Published: May 8, 2023

Drake leans on his industry experience to find effective ways to connect with students who take different paths to Leeds’ MBA classes.​

David Drake leads a talk from the front of a bar in downtown Boulder.

Students will present David Drake with the Frascona Teaching Excellence Award at graduation this week. At MBA Last Lecture, in downtown Boulder, Drake gave a short talk to the graduates, encouraging them to maintain a sense of curiosity as they take their skills out into the world.  

When he was a director at Random House, David Drake led a project team responsible for initiatives across the organization. And as you might expect from a publications empire, the company’s makeup could make that challenging. 

“You had some division leaders who were very business-minded, MBA trained, always focused on the bottom line,” Drake said. “But you had other leaders who came up through editorial roles and who were more artistically trained. And since we needed buy in from everyone to move ahead, I had to learn how to present ideas to a wide variety of audiences with different skills.”

That, he said, has proven invaluable in his role as a teacher.

Different styles for different students

“Each student has their own learning style and different strengths, and my job, is to find a way to present material in a way that is accessible to each of them,” he said. “I really think that makes a difference in helping people learn.”

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That commitment to his craft—and to the MBA students he teaches—is why Drake will be honored at commencement with the Joseph L. Frascona Teaching Excellence Award, presented annually by students to a Leeds professor who is a strong mentor, who encourages intellectual development and who creates lasting impact beyond the classroom. 

For Drake, teaching excellence is about living up to the professors who inspired him as a student. He completed his undergraduate and MBA degrees from Vanderbilt, then headed to INSEAD for his PhD after six years working in industry.

“I think I’m like a lot of faculty in that I chose this career because I was inspired by those who taught me,” he said. “When you’re in the classroom, and you sense that students are really dialed in and engaged, that’s the greatest feeling. And then, when you have a chance to truly make a difference for a student—help them grasp something that they may have been struggling with and you see that ‘aha,’ or when you are able to make a connection for them that helps them land a job or internship—those moments stay with you, as a professor.” 

Drake uses the case method in teaching his MBA classes, in which students take on the role of leaders who faced difficult choices in guiding their businesses.

Gold bar section divider

“When you have a chance to truly make a difference for a student ... those moments stay with you, as a professor.”

Professor David Drake

That’s not an unusual approach for graduate classes, but Drake said he appreciated it because it’s the best way to get students to bring their own perspectives and experiences to classroom discussions. 

“I teach that way because there’s so much talent in that classroom that’s not necessarily at the podium,” he said. “Case discussions allow all students to benefit and learn from that collective talent.”

That can lend a degree of authenticity to Drake’s classes.

David Drake, seen from behind, as he leads a talk in a packed bar in downtown Boulder.‘You have to stay real’

“When you’re teaching MBAs, sometimes there’s a dose of healthy skepticism—it’s not antagonistic, but it’s like, ‘How can I use this?,’ or ‘That isn’t my experience, why do you say that?’” he said. “You have to stay real. You can’t just present this abstract theory, you have to be able to connect the dots and bring it back to what’s practical and pragmatic.”

Just because MBAs are seeking practical skills for leadership doesn’t mean they don’t need to be reminded to bring perspective to their lives. Drake shared some of that during a meaningful, teachable moment at MBA Last Lecture, a Leeds tradition in which graduating MBA students enjoy a life lesson from one of their professors over drinks in a Boulder restaurant. 

In his talk, Drake mentioned wonder and confidence as two values he hoped the graduates would continue to harness throughout their lives. He shared the story of rushing with his son, then 2, to day care on a fall day.

“I was running a bit late and, rather than being in the moment, I was in that zone, thinking about teaching and what was ahead for my day, when I notice my son had suddenly stopped and was just staring at the sky,” Drake told the students. When he looked up to see what his son was watching, he saw brightly colored leaves dancing across the sky in a beam of sunlight. 

“Look at the world with the wonder of a toddler,” Drake said. “They go out into the world looking for what will amaze them. 

“When you look for wonder, you find it. Be in that moment, be present wherever you are. Curiosity does not have an expiration date.”

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