Daniel Kiryakov is from Bulgaria. He went to study in the US as soon as he finished high school in his home country. Immediately after graduating from Clark University, he joined Yale School of Management through the school’s Silver Scholar Programme – a special three-year MBA programme aimed at college graduates. Daniel did two placements at the Coca-Cola Company during his MBA – one at the company’s Venturing & Emerging Brands unit and one at their Strategy, Planning and Analysis division. He now heads the Operations department at Uber, Bulgaria.

Editor’s note: Daniel’s story is an example of how humility and career impetus can work together to create amazing professionals, despite the common belief that an Ivy League background produces elitists. At the age of 27, with years of hard work behind him, and a recently acquired managerial position, Daniel is an inspiration to us all. In its essence, this interview reminded me of Forbes contributor Cameron Keng who once wrote: “As an individual, you’re a CEO of one, and you have a duty to maximise your profits”.

How did you end up going into an MBA immediately after undergrad studies?

During undergraduate school, I was working on several projects, but I figured that in order to be successful, first of all I needed to gain some additional skills. I also recognised that the MBA track would open my career to additional opportunities which I did not have just as an undergrad. I saw the MBA as a way to accelerate my career and decided that I wanted to do it as early as possible – in order to gain new skills, and in order to benefit from the school’s network. Later those two things enabled my career to develop. I targeted Yale directly because they had this special programme that recruits freshly graduated college alumni. 

Can you tell us more about this programme?

It’s called the Silver Scholars programme – a special three-year MBA programme which recruits a select few undergraduates. I went to Clark University and in my senior year there I applied to the Silver Scholars programme. It’s similar to the traditional MBA programme, the defining difference being that you get a gap year between your first and third year of classes. In this gap year, you can complete multiple placements or one very long one which allows you to get more professional experience and, in doing so, get the most value out of your last year. I ended up doing two placements – both at the Coca-Cola Company’s Headquarters in Atlanta. First I did a placement with their Venture Capital unit (4 months) and then another one within their North America Strategy group (6 months).

What were the criteria to get into the Silver Scholars MBA?

Professional experience, personal aptitude and underlined academic achievements. In terms of professional experience, I had some entrepreneurial background, having helped launch a successful machine manufacturing and engineering business in Bulgaria. It’s a family business, which I dedicated years to, while still an undergrad. I also had a good understanding of what the MBA programme consists of and what I wanted to get out of. You have to have clear answers to questions such as “why do you want to do this MBA?” and “what do you want to do after that?”. Having good self-awareness really helped me at this stage. Of course, another prerequisite was completing the GMAT with a good score. I scored 750, which is considered top 2%. Finally, it was also a matter of Yale’s own goals. The Silver Scholars programme is aimed at diverse people. For instance, some of my fellow Silver Scholars did not have much work experience but sported very interesting backgrounds. Yale recognised that these students will enrich the others by bringing a fresh perspective. The whole concept is not just to accelerate the careers of interesting and smart people but also to add a fresh perspective to the whole class. They wanted to diversify their own cohort.

How do you personally believe that your MBA has helped you achieve better career results?

I was able to use my school’s network of alumni to connect to prospective employers and companies. That paved the way for my placements, and then to interesting job offers. I believe that the connections you establish during the MBA programme really help you in the long term. Secondly, you get a lot of skills, a mind-set if you wish, of how to think about problems in multifaceted manner. You get to understand how to approach issues that you would find in the business world and also how to come up with answers. That was very valuable.

Can you give us an example of how your education has helped you make a vital decision at your workplace?

The problems that we face in business nowadays are multifaceted. To really solve a problem, you need to understand all of its aspects and everything around it. At my previous job, I was working for a Venture Capital Investment company where I was doing research on prospective investments. I looked at every single company on multiple levels and first of all analysed the company’s performance, but also how it could grow and perform in the future. That involves a very deep-dive analysis of management, and the financials of the company and the marketplace, among other things. The MBA programme provided me with the basic skills that I needed in order to perform this analysis, but also with the framework and mind-set to analyse such complex problems. At the end of the day you want to know if this company is a good investment, and that’s a simple yes or no answer; but to get there, you need to go through multiple levels of examination.

So how exactly did you get your first job after your MBA?

It was through the network of a professor. I did well in his class, so he offered to help me source placements. At some point in the past he had started a beverage company which he later sold to Coca-Cola. Through him I established the connection with Coca-Cola and that led to my two placements there. Concerning my first job after the MBA, I already had the industry experience, so when my future employer, Emil Capital Partners a private equity / venture capital investment company – put up a job posting on our career website, Yale being a target school for them, I managed to secure a job with them.>

Do you feel satisfied with your investment?

Yes, absolutely. I think my investment is already paying off very well. I think that going forward, it’s not just about the numbers, but also about having the freedom to select what you want to do and where you want to work. It gives you the freedom and the ability to source opportunities and to be more of a “chooser” than a “searcher”.

What would your advice to future students be? How important is it to do an MBA at a prestigious school such as Yale?

I think every MBA is valuable. It opens new windows of opportunity. It gives you more options and more tools to achieve your ambitions. In my opinion, non-Ivy League schools could also be excellent schools with great programmes and great networks. I don’t think people should be afraid to think of an MBA as an opportunity, because that is exactly what it is. I suggest prospective students try and talk to the university, to alumni, to the network of the school and make their personal choices. Of course, the MBA is an investment and, like every other investment, it’s risky. However, if you do well at your MBA course, and you get good placements, that will inevitably lead to good job offers.