Duke Fuqua: Where The Business Hero Is Dead



Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean of admissions, Duke University Fuqua School

Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean of admissions, Duke University Fuqua School

Through the entire core, students work in six-person teams on every assignment, says Maruvanda. “Either you are leading or you are an engaged follower. There’s constant feedback, and friends keep you accountable so it becomes part of the journey. Sometimes responsibility gets shared equally. You come in here as version one and you go out with version 2.0. It changes you personally. I’ve grown and so have my classmates. You grow your mind and your heart here.” Adds David Gross, 28, a Northwestern undergrad who had worked in real estate before coming to Fuqua, “the team experience doesn’t end after the first year. In the majority of electives, you form your own team or professors do it for you. I look forward to the team lists and really enjoy the randomization of teams.”

Team Fuqua ultimately manifests itself in a set of selfless behaviors. Sheryle Dirks, associate dean for career management at Fuqua, says she sees it in the way students help each other in their pursuit of jobs. “You would inherently think that if there is a place it would fall part, it would be in the competition for jobs,” says Dirks. “But you see students passing on insights to others who they are technically competing with once they come out of a job interview. ”

Hargrove in admissions reinforces the point. “You see students working with each other to prep for interviews, even though they are competing for the same jobs. It’s the sense that, ‘I won’t do anything to advance my own career at your expense. But it’s not teamwork versus leadership. It’s teamwork and leadership. At Duke, they are integrated in everything you do. Our students get to know how to be good team players and good leaders.”


Asked for an example of Team Fuqua in action, Hargrove recalls the time a student needed a scientific calculator to take an exam but had left it at home. “He went into the hall and asked other students for one and it took him 13.5 second to find someone who loaned him the calculator,” she says. Those selfless, group behaviors stick, insisted Dirks. “Team Fuqua is not a notion that just lives in this building. They take it with them to their jobs. Students are taught to look at the team and organize around the strengths and weaknesses of each person to best solve a problem and get the most out of a group.  They see how it works and so it stays with them.”

When Boulding became dean in 2011, succeeding Blair Sheppard, the one-time marketing professor concluded that his central challenge would be an audacious one. “We wanted to be the best business school in the world,” he says. Never mind that many other rivals have resources that vastly surpass his own at Fuqua. He believes that the school’s culture could help him overcome the larger endowments and financial resources of competitors.

“Team Fuqua went beyond students into the entire community,” he says. “The inspirational component of the strategy was that other schools said the same thing. We wanted to be the best because business is going to be the transformational engine of the 21st century. If you know that business could change the world, how could you not want to be the best? That was the belief, and then we had to show evidence we were moving along that path.”

Boulding says he focused on three sets of metrics. “First, are we doing something that would cause a market response? Second, how do students feel about it. And third, are there organizations out there that want to hire your students? On all three of these dimensions, the school has showed progress.”


Fuqua Dean William Boulding

Fuqua Dean William Boulding

Not all that long ago, in 2013, the dean had a Boston Consulting Group team dig into the business school industry for what he calls a strategic assessment. “They found our applications were growing at a faster rate than the top five in the past ten years,” he says. In the latest year, applications rose by 9.1% to 3,737 for the 446 seats in the latest entering class.

“The big insight was a flight to quality among applicants,” says Boulding. “Tracking employment data, we saw that when the financial crisis hit in 2009, we were more vulnerable than the top-tier schools. But in the bounce back, our data improved more rapidly than the top five. There was a regression to the mean in part, but we had been doing things that make our students more attractive to employers. They gave us feedback that was extremely positive. We are providing talent better matched to the needs of employers.”

So when Fuqua shocked just about everyone by coming in first in Bloomberg Businessweek‘s ranking two years ago in 2014, Boulding says he wasn’t entirely surprised. “We did extremely well with employers in the Businessweek ranking,” he says. “It was the key to getting to No. 1 and our intellectual capital was high.” Last year, after the magazine adjusted the methodology of its ranking, Fuqua slid seven places to eighth, just behind Stanford and ahead of UC-Berkeley Haas, still a strong showing.

Team Fuqua, believes Boulding, is the not-so-secret reason for the school’s success. “It used to be that an MBA allowed you to get good skills and bring them into a firm to generate great value,” he says. “But the highest value comes from leadership ability and that’s where yo have to be today. Firms are not going to spend an enormous among of money for basic business skills. What they will spend money on is people who have the ability to work in a complex, ambiguous world. We build this instinct to work with people who are different in order to drive to a common goal.”








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