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Real Humans of Duke Fuqua MBA Class of 2022

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Ethan (Seunghan) Baek, Duke Fuqua Class of 2022

Age: 35
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Yonsei University(Seoul, S.Korea) Applied Statistics
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 4.5 years at SK (Energy and Chemical) and 2.5 years at CJ (Entertainment and Media)

Why business school? Why now?
Whenever I faced a major life decision, people around me would always say I was far out of my depth, especially for my age. It wasn’t that I was too young for my ambitions, but rather that I was too old. From the outside, I had an enviable position at a prestigious company. People thought I was reckless and crazy: everyone was looking to get in, but I was looking to get out. The hamster wheel career status quo wasn’t for me; I needed new environments and experiences to feel fulfilled. I was told that making such a radical change over age 30 was unachievable—but from my perspective, my horizons could still be expanded, and it was better late than never.

Why Fuqua? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
“Fit” gets thrown around as a buzzword so often, but for me, it really was the deciding factor. As an international student, I entered the process with hesitation due to language barriers and cultural differences. The question for me was: what school would allow me to overcome these challenges and excel? Touring various schools, I quickly realized that not all were ideal for my background. Some were certainly more open than others in terms of genuine connections. I found Fuqua to be uniquely team-oriented, with a “Team Fuqua” spirit that was genuine and not simply a marketing term. I prioritized this team environment because I saw it as foundational for American professional life. Visiting campus confirmed my culture fit: after sitting in on a class, I was immediately greeted by a group of enthusiastic students, who showed interest in my background and who I saw as future teammates.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2022?
I am able to instantly recognize the unique strengths of those around me but often notice that those strengths are not necessarily unlocked to their full potential. Making connections between strength and situation is critical. I have an innate ability to immediately perceive the spirit and strengths of the people I meet. I strive to use this for positive change: recognizing strengths and maximizing their impact. Within my class, I hope to foster strong connections between those around me and help them use their own strengths to excel.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
Vocal mimicry is my hidden talent. I think it’s the other facet of my communication skills, beyond my ability to recognize strengths and characteristics. I recently heard that I can do a stellar imitation of President Donald Trump. I think I came during the right election year!

Post-MBA career interests?
I aspire to become a PM at a major tech company after graduation. It might sound surprising, but the standard PM role doesn’t really exist in Korean companies. Instead, strategy and finance roles seem to dominate internally. I’m attracted to PM work because it’s an intellectually engaging process of bottom-up ideation of a new product or service. When thinking about my career, I don’t want to simply chase the next salary increase. I would be miserable doing so. By working in a hub of innovation such as the West Coast, I could immerse myself in creating new services and products that leave an impact on the world. With the world moving more and more online due to COVID-19, the opportunities to make a positive impact within tech are only increasing.

Advice to current prospective applicants:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?

I’d strongly encourage you to maximize interactions with current students to get a sense for the school’s unique culture and whether it’s right for you.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
I wish I had been less hung up on standardized test scores. They are only one measure by which MBA students are considered. Instead, I wish I had directed more time reflecting on myself and considering how I would be a fit for the various schools I applied to.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone passionate about the sheer amount of time needed to apply to countless schools. As I mentioned earlier, I think the fit is one of the most valuable considerations, so it would be ideal to reduce the process down to two best-fit applications. I carried myself through the process by crafting my own personal narrative, which I did by distilling down the factors that made me a unique candidate. This included summarizing my strengths and weaknesses, but it also went beyond and included my goals. Through this process, I was able to stay motivated through all my applications.

What is your initial impression of Fuqua’s students/culture/community?
To me, Fuqua feels like a group of climbers all making their way to the summit, motivated and determined to reach greater heights. I reference this analogy because I’m an avid hiker myself, and there’s a unique kind of camaraderie that happens on the mountain. On a climb, everyone might be intensely competitive internally trying to reach the summit, but externally there is a natural team spirit and mutual support. Fuqua felt just like this. When I visited campus, I was struck by the team-oriented attitude everyone had, where they were motivated internally but always wanting to learn from each other. It is this attitude—that the summit has room for anyone who is determined to make the climb—that makes Fuqua so unique.

One thing you have learned about Fuqua that has surprised you?
Despite a large class size of over 400 students, I was immediately struck by how it seemed like we were all cut from the same cloth. Of course, we all come from a wide variety of personal and professional backgrounds, but it seems like there is a shared set of principles and values that runs through all of us. Through my 8 years of work experience, I recognized how important these shared values are for building trust, which then enables strong bonds and teams that can reach their full potential. Within Fuqua’s trusting environment, I’m always impressed by how open-minded people are, and the new perspectives I encounter. This intangible feeling confirms that Fuqua is the place for me.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
The uncertainty surrounding the new normal of COVID-19 is constantly on my mind. I am anxious about finding a summer internship while the world is in flux, and I am constantly adapting as the situations change.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
It’s an honor and privilege to be surrounded by such insightful and inspiring classmates, in a new and buzzing environment. After a month of settling into life in Durham, I’m excited about deepening relationships with all the people I’ve met so far, and I’m looking forward to all of the people I have yet to meet. My team and section friends already have special places in my life, and I’m excited to share our journeys of personal and professional growth with each other.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.