SAI Alumni Spotlight: Sharon Dauk

Sharon Dauk (MBA ’89) has entrepreneurship in her blood. Her father spent his entire life as a real estate entrepreneur—something that inspired her to pursue a business major during her time at University of Southern California. While at USC, Dauk placed an emphasis on entrepreneurship and spent the entirety of the second semester of her senior year writing a business plan, with which she created a business that was sold to the USC business school for an impressive $20,000. With her time as an undergraduate coming to a close, she decided to apply to business school as the next step, and she was shocked when she was not accepted to her top choices.

Looking back at this point in her life, Dauk comments “when I was young, I was arrogant.” She felt like she was running out of options, even considering moving to Maui to become a scuba diving instructor. Instead, in 1983, she was offered a job at Smith Barney in their corporate finance department, where she worked for three years in mergers and acquisitions. Dauk, now equipped with more experience, felt ready to apply to business school once again.

It was at this time that Dauk was first exposed to Student Agencies, Inc. In 1986, the Johnson School at Cornell had just created a selective fellowship with Student Agencies for new incoming students. As part of this new fellowship, the Johnson School student would complete the Johnson School in three years rather than two, and simultaneously, advise the SAI student officers and managers on a full-time basis while attending the Johnson School. Dauk was the first student offered the fellowship in 1986. She saw this as a unique opportunity to reenter the entrepreneurial world and accepted this offer.

Dauk notes that SAI, during her tenure, was very different from the SAI that we have today: “there were about 15 small businesses, and our building on 409 College Ave. was an old house that the board was looking to redevelop.” She saw this as a chance to exhibit her own creative skills. She started the Student Agencies Venture Fund, a small venture fund focused on investing in Cornell student businesses. She also oversaw the development of 409 College Ave.

Dauk recalls that “80% of my time in business school at Cornell was spent working on SAI, while the other 20% was spent studying.” However, it was all worthwhile because the experience she had as the Johnson school fellow and consultant for SAI landed her a job in the real estate department at Morgan Stanley after she graduated. Dauk claims that packaging up the fact that she oversaw the revamping of Student Agencies’ Collegetown building while a student in graduate school, along with the influence of Louis D’ Agrosa (’74, MBA ’75), Barry Weintrob (’60), Dave Ahlers (former Johnson Professor of Entrepreneurship), and Thomas Mailey (’85), parlayed her directly into this pressure-filled position at Morgan Stanley.

After several years of her new job, she and her husband decided to take six months off from the corporate world to compete in show horse- jumping, a passion they share. During this hiatus, they became interested in real estate development and began investing in early stage companies, something they have continued to do for the past twenty years.

In addition to continuing to support early stage companies, Dauk decided about ten years ago to combine her entrepreneurial instincts with her background in business, advising, and finance into a new venture. She started an executive coaching/mentoring business. This involved her returning to school for another advanced degree at Columbia University, and setting up her own private practice. Dauk’s executive coaching/mentoring business has grown significantly with a roster of Fortune 250, entrepreneurial and financial services clients; and she has become recognized as a leader in the profession.

As a member of the Board of Directors of Student Agencies, Inc. for the past 28 years, Dauk advises current managers to “take it all in, and don’t be afraid to try new things, take risks, and use innovative thinking.” Dauk believes that fostering and encouraging this sort of out of the box approach will allow current managers to make the most of their experience, something she certainly did.

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