I believe a college is as good as its alumni, and I was highly impressed with the various ones that I came across from Fuqua. So, when I started my search for executive MBAs—with the criteria that it had to be among the top 10, should have a suitable format that allows me to work but still provides me an opportunity to build a stronger network with my cohort, focuses on learning instead of competition for grades, and champions a team spirit—Fuqua was on the top of my list. I attended an open house and fell in love with the curriculum and warmth of the school community which motivated me to apply. And fortunately, I was accepted.
How the Program Redefined My Capabilities
Since my background has been technical, my exposure to other areas of business was limited. For example, my experience with finance was limited to profit and loss analysis that I learned on the job. I always heard about directives to put the priority on strategic initiatives but didn’t always understand how those initiatives were aligned with the strategy. Marketing, to me, was only focused on outward sales enablement and I missed out on the entire idea of self-branding. Meanwhile, leadership was just about being a good manager—I misinterpreted this whole concept.
As you can see, my baseline of knowledge was too low. But that created an opportunity for steep growth. Fuqua enabled me to absorb the wealth of knowledge provided during the program and helped me to grasp new concepts and sharpen my skillset.
I was able to use all the learnings in class in my job the next workday and beyond. I could glean information from annual reports and differentiate between sound and risky investments. During strategy class, I realized that even your organization’s leadership at times is not aware of the big-picture strategy and they can lose focus on the fundamental choice to either be uniquely differentiated in the market or a low-cost provider. And leadership classes were blessings that showed you how to examine your own style in the mirror. It etched in my mind that leaders can be made through good practices and you’re not required to be born with these skills.
Lessons taken from case studies and executive learning sessions helped me to interweave these various skills and build a well-rounded set of capabilities while driving me to achieve more effective results faster in my role. It also helped me grow as a leader and be secure and comfortable switching roles on a team based on teammates’ eagerness to be either in the driver or passenger seat.
I am an introvert and a shy person who is content with spending time alone. Another motivating factor for me while going through this program was to work on my interpersonal and social skills. I was determined to work on this aspect and was super active as soon as I received my admission confirmation from Fuqua in Round 1. I reached out to all the new students and opened up a communication channel on various platforms like Linkedin and Whatsapp and later migrated it over to Slack for more streamlined conversations. I had organized local meetups before the classes started and was aware of about 60 percent of the cohort members before I met them in person. That led to me being nominated by my class to be its Social Representative and lead the social activities of the cohort during our journey of 19 months.
The transformation in my social behavior has been phenomenal and anyone from my class reading about the ‘old’ me would say, “No, I don’t believe that you were introverted and shy.” I know my entire cohort of 125 students by their first names, and it’s been like a family now where I can rely on them as a strong support system.
Two key learnings that helped me survive this journey after tons of practice and some initial blunders were prioritization and time-management. Prioritizing the various activities while you’re in the program is critical. You’ll have school, work, personal, family, household, social, and other activities to attend to. Making sure that you’re prioritizing these activities on a large scale is critical. These include making decisions like whether to hang out for one more beer versus focusing on helping the team complete the project on time or spending an hour with your family versus studying more to achieve the highest grade on the exam. You’re required to make a lot of decisions—some are easy, and others will require you to set your priorities from day one to be efficient.
But prioritization without time management is like half-cooked chicken, where it’s only going to spoil the whole dish. Setting up priorities is essential to decision-making, however, stopping your urge to procrastinate and making sure you run on time will be equally important. It will enhance your personal brand within the cohort and help you to fulfill various roles on your teams.
Challenging Transitions Along the Journey
When beginning the program, you might hear advice on three things that you shouldn’t try to do during the program—having a baby, changing jobs, and getting married.
Somehow, I missed out the first two pieces of advice. My first major event during the program was having a baby in the second term. Another significant development was to change jobs after the third term. Both of these events pushed me to my boundaries in order to maintain my footing in various facets of life. These trying times are when you’ll see the real value of the Team Fuqua spirit. My team supported me entirely to make sure that I was still learning while minimizing the workload and giving me the flexibility to recoup successfully from these events. And, to be honest, without the skills that Fuqua enabled me with, it would have been a disaster personally and professionally.
For aspiring applicants
Do not overthink it—there is never a right time for this. If you’re getting an opportunity to be onboard this journey, please grab it. I have been thrilled with the overall learning experience of my cohort at Fuqua, and it has reignited the spirit of teamwork, making me more effective as a leader as well as in personal life.
For incoming students
Focus on your priorities, and networking should be one of them. Networking at social events forges long-lasting relationships, so do make time for them.
Be humble and light the path for others!!