David Dahlstrom B’10 remembers his Strategies presentation like it was yesterday.
“I remember I didn’t sleep the night before,” he said. “I remember how much time and effort we put into it and how many times we flip flopped on our strategy. And I remember the relief when it was completed, and the nap I took post presentation.”
In the required Strategies course, business students at Saint Mary’s are grouped together to work on a real-world scenario. After completing extensive research, they present to a team of business professionals, as well as faculty, in a boardroom. As in the real world, the questions are unrehearsed and unpredictable.
Now director of investor relations for Hormel Foods, Dahlstrom returns to his alma mater three times a year, twice a year to judge the Strategies competition. Today, he’s the one asking the tough questions. “It remains the most real life experience Saint Mary’s does,” he said. “I prepare presentations all the time. Rarely do you get to walk through a presentation beginning to end. Things get off track, and it becomes less about you presenting and more about answering questions. People can review slide decks on their own time. What they want are answers to their questions about risk and return. When I reflect back, it matches the real world 100 percent.”
Dahlstrom, who double majored in accounting and human resource management, also comes back to Saint Mary’s once a year to talk with students in a cost accounting class about Hormel Foods’ internship opportunities, which he knows first-hand can turn into a full-time position. Dahlstrom interned with Hormel Foods in 2009 before joining the company full time in 2010.
“A gentleman interned the summer before me. I was in this pipeline, and another five or six Saint Mary’s students have also interned, and five or six alumni have come on full time,” he said. “I’ve made it my personal mission to keep the pipeline strong. We’re talking about an accounting class of maybe 20 a year and I know there’s an opportunity for one or two of them to join a growing Fortune 500 company. That’s very important to me. That’s how I got here.
“I hope to continue that in the future. As long as I keep getting invited back to give my spiele; I speak about Hormel Foods, run through an example of a real-world cost accounting project, answer questions about the industry and my experience, and about certifications they may want to consider.”
As director of investor relations at Hormel Foods, Dahlstrom is responsible for building and strengthening relationships with the investor community; leading the preparation and presentation of quarterly earnings materials; the interaction with equity research analysts, investors and other third parties; communication of insight to executive management regarding company perception and peer performance; and the creation of the company’s annual report.
“I have had opportunities to have multiple jobs,” he said. “My current role is a mix of financial acumen and interpersonal skills. I enjoy the financial and business aspect, but I also like to talk to people and tell the Hormel Foods story. It’s a great match of interests and my skills.”
Dahlstrom admits he wasn’t sure what his career path would be when he enrolled at Saint Mary’s.
“Initially, I knew I wanted to continue playing baseball, and five minutes after stepping on campus, I knew this was where I wanted to be,” he said. “I figured I would study something business oriented, but I never considered accounting until I took my first class. It sparked a love for the financial world and numbers.”
He believes his accounting classes prepared him well for his career. “You have four years of learning theory, and the application is wide. I think Saint Mary’s did a fantastic job,” he said.
But, he adds, Saint Mary’s — as a whole — also instills in students personal accountability from day one.
“In the professional world, we are held accountable for our actions, our work, every day. At Saint Mary’s, you couldn’t miss a class without receiving a phone call or an email. There was no ability to just blend in. You had professors and coaches who cared about you, classmates who cared about you. If anything in your life became imbalanced, someone would reach out. From day 1, (baseball) coach Nick Whaley told us, ‘If you don’t go to class, I’m going to hear about it.’ You had to show up and participate and answer to someone if you didn’t. That four-year development is so helpful in the real world.”
It’s because of this real-world preparation that Dahlstrom says Saint Mary’s interns and alumni have historically done well at Hormel Foods and why he’ll continue to help students get a foot in the door.
“The school did so much for me. So in return, I need to give back,” he said. “Advocating on behalf of the current students and using my voice to say, ‘We can get really good people, people willing to work hard and be accountable, if you give me an opportunity to go down there.’ I’m advocating on behalf of (students) I don’t know personally but having gone to Saint Mary’s, and being married to someone who went to Saint Mary’s, I know who those people are, and they can do great things for the company.”