Duke Global Executive MBA Student Blog
How My MBA Training Saved Me on a 6,500-Foot Cliff
This blog was written by a Cross Continent MBA student prior to the program’s merger with the Global Executive MBA program.
MBA lessons can prove practical in unlikely places.
I’m hanging off the side of Mount Huashan in China, dubbed “one of the most dangerous and terrifying hikes in the world.” Attached to the mountain by a questionable 4-foot harness, I have to walk across a 1-foot wide wooden plank. Looking down more than a mile to the ground, I’m remembering that I’m deathly afraid of heights.
Of course, this was my idea to begin with.
This past summer, my 114 classmates and I began our MBA journey as a part of the Class of 2016 in the Fuqua School of Business Cross Continent MBA Program. Living and working in various parts of the world, we enrolled in the working professional program to allow ourselves to earn an MBA while keeping our full-time jobs. A core part of the program is to attend international class residencies and essentially travel the world studying, going on corporate visits, and immersing ourselves into various cultures.
Our first international residency was to the powerhouse of China, whom the IMF deemed the world’s largest economy just a few months prior. A handful of us decided to arrive one week early to explore Xi’an before classes began. During my travel research, every web site stated that we couldn’t miss out on the infamous “Plank Walk” at Mount Huashan, a sacred Taoist mountain located in the Shaanxi Province.
The route is a complicated one. After about 2.5 hours of climbing up steep, vertical staircases (and we took one of the easier routes), the trail leads to the edge of a cliff. Before reaching the “Plank Walk,” there are steel rods about 2 inches long and holes in the rocks to climb down. The wooden plank is only a foot wide and to top it all off, there is only one exit. So as you attempt to walk or climb one way, there are other people attempting to walk or climb the other way around you. Carpe diem!
Flashing back to day 2 of our MBA orientation during the first residency at Duke, every student went through a team-building ropes course in small groups at the Triangle Training Center. The goal was to practice our teamwork and communication skills, capitalizing on each other’s strengths while identifying and improving upon our weaknesses. As I was hiking in China, I couldn’t have imagined that the same skill sets we worked on during the ropes course (and the entire class term) would come into play.
While climbing down the cliff, I couldn’t see directly below me, so I depended on my classmate to tell me exactly where to put my feet. Afterwards, I had to direct my other classmate where to go and predict the upcoming path for her. As people attempted to walk around us (and often we didn’t speak the same languages), split-second decisions had to be made to stay on the safest route. More importantly, given somehow that we all were afraid of heights (no one wanted to admit it until the few days leading up to the hike of course), we had to support each other so we could face our fears and encourage each other to push through the exhaustion from the long day.
When I first researched Duke, I knew of the emphasis placed around teamwork—which is not necessarily the case at other business schools. However “Team Fuqua” was simply a phrase I had heard before starting the Cross Continent program. As this experience has shown me and as every day passes, I’ve found that the spirit of “Team Fuqua” goes beyond a methodology. It’s a community of trust that has taught me to be a better leader, teammate, and communicator that can take on a boardroom or a 6,500-foot cliff.
Watch the video to see Krystina and her team’s treacherous route