Highlighting Heroes: Daniel Soto Served His Country—Now He’s Bringing Service Leadership to Graziadio
When it comes to manifesting a lifestyle heavily influenced by service leadership, Daniel Soto is no stranger. As a former Marine for the United States Marine Corps, serving others is innately part of his character—something he not only enjoys but feels is part of his duty as a civil servant. During his four years spent on active duty, Daniel served his country with a humble heart and a contagiously positive attitude, eventually finding his calling as a leader—obtaining a promotion to lance corporal. It was then that Daniel realized his passion for leadership—later applying his military experience to bridge the gap between organizational disconnects within mid-level management.
Setting a precedent, Daniel was the first on both sides of his family to graduate from college, earning his Bachelor of Business Administration from Texas Tech University—then moving into the corporate world to gain business experience. Later down the line, he came across a new dream to secure a managerial position for a seismic entrepreneurial organization, aspiring to play a focal role in the organizational structure’s development and design. Daniel knew earning an MBA would be pivotal for transitioning into a management career. With Pepperdine’s emphasis on service, purpose, and leadership, Daniel knew attending Graziadio would directly align with his service mentality and would enable him to expand upon his leadership pursuits.
Through Pepperdine’s commitment to providing the benefits veterans truly deserve for their service, Daniel could attend Graziadio with less financial constraints. He credits Pepperdine’s Associate Register, Sara Turki, and Genesis DeLong, director of student engagement and success, for making enrollment and attendance at Graziadio a seamless experience. In addition to his studies, Daniel enjoys his role as president of the Student Veterans Club—having the opportunity to interact with his fellow veterans and build a stronger community. Each of them has an integral role within our school and exhibits what it means to be true Best for the World Leaders both inside and outside Graziadio—hosting fundraisers, helping with mental health initiatives, and committing to the community’s overall betterment at large.
When it boils down to the specifics of being a Best for the World Leader, Daniel refers back to his time as a Marine. He derives similar meaning from Pepperdine—holding yourself to the highest standards is crucial. It’s essential to be mindful of every action and the direct impact on people, the planet, and more. In the end, Daniel acts as an inspiration for us all, genuinely exhibiting Best for the World leadership by formerly serving our country and now serving at Graziadio. We thank Daniel for his unwavering commitment to leadership and cannot wait to see what he plans to accomplish next.
What drew you to earning your MBA with Pepperdine Graziadio?
While transitioning to the private sector after having served four years on active duty as a US Marine, I began to see some disconnects in mid-level management of the organizations I was working for. I was a sergeant of Marines; corporals and sergeants are considered noncommissioned offers and are known for being the backbone of the 186,000 member tribe. As companies grow in size, strong management becomes increasingly important. After boot camp comes combat training, where I was chosen on the first day to guide the 80-man platoon, this was the first time my leadership skills were truly tested. Even though many other new ambitious Marines were eager to take my role, I still ended up graduating the program as a guide. I received my first meritorious promotion to lance corporal. Throughout my four years with the Marines, I carried that energy with me, and leadership became my biggest passion because of how big and bright smiles I could put on people’s faces.
Honorary President Robert Regan once said, “Some people spend their entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world, but Marines don’t have that problem.” Upon properly completing my four-year term, I used my benefits to pay my way through a Bachelor of Business Administration at Texas Tech University. Graduating from a university was a dream come true for me; I was the first person on both sides of my family to have accomplished this goal. After graduating, the last thing on my mind was going back to school. It wasn’t until five years later that I thought an MBA could be helpful for my career. I have had lots of exposure to the corporate world. My new dream became earning a management position for a sizable entrepreneurial organization where I could play a pivotal part in organizational design and development. I knew I had a pretty good grasp on what it took, but I was also humble enough to know that more training was necessary. One of my best attributes is running a fair and fun operation where everyone is happy to come to work and feels cared for by their employer because I have a servant leadership style.
An example of this was when I coached a 14-year-old baseball team; I ran every drill with the players and made the kids feel like I was on their side instead of being more of a dictator. Even if I were to become the ExxonMobil leader, I would still be making many site visits to the oil rigs, drillships, pipelines, and refineries to make personal connections with the construction workers. The Marines are known as the few and the proud because we are the smallest branch of the US military; I saw that Pepperdine had a history of supporting veterans. Their business school’s mission is to develop Best for the World Leaders. I like how they aren’t as big of a program as USC and felt I could make deeper connections at a smaller program. I started with 75 other full-time MBA students in the Fall of 2019 and love how the professors take a holistic approach towards our business education. The faculty, staff, and administration are all authentic values-based leaders and support the student body better than I’ve ever seen a group of people support each other before. Being a Pepperdine student gives you space and freedom to go after your goals and offers direct mentorship to help overcome your roadblocks along the way. The connections and learning opportunities are endless, and that’s why I chose Graziadio for my MBA.
How has Graziadio supported you as a veteran?
Pepperdine’s Associate Registrar, Sara Turki, has a long-standing relationship with all military education benefits managers. Not once during my studies did I have to worry about tuition or housing allowance because she goes above and beyond to ensure that veterans get fully rewarded for their service. There are currently 14 veterans in Graziadio’s full-time programs, and we meet bi-weekly for open discussion and idea exchange. Having a community of fellow brothers and sisters that have served our country in arms gave me assurance that I could immediately lean on them for advice and community. The veterans at Pepperdine seem to all have made outstanding accomplishments during their time in service, and we carry that with us in the program. I believe the veterans play a crucial role in classroom productivity because they have had more responsibility in their lives than most civilians, so they see through a different lens.
Pepperdine is no stranger to overcoming challenges. Last year was the Woosley fire, and this year we’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Through both of these challenges, Pepperdine’s staff has done an exceptional job adapting and overcoming these circumstances while not jeopardizing the academic integrity and personal connection it offers its students. Not once were we left in limbo; they were always quick to make the smartest decisions and to get the word out to us right away. After overcoming so much, our people are more resilient, creative, and cohesive than ever before. We are ahead of the curve when it comes to student engagement and success support services. Our Department Director, Genesis DeLong, and her team have provided the extra layer of support needed to get us through these scary times. You can count on the Student Success department for guidance when you’re lost for answers.
Have you had the opportunity to connect with other veterans within the community through Graziadio’s veteran’s club?
Currently, I am in the role of president for the Graziadio Veterans Club. After some time and effort, we have now allied with the veterans of Pepperdine’s four other schools. Having that common ground of military service, it is easy to connect with our law, public policy, and psychology comrades. Having the club has provided us a platform to continue to serve our communities outside of the military; we are involved in fundraising for charities such as Toys for Tots and reducing veteran suicide rates. Pepperdine’s military community offers a safe place for our voices to be heard and involves caring men and women ready to help the school and each other every way they can. This term, we have the pleasure of having the former commandant of the Marine Corps, General Neller, come to speak to our school. Pepperdine equips you with the tools and support you need to do anything you would like to do. I have seen them move mountains; never have I met such a nimble accomplished group of people dedicated to making each individual's life better. Once you become a Wave, you enter into a community of fellowship that has endless opportunities. I can say that I could never meet anyone else in my life and be happy with the people I’ve gotten to meet while here.
As you are an excellent example of our school’s mission, what do you think it means
to be a Best for the World Leader?
When thinking of Best for the World Leaders, what comes to mind is our community’s well-being and the impact we are making on our planet and the people around us. In the Marines, we are taught that we are to carry ourselves as professionals both on and off the clock. For instance, we were prohibited from being caught in athletic wear outside of a workout environment. By always holding ourselves to a high standard, we free those around us to do the same. Two of the biggest takeaways from my military experience was poise and resilience, which involve maintaining tact and bearing even when times get rough. We learned to act with swift agility when our senses are most heightened; I would bet to say that every MBA student has felt like quitting when the workload seems like too much, but our faculty and our veterans are there to offer that extra encouragement needed to get us to the next chapter.
At Pepperdine, we’re taught to address the person's feelings before reprimanding them for any below-par performance. Taking this approach is in line with the Marine saying, “leave no man behind;” it’s a place where everyone feels welcomed with open arms and is offered compassion throughout their course load. Today people need encouragement more than ever before, and Pepperdine has a unique way of providing a happy balance of challenge and understanding all at the same time. Most professors offer their cell phone numbers and encourage students to reach out to them while in their careers for any advice they may need. Graziadio graduates can be trusted to be valuable components to any organization offering productivity with a smile.
Even when given complex challenges, they can remain mission-focused to carry out today’s business environment demands. With integrity being a central characteristic to our education, Pepperdine graduates are not scared to say, “I don’t know,” and with the community being a core focus of ours, we are willing to reach out to fellow Waves for guidance throughout our careers. And when it comes to helping us land that dream job right after graduation, we couldn’t be in better hands than the Alumni Engagement and Career Development teams run by Karen Weiss and Diane Singel. Pepperdine teaches a new style that goes beyond just getting the job done efficiently and effectively; it’s the added layer of how we carefully communicate what we want to say to others and truly living out our dream in all that we do that makes Graziadio candidates more attractive.
What advice do you have for other veterans looking to further their education?
If you want a small community-feel with massive reach and an impeccable reputation, Pepperdine is the place. Almost anywhere you study on campus, you will be filled with a great sense of tranquility because of how picturesque and quiet the campus is. Malibu is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of LA but still allows you close access to city life. It’s the perfect getaway to focus on your education. The new courses that the Programs Office has been implementing into our offerings are in line with meeting the challenges that business leaders currently face. There are many opportunities to learn about emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning, IoT, big data science, and prescriptive analytics, to name a few.
While the DIIS concentration is the most sought after by employers, our marketing and entrepreneurship programs are just as strong. Our school is very involved in the community regarding entrepreneurship, SEER initiatives, and the EMS industry. Pepperdine also has the world’s leading dispute resolution program offered by the Caruso School of Law. Business students can get a certificate and get elective credit towards their degree. Pepperdine also has no shortage of high caliber guest speakers. Our dean or assistant dean(s) are typically interviewed in a Q&A session held in our auditorium, at their homes, or in a hotel banquet hall. I’ve gotten some of the most value from hearing the personal stories from executives around their biggest challenges, how they overcame them, and what advice they have for us going into our new careers. Most students get excited about a topic they learn about from one of their classes, which helps them decide what direction they want to go in their careers. One significant aspect of the courses is that there are endless learning opportunities; it’s up to the students to act on them if they want to achieve the plus piece of their education. We have multiple Bloomberg terminals on campus, an impressive inventory of expensive library resources, and we offer some of the best global programs available that help enable us to make a difference wherever we go in our careers immediately!
My biggest recommendation is to make personal connections with the professors after class time and ask as many questions as necessary to feel like you’re getting the most out of your time in the program. I would come in knowing what you want to get out of the degree, then trust in your path and let your experience shape your story and guide you to your next endeavor. Pepperdine is not for people who want to live in Easy Street; it’s for those who want to take their gloves off and do what it takes to better themselves and those around them. Students at Pepperdine are striving to live as their best selves. We stand for diversity, which enhances the richness of our connections. Most of us are from and are going to different places, and it’s what we learn from each other during our time together that helps us impact the communities we serve.