The Power of the Duke Network

mba alumnus

Guest Blogger: Chad Harrell, Weekend Executive MBA ’07

MBA & Team Fuqua Enable Career Change

When I joined the Duke Weekend Executive MBA class in 2006, I was a United States Air Force fighter pilot and Director of Force Application Capabilities, working out of the Pentagon. I had a fantastic career, but with more than a decade in the service, I was ready for new challenges. And while the U.S. military prepares people in any number of ways, I knew that to make a transition into the business world, I would need both a new set of skills as well as an expanded network of contacts. For me, the MBA was the perfect degree, Duke was the perfect school, and the Weekend Executive program was the perfect format. Not only did the MBA program allow me to commute from D.C. for nearly 2 years, but it also gave me unlimited access to my classmates with real-world private sector experience.

At Fuqua, I focused on the real estate sector as a potential post-military career. While I was able to take one elective course in real estate capital markets at Fuqua, it was really as simple as the MBA degree giving me credibility and confidence to bridge the gap between flying in the military to breaking into private sector real estate development. I graduated in 2007, and with the help of the Duke network, I was able to transition from the Air Force to a job in London in the green real estate sector, during the middle of the worst global financial crisis in September 2008. I met fellow Duke alumnus, Chris Smith, then COO of the U.S. Green Building Council, during the MBA program and he offered to introduce me to his peers in the UK. He recommended me to the CEO of a commercial and residential real estate company with a commitment to sustainability and arranged for an informational interview. It’s safe to say “it isn’t what you know, but who you know” in this particular case, and that conversation with the CEO over a cup of tea led to a bright new “green” future for me in real estate development.

In May 2012, my family moved to North Carolina, I joined Lend Lease Americas in our Public Partnerships & Department of Defense business group. Lend Lease is one of the largest, fully integrated international commercial and residential property companies. As Director of Sustainability and Energy Solutions, my group develops and builds privatized military housing and hotels. In many ways, this role is the trifecta combination of my military background, entrepreneurial real estate experience, and passion for sustainability.

When we found ourselves in need of a finance manager at Lend Lease, I reached back out to my Fuqua network to advertise the position. Dan McCleary, Fuqua’s Regional Director for India, saw the advertisement and thought the job might be a good fit for a student who he knew. Through Dan, I was connected with second-year Daytime MBA student, Raghvendra Singh Bisht, who had been targeting the real estate sector. After speaking to Ragh, I encouraged him to apply for the job. His experience and talent were evident to my business unit and the hiring manager, and Ragh is now working for Lend Lease out of our Nashville office. He has had an immediate impact on our team, and I am delighted to have Ragh as my finance partner for a large scale renewable energy development project on our homes in Hawaii.

Being a part of the Fuqua network is invaluable to me because it helped me to change careers and get into my target industry, and I was happy to return the favor by helping another fellow Fuquan. Regardless of the year you graduate, or the Fuqua program you attend — Weekend Executive, Global Executive, Daytime, etc. — I think we all have a common bond and some shared experience of Team Fuqua, which makes cross-program networking just as valuable as networking with your own classmates. To me, the Fuqua network represents strong relationships, trust, and instant credibility, and I have a genuine interest in helping fellow alumni to succeed. As my career progressed, it was always important to me to remember not only what I could gain from Fuqua’s network, but also how I could contribute to it.

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