2015 Best MBAs: Nadine Payne

Nadine Payne - Maryland-PoetsAndQuants

Nadine Payne

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business

There are some students who naturally elevate others. Their ideas challenge convention. Their example drives others to bring out their best. Nadine Payne is one of these people. A former Justice Department attorney, Payne returned to campus and threw herself into the Smith community, holding leadership roles in organizations like Black MBA, Net Impact, and the Finance Association. She also helped organize and promote several community events and earned commendations at several case competitions. “Nadine is quite simply a rock star,” says Joyce E. A. Russell, the program’s vice dean.

Age: 42

Hometown: Silver Spring, MD

Undergraduate School: Hampton University

Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Arts, English Literature

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? U.S. Department of Justice (CACI Contractor), Washington, DC, Attorney

Where did you intern during the summer of 2014? Goodwill Industries International, Rockville, MD

Where will you be working after graduation? Citibank, Management Associate (Governance, Regulatory and External Affairs)

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I saw the devastating impact that the financial crisis of 2007-2008 had on many families, and I realized that I could learn how to deploy financial resources to make a difference.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…working as an attorney, while finding opportunities to make meaningful social impact.”

What are your long-term professional goals? Long-term, I want to actively work to deploy capital to empower women and girls in the developing world, either through my own company or working with larger multinational financial institutions.

Favorite Courses: Valuation in Corporate Finance, International Economics for Managers, and Bank Management

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of? I am extremely proud of the consulting work that I have engaged in while at Smith. The Malini Foundation is a U.S.-based non-profit organization focused on girls’ education and community development in Sri Lanka. Last year, I had the opportunity to work as a student consultant to formulate a Woman’s Livelihood Program for the Foundation. The goal of the program was to create a merchandising opportunity to employ and empower the women to overcome poverty. Starting a business is often fraught with challenges which are compounded when that business is in the developing world. My team and I researched various options and created a business plan for the Foundation to help them surmount many of these obstacles. Key to the success of our plan was identifying the capital requirements necessary to launch, grow and sustain the initiative.

This consulting project allowed me to put the skills of my business school training to real world use in a way that created real social impact in the lives of these women. It was an affirmation of my belief, and reason for getting my MBA – that business skills can be matched with patient investing capital to garner both financial and social returns. I remain extremely proud that our recommendations were adopted by the Foundation.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? Cynthia Kay Stevens is an associate professor of human resource management and organizational behavior at Smith. Professor Stevens taught my “Leadership and Teamwork” course at the onset of my MBA career. She also taught me “Beyond PowerPoints and Academic Lectures” about the importance of resilience and the significance of becoming a strong team player. As I embarked on my MBA career, I quickly realized that my background in law had not adequately prepared me to be a successful business woman. I came to value, for example, the teaching tool that failure presents.

I had been very fortunate to have performed to a level of academic honors in law school. I had a gratifying legal career. However, data modeling, regression analysis and efficient frontiers had not been essential to this success. Confronted with such concepts and ideas that were new and difficult to master was a rude awakening. Doubt became my constant companion as I navigated my first semester. However, Professor Stevens showed faith in my ability as I learned, flopped, tried again and ultimately mastered the concepts. In moments of my greatest doubt, she never hinted that I would not rise to the occasion. This moves me to tears, even now as I write this. While I, personally, completed course assignments and challenged myself to test and fine-tune my new skills, I also credit the steady, unending encouragement of faculty like Professor Stevens for my success.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose the Robert H. Smith School of Business because I discovered that a Smith MBA experience would provide the global leadership training, critical thinking and tactical business skills to successfully transition me from my legal career to a one focused on finance. I also valued the Smith School’s emphasis that’s both on business principles and creating greater social good in the world. Lastly, I was impressed with the caliber of the faculty, as well as the presence of research centers, especially the Center for Financial Policy and the Center for Social Value Creation. These centers highlight the bridge connecting business to social value and led me to believe that a Smith MBA degree would likewise help me to professionally bridge those two worlds.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I most enjoyed learning the importance of teamwork as the cornerstone of effective leadership. Coming from a background in law, individual excellence was the light that guided my way and that of many lawyers. Neither bonuses nor billable hours were shared by a team of lawyers. I arrived with a mindset of reliance on my own competence as a hallmark of being a good student, and ultimately a good business leader. Through classroom assignments, case competitions and elected leadership positions, my ability to manage within a team became the real currency with which I could trade my way into the respect and esteem of my classmates. Truly successful leaders influence and inspire others. This starts with inspiring others and functioning within a team. My new MBA network of classmates and Smith professors and staff are at the core of what I most enjoyed about business school.

I also have enjoyed the entrepreneurial spirit nurtured here at Smith. For example, I was very fortunate to be selected to participate in an international business pitch case competition culminating in final rounds in Beijing, China. Traveling with my professors and classmates to present my team’s idea for a new business venture was supported and encouraged with resources that allowed my team to research and test our business idea. Presenting my business idea from a stage in China and being positively received was a phenomenal experience. Smith experiences like these have planted seeds of business ownership in me and my classmates. My newly developed business competency, coupled with the spirit of creativity and risk-taking, are among the things I have most enjoyed about my MBA experience at Smith.

What is your most memorable moment from business school? My most memorable business school moments are spilt between a professional moment and a personal one.

Job hunting can be a chore for graduate students. But Smith has a robust and exceptional career services office that helped me secure both a summer internship and final job offer upon graduation. In addition to the career services office, Smith facilitates student exposure to employers outside the traditional recruiting process. For example, I was selected to represent Smith at Yale’s National Low Carbon Case Competition. Afterward one of the judges referred me to the State Department, which contacted me to explore a potential role for me as a climate finance negotiator.


On the personal side, my most memorable moment comes from my business case competition experience in China and exploring along the Great Wall. Upon descending from the wall, I found myself ensconced in a toboggan, listening to safety instructions from the guide and surrounded by my classmates, likewise prepping for our trip down the side of the Great Wall of China. I savored those minutes sledding down the wall with my classmates.

Fun fact about yourself: I worked in theater through middle school, high school and most of college and seriously toyed with the idea of becoming a theater major.

Favorite books: The Known World by Edward P. Jones; Blindness by Jose Saramago; The Street by Anne Petry and My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due

Favorite movies: Ringu; The Best Man; The Host

Favorite musical performer: Coldplay

Favorite television show: Homeland on Showtime and The Good Wife on CBS

Favorite vacation spot: Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

What are your hobbies? I enjoy attending the Broadway and off-Broadway performances and visiting museums. I am also a voracious reader and a budding single malt scotch aficionado.

Twitter Handle: @NaPayne_11

What made Nadine such an invaluable addition to the class of 2015?

“What makes [Nadine] unique is that she so clearly fits both the artistic Poets side (Social Value Creation, Social Entrepreneurship, Net Impact) and the Quantitative side (JD, MBA specializing in finance). From an internship at Goodwill to a career job at Citibank; from being involved in the Do Good Challenge and Yale SOM National Law Carbon Case competition to the New Market Venture Partners – she represents the best of both the Poets side and the Quants side. And she didn’t just participate in these activities, she partnered with students, faculty and staff to create them and then successfully lead them.

While we can say that each person who enters our MBA program is unique and brings a valuable contribution, Nadine is quite simply a rock star. She brings an incredibly diverse and rich perspective that challenges all of us – whether students, faculty, or administrators – to create better programs, more engaging learning, and enhanced openness to new and diverse viewpoints. She has touched numerous parts of our MBA program and in every case, has vastly improved what was in existence. Just by sharing her distinctive background and adding her passion for learning has changed discussions in the classroom, hallways, and at CEO events.

Some MBAs in their second year of study after gaining their jobs tend to fade out and become disengaged in the program and primarily focused on their own future plans. Not Nadine. In fact, she became even more engaged (if that is possible) in pushing our MBA program to achieve even greater prominence. She partnered (and still does) with the dean’s office, faculty, staff in many centers, students, employers, and alumni to enhance programming, recruit talented students, mentor others in the program, build partnerships across campus and at other schools, and a host of other activities.”

– Joyce E. A. Russell, Ph.D., Vice Dean

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