How the Duke MBA Makes Leaders - Entrepreneurship

Every leading MBA is talking about its entrepreneurship initiatives right now. It’s a new area of post-MBA opportunity as you start seeing more and more MBAs start companies themselves or join companies that are starting to scale after graduation. I’ve been involved in startups in both years during my MBA at Duke Fuqua, but that’s not what I’m talking about when I mean leaders are entrepreneurial.

This is the 3rd post in my new blog series, How the Duke MBA Makes Leaders.

I mean that leaders, by definition, are entrepreneurial. In my view, all leaders – regardless of company size – are entrepreneurial because they are committed in taking ownership, navigating uncertainty, and dealing with business risk, and so on.  Sure a bigger company often has more legacy issues and a stronger political environment that needs to be managed and navigated through, but leaders are leaders – it doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO of 10-person startup or a manager with 10 direct reports of a Fortune 100 company – the same rules apply.

Duke MBA students are entrepreneurial, and therefore leaders

In a similar way, The Duke MBA’s student-led culture is also entrepreneurial by default. When students take the lead on making the school better – such as starting new clubs, creating new resources or opportunities for classmates, and proposing and executing initiatives aimed at making the MBA experience better – they are being entrepreneurial and are being leaders. Even for something small like a seminar or a company trek for a club trains one’s ability to take ownership, assume some risk, and motivate others with an uncertain outcome. This is why Fuqua shines in the hands-on training of leaders from a program level.

There are countless examples of this – in my 2 years at Fuqua I’ve experienced the formation of 2 student clubs, the ideation and execution of enhanced MBA programming that were initiated by students, and much more. The annual health care conference that the health care club organizes is completed owned by students, with faculty support of course. But the point is that Duke MBA students take ownership over their experiences and the improvement of the experiences of their classmates.

When people ask me what the Duke MBA is looking for in applicants, I always answer the ability to be entrepreneurial. This isn’t absolute, but I think most students who find the most fulfillment from the Duke MBA program have many qualities that are considered entrepreneurial. There has always been the debate as to how much the school should do versus how much the student is responsible for (i.e. recruiting, etc), and I think Fuqua is more skewed towards students taking the lead. Don’t get me wrong – the faculty are very supportive and are without a doubt dedicated to students – I’m only talking about the culture and the mindset that is expected of the students in taking ownership over their own success.

Because of its entrepreneurial culture, the Duke MBA is perfect for career switchers

Another topic of ongoing debate is how much your prior work experience matters for MBA internship and post-MBA recruiting. My view on this is that it matters a whole lot – you need something to justify your career transition and you’re also competing with some folks who have many years in that particular function or industry.

The Duke MBA is therefore perfect for people who have little experience in the career track they want to enter. This is because the entrepreneurial culture at Fuqua offers a lot of opportunity for students to get exposure to the industry or function they want to enter into. I had very little commercial experience coming into the program, but in my interviews I had a lot to share because of all the opportunities that were available to me as a Duke MBA student.

For corporate roles, Duke MBA students are well-trained for intrapreneurship (aka night jobs)

Tying this back to my post from last year about “night jobs” and the importance of them to a person’s career success – during the Duke MBA program you’ll get a lot of experience with “night jobs”. This is a very important, but little discussed point on what value an MBA program can provide. In a company, you need to take on multiple projects to, one, learn a whole lot – but also two, to gain exposure to senior leaders.

It is very hard to manage these extra projects, especially when you have a lot of stress and time constraints from your main “day job” projects. The Duke MBA offers the opportunity to give you practice. Consider classes and recruiting your “day jobs” in any MBA program – thus other things such as Admissions Fellowship the COLE fellowship, and club leadership roles are thus “night jobs”. It’s super stressful since these are serious roles with real impact to the Duke MBA program, but you know what – after doing this for two years, you’ll find out how to manage your stress and time effectively so that you can take on multiple, diverse projects.

The Duke MBA academic experience is challenging – don’t get me wrong. Recruiting is also hard and stressful. But Duke MBA students have experiences managing multiple leadership roles in addition to classes and recruiting. That’s why if you buy into this whole idea of “night jobs” then you’ll see the value that Fuqua provides.

Doing “night jobs” could also be considered participating in a form of intrapreneurship – a real buzzword these days – and I feel that Duke MBA students through being entrepreneurial during the MBA program, are equipped with the skills and experiences to execute intrapreneurship in a corporate environment.

What the Duke MBA is looking for in its students

Ultimately, any organization you join needs to make you fulfilled and happy. Business school is no different. Schools – like Fuqua – need to make sure that you are a good fit for their programs because they genuinely want the best experience for each of their applicants. I hope that after reading this somewhat lengthy post you have a better understanding of what student-led means in the Duke MBA program, and have the information you need to figure out if the Duke MBA program is a good fit for you.  




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