BYU alumnus Jamie Dunn delivered an American studies alumni lecture, speaking about how his major helped form his career at Peak Capital.
PROVO, Utah (Nov. 10, 2016)—Deciding on a career is difficult. “My heart goes out to young people,” Jamie Dunn said to classroom of students. “It’s a hard thing to figure out what you want to do.” Dunn, founder and managing partner of Peak Capital, returned to BYU to explain how his American studies major helped get him on the path that turned into the career he now loves.
Dunn left high school knowing he would go to college but without any idea what he’d do afterwards. He spent some time attending a small liberal arts college in Lexington, Kentucky, running track and taking general education classes. It wasn’t until his time abroad – serving an LDS mission in Germany – that he began to put serious thought toward his future. “On the mission, you spend two years experiencing real life in a sense,” Dunn said. “You’re in people’s homes, you’re interacting with them.” It was during this time that Dunn first began to think that he would go into business.
Still, business is a broad concept. By the time Dunn returned home and transferred to BYU, he had yet to decide what a career in business would actually mean or how to get there. While reading about Jeffrey R. Holland, he learned that the LDS apostle had earned his Ph.D. from Yale in American studies; now curious, Dunn enrolled in an American studies introductory course. Dunn ended up loving the class and chose American studies as his undergraduate major.
The major was a perfect fit for his still unclear postgraduate plans. “Not only do consulting firms and investment banks not want you to major in business, they really like people that have a liberal arts background,” Dunn said. “It makes you more interesting. You’ve learned how to think about things in a different way. And they can take that interesting thought process and teach you how to do the job.”
As Dunn began applying for work, he found himself surrounded by applicants and being interviewed by people who had majored in business management; he was the only American studies major in the crowd. “Invariably,” he said, “that caught their eyes.” The major served as a talking point with interviewers, eager to discuss something they had never encountered before.
Dunn enjoyed his time working at Bain & Company, a consulting firm. However, he walked away having learned something about himself: he was not a very good employee. Once in business school at Wharton, he focused his studies on entrepreneurship, knowing that he would much rather work for himself in the future.
Today, Peak Capital is an investment company specializing in real estate. The company currently runs 20,000 apartments throughout the Mountain West and Southeast. Dunn credits his business training in his ability to recognize opportunities and manage the enterprise, and his humanities training with his ability to work successfully with the many people with whom he comes into contact. “People invest their money partly because they know it’s going to get a return and partly because they like the person who’s going to manage it,” he explained.
“I feel extremely blessed,” Dunn said. “I was fortunate enough to study things that . . . made me an individual with a broader perspective, . . . and then have been able to parlay that into career opportunities that fit my personality and desires.”
Career planning, he reemphasized, is difficult; in part, because there are no wrong answers. The key is to first learn about yourself – what you like and dislike and how you prefer to spend your time. “When you get to college, you’re mostly thinking about a job. And it certainly is important. But part of it should be about learning and studying things you’re interested in – being enriched and becoming a more whole person.”
—Samuel Wright (B.A. American Studies ’16)