Back in 2009 David Ulrey became a West Point graduate – five years later he made the move to Boston and joined the Class of 2016 at HBS.

In the years before coming to business school, David was commissioned as a Financial Management Officer in the U.S. Army and deployed to Afghanistan. We checked in with David to see what it’s been like to make the transition to civilian life, learn more about his HBS experience, and find out how business school fits into his plans for the future.

How did the military prepare you for HBS?

The skill I brought with me from the military that has proven most impactful during my time at HBS is self-reflection. Being surrounded by so many incredibly accomplished people at a place like HBS is a golden ticket to personal growth. I’ve found that my ability to be honest with myself about where I’m struggling relative to my peers has helped me attack my weaknesses and squeeze more out of the HBS experience than I otherwise could have.

What has been the hardest part about the transition?

For me, one of the most difficult parts of transitioning from the military to HBS was learning to rely on internal rather than external validation.

When I was in the Army I received almost constant feedback from a variety of sources and thus found it relatively easy to understand how I was performing. But at HBS most classes consist of only two grades – participation and a final exam – so until grades come out at the end of a semester, it’s difficult to know if you’re doing well. Because of this, in the midst of a schedule filled to the brim with cases and recruiting, I found it difficult to effectively balance my priorities.

Midway through first semester I ended up sitting down to talk it through with one of my professors. She encouraged me to gauge my success on how much I was learning and if I was developing into the person I want to be after two years at HBS. It was simple yet transformative advice. And though I still have to work at it, I have a feeling that learning to define success for myself is a skill that will pay dividends in the future.

What plans do you have for the future? How has your vision of the future changed since coming here?

When I applied to HBS I was pretty set on building a career in either finance or consulting. Now, while my road map will still entail a stint sharpening my business skills with a professional services firm, ultimately I’d like to run a company.

To me, the beauty of the case method is the opportunity to truly put oneself in the shoes of a protagonist and think through a difficult decision with the protagonist using the same values and priorities you would use in real life. It’s the chance to form an opinion using your set of beliefs, talk about those beliefs in class, learn from your peers, add to your decision making toolkit, and grow.

It is truly a remarkable process through which I have learned more about business in a single year than I thought there was knowledge to be learned – but I’ve also learned just as much about myself. I found that while I really enjoy the quantitative aspect to working through a case, what really keeps me up at night are the human and leadership challenges our cases present.

As a CEO, how do you design an organization to attract, motivate, and retain talent? How do you make responsible decisions at the top to ensure each of your employees is excited to come to work, has the opportunity to build a meaningful career, and feels like their contributions are being recognized and rewarded? And how do you weave all that into a corporate culture? As I’ve come to realize over the course of our first 200 or so cases, those are the questions I’d like to spend my career answering.

What advice do you have for prospective students from the military who are considering HBS?

I’d encourage prospective military applicants to recognize two things:

1. Your voice and experience will be valuable additions to the HBS classroom. Be confident in that fact.

2. There is a network of people who want to see you succeed. Reach out to us, come visit us, ask us questions, and ask us for help. We want to be a resource for you.