Duke Fuqua: Where The Business Hero Is Dead

Duke Fuqua MBAs at their orientation week

Duke Fuqua MBAs at their orientation week

When Aiyappa Maruvanda first heard the term “Team Fuqua,” he thought it was little more than a promotional gimmick, something Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business was using to boost applications to the school.

“I thought it was a marketing thing,” says Maruvanda, 27, who had worked as an analyst and then a consultant for Accenture in Singapore, India, and the U.S. “Then, I visited the school after the interview and the whole place felt different. It had a way positive vibe to it.”

Indeed. It was the Team Fuqua vibe. At the core of Team Fuqua is the notion that every member of the school’s community supports each other to achieve great things, recognizing that an individual’s success makes the entire group more successful. Diversity is embraced on the theory that different viewpoints and perspectives contribute to a better, stronger result. The general belief is every student, professor, and staffer at Fuqua is part of an extended family of sorts who have each other’s back.


Maruvanda wasn’t the only skeptic. “Team Fuqua, I thought, that’s not a real thing,” agrees Tyisha Rivas, 28, who had worked as a policy associate for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York before coming to Duke last year. “But this has been one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.”

Of course, most business school deans will tell you their students are collaborative, not competitive, and that most of the work in an MBA program gets done in teams where individuals, vastly different from each other, work seamlessly together. A nurturing community is at the heart of the learning culture at a vast number of schools, ranging from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the school most well known for collaborative teamwork, and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where a defining cultural principle is for students to put larger interests above their own.

So how is Team Fuqua different? For one thing, the idea comes from some core beliefs about the future of work. “We’ve made a particular bet,” insists Fuqua Dean William Boulding. “The idea of the leader as a hero is gone. We made a bet that a great team will always beat a great individual. We have been working on that for years and from all sides. That is a much harder thing than we would think because people tend to surround themselves with people like them and they like to step into the spotlight.”


"No jerks and no weenies here," says Shane Dijulli, associate dean for faculty engagement

“No jerks and no weenies here,” says Shane Dikolli, associate dean for faculty engagement

For another, the thinking behind Team Fuqua informs MBA admission decisions at the school, where GMAT scores are viewed in a more balanced way. It is a major reason why Fuqua’s average GMAT score remains just under 700 at 695 for the latest class. “One of the things I am most proud of is our commitment to a holistic review of the candidates,” says Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean for admissions.

“We have not had formal conversations about getting the GMAT at some level. Sometimes applicants can present themselves in a way that allows you to know that they will change the world, regardless of their GMAT score. We will never define the quality of our students by one criteria in admissions. You are more than your GMAT score, and you are more than your letters of recommendation.”

Or, as Shane Dikolli, associate dean for faculty engagement, puts it: “There are no jerks and no weenies here. The students are down to earth and humble. They are happy. They have grit, and they are energizing. It makes for an inclusive, supportive culture. The faculty really cares about the students getting a transformational experience.”


And finally, Team Fuqua is not merely a term to describe the interactions of students. It guides and governs all behavior at the business school. “Team Fuqua isn’t just a catch phrase we use to market the program,” maintains Hargrove. “It’s the way faculty and staff work together. It’s collaboration at its best. In the world we live in today, it’s the most productive way to get work done. It means everyone will do what they can to get the work done and make the team better. It’s how you live in our community, day in and day out. Team Fuqua is what makes tackling all the work possible.”

Jennifer Miller, a second-year MBA at Fuqua

Jennifer Miller, a second-year MBA at Fuqua

Ultimately, there’s the market test: Can employers recognize the difference when they interview and hire Fuqua grads. Dean Boulding insists they do. Fuqua, he says, hired a firm to do a 360-degree assessment of the school’s stakeholders “to see who we really are and what we represent. They did an interview with an employer who hires a lot of MBAs from a wide variety of schools and this employer does individual and team interviews on callbacks. What was noteworthy was what happened during the team-based interviews. For other schools, the predictable behavior was, ‘I want the job’ so the spotlight needs to come on me. According to the employer, the Fuqua contrast was great and consistent. Students would always enter the activity by asking other team members what their strengths were and then try to bring out the strengths of the people around them. It was the Fuqua student who stood out the most.”

Jennifer Miller, 33, who will join Deloitte’s human capital practice after graduating with her Fuqua MBA next year, is also a convert. She vividly recalls the early part of her MBA experience at Triangle Training Center in Pittsboro, N.C., about 22 miles south-west of Fuqua. The orientation and leadership development program kicks off the MBA experience at Fuqua with a series of physical and psychological challenges from scaling a wall to ropes courses, all meant to reinforce the notion that you can conquer a challenge together more easily than alone. Miller recalls a team leader asking her six-person group, “‘When was the last time you cried?’ People were remarkably vulnerable. It really helped to facilitate trust in teams. It’s exceptional.”

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