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.