The Oppy staff is proud to continue a feature called “Stern Somebody,” telling the stories of remarkable classmates and how they became the exceptional people they are today.
Josue Gonzalez is an MBA2, Bronze Star Recipient in the U.S. Army and small business owner. He’s also going to McKinsey in the fall after a successful summer associate internship. What an underachiever. Joking aside, Josue is among the most genuine and helpful people at Stern, with an easy laugh and quick sense of humor. I had the pleasure of first meeting Josue through consulting prep. Despite my clear lack of experience and comfort with casing, he patiently guided me along and helped me work on my frameworks. We soon became fast friends, and you will want to be friends with him too after you hear his story.
Hi Josue, thank you for talking to us today! Let’s start with the basics. Where are you from?
Deirdre, thank you for reaching out. I’m happy to share a bit of my background. I was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens, and later moved to Whitestone, Queens. I proudly consider myself a “Queens kid,” but never caught the accent. It’s funny, whenever I tell people outside of New York that I’m from Queens, they like to share that they’ve watched “King of Queens” and so they know the area.
I grew up in NYC too, and never realized that a Queens accent was a thing. You learn something new everyday, I guess. You went to West Point, so you must have clearly known that you wanted to join the Army from a young age. What helped guide that decision?
Unlike many of my West Point classmates, I never thought about attending until a mentor of mine brought up the idea my junior year of high school. I was in J.R.OT.C. at the time (yep, I was one of those kids), but my parents were fiercely opposed to me joining the military. It was 2008 and every time they watched the news it was a reminder that having a son in the U.S. military would likely mean he would get deployed to fight. The more I thought about a future in the military though, the more I realized it made sense for me. Being a kid in N.Y. when 9/11 happened really impacted me. In the midst of the destruction and pain there was also the best of America on display: communities of people helping each other, countless acts of selfless service and incredible resiliency. I wanted to grow-up and be part of a community that valued service to others and service to our country. The Army checked that box. The compromise I reached with my parents was that I would join the military after going to West Point. I bet they were secretly hoping I wouldn’t get accepted. It was the only school I applied to and, luckily, West Point was willing to take a gamble on me.
9/11 was one of the biggest tragedies we have witnessed as Americans in our generation. I am honored to know people like you who responded to that calamity by wanting to protect our country. Clearly, West Point worked out and then you had a very successful career in the Army. Can you tell us more about the journey?
After graduating from West Point, I was commissioned into the Army as an infantry officer and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I did all the usual things as an infantry officer: go to ranger school, become a pathfinder, lead a rifle and reconnaissance/sniper platoon, stumbled my way through being a company executive officer and was deployed to Afghanistan. Then, I decided to switch to a different branch and become a military intelligence (MI) officer. As an MI officer with the 101st Airborne Division, I was tasked with synchronizing different forms of intelligence to help my unit better understand and predict the actions of enemy forces. I deployed to Afghanistan again in 2016, this time as a battle captain. As a battle captain you basically live off an unhealthy amount of energy drinks in the attempt to keep tabs on everything involved in an operation. You’re almost like an operations manager, and when I was in Kandahar my job was to synchronize military operations for an area the size of New Jersey. I eventually became the task force intelligence officer for the Kandahar airfield. That position really tested me both personally and professionally. After I redeployed back to Fort Campbell, I became a company commander in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and led the Military Intelligence Company (MICO). I basically never left the 101st Airborne Division. My last assignment leading the MICO was one of the most rewarding experiences in my Army career. I could talk about that organization and the soldiers that made it what it was for hours.
You received not only one but two Bronze Star Medals during your time serving. For readers who don’t know what a Bronze Star Medal is, it is a military medal awarded for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone. Could you tell us more about that? Do you think those are your proudest moments to date?
I got my first Bronze Star while deployed to Parwan Province during my first deployment to Afghanistan in 2014. We were down a platoon leader, so I had to assume his role and continue serving as the second in charge (executive officer) for an infantry company of about 110 soldiers. Maintaining security in the area was our primary task, but we also spent a lot of time with the local communities trying to build rapport. It’s crazy to think about sometimes what we were tasked to do as twenty-somethings and the responsibilities I was called upon to assume at 23-years-old.
I received my second Bronze Star in recognition of my role as battle captain and task force intelligence officer during my second deployment to Afghanistan in 2016. In both positions, I helped coordinate operations for a joint multinational force.
When I reflect on my experiences in the Army, what I’m most proud of are the teams I was a part of. You become extremely close with some of the people you serve with. I had the privilege of working with some incredible people, and many of them played a part in me becoming who I am today.
You finished your active service in the Army in 2020. Was that so you could start Stern? What led to your decision to go to business school?
It certainly was not an easy decision for me to make after spending 12 years in the military as a West Point cadet then active duty officer. Ultimately, I left for three reasons: first, I was at a natural transition point in my military career that would make it easy to pivot into business school; second, I realized that I enjoyed leading small professional teams, something I wouldn’t be able to do for several more years had I stayed in the military; and finally, I wanted to return to NYC so that I could help set-up my parents for retirement. Having dabbled a little in business while serving, I knew an MBA from Stern would help reinforce the skills I picked up in the military with hard business skills.
What made you want to go the management consulting route?
As I was pivoting out of the military, I reflected on what I enjoyed the most about my time in the Army. What I found most engaging was leading small professional teams, solving complex problems and helping to drive strategic change within an organization. Management consulting came out as a frontrunner when researching jobs that had all those components. My internship this summer working with a phenomenal team at McKinsey confirmed for me that I had made the right choice.
Rumor has it that you own multiple small businesses… including a nail salon in Fort Lauderdale. Can you confirm or deny this, please?
First and foremost, thank you Henry Mumford (Stern Somebody, September issue ‘21) for spilling the tea on my not so well-kept secret. It’s true. When I was in the Army I began buying mostly residential properties to earn a bit of extra income. Then I decided to expand my investment portfolio. A friend of mine in Florida was managing, of all things, a nail salon. After looking at his margins and seeing how good he was at managing operations, I realized that together we could probably make a decent profit. I proposed a joint venture and after two years we not only still own the salon in Boca Raton, Florida but are opening a second one together in Delray Beach, Florida. Professor Galloway, if you’re reading this there’s a free pedicure waiting for you if you swing by our new Delray location.
I, too, will be expecting a free pedicure. What do you like to do for fun?
My first choice will always be to escape the city and go hiking or camping. A few months ago, I got to finally take my dad to the Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska for a two-week trip. If you’re looking for an adventure, I highly recommend checking it out. When I’m in New York and feeling nerdy, you’ll probably find me modeling interesting real estate properties. Otherwise, I’m at home practicing a little game theory with my 6 month-old nephew on who will break first – will the crying turn into self-soothing or will I just give in and give him attention. Spoiler alert: his strategy is always dominant.
Or you both start crying? I believe it’s called the Prisoner’s Dilemma. What are your long term goals?
Yeap, we both start crying. Of course, it starts with a successful career as a management consultant, but then I hope to pivot into the public/social sector. At the moment, what truly motivates me is tackling the housing crisis in the U.S.. I would also love to establish a social enterprise focused on building sustainable and waste-free houses for populations within and outside of the U.S. who cannot afford a home.
If there was one thing you’d want to tell other Sternies to impart wisdom, what would it be?
Oh boy, I have no wisdom to impart but, if I must, I would tell other Sternies not to forget that life is short and you must aggressively find ways to protect your time and have fun. Classes, recruiting, and other group events are important, but you have to make time for yourself. There’s always a way! During recruiting season last year, I spent some time living out of a camper van; if I could find WIFI in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma to attend a firm’s cocktail making class, you can find some time to decompress.
Thank you, Josue!
Josue Gonzalez, everyone: Army vet, Bronze Star Recipient, nail salon owner, MBA student, soon-to-be McKinsey associate, and infant game theorist.