When I first got accepted into Fuqua, some people were curious why I chose to go back to school after a 14-year career. Especially since I was still passionate about the pharmaceutical industry and had no intention of switching industries. In my view, the most vital aspect of the Executive MBA was the “space” it offered me from the day-to-day grind—to pause, reflect, and follow my curiosity as I navigated my personal and professional path. Having just completed the 22-month program, I can now say that the journey was worth it, and I know I have gained a support system for life.

Broadening My Understanding of the Health Care Ecosystem

I began my career as a strategy consultant working with pharmaceutical companies and then spent 10 years at a global pharmaceutical company. So, I was keen to expand my understanding of the health care ecosystem at an institution that attracts students from many different sectors of the health care industry. In Professor David Ridley’s Life Science Strategy class, my classmates and I were exposed to complex strategic decision-making across a wide set of health care products and technology, some of which I was learning about for the first time. I was also glad to have taken Professor Wilfred Amaldoss’ Pricing Strategy class, which I took originally to appreciate the nuances of pricing in other industries. Ultimately, this course reinforced for me the power that pricing strategists exert on setting business strategy in pharma—a recurring theme of the general management curriculum that showcases how a single business decision’s impact can reverberate across an organization.

Anu Kalaivanan with her classmates on graduation day from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business

Being Deliberate About Expanding My Network

The knowledge I gained wasn’t limited just to traditional classroom learning. Over a cup of coffee, a classmate of mine, who worked at the Duke-Margolis Health Policy Center, and I exchanged ideas and case studies related to access to medicines in emerging markets. Though we came from different worlds (private vs. public), our work was inspired by the ability to solve a common problem: improving access to high-quality health care for patients.

During an elective residency, I was privileged to be on the same team as my Global Executive MBA classmate from Japan who shared first-hand information regarding the health care system in Japan—insightful for me, an employee of a centuries-old Japanese pharmaceutical company working in a global role out of Boston. Hearing talks from many speakers while in the program was inspiring—from the chief marketing officer of the largest health system in New York to a senior executive at Pfizer who drove the commercialization of the Covid-19 vaccine; the latter reinforcing my commitment to delivering innovative therapies to patients.

I recognize that acting on curiosity means being brave and forming new connections with faculty, peers, and alumni, which requires showing vulnerability—because you “don’t know what you don’t know.” Additionally, building new connections takes time and energy. That isn’t easy while also juggling school, work, life, and family. Goals of an MBA vary from person to person. Personally, I knew that I wanted to leverage the momentum of the program as a time for learning, introspection, and exploration, even if led me to the path I was already on.

I was extremely grateful to my husband for his support as I carved out time for these new activities and for the wonderful people I met, who graciously offered their time and advice. All these experiences wove together to ultimately create my rich and fulfilling MBA tapestry.

Looking back at the past few months post-graduation, when I decided to make a career transition, I realize that Fuqua not only helped me to hone a growth mindset, but it provided a community that serves as my scaffolding of strength to help me navigate and succeed in my chosen path. I’m grateful to be a part of the Fuqua community, and I can’t wait to pay it forward.