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.

Alison Levine’s recently published book, On the Edge: The Art of High Impact Leadership has become a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller. 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.

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