2023 Best & Brightest Business Major: Derek Nhieu, Wharton School

Derek Nhieu

Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania)

“Inspiring leader endlessly dedicated to serving humanity and addressing the world’s most crucial issues.”

Fun fact about yourself: I created my first “business” and website for it in 3rd grade and got in trouble with the principal for using the school’s free printing to promote it.

Hometown: The Villages, FL

High School: The Villages High School

Major: B.S. in Economics with concentrations in Management (Organizational Effectiveness specialization) and Social Impact & Responsibility

Minor: Consumer Psychology

Favorite Business Course: Management 2380: Organizational Behavior

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

  • Penn Student Government – 4x 2023 Class President
  • Circle K International – Pennsylvania District Governor
  • Seniors for the Penn Fund – Benjamin Franklin Society Chair
  • Penn Student Agencies – Vice President of Talent Acquisition and Development
  • Wharton Successful Transition and Empowerment Program (STEP) – Academic and Professional Development Committee; Mentor
  • Wharton Undergraduate Community Values Initiative – Positive Impact Ambassador
  • Wharton 2010: Business Communication for Impact TA
  • Wharton Global Youth Program – Business Leadership Academy TA
  • Penn Named Scholarship Program – Ambassador; Celebration Speaker
  • Penn MarriagePact – Co-Founder/Lead
  • Penn New Student Orientation – Coordinator
  • Penn College Achievement Program – Management Communication TA; Mentor
  • Penn First Plus – Peer Mentor
  • Penn Effective Altruism – Intro Fellow
  • SPLASH@Penn – Workshop Presenter
  • Kappa Alpha Society – Vice-President
  • Kite and Key Society – Penn Tour Guide; Admissions Panelist
  • Alpha Phi Omega – Communications Committee
  • TableTalk Penn – TTX Committee Member; Podcast Host
  • Vietnamese Student Association
  • Chinese Student Association
  • Honors
    • Joseph Wharton Scholar
    • Gates Scholar
    • Fulbright U.S. Student Program Semi-Finalist
    • The Wharton School Herbert S. Steuer Memorial Prize
    • University of Pennsylvania Pillar of the Community
    • McNulty Leadership Compass
    • Millennium Fellow
    • Turner Social Impact Society / ESG Fellow
    • SNF Paideia Fellow

Where have you interned during your college career? Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, Human Resources Intern for North America Purchases

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? One of the biggest lessons I learned from studying business is actually two-fold: the numerous ways you can make an impact, and considering the needs of stakeholders.

When I first entered business school, my goal was to become a social entrepreneur; I believed that was how I could make the most significant positive difference. While I still want to achieve that in the long term, I realized there were many other ways to use my skills and abilities while simultaneously pursuing my purpose and goals. I didn’t have to be just one thing or another, or even had to do it right then-and-there. In business, I could wear multiple hats, do many things at once, and still excel in the short term while remaining focused on the long term. Everything has a natural time and a place; you just have to be ready to take the opportunity. Moreover, no matter what you do, you should always consider it from the perspective of those you are impacting. We often only see what we are doing to and upon others, but more rarely do we reflect upon how we can best do so in the ways they need. It’s similar to love: no matter how much you love someone, it doesn’t matter if you don’t love them how they need to be loved. By deeply considering and understanding the needs of stakeholders, we can generate more powerful and meaningful impact.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? Whenever I hear this question, I always think back to that one scene in Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille (one of my favorite movies), where the spirit of Chef Auguste Gusteau tells Remy that “anyone can cook.” Likewise, anyone can be in business. I think many people actively reject, shy away from, or are unsure about pursuing business because they believe they need to fit a certain mold or that it’s not for them. Yet, business offers something for everyone. They just need to decide what they care about and go from there. That’s the first step. The second step is figuring out how they can use business to fulfill those things that are important to them. Fortunately enough, that’s something business school can help navigate. If your dreams, goals, and aspirations are the destination, then business is the vessel you can use to get there. The last thing you just have to do is figure out the directions.

Looking back over your experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently in business school and why? If I could go back in time, one thing I’d do differently in business school isn’t related to business at all: I’d want to pursue more of my creative interests. Outside of my past extracurriculars, primarily which involve academics or service, I would have loved to explore other things such as creative writing and comedy. I’ll always be left wondering what I could’ve done if I had made more time for such activities, such as performing for my friends and the community and giving back in a different way. While I wouldn’t give up my undergraduate experience for anything, it is an area in which I hope to grow and develop after I graduate alongside my full-time career and pursuits.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? The extracurricular and personal achievement I am most proud of has been serving as my Class President at Penn for the past four years. Having the honor of serving as my Class President had the most significant impact on my undergraduate career for one simple reason: I was fulfilling my version of the American Dream by giving back to my community and peers. As a first-generation, low-income immigrant and student, I was surprised to have been admitted into a school like Penn and Wharton, much less be elected by my peers to serve the entirety of our class. The fact that my peers, who had only known me for a short while, were so willing to entrust me to serve them, and continued to do so over the next several years, was a testament to my unrelenting passion and commitment to service, and just how far I had truly come. For that, I am, and always will be, eternally grateful.

Which classmate do you most admire? I am someone who contains multitudes, and has a hard time fitting into a box, as well as being unafraid to challenge the status quo and blaze my own path. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to find people whom I can deeply connect with and understand. One of my former classmates, Lance Lunceford, is not one of these people. Despite studying some of the most advanced topics in finance at Wharton, Lance instead chose to pursue a more unique and non-traditional route right out of college: he is dedicating himself toward a noble mission of public service by seeking elected office. There are not many people I know whom I can say are doing the same, much less one I have been fortunate enough to call a close friend, advisor, and accomplice over the past few years. Like Dr. Seuss once said, “you have to be odd to be number one.” And man, are we both odd.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? Easily my parents. My parents and I are immigrants from Vietnam. Like many immigrants, they came to the United States in search of economic opportunity, hoping for a better future. My parents have made countless sacrifices and worked long, hard hours so that they could support our family, and so I could focus on my education as best I could. Not everyone is as fortunate as I was, and I can never thank them enough. I am endlessly grateful for them. Interestingly enough, my parents and I had never discussed what I wanted to study or do before I left for school. How fitting it is, then, to realize that my dad had wanted to study international business in college, and my mom wanted to do humanitarian work helping people. Somehow, as their first-born son, I had independently come to the same conclusion: I would be doing a combination of both in the future.

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

  • Work in international development and generate positive impact at scale
  • Become a social entrepreneur and address pressing humanitarian issues as a founder

What are your hobbies? Playing and competing in Magic: the Gathering, listening to 2000s-2010s hip-hop, video games, comedy, eating Hispanic food, watching anime and superhero shows, creating social media content, volunteering, and reading and writing.

What made Derek such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“What makes Derek invaluable is his ability to connect with people. From first meeting, one would have thought that Derek was a junior when he was just in his first year at Penn. He builds community wherever he goes, and his peers acknowledge how generous he is with knowledge. Derek reminds us to see the best in others by the way he takes time out to not only be helpful, but also strategize what benefits the whole through his leadership. Through the figures that influence his life, he unapologetically follows the mantras of doing the right thing, being your true self, and holding fast to your values. Derek will be missed after graduation because he put those mantras into practice every day and has been a shining example for others to follow.”

Teran Tadal
Director, Equity and Inclusion
Wharton Undergraduate Division


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