Meet Duke Fuqua’s MBA Class Of 2020


Shezanne Cassim

Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

“Someone who would choose an interesting life over an easy life, any day.”

Hometown: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Fun Fact About Yourself: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. Even to this day, I dream about buying a decommissioned fighter jet so I can fly it around for fun.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Minnesota, B.A. Political Science

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: American Airlines; Manager, Business Development

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: While working at Emirates Airline in Dubai, I was selected to help implement and manage a new inventory distribution system across three regions in our global network – Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and West Africa. The role gave me my first experiences leading cross-functional teams around the world and together we enjoyed success in markets as varied as Senegal, Syria, Iraq, China, Indonesia, and Thailand.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Diverse and full of energy. In only the few days leading up to the start of the program, I’ve seen my classmates take the initiative to organize multiple social and educational events. It is amazing to see how enthusiastic everyone is to share their experiences, expertise, and time.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? The quality of post-graduate career opportunities was a key factor in me choosing Fuqua. There are many career pathways now open to me that I would not have had access to had I not opted to attend Fuqua. Additionally, the Career Management Center’s expertise in helping match students with careers made me optimistic that I could even find an interesting career opportunity that I might not have thought about before. Having a broad set of quality career options is so important to me because my ultimate goal is to find fulfilling and impactful work that I am both extremely passionate about and well-suited for.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am most looking forward to joining the Fuqua2Duke program, where I can help mentor undergraduates. When I was an undergraduate, I had little-to-no guidance and I made many mistakes. I hope that by offering guidance to undergraduates, I can help them avoid making the same mistakes I made. Essentially, I hope to help them understand the immensity of all the opportunities that Duke University offers and help them progress through their college careers in ways that open up as many doors as possible.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? When I graduated from college, I was looking forward to never having to return to school. I thought that when I joined the workforce, I would learn everything I needed to know on the job. But over the years, while I might have learned some valuable hard skills, I found out that I had severely underestimated the importance of leadership in the world of business. Having thought that “leadership” was merely a wishy-washy concept and not the kind of driving force that underpins successful organizations, I ignored actively developing my leadership skills almost entirely in my early career. The humbling realization that I had gotten it so wrong and that I had  much to learn led me on a pathway towards pursuing an MBA.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? After looking at the post-graduate employment and salary reports, the return on investment was clear to me. But more importantly, because I value learning as much as I now do, I felt the chance to be a full-time student again was priceless.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? The Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Based on my personality, my belief in teamwork, my personal development goals, and my career goals, there were three primary factors I was looking for in a school. Firstly, I wanted to attend a school which attracted students who were collaborative and not hyper-competitive. Secondly, I was looking for a school which offered a range of experiential learning opportunities. And lastly, I was looking for a school with strong career management resources and where top companies actively come to recruit.

After studying Fuqua’s employment reports, evaluating rankings, looking through online MBA-related information resources such as Poets & Quants, reading Fuqua’s blogs, and speaking to colleagues who had graduated from Fuqua, I saw that Fuqua ticked off all three of those factors, at least on paper. But it was not until I visited the school during my interview and had the chance to spend an entire day chatting with current and prospective students that I really felt that intangible connection to the school.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? When I moved to the US from the UAE while I was in high school, I found it extremely difficult to leave behind my friends and the life I had known. I struggled with severe homesickness even well into my college years. After eventually adapting, however, I became confident that I could face and overcome greater challenges. Over time, I developed a receptiveness to taking on challenges and now consider resilience to be my single greatest strength.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I am currently exploring several options which include returning to the airline industry (hopefully in a role that would involve launching customer-facing products), management consulting, and perhaps even a niche role in an early stage tech company. While I haven’t yet committed to a career in a specific industry, I do know that I would like to be involved in strategy, product development, or marketing.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In five years, I see myself leading a team as we research, conceptualize, build, and deploy a product – whether it be a new aircraft seat design, a jet engine component, computer application, or a video game.

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