2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Daniel Stetler Thorpe, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Daniel Stetler Thorpe

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

Age: 35

“Renaissance man.” 

Hometown: Newville, Pennsylvania

Family Members: William Thorpe (father), Donna Thompson-Thorpe (stepmother), Zach Thompson (brother), Leoda Thorpe-Holleran (mother), Thomas Holleran (stepfather), Chris Thorpe (brother), Joey Holleran (brother)

Fun fact about yourself: Prior to the MBA program, I had taken only one business class in my formal schooling, and I earned a C. Prior to the MBA, I learned business from the school of hard knocks.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of North Carolina Wilmington, BS in Geology

Chestnut Hill College, MAT Special Education – Science

Where are you currently working? President of Thorpe Landscapes, Inc., Wilmington and Asheville in North Carolina

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? It was Launching another company: Brindle Properties. We procure land and design and build vacation cabin rentals in Western North Carolina (specifically Asheville) and the surrounding area. We specialize in developing very unique parcels of 10 to 100 acres. Most are short-term rentals allowing our guests to create an experience much different from your “normal” Airbnb guest cabin getaway.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of our team’s ability to grow our landscaping construction business at a rate of 20% to 50% year over year the last nine years. I did all this while maintaining a full-time teaching career, teaching science to 7th grade, 8th grade, and high school science students during the day, and then running the operations of a 37-plus person landscaping company.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I really enjoyed my weekend Negotiations course with Professor Alison Fragale. Her teaching methods made learning negotiations incredibly enjoyable. The concepts she taught were directly applicable to various aspects of my businesses. I would learn a concept on Saturday during class and that evening could send an email with that same negotiation concept that would produce a win-win for both our company and our client. That outcome was 100% because of the concepts she taught us. I also really enjoyed Professor David Ravenscraft for Mergers and Acquisitions. During the time I was taking his course, my company was in the process of acquiring a garden center. Instead of a formal final, Professor Ravenscraft allowed me to go through the entire process of valuing the small, privately-owned garden center, which was incredibly helpful and added direct value immediately to our business. Because of these two professors, we have saved over $200,000 in the last 18 months of me being in the MBA program. The value is really outstanding.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I selected UNC Kenan-Flagler because they welcomed me with open arms and they knew I came to the program with a different view of the business world. Coming from a blue-collar industry, I didn’t know what to expect from a graduate program meeting me where I was. Spending all day in the dirt, hot and sweaty, then coming to class in the evening is not the normal or the usual path of an MBA candidate. I knew that if I was selected to be in the program I wanted to be in the room where some of the greatest business thinkers were talking. I wanted to be in that room, listening to whatever they were saying. I trusted that whatever I heard during class I could apply to my business regardless how different it may be. I couldn’t have been happier with UNC Kenan-Flagler. My classmates and professors celebrated where I came from and welcomed my comments and suggestions during discussions and with projects.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I had to get creative. Running landscaping construction companies in both Asheville and Wilmington, and having classes in Chapel Hill, I had to get creative and strategic in making my travel as efficient as possible. Most people would have expected me to drive a very fuel-efficient car as I traveled across the state weekly or even daily. However, I saw this as a great way to move our product and trees across the state. Being that some of our tree, plant and sod suppliers were located in the Piedmont, there was a good synergy for me to turn into a delivery driver and move product from the coast to the mountains. I would leave Wilmington, pick up a 30-foot flatbed trailer of balled-and-burlapped (B/B) trees before class, drive that truck to class, leave after classes and either continue on to the mountains or back to the coast to sell trees or install our weekly projects. Because I was making the trip multiple times per week I could procure much more material with limited shipping costs. Selling those B/B trees paid for most of my MBA degree.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Jump. Don’t hesitate. I know it is a lot of money, but trust me it is worth the investment in yourself. Making that investment in yourself is making an even greater investment in your company.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not doing it sooner.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Dr. Jason Akulian. His ability to continue with the program and stay rock solid as he was practicing as a pulmonologist at UNC during a pandemic and raising a family was amazing to me. Even with all this going on in his life, he would still find time to reach out and talk with me on the phone daily to check-in with me about my family and business. He is a great friend and someone I look up to very much. This is one thing that is great with this program: a doctor from UNC is in the same study group as a small business owner. It forces you to think differently. I will forever be grateful for Dr. Jason Akulian and the rest of my study group for helping me. If it wasn’t for them, I would not have made it through all the hard times in the program.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I needed one-on-one interaction. I needed face-time and the relationships built with the executive program.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to continue building my company’s branches and supplying good jobs for great people. We want to grow our Asheville and Wilmington locations to best serve the areas. We want to continue to build our cabin rental brand, and build and supply great spaces for cool experiences for our guests.

What made Dan such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“From the moment I interviewed Dan for admission to the Evening MBA program at UNC Kenan-Flagler, I knew he would be a strong contributor in the program. His background is in teaching in a STEM discipline in the K-12 public school system, while also building his own landscaping firm from the ground up. This is not a combination you see every day – and it’s definitely unique in the business school environment! His passion and drive were evident from that first interview, which is exactly what we look for in our students. It’s not easy to balance an MBA with family and full-time work (and a small business!), but Dan showed up every week with a determination to push his own boundaries and with a genuine interest in supporting his classmates’ growth. Dan has brought an insightful perspective to the MBA program at UNC Kenan-Flagler and I look forward to seeing where the future takes him.”

Holly Rice
Director, Evening MBA Program, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

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