David Luna attributes his professional success as a U.S. diplomat, national security official, and now thriving business owner to ambition, good fortune, and perseverance. What he didn’t mention is his obvious intellect.

Luna was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, the son of Mexican-American parents who both lost their vision at an early age. Despite their disabilities, Luna says his parents worked hard and provided a comfortable life for their five sons. They also passed on their love of learning.

“From a young age, I loved learning about different places and cultures,” Luna says. “And although, as a child, my only travel was over the border and across Mexico, I was able to explore other places around the world through history books.”

An excellent student, Luna secured a scholarship to the prestigious University of Pennsylvania for his undergraduate degree. At first, he enrolled as a pre-med student, but, after taking anthropology and archaeology courses, realized he had a stronger passion for the history of cultures than organic chemistry, so he switched his major to pre-law.

During his senior year of college, he was accepted into law school at Catholic University but decided to take a gap year. He moved with his fiancée—now his wife of 27 years—to Pittsburgh, while she was in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh.

In Pittsburgh, Luna worked as a filing clerk at a car dealership, not earning much money—80 percent of their income went toward rent. That left little to spare for entertainment. He fondly remembers their splurges every Monday on “two pizzas for $5” at a local pizzeria. Despite limited resources, they enjoyed exploring Pittsburgh and what they considered the city’s European feel.

Throughout law school, Luna had a keen interest in international law. During his work at a law firm in Washington, D.C., the partners encouraged him to pursue a career in government.

Beginning His Career in Civil Service

“I was fascinated with making a difference in the world, politics, and geopolitical dynamics,” Luna says. “I couldn’t imagine myself in a law firm. I wanted to work, ultimately, at the State Department. So, after graduating from law school, I literally ‘papered’ Capitol Hill and landed a job, which was the beginning of my career in civil service.”

Luna’s first job after law school was as a clerk for the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, working on a special investigation into the high-profile and politically charged Whitewater land deal, involving President and Hilary Clinton during their time in Arkansas. Luna spent about a year working on the investigation. After it was complete and the findings were released, he was invited to work at the White House’s Office of the Counsel to the President on other related investigations. That role led to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for the President.

“The senators and an attorney I had worked with recommended me for the Assistant Counsel to the President, and that was by far the best title I ever had,” Luna says. “It was a high-profile job, and I learned much about how the U.S. interagency works. I met many influential people in Washington, and that network helped me finally land a job at the State Department.”

In President Clinton’s second term, Luna—who describes himself as a steward of national security and politically independent—worked at the Department of Labor as an advisor on Congressional matters. Following that role, he was hired as a special advisor in the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. He started to travel internationally and found time to earn an online master’s degree in Strategic Military Studies from the U.S. Army War College.

“I was working on Vice President Al Gore’s Anti-Corruption Initiative, so I had the opportunity to represent the United States at the United Nations and visited numerous countries,” Luna says. “The work was fascinating, and I was helping our partners fight corruption and safeguard integrity around the world.”

During his time at the State Department, Luna worked for four successive administrations on diplomacy and national security issues related to countering corruption, organized crime, illicit trade, and terrorism—including the first six months of the Trump presidency.

“It was an incredible 22-year career in government,” Luna says. “I was able to visit 65 countries and experience almost every region and several cultures. I learned to understand the values, customs, and traditions of so many other cultures and that, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye on global issues, it’s important to listen and work together.”

From a 22-Year Government Career to Starting His Own Consultancy

Luna left the government because he wanted to be his own boss and apply his expertise in a new way. In July 2017, he started his own global consultancy, Luna Global Networks & Convergence Strategies (LGN), working with a wide range of inter-governmental, business, and non-governmental organization clients, partnering on risk management, brand protection, and market governance matters. Yet, when he began, he realized he didn’t know much about running his own business, which led him to Harvard Business School Online.

“Even though I went to law school, I was also interested in studying business,” Luna says. “Suddenly, I found myself working with really innovative organizations, but, in some ways, I was competing with massive consultancies, like Deloitte and PwC. To create a market niche and anchor my business, I needed a strategic advantage and to learn business disciplines.”

He enrolled in HBS Online’s Disruptive Strategy course. He found that Professor Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation lessons were critical in helping him better understand the business world and craft winning strategies for clients’ “jobs to be done,” allowing LGN to differentiate from its competitors, big and small.

“HBS Online helped me understand how businesses compete and survive by being purpose-driven,” Luna says. “Disruptive Strategy, and the three other courses I’ve taken at HBS Online, have helped me become more dynamic in my business operations, add more value for my clients, harness innovation, and position LGN for new growth.”

New call-to-action

In addition to Disruptive Strategy, Luna took Sustainable Business Strategy, Global Business, and Mastering Growth, the latter of which is no longer offered through HBS Online.

“I looked at the top five business schools, and was drawn not just to the Harvard Business School brand, but also to the quality of their faculty—I wanted to learn from the best,” Luna says. “The faculty’s involvement separates HBS Online from the rest.”

HBS Online was an inflection point in LGN’s business. It opened a window of opportunity for Luna to assess the company’s viability and future after he left the government.

“Today, I am applying this new knowledge to continue to make a difference in the world, develop innovative strategies and technologies, and more vibrant partnerships toward collective action to solve some of today’s complex global challenges,” Luna says.

In addition to the faculty, Luna notes the case method style of teaching demonstrates how businesses grow—or sometimes don’t—through real-world examples like those related to Netflix and Blockbuster. He says other highlights of his HBS Online experience include the content and organization of the course syllabi, interactive features, quality videos, high-caliber global cohorts, and the on-campus Connext conference.

“The global cohorts were great,” Luna says. “There were people from around the world, many of them with tremendous experience in business and other sectors, and they all took it really seriously. The day on campus at Connext 2019 was tremendous. I got to meet some of the faculty, and it reinforced that the whole experience was real and of great value.”

If, like Luna, you’re transitioning your career and are interested in gaining or refining your business skills, explore the variety of courses offered by HBS Online.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.