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2018 Best MBAs: Paige Swofford, Duke University (Fuqua)

Paige Swofford

Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

(Dual degree MEM/MBA – Master of Environmental Management, Nicholas School of the Environment)

“Outgoing introvert, optimistic realist, energy industry enthusiast who loves books, podcasts, nature, and my dogs.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Charlotte, NC

Fun fact about yourself: I am a rower, which is rare in the Southeast! I competed at a national level in high school and college, and, after graduating, I continued to row and compete with a local master’s team while volunteering as a coach for my former YMCA high school team.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Kenan-Flagler Business School, BS Business Administration

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Bank of America, VP Product Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? NextEra Energy, Juno Beach, FL; Corporate Development MBA Intern

Where will you be working after graduation? NextEra Energy, Principal Financial Analyst (Corporate Development)

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

  • Co-President, MBA Energy Club (2017-18)
  • Co-President, MEM/MBA Club (2016-17)
  • Career Fellow: career mentor for first year MBA students
  • Panel Lead, Duke University Energy Conference (2016)
  • Douglas K. Bratton Merit Scholarship recipient (2016-17, 2017-18)
  • 1st Place team: UCLA Challenges in Energy Case Competition (2017)
  • 3rd Place team: Columbia University Energy Symposium Case Competition (2018)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of the work I’ve done as the Co-President of the MBA Energy Club to successfully plan and implement the 2nd annual Energy Week at Duke, one of the largest student-run energy events in the country. Energy Week brings together organizations across campus to educate students about the energy industry, showcase work being done at Duke, and engage industry professionals. As Co-President, my role was to support, encourage, and oversee the co-chairs of Energy Week, the 9th annual Duke University Energy Conference, and the 5th annual Energy in Emerging Markets Case Competition. As someone who is wired to get into the weeds of a project to get the job done, I grew so much as leader in this role where my responsibilities were to guide the strategic vision of the events, delegate tasks, manage stakeholders, help remove roadblocks, and ensure coordination across event planners rather than execute. The team successfully ran a series of major events, bringing in C-Suite-level speakers to the Energy Conference and a record 36 case competition submissions from top business schools around the country and internationally. Every email, budget review, corporate sponsorship request, and late-night problem-solving session was worth it to help enable students to explore the major trends in the energy industry and to strengthen energy programming for future Duke students.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my role as a product manager, I was responsible for launching a new financial education program intended to help consumers who were facing large payment increases on their home equity lines of credit when their loans reached repayment. The program was the first of its kind in the industry, and there were no standard processes or clear procedures for how to implement it. I led a large cross-functional team of internal and vendor partners to design and pilot the program, ensuring we met rigorous consumer privacy and data security standards. The education sessions received high customer satisfaction ratings, and the pilot program was extended beyond its original term to reach additional customers. I’m proud to have been able to navigate a complex process requiring many layers of stakeholder approval to bring a beneficial program to customers.

What was your favorite MBA Course My favorite course was the EDGE Seminar taught by Dr. Dan Vermeer, the director of the Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment (EDGE). The class is structured as a seminar series, with each session featuring a different speaker discussing energy and environment issues. The class structure encourages students to engage with industry leaders, asking questions during the seminar and reflecting on the issues discussed through written position papers. The class brings together graduate students from across degree programs and disciplines, and it forces students to think about complex, messy, and challenging issues. My biggest insight was how differently each person could interpret and respond to the same presentation, bringing in unique perspectives based on their background and field of study. Going into the energy industry, it will be extremely valuable to have experience engaging with interdisciplinary teams of people to tackle the complex challenges we’re facing.

Why did you choose this business school? In applying to business school, I was searching for a program that would allow me to explore my interest in the connection between business and the environment. I chose Fuqua for its academics, extracurricular opportunities, and the community. Academically, Duke offers a dual degree Master of Environmental Management and MBA (MEM/MBA), allowing me to take energy-related courses at both Fuqua and the Nicholas School of the Environment. Outside of classes, Fuqua offers educational events, experiential learning, and networking opportunities for students, with endless ways of getting involved and taking on leadership roles. Finally, the Fuqua community is both collaborative and ambitious, with students encouraging each other to learn and grow. I also have had access to a wide network of energy-focused faculty, students, and alumni across the broader Duke community to help me make my career transition.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be authentic. The Fuqua community encourages everyone to be themselves, including during the admissions process. I would recommend that you use the essays, resume, and interview to tell different but complementary sides of your story to show who you are and what you would bring to Team Fuqua.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest “myth” is that Duke basketball fans are insanely passionate, and this is definitely not a myth! The Cameron Crazies are real.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Overall, I don’t feel like I have any big regrets about my time in business school. My goal was to push myself to try things that would make me feel uncomfortable, and I did that by signing up for hard classes that intimidated me and taking on leadership roles that pushed me to develop my leadership style. If I did it all again, I would try to find more opportunities to get comfortable with the risk of failure.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire my MEM/MBA classmate Jenna Weiner, whom I’ve had the opportunity to work with in the Energy Club, on a case competition team, and during our summer internship. Jenna puts her full effort into everything she undertakes and values learning beyond just grades. She is genuine and optimistic, always building up her teammates and encouraging them. I admire that she looks for the best in every situation and in the people she encounters.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mom was my biggest influence in my decision to pursue a career in business. She has her MBA, and I’ve seen how she’s been able to leverage her credentials and skills to make career transitions and advances. She taught me that it’s important to develop a foundation of knowledge and a strategic thinking mindset that can be applied universally, allowing you to adapt to whatever job or industry you choose.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…less ready to make this big career transition.”

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Go on a safari
  2. See the Northern Lights

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want to be remembered as someone who led with both confidence and empathy, achieving my goals while also helping others to succeed.

What is your favorite movie about business? The Big Short. In general, I thought the movie was entertaining while explaining complex financial concepts, bringing one part of the story of the financial crisis to a mass audience. The lesson I took from it is that you should always seek to understand and make sense of what’s happening in your industry, whether finance or otherwise, to see if everyone else’s commonly held beliefs and assumptions hold when you get into the details.

What would your theme song be?Good to Be Alive” by Andy Grammer

Favorite vacation spot: North Carolina beaches

Hobbies? Reading, rowing, hiking, cooking new recipes with my husband, playing with my two rescue dogs

What made Paige such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Paige Swofford is talented in many ways, has a big heart, and personifies the best of what we hope for in our students. Paige is an outstanding student. Though she did not have a finance background entering Fuqua, Paige worked hard to master the material, performed near the top of the curve in her finance classes, and will soon start a career in finance. She applies this same passion towards all her classes, with outstanding performance across the board. Not only did Paige master the academic material herself, she generously gave her time as an engaged and valuable teaching assistant, tutor, and academic mentor.

Paige’s influence goes well beyond the classroom. She is a leader in the school’s Women in Business endeavors, organizing gatherings that connect Fuqua students with successful business leaders. Paige is also a leader in Fuqua’s activities related to energy broadly, including green energy. Paige’s interest in the environment is also reflected in her earning a joint degree from the Nicholas School of the Environment. Her talent in the energy field is evident in her winning the UCLA energy case competition. Paige is following a career path into energy, which no doubt will be good for her employer and the energy sector more generally.”

John Graham
D. Richard Mead Jr. Family Professor of Finance
Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST: CLASS OF 2018