20 Under 40: Daren Dunkel

Daren Dunkel | 27

Education: Oklahoma State, SMU

When Daren Dunkel was in high school, he worked at a moving warehouse where he unloaded tractor trailers that sizzled inside at 120 degrees in the middle of the summer. On his last day of work, a front-line veteran told him to go and get his degree and graduate college because this wasn’t a job he wanted to do his entire life. “That really stuck with me,” the Preston Hollow resident said. In high school, he started studying cybersecurity – a topic you could barely research at the time – and was the first incoming student at Oklahoma State to ask the business school about their cybersecurity program. Today, he is the manager for the global strategy of McAfee’s commercial sales business unit and holds a seat on SMU’s cybersecurity advisory board. His continued efforts to excel in an industry that today has a 2 million-person job shortage allowed Darren to make McAfee’s President Club and be the only person in his Executive MBA class at SMU working for a cybersecurity company. “I am passionate about cybersecurity because it is so critical to everything we do, personally and professionally.”

Q: What is your favorite local store?
A: I really enjoy supporting local retailers. Everything from Lucky Dog Barkery in Preston Center to men’s attire at Mizzen + Main. I was raised in a family that had an appreciation for shopping local, and it is still very important to me.

Q: If you could, what advice would you have for your teenage self and why?
A: Be the hardest worker in the room and continue to stay true to my roots and ethics, and good things will continue to happen.

Did You Know?
I once won a Golden Ticket at work that allowed me to meet Ted Koppel and Ashton Kutcher.

Q: What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

A: My first job ever was in high school where I worked for a large logistics and corporate moving warehouse. My job was to load and unload 18 wheelers all day in the middle of summer. It taught me the value of hard work and finishing the job. Mondays were the long day and were always a 10-12 hour day and you did not get to go home until all the 18 wheelers were unloaded/ loaded. It was a very physically demanding job, the inside of the trucks could get up to 120 degrees in mid-summer. At the end of my job, I was ready to get back to Stillwater for my second year of school. On my last day, one of the front line workers, (who had been working in the warehouse for 30 years) pulled me aside and said “I never want to see you back in this warehouse. Go get your degree and graduate with a great job. You don’t want to do this work for the rest of your life.” That really stuck with me.

Q: Where do you see yourself and/or your career 10 years from now?

A: In 10 years I hope to be leading a global team in the cybersecurity industry. I am passionate about cybersecurity because it is so critical to everything we do, personally and professionally. As 5G becomes a reality and everyone in the world continues to have more and more access to data, we have to ensure it is secure. I will graduate in May of 2020 with my executive MBA from SMU and plan to put to use a lot of the great things I have learned in that program. In 10 years I hope to be in a position to have a positive impact on people’s lives and to make a meaningful difference in the business world.

Q: What was your “lightbulb moment” that lead you to your career?

A: In high school, I had started to study cybersecurity. It took me more time to try and find articles about anything related to cybersecurity then it would to read the articles. I had a google alert set up (still do) on “cybersecurity” and it would come back with a weeks worth of searches and have 4-5 articles. When I went to look at colleges with my parents and we toured Oklahoma State, we sat with the professor who oversaw their cybersecurity program, he told us at the time that I was the first incoming student to ever ask about the cybersecurity program – no one had ever reached out prior. That was the light bulb moment, that if I can get in front of this and really focus on cyber and continue to learn on a daily basis I would be positioned very well in what was at the time (2009) a very tough job market. Fast forward to 2019 and everyone is talking cyber, it’s on the news almost daily, boards are hiring for cyber talent and the industry as a whole has a 2 million person job shortage. I am the only person in my Executive MBA class working for a cybersecurity company.

Q: Which leadership skills were the most challenging for you to develop and why?

A: As an undergraduate at Oklahoma State I would procrastinate on projects or reports and wait until the last minute, then get the project done or study for a test the night before. I always ended up with high scores on projects and tests. I never really had to adjust and study or prepare early. When I started at McAfee in an entry level sales role I continued with this habit. For the sales role itself, there was not a lot of actual deadlines. It was a sales role, so I had a fairly set schedule of calls and a pretty defined day-to-day. I didn’t have many projects or things that required a great deal of pre-work. When I transitioned to the chief of staff role, I learned quickly that waiting until the night before would not cut it. I had one presentation that my boss was not happy I had waited until the night before to finish. I didn’t make that mistake again. When I started graduate school at SMU, I learned very quickly that to balance work and school I would have to get very diligent about time management and I could not procrastinate on projects or studying. Understanding the importance of time management and really being prepared for a meeting or project was something I learned the hard way at first but has been very beneficial to understand early in my career. I am still not perfect, but much better than I was at OSU.

Q: What do you love about the Park Cities or Preston Hollow community and why?

A: I have only lived in Preston Hollow for a year, but I’ve noticed that the culture in the community is very unique. Everyone seems to have a certain degree of ambition and drive to succeed in business and their lives outside of work.

Q: Where is the best place in the Park Cities or Preston Hollow for a power lunch – what do you order?

A: Mimi’s pizza, for a number of reasons 1. It’s authentic and family operated 2. You get a good mix of personal and professional people at any given meal 3. I love pizza. I order the 2 slice lunch special.

Q: If there was ONE thing that you could change or improve in the community, what would it be?

A: I think there are lots of opportunities for families with children to get involved in the community, but less for 20/30-something adults without kids to get involved and build out their network within the community. I think having some form of Young Professionals board that is connected to Preston Hollow or Park Cities Chamber would encourage more people to get involved and ingrained in the community before having kids.

Q: If you could buy a book (or rent a movie) for your neighbor, what would it be and why?

A: “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi. I stumbled across this book when it was recommended by Bill Gates on LinkedIn. It’s one of those books that just sticks with you for a long time. I won’t spoil it, but I have recommended it to numerous people.

Q: If someone made a movie of your life, what would the title be and who would play you?

A: “The connector” Larry David

Q: If we looked at your social media accounts, what would we learn about you?

A: I am passionate about cybersecurity, Oklahoma State, College football and Dallas Stars hockey. Especially lately you would see a lot more on my twitter about the Stars. I think you would find I really enjoy being around friends and family, I am someone who enjoys continuously learning, and I love sports. I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend, who lives in Uptown, and we enjoy eating out, going to concerts and taking in all Dallas has to offer. We just saw “Hamilton,” which far exceeded all expectations for me!

Q: What, to date, has been your most impressive or rewarding accomplishment in both your professional and personal life?

A: The most awarding accomplishment for me was in college when my fraternity (SAE) won the Zeal award. SAE is one of the largest fraternities in the world and has been around since 1856. The Zeal is given to the top SAE chapter in the nation. My junior year I was president of the house and we set out the summer before school started with the goal of winning the Zeal. Getting a house of 140 college men to rally around a single goal and keep them motivated for a full year to do the necessary things to win the award was not easy. We had a great executive council team, a very strong alumni base, and at the end of the day took home the Zeal in unanimous fashion. It was extremely rewarding to be a part of that. As a part of the process, I was very fortunate to win the “true gentleman of the year” which recognizes the top undergraduates in the nation. There are more than 14,000 current SAE undergrads. this was the first time in the fraternity’s history they had awarded the top individual and group award to the same chapter.

A second rewarding personal accomplishment was being voted captain of my high school football team and also winning the leadership award for the team. These were voted on by my peers and really still mean a lot to this day.

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