20 Questions: Debra Draughan (MBA ’84)

In the 40 years since Debra Draughan (MBA ’84) graduated from Darden, she’s built a thriving career as an investment industry leader in institutional sales and private equity. She is responsible for fundraising and investor relations at Atlantic Street Capital, a private equity firm that she has worked for in multiple capacities since 2008.

Draughan has put that experience to great use as a member of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees and in support of Darden’s efforts to advance student interest in alternative investing careers. Read more about what makes this industry leader tick in this edition of 20 Questions.

1.What was your first job?

European American Bank, which was a consortium of six European banks. I was in the bank lending training program, from which I was assigned to a line lending office in Los Angeles, California.

2. What’s the best advice you have ever received?

The best piece of advice that I ever received came from a hedge fund manager who did business with Salomon Brothers. Tthey encouraged me to understand I worked in a volatile industry and to manage accordingly. Even though the advice was given to me in the fall of 1984, I have never forgotten it.

3. Whom do you most admire?

Collectively speaking, I have tremendous admiration for my parents and their friends. They grew up in challenging times with limited opportunities, but they managed to build careers, buy homes, build strong families and be leaders in the community. It could not have been easy, yet they persevered in dignified fashion and were excellent role models. I have relied upon their strength and drawn upon their wisdom throughout my life. To say that I stand on their shoulders is an understatement.

4.What motivates you?

As the daughter of two public school teachers, I have always been motivated to do the best job possible.

"Of equal importance is to do what is, for me, the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, with the right people. Whenever I can create that alignment, my life seems to move in almost magical ways."
Debra Draughan (MBA '84)

5.What’s a lesson experience has taught you?

Not every effort in this life will result in a win. However, at the end of the day, if you know you gave the best that you had, you can still find real satisfaction. More importantly, today’s defeat may in fact turn out to be tomorrow’s victory.

6.What is your “superpower” ?

I believe my superpower is to help people find the best in themselves and then adapt their communication skills to help the world understand the value that they bring to the table. I believe that my second superpower is bringing together complete strangers and helping them start a conversation that might not have occurred otherwise.

7.When and where do you do your best thinking?

Over the years, I have found that a plane flight or drive can be great opportunities to think through problems and find workable solutions.

8.What are you reading these days?

I have just begun reading The Warmth of the Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. The book speaks to the stories of African-Americans who were part of the great migration from the South to more progressive parts of the U.S. In the mid-1950s, my own parents moved from the Dallas, Texas, area to Los Angeles in search of better employment opportunities. Because of that move, I am a native Angeleno, which is something that brings me great pride.

9.How do you recharge?

I love to spend time with family and close friends to get a break from the hustle and bustle of the work week. Warm, loving and supportive conversation always brings me back to the goodness of the life that I have had.

10.What’s your motto?

Starting in my 20s, my motto has been: patience, persistence and perseverance. In my 40s, I came to understand that of equal importance is to do what is, for me, the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, with the right people. Whenever I can create that alignment, my life seems to move in almost magical ways.

11.How do you deal with conflict?

I am a firm believer that dealing with conflict requires a great deal of patience and thoughtfulness. My life experience has shown me that many conflicts resolve themselves, and often much sooner than one might think, thereby eliminating the need to engage in battle royale.

My goal is to understand the conflict, even if I may not personally agree with the source of the conflict or disagreement, and then look for productive solutions that keep people moving forward.

12.What characteristics do you look for in people?

We all need to make a commitment to our continued growth, both professionally and personally. When I think of people whom I have known and worked with, those who have exceeded expectations are those who want to be better today than they were the day before, and better tomorrow than they were today.

13.What makes you feel hopeful?

I find hope in my family and friends. I find hope in my everyday life. I find hope in my faith. I find hope in the idea that we can be better tomorrow than we were today.

14.What is your favorite cause?

My favorite cause is the National Association of Securities Professionals (NASP). NASP is focused on supporting people of color and women in the securities, finance and investment industries. Each chapter has what is called a FAST TRACK program designed to introduce inner city youth to these industries.

The Southern California chapter, in which I am active, has built a program that supports students from both Crenshaw High School and LA High School through a structured environment that is focused on academic achievement. Over the years, it has been heartwarming to watch the students gain confidence and reach for goals.

15.If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Forced to pick one, it would be my hometown of Los Angeles. LA provides a great mix of weather and lifestyle that makes it a wonderful place to be in my book.

16.What do you lose sleep over?

It is only in the last year that I have learned not to lose sleep. Quality sleep is one of the most important sources of regeneration that puts me in the position to make the best possible decisions during the day.

17.Which class at Darden impacted you the most?

Although I graduated from Darden 40 years ago, the subject matter that I have used the most is organizational behavior. On an almost daily basis, I draw upon the insights gained from those classes. I have worked with multiple private equity funds that have experienced OB issues either within senior management, between senior management and employees, or between the firm and its investors. Good OB can allow teams at fledging firms to become truly successful. Bad OB can lead to the demise of even the most storied of franchises.

18.What’s your favorite Darden memory?

My favorite Darden memory is completing my job search in late January of Second Year, at which time I had received offers from all of my top choices. I had set a personal goal of being finished by January 15, which I missed only by a week or so. In those days, Darden was not necessarily associated with securities sales and trading, so I started my search early, worked intensively and got done early.

It was a huge relief that put me in the position to enjoy the remainder of the school year. My other favorite memory is my now late father asking me during graduation if I was thinking about getting a doctorate, to which I answered: “Other than some cooking or language classes, I am done with school.”

19.Looking back at your career, what stands out?

I have spent a tremendous amount of time on the road over the last 40 years, whether building new investor relationships or strengthening existing relationships. The onset of COVID-19 upended my historical approach to meeting with people in person and required a pivot to virtual interactions. I found that virtual meetings actually slowed the pace of interactions and created more time to strengthen relationships.

20.What’s are you most passionate about in your role on the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees?

Since I graduated in 1984, the School has evolved in ways that I could not have imagined. Similarly, the investment industry has evolved in ways that I could not have imagined. I have done enough work in the venture arena to understand that the pace of innovation and change will only continue. I see being a trustee as an opportunity for me to make my contribution to Darden’s ongoing success, which includes helping existing or prospective students understand the value that a Darden MBA represents.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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