New Ventures 101: Entrepreneurship is About Taking a Risk

It has been 9 months since I submitted a final paper for my entrepreneurship concentration. Since then, I have scratched out the beginnings of a new venture. The initial team included Daytime MBA ’14 Manav Tandon, fellow Weekend Executive MBA student Ashwin Manekar, and Duke Law School student Beau Epperly. Of the initial 4, Beau and I were the only ones to tackle this venture full-time. We formed a corporation, All9s, designed our first product, completed an accelerator program (i.e., Groundworklabs), hired our first employees, and built a proof of concept.

The transition from employee at a large corporation to founder at a struggling new venture has seemed perilous at times. I do not think I would have ventured this far without the knowledge I gained from the entrepreneurship classes that were a part of my MBA concentration. There were a couple of key points shared by Professor Jon Fjeld during one of the entrepreneurship workshops, which still resonate with me.

  1. You will be poor – We are still searching for our first paying customer. Investors do not fund companies until they have customers and a product. It is up to me to figure out how to get that to happen without outside funding.
  2. There is never a good time to start a company – I am surprised and disappointed by the number of people I meet who desperately want to start a company, but only after the company has customers, a product and funding. If that describes you, you do not want to start a company — you want to be an employee.

Entrepreneurship is about taking risk. The professors and advisors you meet at Fuqua will help you turn this into a calculated risk; however, nobody will eliminate that risk for you. Eliminating that risk and building a successful company is what it means to be founder.

Going through the entrepreneurship concentration gave me the courage to walk away from a lucrative job without knowing what to expect. For me it is still early in the company building process, and there are still no guarantees about how this will turn out. Having said that, the past few months have been thrilling, and I have never felt more alive.

If you want to learn more about what we are doing at All9s, feel free to drop me a note at arturo.fagundo@fuqua.duke.edu.

Arturo Fagundo

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Fuqua MBA Admissions Counselors are Here to Help

admissions counselor

Blogger: Andy Medlin, Weekend Executive MBA Admissions Counselor.

Hello from Admissions!

As the Weekend Executive MBA Admissions Counselor, I assist prospective students through the stages of their research and application process. At Fuqua we take an individual and personalized approach to the admissions process for the MBA programs that are for working professionals, including the Weekend Executive MBA. As a result, I work with interested candidates before they submit their application to answer questions about the program, assess their candidacy and provide feedback on how their applications may be strengthened.

Why do we do this? Participating in one of our MBA programs is a tremendous commitment of your time and resources, and involves the participation of your employer and others close to you. Even the application process itself is very time consuming. We want you to go into this process well informed about our school and the Weekend MBA program in particular.

Since I joined Fuqua’s Admissions Department in 2011, I’ve had the pleasure of counseling hundreds of working professionals as they try to find an MBA program that is a good fit for them. These individuals are from a variety of backgrounds, ages, and careers. Everyone has unique questions, however some of the most common are:

  • Do I have the type of work experience that you look for in a candidate?
  • Is my academic profile competitive, and how can I better prepare for the academic requirements of the program?
  • How rigorous is the program and what are the time commitments outside of the classroom?
  • Are there others with a similar background that have gone through the program or are currently enrolled?
  • Do you have any tips on how I could best present myself through the various pieces of the application?

To help answer these questions, I strongly encourage you to reach out to me early in your research process. Emailing me at weekend-mba-info@fuqua.duke.edu is usually the best way to start, and then we can schedule a time to chat over the phone or in person. It’s always helpful if I have your resume for these conversations so that I can better understand your background and professional experience.

I also encourage you to attend the various events that we host for prospective students who are interested in learning about our MBA programs for working professionals. Events include informational luncheons and meet and greets that are held around the world, and open houses here in Durham. The events are hosted by my teammates in our Office of Admissions, so you’ll be able to have your questions answered face-to-face. At the luncheons and open houses you’ll also get to meet alumni and/or currents students to ask them questions and gain insight into the student experience. It is my pleasure to help you to navigate the admissions process, and I look forward to working with you.

Admissions

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A Super Term

As part of the Weekend Executive MBA Class of 2013, my classmates and I are used to a 36-hour whirlwind that happens every other weekend where we: arrive, take a full day of classes, complete assignments, drink beer, crash, and wake up and do it all again the next day before heading back to our “normal” lives. So as we arrived on campus for Term 6, also known as Super Term, a two-week intensive residency where we are combined with the Cross Continent MBA class, we knew it would take some getting used to, as compared to our usual program format.

mba students mingling

Super Term provides a lot of opportunities to network with Cross Continent MBA students.

Just like our normal weekend residencies, Super Term has been packed full of guest speakers, team building events, dinners, happy hours, and a LOT of classroom time. The great part about this term is that we’re only taking elective classes. Since we are paired up with the Cross Continent students, there are many courses to choose from! In fact, some students couldn’t contain their excitement to their 4 allotted classes and have elected to audit a fifth (not this girl though – 4 is plenty for me!). The electives include managerial decision making, corporate restructuring, entrepreneurial strategy, negotiation, and everything in between. The variety really allows us to branch out and enroll in courses that pique our interest, or for many, to satisfy the early requirements toward completing a concentration.

We just started week two of Super Term. A lot of us “weekenders” are still getting used to 6 days of back-to-back classes, but we are also really enjoying the elective term and the chance to spend more time immersed in school. It’s hard to believe that this is our last trip to Durham and that when we pack up on Friday and enjoy our celebratory dinner, it will be the last time we see one another before graduation. But don’t let me get ahead of myself. Before graduation, and even before Friday, I still have a lot of work to get through!

Meghann Wing

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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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The Fuqua Kind of Friday

I am no stranger to Fridays! After a grueling week, most people I know like to kick back and relax; some may even crack a smile. But this was different — never had I seen such a large gathering of smiling people. And it seemed like their smiles got wider as I got closer to them! I was at the Fox Center, and it was Fuqua Friday — a weekly social event for the whole Fuqua community. This was the last item on the Fuqua Open House agenda, and it was a perfect end to a spectacular day.

The Open House was held on the last Friday of November 2012, just weeks before the world was scheduled to end as per the Mayan calendar — or so some predicted. The crowd at Fuqua Friday was electric, and those within talking distance made an effort to spark a conversation — “Are you enjoying your visit?” and “Hi! How was your interview?!” were a few of the friendly questions I received. How on earth did they know that I wasn’t (yet) part of Team Fuqua? Well, it may have been the standard-issued giant-size visitor name tag; but I think they would’ve known regardless. I had lost sight of the group of prospective students with whom I had ventured into the Fox Center. After a quick attempt to find the somewhat familiar faces, I decided to head home but was met by yet another smiling member of Team Fuqua.

“You’re not leaving, are you?! Want to grab some ice cream?” Couldn’t really say no to that!

Ice cream in hand, we walked around the Fox Center, explored the messages posted on the student club bulletin boards, browsed through the flags hanging in the hallway, stopped by the bust of J.B. Fuqua to read the plaque, and also practiced pronouncing “Few-qua.” The hour-long personal tour was priceless, and the conversation, insightful. It was evident that Fuqua had a very competitive environment, and that the school’s MBA program would push me outside my comfort zone — way out. But as the day unfolded, I realized that the school had an entire community that encouraged personal and professional development.

Besides attending this particular Open House, I participated in several Daytime and Executive MBA admissions events at Duke, and during my visits, each encounter I had — with students, alumni, faculty and staff — drew me closer to Fuqua’s warm and close-knit community. There was visible poise in the manner in which members of Team Fuqua carried themselves; conversations never revolved around their accomplishments — which were incredibly impressive — but rather around my interest in joining their community. Perhaps the most important conversation I had was with the Weekend Executive program’s admissions counselor, Andy Medlin, who reviewed my profile and helped me uncover my own strengths and accomplishments. After receiving a vote of confidence from an army of supportive people, I submitted my MBA application.

Several Fridays later —

Having submitted the application, and completed the admissions interview, I eagerly awaited the decision; my “anxietment” (anxiety + excitement) was probably at an all-time high. I refreshed the online admissions portal every few hours to check the status of my application. I frequently glanced at my cell phone to make sure it was fully charged and had good network connectivity — just in case.

On Friday, April 19, at 11:07 a.m., my cellphone lit up, and sent tiny tremors across the desk — “Hi, Sayeed! I am calling to …”— a megawatt smile stretched across my face, as I accepted the invitation to join Team Fuqua.

Sayeed Mahmood

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Creature Comforts of Being a Student Again

So the free Fuqua bag is awesome. I’m not kidding, I don’t typically like anyone buying anything for me because I am rather selective in my tastes, but this bag is almost worth the cost of tuition. It’s just another one of the things that make coming to class at Duke every other weekend enjoyable.

MBA students at lunch

Harshad and I debate whether the food is better here or at home.

Besides class — of course — I’d have to say the best parts of my weekends are the modest, yet agreeable accommodations at the R. David Thomas Center. This isn’t a mom & pop operation, nor is it a dreaded white-walled dorm; it’s a full-scale mini-hotel complete with bar, delicious buffet, and the service you would expect as a seasoned professional on a business trip. So what do I like most about it?

  1. I get my own room.
  2. I get my own bathroom.
  3. I get unlimited food.
  4. You wouldn’t believe how well you sleep after a day of classes in your own room, with your own bathroom and a belly full of unlimited food!

So that brings up a good point, food. I’m sure you remember your undergrad dining halls which were likely good, but you still couldn’t wait to get some real ‘bought food.’ As time goes by and I become more and more of a businessman I find it interesting how that mindset flips to longing for a bite of wonderful, endless, free buffet! Besides the amazing home-made potato chips (with just a little bit of chewy-yumminess) and various breakfast items, I can’t recall seeing the same menu item in over 20 meals. Sure, not everything is for everyone (except maybe soft-serve ice cream with crumbled Heath bars, fudge, and some chocolate chips), but there is plenty to choose from at every meal including a full line of vegetarian and specialty diet items. And then, of course there are the two break rooms at the ends of the halls on every floor, which are also full of goodies. I couldn’t make this stuff up. It is like a food dreamland. Ice cream bars and Ben & Jerry’s cups in every freezer, juice and soda and energy drinks in every refrigerator. And of course for the more discerning eaters, there are healthy brain snacks like granola bars, trail mix and milk, too.

snack foods

I’ll take the Chocolate-covered Espresso Beans, please!

The last thing I have to mention is the chocolate-covered espresso beans. These little dark caffeine-laden pellets of heavenly bliss can be found in the bottomless stainless steel jars in the Fuqua break room between classes. Usually when you are looking at the clock waiting for a 15-minute break it’s because you are exhausted and need a rest. Not here. We all stampede up the stairs (professors included!) and fill our little plastic dishes with gourmet jelly beans, yogurt-covered raisins, gummy bears … and our cups with coffee, tea, Gatorade … and of course what break room would be complete without some kind of hot finger-food? Yep, they got that, too.

So the moral of the story is: sure, it may cost a little bit more to go to Duke, but like with everything else in life you get what you pay for. In this specific instance, I have to say without a shadow of a doubt, it is worth every penny (the education of course). Seriously, the comfortable and convenient accommodations, the great customer service, and the bountiful sustenance makes being an MBA student a little less stressful and makes me feel as well cared for as I do at home.

Matt Sumner

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“Team Fuqua” is Not Just a Slogan

As a prospective student, I was very aware of the tension inherent in the relationship between prospective students and their prospective schools. Just like with job interviewing or dating, each party is trying to evaluate the other. In some sense, I found this comforting. The schools I was researching needed to market themselves to me just as much as I needed to market myself to them. Every business school has developed its brand or unique identity and tries to communicate that to students through marketing materials, open houses, alumni events, etc. So, when I first heard about “Team Fuqua,” I interpreted it as mainly a marketing differentiator. Not that I didn’t believe the principles of Team Fuqua had been implemented in some form, but I imagined it to be limited in scope. I thought Team Fuqua just referenced your class and the faculty, perhaps also the program staff, being generally collaborative most of the time.

However, the more I’ve been exposed to the program, the more I’ve come to see that “Team Fuqua” is not just a slogan. It is a deeply held value that is shared by everyone connected with the school. My first Team Fuqua experience came at an open house I attended as a prospective student. At lunch, I discussed my interest in the Health Sector Management program with a current student, and he offered to introduce me to classmates pursuing the certificate. Lunch ended, he had to rush to class, and it didn’t happen. No big deal to me. The following week, I got an email from Weekend Executive MBA Admissions Counselor Andy Medlin, saying that a student had contacted him and asked him to connect me with the HSM students in his class. I didn’t connect this with Team Fuqua at the time. I just thought, “Wow, that guy was really nice.” It was just the first of many experiences where people have gone out of their way for me, because they care about representing the school well.

“Team Fuqua” is a Family

The amazing thing is that this value pervades the whole Fuqua support community. When I checked in for my first residency, the Thomas Center front desk clerk said, “Congratulations on joining the MBA program! What a great accomplishment!” While I had drinks with classmates at the Thomas Center’s bar, the bartender wanted to know all of our names. No, not because he needed to report us to campus security. He simply wanted to get to know us. Then, an alumni panelist at an HSM event spent half an hour chatting with me after the event, and emphasized that he was happy to keep in touch and answer further questions.

The program staff is also a visible part of our weekends, and they are quite engaged. Our program manager, Keith O’Hare, is always available. He and the other staff eat lunch in the same dining room as we do, so it’s easy to stop by and speak with them. Their high level of engagement is also clear. At a recent guest speaker event, I saw Keith sitting near the front and noticed that he wasn’t just assisting with event logistics; he was taking his own notes on the speaker’s comments.

Though I was impressed, I still didn’t quite understand why people at Fuqua go to such great lengths to be friendly and helpful. The answer came as I was checking out of the Thomas Center one Sunday. The desk clerk said, “Oh, so you’re one of our new students! I’m trying to learn everyone’s names and faces.” I told her how welcomed I’d felt by everyone and how I really appreciated their efforts. She smiled and paused a moment, searching for the right words to express her thoughts. “You’re part of our family,” she said, “We want you to succeed and we want to do whatever we can to help you.” No marketing flyer could sum it up better than that.

Michelle Vasu

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Ready for China

July 2nd has been circled on my calendar for quite some time. Why you ask? Not because it is the day after my last day of finals for Term 4, but it’s because I will be off to China for my GATE program (Global Academic Travel Experience) for 12 days. I always wanted to study abroad during undergrad, but “things” always got in the way, and to this day I have regretted it. It seemed this time was no different as “things” — Term 4 finals, Term 5 preparation, and taking time away from work and family — were determined to get in the way. Fortunately, I planned ahead, getting the time off from work, promising my wife a future vacation, and developing my study plan prior to finals week. One thing I have learned over the past year is the importance of prioritization, and that trying to do everything is impossible.

So why is traveling to China important to me? Well, for one thing I have never visited the country. And through all the business cases that we’ve studies, involving businesses in China, I want to see first-hand what business is like there. One of the exciting aspects of the GATE program is you get to visit corporations and listen to business leaders share their experiences. The program includes corporate visits to startup Yek Mobile and to established corporations — Baidu and John Deere — to name a few.

After a year of having business case after business case and applying the principles, I have learned how important it is to understand globalization and international business. Many Chinese-based companies are either investing in or buying American companies. While working at IBM, I experienced and witnessed the corporate restructuring when Lenovo purchased the PC division from IBM. Now, with my MBA experience, I have a different lens through which to understand the process. It is evident that to be a business leader today, you are more likely than not to create partnerships with other businesses that operate internationally. You must understand the consumer cultures when doing business globally. Chinese businesses are influencing America more and more each day, and it’s important to understand their culture so in the future we can work together effectively.

The aspect of the trip I am most excited about is getting to experience it with my fellow classmates. After a year of sweating deadlines, stressing exams, and celebrating milestones, we will experience this program as a group. Listening to past alumni talk about their GATE experiences, I heard the excitement in their voices, even three years later. The group they traveled with and the bonds they formed left a lasting impression on them, and I hope to experience that as well.

There are only a couple short weeks to go, with the stress of finals hanging over my head. It is going to be hard to concentrate on finals, because I’m so excited to head to China with my classmates. You will be sure to hear of my experience upon my return.

Jay Patel

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Weekend Executive MBA, Class of 2013. Find out more about me...

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My MBA Becomes Real

On the night before the first day of orientation, after frantically packing half my closet into a suitcase and driving for three and a half hours through the rain from Charlottesville, Virginia, I found it impossible to sleep. Since I was admitted to Fuqua in November 2012, I’ve had plenty of time to anticipate this week. So much time, in fact, that the idea of actually starting the program seemed less and less real. Now that I was lying in my bed at the Thomas Center, I had the same feeling in my stomach that people have on a roller coaster when it pauses at the top of the first climb. You are all strapped in, about to drop 200 feet into your new adventure, and there’s no way to stop and get off. You just have to hang on and go with it.

At 34, I never expected I would decide to go to graduate school. I probably would not have done it if it weren’t for my husband, who started his own executive MBA program at another school last year. He convinced me that earning an MBA would have a significant impact on my career, as a result of both the academics and networking with classmates. Since I am committed to a career in the healthcare industry, it was important to me to find a program with a strong healthcare concentration available. After learning of Duke’s Health Sector Management (HSM) certificate and speaking with program director Cindy Seymour, I knew it was right for me. The timing also could not be better. With no kids (or pets or plants … except for a very resilient and often neglected lucky bamboo), I have space in my life for the program. My husband going to school at the same time is also an advantage; we both understand the challenges we are facing and can support one another.

What if No One Likes Me?

At the first MBA breakfast, I could see that everyone else was just as nervous as I was. Although we are all adults, the atmosphere reminded me of the first day of elementary school. Everyone seemed to wonder, “Will anyone want to sit with me? What if no one likes me?” The Thomas Center’s tables are set up perfectly to resolve this situation. Each table is round and has 8 or 10 seats, and there aren’t enough tables for everyone to spread out. You just have to find an available seat and jump into the conversation, which oddly seems to make it all easier.

As orientation week continued, I found myself becoming more open to getting to know my classmates and approaching people I hadn’t met. “Networking” is a term that has often intimidated me, since I tend to be a bit shy in group settings. But in this case, the orientation activities and structure, combined with my own desire to commit to the program, helped me overcome my hesitation.

The week is filled with tons of information packed into a short time, but the Weekend Executive MBA support staff constantly remind you that they are there to guide you. When we finally got into our first classes, I knew I had made the right decision in joining Fuqua. Everyone was buzzing with excitement, ready to show their knowledge and their pre-reading preparation, which led to very lively class discussions. I thought to myself, “This is really what we are here to do.”

As the week wrapped up on Saturday afternoon, I felt a little sad to leave and disappointed that it was not possible to say “bye” to everyone I had met. Many other people must have felt the same, because my LinkedIn account is very active with connection requests from all of my newfound friends. I can’t wait to come back for our next residency and pick up where we left off.

Hang on, WEMBA ‘14, it’s going to be quite a ride!

Michelle Vasu

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First MBA Encounter is Better than Expected

I’m not your typical MBA student. I’m a marketer, a communicator, a feeler, a rebellious leader and an entrepreneur. I definitely don’t have a background in finance, accounting, logistics, operations or anything else fundamentally quantitative in nature. As a professional, I typically don’t stop to analyze things before I jump in … usually head first. You can probably understand my concern around the first week of residency at Fuqua, which was from June 3 – 8, knowing that I would be lined up side-by-side with some of the country’s greatest minds. I won’t lie; at first it was a little daunting.

weekend executive mba team

Getting to know my new teammates while exploring campus.

“Hi, I’m Matt.”

“Hi, I’m Joe.”

“Hi Joe, I’m an Entrepreneur.”

“Oh, I’m a neurosurgeon. I also hold a master’s in accounting and have three bachelor’s degrees, four Pulitzers, seven Nobel Prizes (all in different categories) and own a small country in the Pacific.”

Ok, so, it wasn’t that bad, but Duke definitely pulls some brass. Doctors, engineers, product managers, finance primes and even some C-levels — all in the same room as me. Had this not been school, I would have been pitching some land deals or trying to raise money for another venture. But these people were not my bosses or my subordinates, they were my peers, my classmates, my soon to be brothers-in-arms, and each and every one of them was just as worried about class as I was! What a relief.

weekend executive mba students

Visiting the iconic Duke Chapel during orientation week.

Clicking with my Classmates

The thing is, being in an executive MBA program at Duke really isn’t what I thought it would be. I expected a fight-to-the-death general population mentality where we’d duel with ancient pistols or epees or have it out in an intellectual cage-match. Much to my relief, I was very wrong. Everyone in class was attentive and considerate, but also clearly gifted and determined. They would prove to have depth, unlike most of the people I come across in day-to-day life, and they really were not out to leave me in their wake, or my ideas and goals in a pile of ashes.

I was assigned my Term 1 & 2 teammates and given time to get to know them. A doctor, a product manager, a sales engineer and an accountant; yet none of them scary at all. We had a few drinks together and talked about family, where we were from, and what we were hoping to get out of the program. Over the next few days we would learn one another’s strengths and weaknesses, goals and fears. We took Myers-Briggs and Thomas-Kilman surveys to learn about what it was that made us each tick and how we could effectively work those characteristics to benefit the team. We’d even help one another through a rigorous but rewarding day of self-awareness and team-building.

I have to say, to my surprise, even the very first week of my Duke MBA has been enlightening. I expected to come into an intellectual combat-zone rife with traps and pits, but instead I met 94 phenomenal people, 5 of which I built bonds with that I am certain will not just last for the next 19 months, but perhaps for life. As a marketer, a communicator, a feeler, a rebellious leader and an entrepreneur, I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me.

Matt Sumner

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