Duke MBA: Beware Of ‘Jerks & Weenies’

Fuqua MBA Alison Levine

Fuqua MBA Alison Levine

Most business school graduates talk about scaling the peak of their success, but in Alison Levine’s case, she’s done it seven times: that is, she’s climbed the highest peak on each continent. Plus, she’s skied to both the North and South Poles, a feat known as the Adventure Grand Slam.

What’s all the more amazing is that prior to, and during her climbing career, this Duke University MBA had three heart surgeries, which inspired a career in the medical device industry before attending Fuqua. She also suffers from Raynaud’s disease, which causes the arteries that feed her fingers and toes to collapse in cold weather.

Her recently published book, On the Edge: The Art of High Impact Leadership has become a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business best seller. The book is funny and irreverent – what would you expect from the kind of person who was willing to ditch her derivatives final to go climb a mountain in Papua New Guinea?  While on leave from Goldman Sachs, she captained the first American Woman’s Everest expedition, and has performed other amazing feats in between her lectures at West Point and on behalf of charitable organizations.

Alison’s impressive biography includes contributing to the publication Leadership in Dangerous Situations: A Handbook for the Armed Forces, Emergency Services and First Responders (Naval Institute Press), and a friendship with Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyewski, who wrote the introduction to On the Edge and serves with Alison on the board of the Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE) at Duke.


Alison has a lot to teach all business leaders, but especially business school applicants, current MBA students, and recent alumni.  Be assured that you won’t find the typical overused expressions of many leadership publications—after all, what can you expect from a book that is dedicated to her favorite Labrador, Trooper?  She will surprise you with tips like, “get used to being sleep deprived,”  and “assume everyone on your team is in a leadership position, ” and the surprising observation that “sometimes the weakest link on the team can be you.”

on-the-edge-by-alison-levine-official-book-coverPoets&Quants had the chance to talk to Alison about leadership, the book, and the business school experience.

You have an MBA from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. Do you think the Duke MBA prepared you to undertake the expeditions that you did? What role did the Duke MBA experience have on her as a leader?  

Earning an MBA from Duke prepared me for my various adventures by exposing me to the power of teamwork and teaching me about leadership. The Fuqua School of Business has a phrase that is used all the time (and students poke fun at it): “Team Fuqua!” But it’s really true. They do stress the importance of teamwork and of looking out for one another.

I also served as an Admissions Fellow (the students who interview prospective MBA candidates when they come to campus) when I was a second-year student. After the interview we had to write up our thoughts on whether or not the person would be a good fit for the program and submit them to the admissions office. Our dean at the time, Rex Adams, gave us some great advice: “Don’t take the jerks and the weenies.” He was basically trying to tell us that not every smart applicant was going to be a good fit for our program. I still adhere to that advice and I recruit based on who will be the best fit for the team – and it’s not necessarily the most talented person.

About the Author...

Betsy Massar

A Harvard Business School MBA, I’m the founder of Master Admissions, an MBA admissions consulting firm, and author of Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting Into a Top MBA Program.

  • fc

    Duke has never been entrenched and its spot at 11 has never been guaranteed. The conventional wisdom you’re referring to is some made-up concept to make people at Duke feel better. Nobody outside Duke really cares if it’s 11th or 14th. It has always been lumped together with the other programs in the 10-15 range – they are all the same tier and year-on-year fluctuations up or down matter very little for how its general reputation.

  • skipper

    On the bright side, Duke Law is now a top 10 law school.

  • tim.duncan

    You’ve literally been jumping between P&Q and AboveTheLaw trying to put Duke down. Give it a rest. When a school goes from 11th to 14th in a single year on a ranking that is always fairly entrenched, it got screwed. Specially when the new, lower ranking flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Fuqua has performed exceptionally well on rankings that rely on metrics like ROI and student satisfaction. The US News rankings rely so heavily on admissions data that they penalize schools that take a holistic approach to the admissions process. That’s what happened to Fuqua.

  • Dutch Ducre

    so jerkn weenies is what she doesn’t like to do?

  • Dutch Ducre

    looked about right to me; how did they get screwed?

  • nadine

    Fuqua just got screwed by USN. The new rankings are an absolute joke.

  • Thanks for asking me — I’m just the interviewer! But I can say, after reading the book and listening to Alison speak, that jerks and weenies are the kind of people who don’t go out of their way to think of anyone but themselves. She gives great examples in the book of people who everyone wants to climb with or study with, and then, by contrast, there’s always someone who you just don’t want to have around because they are considering their own needs first, which on a mountain or in a class, hurts everyone

  • prospectiveduke

    Betsy, how exactly did you decide who was a “jerk and weenie” during an interview? What should prospective students avoid?