After five years as an auditor, Jeffrey Yao (MBA ’01) came to Darden looking for a transition. “I didn’t want to spend my life looking at things that happened in the past,” he said. “I wanted to do something more forward-looking and proactive.” Darden not only gave him the skills and knowledge base to move into other industries, he said, it gave him an entirely new mindset.
A natural introvert, Yao grew up in China steeped in Confucian values that emphasized group harmony over standing out from the crowd. At Darden, the case method approach, combined with the supportive atmosphere from teachers and fellow students, taught him to think on his feet and voice his ideas. “The confidence I got from Darden, and the communication skills, that was tremendous,” he said.
He drew on both a few years later when he made the leap to join a private Chinese iron ore trading company. Yao had no background in shipping, but Darden had trained him to get up to speed quickly in a new field. He immersed himself in the industry and in the problem he’d been called on to solve — how to deal with extremely volatile shipping rates.
Within a year, he and a fellow Darden classmate had established a shipping derivatives trading desk at the company. Sensing an opportunity in China's wave of urbanization, the team quickly expanded the business into proprietary freight trading and became a top player in the market.
A few years ago, Yao moved to London for another new venture — founding his own alternative investment fund. “What I learned at Darden, about how to value things, how to think differently — I still call on that today,” he said.
Last year, he endowed the Yuyan scholarship at Darden in honor of his grandfather, a “born entrepreneur” who ran a successful small business in his hometown in China and later rebuilt it in Shanghai. Now, Yao wants to help others succeed.
“I always think, if I can help the school in any way, I will do it, because I had a life-changing experience there,” he said. “I want somebody else to benefit from the experience as well.”