From Serve to Service: Showcasing Bright Croatian Talent in America

Total Croatia News

In Ashley Colburn’s column, “Successful Croats in America” she highlights Dino Bilankov, a Zagreb-born tennis star who took his talents to the University of Minnesota where he not only succeeded in the sport, but is now enrolled at Harvard Business School.  

Dino Bilankov has arguably seen more of the United States than most Americans after accepting a tennis scholarship to the University of Minnesota (UMN). The decision wasn’t easy for the 17-year-old boy from Zagreb when he had to decide whether to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional tennis player or to focus on education. Coming from a family of educators, Bilankov felt school was very important and decided to make the move to the United States, which led him on an unexpected journey.
“Coming to America was a big culture shock, both in negative and positive terms,” he said. 
While the tennis world may have seen the move as a sign that he was giving up his career in professional sports, Bilankov’s competitive spirit led him to make the most of his time half a world away from his home. His first semester was tougher than expected, but the treatment and support he received from his family, coaches, teammates, friends and mentors was an added bonus to playing for a team that was at one time ranked #14 in the country.
Since home was so far away, Bilankov regularly enjoyed spending weekends with a Croatian family living in Minneapolis. “The Krsnik’s made my life in Minneapolis so much more enjoyable. They became like a second family to me.” 
Blessed with talents on and off the court, Bilankov’s eagerness to succeed in business led him to an internship with RBC Capital Markets (RBC) in New York City, which later led to a job offer upon graduation.  His time at UMN allowed him to dream bigger than he ever thought possible, and he hasn’t stopped since. “I’m very grateful for my education and access to all sorts of resources to jump start my career,” said Bilankov. “At the University of Minnesota, I felt like a kid in a candy store.”
After his internship at RBC, he also found a passion working on campus as a peer career coach where he could offer advice and direction to students searching for the right professional path. “I think there is a lot of value in offering career advice to students. Too many people wait until they graduate to start thinking about jobs, and by then, it’s often too late to be able to land into a desired role. It hurts me when I see smart and capable people who are being held back professionally because nobody told them how the system works.”
While tennis is now just a hobby, accepting the UMN scholarship allowed Bilankov to find his love for business and communications, helping others, and he even found the love of his life (an American)!
“Today I believe—now more than ever—that you can achieve anything you want if you are willing to work hard for it.” These are some of the final words delivered by Bilankov at his graduation commencement speech from UMN in May 2011.  It is no wonder he was chosen to represent the Carlson School of Management for this speaking honor, as he is an inspiration to many.  
Upon graduation, Bilankov lived in New York working with RBC in investment banking for two years and then transitioned into private equity investing. This work experience was in part motivation to achieve another goal – to receive an MBA degree from Harvard Business School (HBS). “I used to have a triangle HBS flag in my room since my sophomore year in college and it was something I wanted to work for. I had seven years to position myself on how to get in.” said Bilankov.
Fast forward to the present, with one semester under his belt at HBS, Bilankov is more motivated than ever. “HBS is like a double-edged sword because I’m having the time of my life, but it’s also not real life. The school administration solves so many of our every-day problems that we will eventually have to solve.”
“I’m paying a lot of money to go to school, but I see it as an investment in my future – I don’t see it as an expense. Business school allows me to have the time to think and reflect about my life path. When I was working 80 hours a week in the office, I didn’t have the time to think about my future.”
Currently Bilankov is exploring his love for career coaching and advising students about their future professional paths. He created as a reference for those who would like to pursue a career in investment banking. Bilankov also serves as an Alumni board member for the Carlson School of Management (UMN’s business school) and continuously connects with students, helping them reach their full potential and get leads for job opportunities.
Bilankov has plans to go back to Croatia as much as he can in the coming years. “I miss it. I miss my family the most; it’s difficult because we are very close-knit. It’s a conscious tradeoff that I make for the opportunities that allow me to dream big. I have confidence that I can make a difference if I try hard enough.” He gives all the credit to his parents who kept him optimistic about the world and the opportunities that are out there waiting for those ready and willing to step up and take them.
Over the long run, Bilankov plans to position his life and career where he can spend most of his time in both Croatia and the US, but luckily he gets to surround himself with some amazing Croatian friends who are also based on the East Coast.
“The Croatians that I have met here are some of the most incredible people. We eat a lot of cevapi and bureks, drink medica, and love to talk about how to solve the world’s pressing problems,” said Bilankov. “I don’t think anyone has all the answers, but we need to continue to bring positivity to the world.”


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