Earlier this week, I received an email from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, one of the top business schools in the country. In fact, it's one of the top schools on the planet — No. 16 according to the Global MBA Rankings of 2012, with just seven international programs ahead of it. Businessweek and US News & World Report rank Kellogg School of Management No. 4 in the United States.
Unfortunately, Kellogg wasn't inviting me to attend or lecture.
The school was reaching out on behalf of my cousin David Tafuna, who has been accepted in the incoming MBA class of 2014. David was the starting free safety at BYU in 2007 and '08. David listed me as an "assessor" to evaluate his leadership strengths and development needs. The survey is confidential and only David and his professors will be able to see my evaluation.
I was impressed that the email included these lines: "We recognize that people sometimes are reluctant to point out the shortcomings or weaknesses of others. Although you may be tempted to depict David in the best possible light, s/he will learn much more from your feedback if you are honest and candid in your responses. We consistently hear from students that favorable ratings are nice, but they find much more value in knowing about opportunities for improvement … and they find the text comments particularly enriching. Please keep this in mind as you complete the assessment."
They're right. That's gonna take some time for reflective thought because I've known David since he was a baby and I think the sun rises and sets on him.
Though I'm old enough to be his father or uncle, we're first cousins because our mothers are sisters — my mother the oldest and his the youngest girl in a family of 10. So David has always been more like a kid brother.
David was born in 1983, the year I returned from my mission, and as his parents lived a few miles from my home, we were very close and he grew up idolizing his oldest cousin. David's father, David Sr., was a student and played defensive end at Mesa Community College at the time, but the family would move to Honolulu when David Sr. earned a football scholarship to the University of Hawaii, where he graduated with his bachelor's and master's in sociology.
Following David Sr.'s graduation, he and my aunt, Marguerite, moved their family back to Arizona. At the same time, my NFL career brought me back to Arizona as well, so David Jr. and his siblings spent a lot of time in my home. I went to David's Pop Warner football games and even watched him play once against a future BYU teammate — John Beck.
David Jr. graduated and was recruited to BYU from Mesa High, just as I was. When he arrived at BYU, he requested my old number, 23. He served a mission as I did, but in Brazil. Following his mission, I asked David to room with my oldest son, Landon, who was just arriving at BYU as a freshman, thinking his influence would be good for Landon.
He and Landon are more like brothers and he continues to be a good influence on Landon and my other children. David married a girl, Melissa Rebilas, from my New Jersey ward, whose ecclesiastical interview for BYU I conducted as her bishop. They were introduced by Landon, who grew up with Melissa.
When his eligibility at BYU expired, David consulted with me on his options. He had aspired to play in the NFL all his life, but his prospects weren't great. Mine hadn't been either, but I didn't create for myself the options David had. He graduated in four years in finance with a 3.4 GPA. Melissa was pregnant with their first child and he considered coming east so his wife could be closer to her mother and family when the baby came but also because he wanted to seek employment opportunities in the East.
When he told me his ultimate goal was to gain enough work experience before applying to a top-notch business school for an MBA, I encouraged him to come east and go for it.
Initially, they moved in with his in-laws as they awaited the baby and he looked for work. I introduced him to all my contacts in the financial world, but none worked out. On his own, David landed a job with the Social Security Agency in Philadelphia as an analyst. He worked for the Federal Government for a year until one of my contacts, David Cohen, chairman of Sage Financial, a family-owned financial firm in Philadelphia, had an opening. David and Melissa moved to Philly to be closer to the new job.
While in Philly, David met an executive with Merrill Lynch at his LDS ward. The executive was impressed enough that he offered David a job with more pay and more responsibilities. Armed with three years of work experience with the Social Security Agency, Sage Financial and Merrill Lynch, he started the application process for an MBA last fall.
He visited Harvard, Penn's Wharton School of Business, Columbia, UCLA, Kellogg and had already been accepted to BYU's Marriott School. Columbia was never a fit so he didn't apply, but was denied at Harvard and Wharton — but most people are. He was accepted at UCLA and Kellogg in addition to BYU.
As his choices narrowed, David focused in more and more on Kellogg. "I just loved the atmosphere and actually felt more comfortable at Kellogg than even the Ivy League schools," David told me. "So much more of their program is graded, it seems, on teamwork. Teamwork is highly prized at Kellogg."
He connected with the professors he met. He loved Chicago where his former teammate and cousin Harvey Unga is now playing for the Bears and another former BYU teammate and fellow safety K.C. Bills is in his final year at Kellogg and is president of the LDS MBA students association. David said Kellogg's program is better suited for what he wants to do — investment banking — and best of all, David was awarded the prestigious Toigo Fellowship scholarship, given to the top 50 minority MBA candidates, specifically in finance, in the country.
"A big part of being part of being at Kellogg is their alumni outreach," David said. "Even among the top MBA schools, Kellogg is highly regarded because of their alumni."
One of whom I met nearly 20 years ago in Tokyo, Japan.
My wife and I were sent by the Philadelphia Eagles in May 1993 to Tokyo for a weeklong publicity tour for a preseason game we would play in August against the New Orleans Saints. The game was sponsored by Suntory, Japan's biggest beer and spirits company. On our second night, we were hosted by Suntory at a banquet that included their top executives, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his wife, Chandler, other league officers and members of the New Orleans Saints.
My wife Keala and I were seated next to Suntory's CEO, Shinichiro Shin Torii, who spoke fluent English. Before each of us seated at the head table were Suntory products so I motioned for our waiter to remove them as Keala and I didn't drink, nor did I want to be photographed with them.
Overhearing my comments, Shinichiro Shin asked me if I was a Mormon.
I was stunned. "Yes," I stammered.
"Did you attend BYU?" he asked.
"Yes, how did you know?" I doubted he read my bio in the Eagles media guide.
"I came to America in the late '50s to get my education at Northwestern near Chicago," Shinichiro Shin told me. "My roommate was a boy from Utah who was a BYU graduate. He didn't drink alcohol, tea or coffee, nor did he smoke. He was a little older and Kellogg paired us because he served a mission to Japan and was fluent in Japanese. He was a great example of your school and your faith."
The opportunities before you, David, are enormous. Make a difference. Be like that anonymous Northwestern student who left a lasting, positive impression on Shinichiro Shin Torii, a Japanese beer company CEO.
You are headed to an elite institution. Be disciplined. Work and pray as you always have in your athletic career, your mission and your jobs. The Lord has guided your path and prepared you for this moment. You are being trained and educated so you can serve — civically and in the Church — not to make a fortune, though that may follow. Focus on that and the rest will just happen. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).
Go seize it.