The decision to pursue an MBA was one of the biggest decisions of my professional life—and one that immediately commanded a second major decision: When is the right time? Any alumni or current Fuqua student, including me, likely agrees that there is no perfect time. Life is full, life is complex and adding a rigorous program into the mix at any chapter will come with tradeoffs. While Executive MBA students at Fuqua span many stages of their professional careers, I’d like to offer my perspective as an early career candidate.

1. The Executive MBA program is about becoming the best executive you can be, whether you are one already or not.

As someone who has five years of work experience, I was a bit intimidated by the term “executive.” I had set two professional goals for myself: in the near term, I aim to advance into a formal managerial role at my company, and in the long term, move to an executive role. Fuqua’s Weekend Executive MBA program offers me the opportunity to gain the core business and leadership skills needed to pursue this path, while staying connected to a dynamic business environment at my company. With an executive MBA from Fuqua, I feel more enabled to achieve my goal to be a positive force for change.

2. If you want to be a leader of consequence, Fuqua is the place to be.

This concept is what I believe to be one of the key differentiators of Fuqua. There’s a reason so many of these student blogs reference “Team Fuqua”—the Admissions team is committed to building a diverse community of students dedicated to achieving greatness through doing right by others.

I’ve experienced firsthand how my professors and fellow classmates embody principles of the decency quotient. My favorite example of this is when I experienced a sudden loss of tire pressure while driving to residency and three of my classmates came to my rescue, without hesitation. These are the type of people that make up Team Fuqua, and I am eternally grateful to be a part of it.

Olivia Hays with some of her Fuqua Weekend Executive MBA classmates in a photo booth. Two photos are framed digitally with a caption reading, "Duke University's Fuqua School of Business - Blue Devil Celebration - April 29, 2023"

3. World-class education includes what you learn from your classmates.

Working through case studies alongside teammates—all of whom have interesting and distinct experiences, from doctors to veterans to process engineers—exposed me to successful professionals with a wide variety of personality types, conflict styles, approaches and backgrounds that I otherwise might never have the opportunity to engage with. I joke often with my classmates that I will be able to work well with just about anyone after this program.

The curriculum places a large focus on self-awareness, feedback and empathy. It has undoubtedly changed the way I show up as a teammate, leader, citizen, family member and friend. I approach problems at work and in life now with more empathy, a broader mindset, and a hunger to think outside of the box and consult people with differing opinions from my own.

Olivia Hays and three classmates attend a Duke University's men's basketball game

4. Every voice is valuable.

As a partner manager in the payments industry, I am consistently the youngest person and one of the few women at the table, often creating challenges in advancing my opinion. I’ve been able to leverage the classroom environment to find new mindsets and approaches to work through. In the classroom, participation is encouraged, and your classmates are counting on your perspective to make for a more engaging and insightful conversation. I take this mindset with me to work on Monday, allowing me to embrace difficult situations and continue defining my voice.

5. Your experience is what you make of it.

There is no shortage of opportunities to get involved and curate an MBA experience that is unique to you. When on campus for residencies, we have the opportunity to attend the Distinguished Speakers Series, Duke sporting events, and explore downtown Durham. I recently had the pleasure of starting the Weekend Executive MBA Women in Business Association with two of my classmates after recognizing the need to bring the women of our cohort together and facilitate opportunities for networking, connection and mentorship. The women of the Weekend Executive MBA have developed a strong bond and I’m proud to be part of a lifelong friend group evoking positive change within Fuqua and the broader business community.

Olivia Hays and other women students in the Weekend Executive MBA program