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Fridays from the Frontline: Duke / Fuqua Alum on How Team Fuqua is Central to Duke Culture

Happy Friday! We’re back again this week with another edition of Fridays From the Frontlines. This week we bring you Steven Ma, Duke / Fuqua Alum (Class of 2015). Prior to Fuqua, Steven graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Biology – not your traditional MBA applicant. When Steven made the leap into the MBA world, he found that the resources just weren’t there for him. His blog, From Bench to Board, aims to chronicle his experiences and learnings with the aim of helping those who are interested in earning an MBA without the traditional MBA applicant background.

As always, we welcome the contributions of other current MBA students and applicants, as well as alumni! Please email Jeanette or Marianne if you would like to add your voice to the mix. Many thanks to Jeremy for his great post!

The following post was contributed for publication on Clear Admit by Steven MA, author of From Bench to Board.

A Duke MBA alum – this is a new title that is going to take some time getting used to.

I’m happy to be finally back in the workforce and it’s been interesting seeing how the Duke MBA has changed my approach to things. With the MBA application season starting up soon – Fuqua’s early admission round interviews should be starting – I
wanted to get back to blogging and supporting the MBA applicant community.

As the MBA application season has heated up again, I’ve been getting more and more requests for informational interviews on the Duke MBA. One question I get a lot is – what is Duke looking for in an applicant? I figured this would be a topic worth dedicating some time to and help prospective students understand what business leadership means at Fuqua.

What does the Duke MBA look for in applicants?

The bottom line is this – any top MBA program is looking for the same basic things in an applicant. These are the following: solid work experience, leadership potential, ability to work in teams, having a good job outlook, etc. However, there are nuances to this and Fuqua does have a slightly different approach.

Rather than compare Fuqua to other programs directly (which is impossible to do anyway), I thought I’d share what leadership at the Duke MBA means to me and provide some insight on what Fuqua looks for in applicants.

I’ve divided this new series, How the Duke MBA Makes Leaders, in multiple posts, as I’ve done before for other series.

Collaboration is central to the Duke MBA

Almost everyone puts collaboration on their resume or cover letters, but it’s much easier said than done. Gone are the days of a winning-at-all-costs or a top-down mentality in business, and the most successful leaders I’ve engaged with are able to collaborate with others and create a culture of collaboration in their teams. This is particularly important as new MBAs and even senior leaders need to motivate their colleagues without necessarily having influence over them.

But what is collaboration and what does it mean within the context of the Duke MBA? At Fuqua, we are taught to work collectively toward a common vision and to actively look for win-win situations. There is a pervasive sense that only if the team wins (i.e. the program and your classmates) then it’s counted as a true success. This is true for both classroom work and extracurricular activities. It’s not enough to just complete a class project or land a job after school – but ensuring that your classmates also grow and have the support they need to be successful.

Show me examples of collaboration at Fuqua

This is not something I’m only saying because it sounds good. Starting from orientation, students are institutionalized into the Team Fuqua culture. In our diverse C-Lead teams in the first year, we learn how to effectively collaborate with diverse teammates hands-on. There are also a lot of extracurricular activities that require working well with classmates and faculty – from club events to initiatives that aim to make the MBA experience better for future classes. I strongly believe that Fuqua’s student-led spirit and its culture of collaboration gives it a competitive advantage in the MBA “marketplace” as we can be nimble and adapt the program to suit the changing MBA employment environment.

For example, I got involved with two new student clubs that were formed by students my year who wanted to make Fuqua a better place. As part of C-lead 2 (for rising second years), I also observed the participation of my classmates and the dedication of the faculty on developing initiatives to improve the MBA experience. During recruiting season, I participated in self-formed health care recruiting teams where we offered each other company-specific intel and interview practice.

Collaboration is hard. The Duke MBA teaches you how.

If you ever took game theory, you can see that collaboration creates the win-win scenario in the prisoner’s dilemma. However, balancing your own desire for individual success and navigating the political environment is never easy. What I realized is that collaboration is easier at Fuqua because the culture supports it. When you leave Fuqua, it’s up to you to take what you’ve learned and create a collaborative environment around you.

The Duke MBA is a safe environment for students to develop into collaborative leaders. I’ve come to appreciate all the internal obstacles I needed to overcome at Fuqua when collaborating with my classmates – now realizing that it was all practice for my future roles after school. During recruiting season, I remember that I was juggling many different important projects, from recruiting to trying to get a biotech start up off the ground, but I also had to dedicate a considerable amount of energy in supporting my classmates. Also consider how diverse our teams are, i.e. language and cultural barriers, and you’ll see that it can be a stressful environment. You know what, though? The business world is just as diverse.

Looking back, I definitely felt pushed both physically and mentally during those times, but the most important thing was that I learned how to collaborate even when it was hard to do so. It took a lot of effort to slow the team discussion down so everyone was aligned, or setting aside the bandwidth so I could properly interview candidates for the Class of 2016 as a second year Admissions Fellow. But it has all paid off. Now finally an alum, I realize how the Duke MBA has prepared me to collaborate in the real world – through practice – every day for two years.

The Duke MBA looks for people who collaborate

If learning to become a collaborative leader is something that genuinely resonates with you, then I would highly recommend the Duke MBA. Understanding why collaboration is important and demonstrating that you possess a collaborative mindset is something that is high on the list of what Fuqua seeks in its applicants.

Steven Ma is the an Associate Product Manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb and author of From Bench to Board, a blog aimed at sharing his experience earning an MBA as a non-traditional and helping others do the same.