atlanta office as an MBA intern in the Deals Transformation practice. In that role, I helped clients understand the operational and qualitative (non-financial due diligence) impacts of their mergers and acquisitions(M&A) activities. My projects over the summer allowed me to understand all the moving parts behind the M&A business headlines that I had been reading. I was able to use what I had learned about the M&A process in real time for real clients. 

It was an eye-opening experience that I thought would be in sharp contrast to my pre-MBA experience in the military where revenue is not a planning factor. Instead, I was able to utilize some of my previous Army experience conducting operations audits to help paint a clear picture of how a company would look before, during, and after a transaction. I learned so much more than I thought I would.

Where will you be working after graduation? 

I will be returning to PwC’s Deals Transformation practice after graduation. I am really excited to help clients achieve maximum value on their deal transactions. If you had asked me where I thought I would end up when I left the Army, I couldn’t imagine myself as a consultant and definitely not in an M&A role. My background is in operations so I thought I would find a role in that function. PwC completely turned that idea on its head. They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and I am very grateful for that. I look forward to helping clients solve transformational and other complex challenges in all operational aspects of a transaction on a wide range of functional and cross-functional areas. 

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? 

I would have found lodging closer to school. I lived outside of Atlanta and sometimes the threat of Atlanta traffic (The Steel Curtain) kept me from staying in town to socialize with my classmates after class. If I was closer to school, I may have had more opportunities to interact with my peers during the first year. In hindsight, that made me put more effort into socializing in the second year so maybe everything happened exactly as it should have.

What surprised you the most about business school? 

The extreme pace of the first semester. There were some days where I was mentally exhausted from the day’s classes, and I had to go home to absorb even more while working on resumes and job applications and networking. It was a lot. There were even moments when I contemplated leaving the program. In those moments, I had to really lean on my support network and remember that I have overcome adversity before. I am glad I stuck it out. 

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? 

I have so many fantastic classmates in the program, so this is a difficult question, but the classmate that I admire most is Xavier Dorsey. She is one of the most organized, driven human beings that I have ever met. She always had a packed schedule, but still made time to have deep conversations with me right when I needed it. 

There were moments when I struggled with imposter syndrome and team dynamics in the program. She was the person that always provided me with sage counsel or just a listening ear that validated how I was feeling. I may have made it to the program without her, but I would have struggled to make it through the program without her. I appreciate her so much for that.

Fun fact about yourself: 

I love the water, but I have an unrealistic fear of murky water, and not just bodies of water, bath water as well. I will still get in, but I will have superhero levels of heightened awareness. While in the Army, I was a parachutist and had an opportunity to jump into Pensacola Bay in Florida… during Shark Week! It was one of the coolest and most terrifying things I have ever done.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? 

One of the top two items on my professional bucket list is to be invited back to be a keynote speaker at an event for my business school. I’d like to be an example of what success could look like to students earning their MBA. Another bucket list item of mine is to live and work in another country. Although I did this while I was in the Army, it was under very different circumstances. I want to be a part of the community and actively participate in meetings in another language. That would be a huge accomplishment for me.  

Learn More: Full-time MBA

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