Before coming to the University of Virginia, Molly Deale designed and created hats for smash Broadway hits like “Wicked,” “Hamilton” and “Book of Mormon.”
Deale, now a second-year student in the Darden School of Business, studied arts administration and costume design at New York University and landed a post-graduation job working with milliner Rodney Gordon’s studio, one of New York City’s top hat-makers.
“I have always loved sewing and creating things,” she said. “My strength in our studio was the period pieces and the really detailed, research-based, old-fashioned work.”
Sometimes, that meant researching and recreating the style of top hat or bonnet in fashion during the particular period a production was set in. Other times, it meant carefully piecing together signature hats for the Rockettes’ elaborate costumes, or creating fancy sun hats for private clients dressing to impress at the Kentucky Derby or Royal Ascot horse races.
“Every project was different and we were constantly evolving,” Deale said. “Rodney was always looking to bring in new technologies and new materials, looking for ways to make the hats better, or stronger or more comfortable for the actors. That kept things really interesting.”
Still, Deale found herself looking for something more. She was drawn to finance and interested in trying something outside of the entertainment industry.
“I was always reading about cool deals in the newspaper, something like the recently announced Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods. I would wonder who thought of that, who pitched the idea,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of that thought process.”
Like the “Hamilton” characters that she designed hats for, Deale wanted to be “in the room where it happens.”
That’s where Darden came in.
Once she decided to pursue an MBA, Deale had several criteria for her ideal school. She wanted something hands-on, because she was coming from outside the business world and wanted to force herself to dive in quickly. She wanted faculty members who would put time and effort into helping their students, especially those making major career changes like her. And she wanted a sense of community, where students chose camaraderie over competition.
“I targeted Darden because of the case method and the overall collegial environment,” she said. “I had heard some other business schools were more ‘dog-eat-dog’ and to me, that is not a healthy learning environment.”
She also realized that Darden’s case method – in which teams of students analyze real-world business scenarios, decide what they would do and defend their decisions in class – would force her to speak up in class, even when she was unsure of the answer.
“I didn’t want to be sitting in the back of the lecture hall. I needed to be involved in the conversation, using all of the new vocabulary I was learning,” she said. “The case method makes you take risks in class. Yes, I was wrong many times, but I knew I couldn’t sit back and do nothing.”
That attitude paid off. Deale did well at Darden, earning a summer internship within the investment banking group at Credit Suisse in New York City, and capping off her summer with a job offer from that office.
“I am very excited,” she said. “I will be in their Global Industrials Group, which I loved.”
Deale will help companies in a variety of industrials sectors – including chemicals, aerospace and defense, building products, transportation and more – manage their finances, grow their businesses through merging or by acquiring another company, and find investors if they want to go public, among other services.
While many things will be new, Deale can already draw some parallels with her old job.
“To me, people should never doubt that they can make a switch like this. Whatever your background, companies want to see that you actively care about learning, that you have a really great attitude and that you won’t make the same mistake twice,” she said. “All of my client-facing work, with all of the stars and the major productions, has helped me. You’re working on a tight deadline, doing very detail-oriented work for high-profile clients.”
One thing that is missing, though? The calluses left by all that stitching.
“I used to have a lot more calluses,” Deale said, laughing a bit as she looked down at her now-smooth hands. As difficult as investment banking might be, she does not anticipate that will be part of the deal.