The answer is complicated when I am asked, “why an MBA at Fuqua?” I’m often asked why I decided to leave a career in the military and government that—by all metrics—was successful and satisfying.
“You’re too old” or “you don’t need an MBA to get a job” or “stay in the Marine Corps,” were quotes I often heard. It’s a good question because it forces me to be thoughtful and connect the MBA experience with where I came from and where I want to go. It’s not an answer that comes easily for me, a former active-duty Marine Corps officer.
Before asking why I chose to earn an MBA from Fuqua, it’s far more useful to ask me “why did you leave the Marine Corps?” I think it’s far more powerful to understand why we leave (a place we love or hate) to take the next step that helps us shape what we’re seeking in our future. So my story goes like this …
The Marine Birthday Ball is a holy night for Marines. It’s an annual gala commemorating the formation of the Corps in 1775. We sing our hymn, remember battles fought and friends lost, and drink and dance late into the night (think of Shooters, but with 238 years of history). It’s the one night of the year when it’s easiest to persuade a Marine never to leave active service.
It was celebrating this night at the most recent Birthday Ball that my longtime mentor tried to convince me to stay in the Corps. It was a difficult conversation, and he explained that I had a long and promising career in the Marine Corps and that it would be hard—not just challenging—but very hard to find anything as meaningful as my time in the service. He waved his hand at the night unfolding around us, Marines dressed in their finest uniforms, proudly escorting their dates to tables, and raucous toasting celebrating the title of “Marine.”
It was fitting that on this most sacred night, I was able to find words to passionately explain why I wanted to leave. I had done everything I had come to do. I had been to two wars, led Marines, and shared the emotional highs and lows that mark a career in the military when our Nation calls its men and women to arms. My Marines were my heroes. They sacrificed far more than I ever would and they humbled me with their dedication to duty that has—and always will—make our country possible. Still, it was time to apply the energy and fervor I had put into my Marines, to prepare them for war, to something else. We had left Iraq and were preparing to leave Afghanistan. It was time for me to be consequential in another capacity.
So I told my mentor that I hoped I would go to Duke to apply my energies to becoming an even more effective leader. Like the Marine Corps, Duke is an institution that develops leaders with moral compasses—leaders who choose right over easy—Leaders of Consequence. Fuqua’s core values are compatible with those of the Marine Corps, making it the right place for me to acquire new skills and experiences in business management. I think the best preparation for ethical challenges is to study historical cases and reflect on one’s own experience. I chose Fuqua because it offered me a chance to delve into the former and provide time to consider the latter. I also chose Fuqua because it focuses on developing leaders with a global perspective, to build on my international experiences from being in the Corps. I believe this global outlook coupled with a deep study of ethics and leadership will enable me to effectively respond to future leadership challenges.
So, as a decade of war came to a close, I was ready to embark on a new journey that would continue my growth as a leader, at a place where I can look critically at the intersection of leadership and ethics and draw out additional lessons from my own experiences. Duke is also a place that already meant so much to me; it’s hard to put into words. Having graduated from Duke 8 years ago, it is a part of my identity. As my Marine Corps experience came to an end, it was humbling to come back to Duke and again be a part of a community that will prepare me for the next chapter of my life, like it did when I was an undergrad.