Further Reflections on the Impact of the Weekend Executive MBA

I provided an update earlier about how I balanced work, life and family while in the program and how it impacted me and facilitated a major career change after I graduated. Here are some additional reflections…

3 things I’ve learned in WEMBA that I’m applying in my job:

  1. Time management. It’s amazing how much you really can get done when it really is needed.
  2. Negotiation skills. I took the negotiation elective, and I can hear snippets from the class going through my mind every time I encounter a negotiation.
  3. Leadership skills. I learned a lot about leadership, and it has become much more ingrained.

3 things I’ve learned about teamwork during WEMBA:

  1. Teamwork during WEMBA is way better than most teams I’ve been on, since people are enthusiastic, and pull their weight.
  2. There is so much to learn from my other team members it’s amazing.
  3. Teamwork done right can make the job much faster, but done wrong it can make the task take forever… Figuring out how to achieve the former rather than the latter is an art-form, but do-able.

3 things I’ve learned about leadership during WEMBA:

  1. Leadership isn’t just a word, or a thing. It’s a state of mind, and of being.
  2. Management is not leadership.
  3. Leadership can take many forms, and some of the best are subtle, rather than in your face.

Favorite WEMBA class, and why:

  1. Leadership in the 5th Term: Getting to meet Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a highlight. I also liked seeing the before/after surveys. So much changed from the first leadership class in the first term.
  2. Negotiation: I learned a lot of great skills from this class, and have been continuously applying skills from it since.
  3. My Entrepreneurship and Innovation Concentration work with Jon Fjeld: I learned a lot, and put together the plan and idea for my concentration project with his guidance. It has turned into a successful business venture. So, I guess you can say I learned a lot.


Haley Gray

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Weekend Executive MBA, Class of 2012. Find out more about me...

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Sakai: Not as Scary as it Sounds

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most tech-savvy member of my WEMBA class. I showed up to my first class last June with my trusty Blackberry in hand, much to the amusement of my classmates. In fact, I find it ironic that I’m writing a blog, let alone one about Fuqua’s web platform, Sakai. However, while I had more of a learning curve than some of my classmates when acclimating to Sakai, I’m happy to report that after spending time navigating the platform I find it to be not only intuitive, but also critical to my success as a student.

If you’ve spoken with a WEMBA student lately, you’ve probably heard them mention Sakai. It serves as a portal to all things “Fuqua” and is particularly helpful in connecting WEMBA students given the large amount of time we spend away from campus.
Some key elements of the platform include:

  • Class Materials and Readings: Although hard copies of course materials are always distributed at the beginning of the term, they are also available for download off the Sakai platform. This is particularly helpful for those who frequently travel for business and may find themselves with a few unexpected hours to spare. For WEMBA students trying to utilize every spare minute, it’s a great benefit to have all materials at their fingertips. Also, many professors utilize Sakai to post additional readings or lecture notes.
  • Webex: You’ll be spending a lot of time with your teammates, both during the residencies and while working remotely. I’ve found the Webex portion of the platform to be a great tool for collaborating on team assignments and for furthering our discussions. Sakai connects my team, even though we are dispersed throughout the country.
  • Message Boards: Some of the most important lessons learned during the WEMBA program are from your classmates, and discussions don’t stop when you walk out the door on Saturday afternoon. The message board serves as an extension of the classroom and provides a great way for everyone (professors included) to share relevant articles and discuss related topics of interest.
  • Grades: Sakai also serves as an online gradebook and an easy way to make sure you are on track for a strong GPA. Constructive feedback is a key element of our professional development during the program, and Sakai also serves as a forum for your professors to return assignments with detailed commentary.

Today’s business environment requires professionals to balance technology and interpersonal relationships. The WEMBA program, with its face-to-face learning and virtual collaboration, further enabled by Sakai, is a true reflection of this reality.

Whether you’re an early adopter of the latest gadget or desperately clinging to your #2 pencil, I can attest that Sakai will help make your MBA experience a success. While I’ll never give up my trusty pencils, I did replace my Blackberry with an iPhone last month. At least ten classmates noticed and congratulated me. Now if only I could figure out how it will help me with exams. Is there an app for that?

Valerie Matena

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In the Weekend Executive MBA program, concentrations are optional. Two classes for the concentration are taken during the final, required term (Term 6), and then the remaining requirement of a final project is completed during an additional Term 7.

I think that it’s called a concentration for two reasons—the first is obvious—it involves a lot of concentration on a particular topic. The second reason is less explicit. You see, by the final required Term 6, we were ready to be done with the program. In fact, most of my cohort was done at the end of that term. But a few of us decided to continue onward. We watched as everyone else finished, and celebrated being done, while we soldiered on with what was to be an incredibly rewarding part of the MBA process. It took a lot of concentration to stay motivated and focused on the end goal—thus, the second meaning of the word “concentration.”

I chose a concentration in Entrepreneurship and Innovation. So, during Term 6 (the electives term), two of my four electives were classes related to the concentration. In addition, during Term 7, I completed a detailed project related to my concentration. The project was essentially putting together a business plan for a new business. This involved forming a team who would see the project through the planning stages and startup. I initially put together a team of colleagues from work, because I decided to tackle an opportunity with my employer. After several months, I decided to change focus to an idea that had been fermenting in the back of my head for quite some time. With that small seed, I started focusing on creating a home health agency that does things better than the current standards, and I recruited a couple of classmates to help me. I also recruited some other friends, one of my Girl Scout Co-Leaders, and one of my colleagues at work. Like any other project, we experienced churn on the team, and a lot of questions. There was some question about the vision, what we were doing, and why we were doing it. After all, why change the business model when it works so well for so many other companies? One of the most important questions was this: Is the idea viable?

For this project, we analyzed the exact costs for everything—labor, insurance, office space, licensing, and more. We had to figure out how many caregivers would be needed for every client, what the wage structure would look like, and what possible working hours might be—without any actual clients! Then we figured out how many clients it would take to begin to break even for the business. Through it all, we worked through the details. We called around, and located office space, priced out office equipment, and interviewed caregivers who currently work in the field. We talked to people in the industry and to payroll specialists. It turned out that some of the tools we were looking at developing already exist in the marketplace, for a reasonable cost, thus reducing the amount of development necessary to achieve the same result.

By the time I finished the requirements for my MBA concentration, my team realized that we had a great beginning. We had a list of items that still needed to be done before the business could be started. We have been following through with those items, and have been working on starting the business. Currently, we are a team of 5 people. We are recruiting caregivers who are passionate about their work, and we are working on bringing the business to life. We look forward to seeing where all this “concentration” takes us!

Haley Gray

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Weekend Executive MBA, Class of 2012. Find out more about me...

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Personal and Professional Lessons from my MBA

I believe there are definite advantages to being a Weekend Executive MBA student—from both a personal and professional perspective—and the program format encourages us to learn soft skills and hard skills. Some specific advantages and lessons that have impacted me are:

3 perks to being a Weekend Executive MBA student:

  1. Being able to learn from and apply lessons from classmates’ real-world experiences in various professions.
  2. I found that the only place and way to meet, interact and learn from the elite crowd in this universe is through networking at MBA schools like The Fuqua School of Business.
  3. I have the opportunity to learn from an MBA program that is equivalent to a full-time MBA, while still working—this is rare. Duke’s Weekend Executive MBA program is very special, and the courses are comparable to those in the full-time, Daytime MBA program.

3 things I learned about teamwork:

  1. Fully listen to teammates first and then analyze.
  2. Define the end goal and stay on track throughout the journey by properly prioritizing your tasks
  3. Deliver the best output collaboratively, as a whole team.

3 things I learned about leadership:

  1. There are different, definable, and established leadership styles. Each style includes different approaches that are based on research. I learned about the different styles and how to apply them in the real-world.
  2. Take short-term and long-term goal setting more seriously.
  3. There’s value in a personal development plan. Creating a personal development plan helped me to bring more value to my entire community, and my professional and personal life. With the plan, I learned how to achieve more in my life.

3 things I learned about professional development:

  1. I learned to enjoy the path, the journey, and not just the reward. The journey matters and helped me to grow as a person both professionally and personally.
  2. It’s important to ask questions. If you practice asking questions, and get good at it, you will bring an “Aladdin” factor to your job search. I realized this when I interacted with my career coach. Your coach can’t help you to find potential jobs unless you ask about the possibilities.
  3. Write thank you emails and notes. After any networking opportunity, informal or formal, sending a follow-up note can have a long lasting effect. This note needs to be very thoughtful, though.
Anir Bhattacharyya

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Free Lunch with a Side of Honest MBA Insight

Maybe it’s just me, but even though I’m a Director at a Fortune 50 company, I’m still a sucker for a free lunch. Based on that, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise that I attended 3 Duke Informational Lunches prior to my enrollment. And, now that I am in the Weekend Executive MBA program, I’ve attended 5 more of these lunches…and counting.

These lunch and learns are not required for MBA candidates to attend. However, in my opinion, these optional sessions are one of the most informative outlets for getting your initial personal and professional questions answered by students who have been in your exact position. If you’re on the fence about Duke and other schools, or if you want to know more about something you can’t find online, then this is the right forum for you. It’s also a great starting point before attending one of the more involved Open Houses.

At Informational Lunches, you have the unique opportunity to ask alumni (and/or current students like me) the questions that have been burning in your back pocket—maybe ones you don’t want to ask admissions directly. The open, casual environment of these lunches is designed to help you determine if Duke is the right fit. Since I’m on the other side of the table now, I don’t mind telling you that I’m always 100% honest in my answers to a candidate’s questions. If you say something that indicates that you may not be happy at Duke, well, I’m going to tell you that. Likewise, if you seem like the perfect fit and you can’t wait to bleed dark blue, I’ll let you know that as well!

I really enjoy talking to prospective students because I remember how daunting the entire MBA application process can be. The Informational Lunches were one of the biggest factors in my decision-making process and selection of Duke because it was the first time I was able to have candid conversations with real alumni. My expectations (which were somewhat jaded since I went to UNC for undergrad) of what Duke alumni would be like were surprisingly inaccurate. And since I am someone who needs to “see it to believe it,” that’s why I went to 3 lunches. They all had the same outcome—I discovered that Duke alumni are pretty cool. So, now that I am a Duke student, I decided to share that same experience with others by serving as an example and providing insight on the program.

Since it is sometimes hard to find answers that relate specifically to you, these lunches are the place to get those answers. For example, some of the most common questions I get are: How much time does the Duke MBA take weekly? What are your favorite classes? Why should I pick Duke over another top business school? How do I know if I am the right fit for Duke? Is the degree worth it? Which MBA program/format should I pick? …I can’t say I have all the answers for you, nor will any alumni have them all. I will say without a doubt that you will come out of an Informational Lunch with far more understanding of Duke than you had before you ordered off the menu! And, if you’re coming to one in the Raleigh area, you’ll have a pretty good chance of seeing me with a sweet tea!

Look for an Informational Lunch in your area on the Fuqua Admissions Events page. Lunch events are listed under the Information Sessions tab.

Matt Sumner

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Forming Your Professional Playbook: Advice from an Industry Leader

While most of us at Fuqua, myself included, have long ago given up on our dreams of playing professional sports, I have to admit that when I had the opportunity to hear from Elizabeth Lindsey, Co-President of the Consulting Division at Wasserman Media Group, a little bit of that competitive fire inside me was sparked again. Wasserman is an industry-specific firm that serves sports and entertainment clients. Listening to anecdotes of Ms. Lindsey’s role in major sports and entertainment marketing campaigns had me ready to jump on the field myself (or perhaps, being a former collegiate runner, I should say “jump on the track”). Although quick to declare that she was not a sports fan, Ms. Lindsey thought it only appropriate to pass on her leadership advice through a sports analogy, breaking down her thoughts into a four-part playbook:

executive speaker

Elizabeth Lindsey, Co-President of the Consulting Division at Wasserman, spoke at Fuqua recently.

1. Define the Playing Field

Showing up at a football game with a cricket bat isn’t going to do you any good. Nor will sitting in the student section of the opposing basketball team be particularly enjoyable. Coming to the table prepared and knowledgeable about the audience to whom you are speaking is a key to success in the business world as well. Specific to Ms. Lindsey’s field of expertise, sporting events present a rare opportunity in which consumers actually accept advertising and welcome brands into their life in support of a team. Capitalizing on one of the few live forms of entertainment that people still find engaging has been essential to her success.

2. Recruit the Best Team

A strong believer in passion-based marketing, Ms. Lindsey emphasized that success is all about the connections that you make with the people with whom you interact. In short, people do business with people they like, both externally and internally. A corporate culture of “one team” has been important to Ms. Lindsey’s career. Win or lose, no one wants to let his/her teammates down. A culture of perseverance, creative problem solving, and teamwork is essential in both work and life.

3. Come up with a Game Plan

Sports is a global passion with very localized content. You have to be there, in the crowd, to understand and feel it. Not only does media content vary between countries, but channels to market are rapidly changing in today’s world. Ms. Lindsey spoke from her personal experience working with various professional sports organizations and their different strategies regarding channels such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Importantly, Ms. Lindsey also pointed out that developing transferable skills is important as industries and professional opportunities rapidly change. For example, the ability to synthesize large amounts of information and translate it into concise, understandable writing can be applied to many different industries.

mba student

We had the opportunity to ask Ms. Lindsey specific questions about her experiences.

4. Find the End Zone

It doesn’t matter how fast you’re running a marathon if you’re going in the wrong direction. Aligning your team on the end target and focusing everyone’s efforts is important to success. To that point, your team often extends beyond the four walls of your office. As she put it, in a world of “competimates” (competitive teammates), negotiation is not a zero-sum game. Ms. Lindsey’s most successful negotiations have been based on honesty, with both parties understanding each other’s needs and challenges. Trust can take time to build, but is one of the foundations of professional success.

Sports fan or not, Ms. Lindsey has tackled many challenges in her career. Her advice spans beyond the sports and entertainment industry. While my background is in finance, something that many would consider worlds apart from marketing, the strategies that Ms. Lindsey outlined are applicable to my professional life on a daily basis. Not only do I plan on using her playbook, but she is also the kind of professional that I would want on my team.

Valerie Matena

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Finding Focus for What’s Important

My brilliant reality is that most of my food these days comes from a bag. The paper Starbucks sleeve that holds my breakfast sandwich, the tote of Chipotle for lunch, and the measly Steamfresh pouch of frozen mixed veggies that I often find myself heating for dinner. I used to love cooking and sharing meals with friends. These days I can barely keep myself in clean laundry. Such is the glamour of juggling an executive MBA program and a demanding full-time job.

I can’t say that managing everything has been easy. However, it is amazing how creative you can be with your time. Being at Duke has helped me prioritize what’s most important over those things that are less so, like cooking meals from scratch — I have to choose quicker options now. Some friends and causes have fallen to the wayside, too. For example, I used to love to volunteer for Special Olympics. I’ve had to put that on hold. Wednesday nights used to be spent listening to one of my favorite local bands, Wurlhitzer Prize. That too, had to be cut.

What I find myself doing more often is stealing away from study time to connect with friends and family. A Sunday coffee, a quick dinner or lunch. Those moments away from work and studying are like a refueling session. I am constantly reminding myself that this 1.5-year MBA journey is a marathon, not a sprint. So, taking a little time to grab a bite with my closest friends or sneaking away for an overnight with my sister are an important part of helping me go the distance and prevent burnout. Taking on something like the Weekend Executive MBA program means that sacrifices will be made. You just have to be good at figuring out where to trim the fat. While some social activities have been put on hold, all of them have not. I’ve simply become a lot better at prioritizing and focusing on what’s really important. I didn’t come to Duke seeking that clarity. I’d like to think they threw that in for free.

Nancy Zimmerman

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Nothing Stays the Same, Not Even in an MBA Program: Being Flexible & Trusting your Judgment are Keys to Success

If you are applying to business schools right now, you’ve probably written essays or spoken in interviews with some confidence about exactly why you want an MBA and what you plan to do with it. You also might have some idea of what you expect business school to be like and how you’re going to approach it. Whether you’re certain about your vision or not, the truth is that once you’re actually in school, it’s likely to change. Before you panic, let me assure you that this is okay, even expected. If business school doesn’t change you, doesn’t make you a better leader or a more inquisitive person, then what’s the point of the investment? After two full terms of experience, I can say that Fuqua’s Weekend Executive MBA program is optimally setup to drive that change.

In this program, you have the opportunity to enjoy some achievements, but you never have a stable environment for too long. For example, unlike some other MBA programs, you don’t stay with the same study team through the whole program. This gives you the opportunity (and the challenge) of bonding and working effectively with a new set of classmates during the second half of the program. The challenges of each term are also different from a content, workload, and complexity standpoint.

Getting Comfortable Outside of My Comfort Zone

Those of you who have attended Fuqua admissions events with current students or recent alumni may have heard about the infamous Term 2 (which ended for me in November). After Term 1’s two relatively qualitative courses, we are launched into a term with 3 mainly quantitative courses. It’s quite a big step up in terms of the volume and complexity of work, especially if math is a distant high school memory that was only recently dusted off for use in the GMAT, like it is for me. Of course, I had also heard all about Term 2 before I started the program, and I thought I was mentally prepared to take it on. What I didn’t anticipate was my emotional reaction to it once I got there.

Initially, all I could do was complain about how hard it was. The first few weeks were miserable for me, and I wondered what I had gotten myself into. But then, one of my teammates told me, “Michelle, if you keep focusing on how difficult it is, then it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, just do whatever you can do. Try your best, and let that be good enough.” I took his words to heart. Once I adjusted my attitude and started using the resources Fuqua provides, like my study team and the highly available professors, I started feeling and doing better.

When you’re in the thick of the term, it always feels as if everything is going way too fast. In the meantime, you still have your job, your family, and other commitments. Before starting at Fuqua, I had developed my list of priorities: school, job, family. However, I learned that this list has to be flexible, and the priorities will change constantly. The most critical thing I have learned is to trust my judgment on what is most important at any given moment. Sometimes I might decide that it is more important for me to relax with my husband than to catch up on my school reading or my work emails. This MBA program is more of a marathon than a sprint, which makes self-care key to avoiding burn out. I can tell you that I have never regretted making such decisions.

On the last day of classes for Term 2, the professors did a retrospective on all that we had learned. I realized that even as the time had zoomed by, I really had gained a lot of knowledge. My husband and friends observed that I act with more confidence in myself. I had also reached a comfort level with the rigorous Term 2 routine. But Fuqua doesn’t let you stay in this comfort zone for long. As I mentioned before, with Term 3 comes a new study team and a brand new set of challenges — my class just changed teams in mid-December. I’m still adjusting to some extent, but I know that with the tools I learned of maintaining an open perspective, being flexible, and trusting my judgment, I will meet these challenges and continue my growth throughout the rest of the program.

Michelle Vasu

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Weekend Executive MBA, Class of 2014. Find out more about me...

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Impact and Advantages of the Weekend Executive MBA

I’ve been reflecting on my MBA experience, and thought it might be time for an update on me and how the MBA impacted me — for one thing, I made a huge career change. Fuqua’s Weekend Executive program expanded my possibilities, and I think the program format offers some unique advantages that made it the right program for me, my busy life, and my goals. So, let’s cut to the chase …

5 fun facts about me and getting my MBA:

  1. I have four children, and they ranged in age from 4 to 14 while I was doing my MBA. I was in the Class of 2012. Read more about how the Weekend MBA format fit into my life as a working mom, or read about a typical day in my life as a student.
  2. I started my own blog, leadershipgirl.com, after getting addicted to blogging while at Duke. I also blog on my company’s website, theextensionofyou.com. I guess you could say I got hooked?
  3. My career totally changed after I completed my MBA at Duke. I was a supervisor at a large technology company at the beginning of my MBA, with desires for growing my career. I ended up completing a concentration in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and have since left my former employer to start my own company, Extension of You Home Care. In less than 3 months, we already had 10 employees, and are hiring like crazy because we are growing phenomenally. I’d say that you should believe it when alumni tell you that the Fuqua experience will totally change your world.
  4. I did my MBA while leading 2 Girl Scout Troops, and added a third at the end of Term 6. I’ve used a lot of the skills that I gained through the MBA to help the girls in my troop attain their leadership potential by mentoring them through their Girl Scout Silver and Gold Award Projects. These are the highest awards that a girl can earn at the Cadette (middle school) and Senior/Ambassador (high school) levels, and are a significant leadership award, representing many hours of pre-requisites, followed by a 50- or 80-hour community service project which addresses a problem, and the solution must be sustainable.
  5. My girls are mad about selling Girl Scout cookies. While I was completing my MBA concentration, my three troops of Girl Scouts sold almost 18,000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies. My two daughters sold 4,700 of those boxes in 2013, and 4,300 in 2012. (Here’s a previous blog post with more details.) I guess you can say that I’m achieving my goal of world domination of Girl Scout Cookies with some of the skills I acquired at Fuqua.

3 advantages of the Weekend Executive MBA:

  1. Easy scheduling — there are short bursts of school on weekends, with time in between to do homework, digest material, and work on other stuff before you go back to class. It allows for great work/life/school balance — read more about this.
  2. During the on-campus residencies, you can drop in on other Fuqua events, since the Weekend MBA classes are at Fuqua. This was priceless. Attending Fuqua Fridays was great fun.
  3. The quality of the cohort. I really enjoyed getting to know my classmates, who were all impressive, and I had a great time with them.
Haley Gray

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Final Set of Finals in the Weekend MBA Program

It’s been more than 2 months since I was last in Durham for the Super Term (read about it in my previous post), and now I am only a few days away from being done with my MBA (but who’s counting?). The last couple weeks were challenging, though.

The format of Super Term was different from our usual terms. Super Term included an extended distance learning portion that began on October 7, and ends December 16. During this time, I was busy with many group projects and exams, which I managed from home. To me, this last term was harder to manage than the normal terms where every other week we descended upon Durham for our weekend residencies. Without the semi-monthly residencies acting as checkpoints, I was required to “self-pace” the last 10 weeks of the Weekend MBA program. I really felt the pressure in the last 9 days, which I suppose is a reflection of my lackluster self-pacing skills. As I type this, my team is exchanging emails on our final project in negotiations class, my finance practice exams are staring me down from the corner of my desk, and my final project in entrepreneurial strategy is moving along towards completion. But after a year and a half of multi-tasking work, school, and family life, I am confident that I can handle these final days of the MBA program.

Best of luck to my classmates, as we wrap up this crazy ride that we’ve all been on. It’s bittersweet to close this chapter in our lives. I will enjoy having weekends free to … what did I do on weekends before the MBA program?? Well, I’m sure I’ll remember eventually. What a great experience it’s been, and I’m so grateful for ALL of the experiences. OK, now back to studying!

Meghann Wing

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