2017 Best MBAs: Molly Duncan, University of Virginia (Darden)

Meet Molly Duncan, a member of the Poets & Quants Best & Brightest 2017 list. “I am hard-working and loyal. I love summer, my future Goldendoodle (coming June 2017!), and podcasts.”

Molly Duncan

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“I am hard-working and loyal. I love summer, my future Goldendoodle (coming June 2017!), and podcasts.”

Age: 27

Hometown: Greensboro, NC

Fun fact about yourself: I studied abroad in Delhi, India, for six months in college. It has been fun to talk about all of my favorite shops, restaurants, and tourist destinations with my classmates who grew up or have spent time in India.

Undergraduate School and Degree:  Davidson College, Psychology

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? The CM Group in Hingham, MA (outside of Boston). The CM Group is a boutique firm focused on comprehensive meeting management and marketing initiatives in the biopharmaceutical space. I worked as an event planner and then transitioned to a role more focused on our client’s marketing projects.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? Boston Consulting Group, Washington DC

Where will you be working after graduation? McKinsey & Co., Charlotte, NC

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: (Include school awards and honors)

  • President, Darden Student Association
  • Genovese Fellowship Recipient—a full ride scholarship awarded to three Darden Students per year who exhibit outstanding general management potential
  • William Michael Shermet Award— awarded to 15 students who demonstrate academic excellence in the first year

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I have had the honor of serving Darden in the role of President of the student body the past year. I have an incredible team of people that I get to work with and we have been able to quickly incorporate student feedback into positive results for the Darden community. I am so proud to work with this team every day – the good ones and the bad ones!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At The CM Group, I worked with a client in the rare-disease space who created and distributed a drug that saved the lives of many individuals who had no treatment options prior to this compound. I worked with this client on many initiatives during my time at CM Group, from planning meetings with top physicians to helping evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing collateral. The company and its employees never lost sight of their purpose: bettering the lives of the patients they serve. Being able to work with them towards that purpose was an honor.

Why did you choose this business school? I visited Darden and heard our previous Dean, Bob Bruner, speak during an admitted students’ weekend. He told the group, “Go where you can do your best work.” That really stuck with me as I made a decision. My gut told me that Darden was the place that would challenge me, enrich me, and best fit my learning style. I could go on and on about Darden’s case method, faculty, Charlottesville, etc., but at the end of the day, I always encourage people to go with their gut feeling. Rankings and scholarship money can be tempting, but if you choose the school that is truly right for you, those factors pale in comparison to the success you will have.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Take the time to really get to know what Darden is about and formulate your own understanding of why you think Darden would be a good fit for you and your goals. The admissions team is very much a part of the Darden community and strives to uphold Darden’s core values as it reviews applications. If you truly embrace and articulate what you think is special about the community and the program, that passion will shine through.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One of the things that I always hear about Darden is that Charlottesville is really isolated. To me, Charlottesville is actually the best of both worlds. Charlottesville is not a huge city, but there are more vineyards, restaurants, concerts, and events than you could possibly make it to over two years. Recruiters love coming to Charlottesville and the best companies in the country frequent Darden. And if you need to pop out of Cville for recruiting or fun, transportation by train or plane is extremely easy.

What was your biggest regret in business school? One of the things that stood out to me about Darden was the focus on courses designed around the lessons we can learn from examining history. I really wanted to take the Leadership Course on Normandy, where students get to walk in the footsteps (literally) of leaders who made decisions on D-Day. Unfortunately, I had a conflict that prevented me from going on the trip, but got to re-live it through my classmates who were there.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I will speak about a few classmates – Sam Boochever, Max Huc, and Kristina Loftus. Each of these students has pursued entrepreneurship since they arrived at Darden. Max and Sam launched their app, 1Degree, last spring and Kristina launched her clothing company, Rhoback, this fall. I am constantly in awe of the fact that they balance growing a company as they stay active in academics and club leadership. It would be easy for them – and the many others pursuing startup companies at Darden – to throw all of their energy into their companies, but they instead have chosen to remain active and engaged in the community. Their experience and insights have been hugely valuable to me.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that having no formal training was holding me back from reaching my full potential as a critical decision maker.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…regretting not going to business school!”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? If I was Dean for a day, I would spend it at a roundtable with other top business school Deans. There are so many large-scale problems that all business schools are experiencing together – H1B restrictions, financial need, increasing diversity of background and thought. I think change will continue to come from these discussions and am thankful to each of our deans who work tirelessly on these and other problems facing our students.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I am drawn to general management of both people and operations. Setting the tone for a big picture and managing towards it is something that really excites me. I don’t have a clear picture of what that looks like in terms of specific industry, but I know I am definitely attracted to strategic management.

Another long-term professional goal is to not let my professional ambitions swallow my personal life. I believe that I am at my best professionally when I successfully manage that balance; that is a really important focus for me.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would most like to thank my fiancé, Barker. We met in Charlottesville right before Darden started and immediately felt like we had met our better half. Business school can be chaotic as you navigate the ups and downs of academics, recruiting, extra-curriculars, and personal life. He has been the most steady and supportive presence through all of that. I couldn’t imagine going through this experience without his advice and love. Thank you, B!

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as hard-working and devoted to Darden in my words and actions, inside and outside of the classroom.

Favorite book: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Favorite movie or television show: Friends

Favorite musical performer: Zac Brown Band

Favorite vacation spot: My whole family is from Savannah, GA and my parents recently restored an old cottage that used to serve as the Coast Guard’s Mess Hall on Tybee Island, about 20 minutes from Savannah. I absolutely love the slower pace of life and being right on the ocean – and close to family!

Hobbies? I am a total HGTV addict. I love everything DIY or old-to-new. On weekends, you can often find me at an antique store or a flea market “treasure hunting.”

What made Molly such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“I am delighted to nominate Molly Duncan, a second year MBA student at the Darden School of Business (University of Virginia), for the Poets & Quants Best and Brightest list for 2017. I am currently an Assistant Professor of Marketing at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. To put my nomination into context, I was a General Manager and Chief Marketing Officer prior to obtaining a PhD and joining Darden. I share this, because in my experience, Molly is one of the most impressive “total-contributors” I’ve seen in my career. Not only is she exceptional on the academic front, but she is a one-of-kind difference maker, stepping into key leadership positions to drive transformation.  I’ll elaborate on Molly’s impact below.

Molly is an exceptional student. I taught her in the first semester of the MBA program, a time when people are reticent to talk in a case-based classroom. Molly, from the very beginning, was an in-class leader. She spoke up—not too much, but enough to model effective contribution. She contributed to class discussions productively, supporting her peers but disagreeing in an appropriate manner to drive deeper conversation. This type of contribution in a case class is paramount. Because of Molly’s high academic achievement, she was nominated by faculty and won the Shermet Award, Darden’s most prestigious academic honor. As  another example of Molly’s exceptional intellectual ability, she was hired to work for McKinsey. As you know, McKinsey is a top recruiter and an offer is highly coveted by the students. As such, it is extremely competitive; Molly was one of the few chosen to work for the firm.

In addition to her academic accomplishments, Molly has been an extraordinary leader, with distinctive impact on her classmates. As is typical at the beginning of the year, our section, comprised of 65 students, wasn’t “gelling.” It wasn’t until the class voted Molly in as Section Leader that the class culture shifted—for the positive. I happened to be in the room when the students ran for Section Leader. Molly’s “pitch” stood out; she simply talked about wanting to help each student in the room achieve their goals and aspirations, and to help the class live up to its billing as Extraordinar-E. In marketing, we would call this “market oriented” – focusing on helping the “consumer” achieve their goals and needs. And while this was just a promise, she behaved in concert with her pitch.

As soon as she won the election, she listened to the students. She realized that they were tense and stressed and felt a lot of pressure to live up to the reputation of Section E. She used this insight to leverage the kooky and zany part of her personality to lighten up the group. At a Darden Cup event (in the middle of the hurricane), she showed up in black spandex and a yellow tutu, looking like a bumblebee. It seems silly, but her ability to be silly took the air out of the balloon that was their tension. Immediately in class, students relaxed. There is no way for faculty to do this for a class—this is what student leadership looks like. She understood the needs of the class and used a dimension of her personality to help the students calm down. In so doing, the individual and class performance got better (and frankly, it was much more enjoyable for the faculty).

In addition to her impact as section leader, Molly has been a strong voice and advocate for all non-majority voices—whether it is international students, students who voted for Trump, minorities, or women. Importantly, she has been a voice for the non-majority in a productive, positive way, trying to continually make Darden a better, richer experience for all students. Because of her reputation for being a transformative leader, she was elected the Student Body (DSA) President. While this would be enough to keep anybody busy, Molly also participated in the Marketing and Consulting clubs. As a faculty member who attends a lot of student-based activities, I can attest to seeing Molly at almost all events. She is a visible, supportive DSA President.

Molly models the type of leadership behavior we advocate here—servant-leader—one who seeks to drive organizational performance and growth through the service of others. I have had the great pleasure to get to know Molly in-and-out of the classroom, and am honored to nominate Molly for this distinction. She not only is a top intellect, but more importantly, a leader who has helped shape a better experience for her peers. Molly is truly one of the “Best and Brightest”.”

Kimberly A. Whitler, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Marketing

Darden School of Business

University of Virginia


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