Meet Duke Fuqua’s MBA Class Of 2020

Tala Kayyali

Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

A pragmatic cheese lover balancing a scientific brain with a musician’s heart.”

Hometown: Amman, Jordan

Fun Fact About Yourself: I play a 75-string instrument called qanun that I took up at the National Music Conservatory of Amman. I was a member of the first all-female Jordanian music ensemble called “Nashmiyyat” which means “gallant ladies”.

Undergraduate School and Major: Tufts University, Psychology

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Biogen; Lead – Clinical Supply Capabilities

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I led the clinical work stream on $54 million dollar project to upgrade the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across the company. I was the youngest and only female lead. I directed a cross-functional 23-user team in the US and Denmark, created 6 contingency plans, and oversaw 23 scenarios and 73 defect-fixes. It was very rewarding to motivate the team and deliver the project successfully since a delay would have cost $6 million. As a result of my leadership, I was the youngest person to get promoted to a lead within my group.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why?

Generous. My classmates have been so helpful and informative. They are very open about themselves, sharing their backgrounds, cultures and experiences. It is very motivating to be surrounded by people who show a genuine interest in getting to know you and offer their help in big things and small alike.

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? Location. I am doing the Health Sector Management certificate which is a highlight at Fuqua. Being in the Research Triangle Park (RTP) area gives us a unique perspective on health care because we are surrounded by several biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and nestled within some of the country’s leading research organizations and medical centers. I also love the proximity to an international airport since I love to travel. The weather is a great consequence of the location too!

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school?

Fuqua Idol! I am really excited to share my 75-string instrument with my classmates!

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I wanted to gain functional knowledge of a business, build on people management and leadership soft skills, and explore innovation in healthcare. I was looking to build a strong network, gain exposure to industry leaders, connect with peers who are interested in my industry, give back, show my creative side, and gain exposure to new ways of thinking, new disciplines and industries.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? I discussed career trajectories with senior leaders in my organization. An MBA is one of the rare opportunities for you to be surrounded by people who come from different backgrounds and areas of expertise. Exposure to other ways of thinking enhances your own, makes you more empathetic, and builds you to become a better agent of change. If you are looking to pivot or accelerate your career and development, it is a sound investment that continues to pay off for the rest of your career.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Tuck, Columbia Business School

How did you determine your fit at various schools? People, location, and programs offered. The most helpful way to determine fit is to talk to current students and alumni, and visit the schools. I was looking at schools that have a strong health care program. I attended the weekend for women events that schools hosted to get a better feel for the culture. Advancing women in business is an issue I am passionate about. I was looking for schools that understood the importance of this issue and were actively addressing it.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are?

While I was an undergraduate, I worked as a research assistant at the Tufts Psychopharmacology lab for three years. During one my experiments, a rat jumped out of its cage as I was trying to weigh it. While I was chasing after it to put it back into its cage, I questioned whether I wanted to spend my life doing laboratory research. I had an epiphany that I needed to work in a more team-based role with humans rather than spend 10 hours a day in a research laboratory with no windows. While I valued and appreciated scientific work and thinking, I wanted to do more team-based work. The incident led me to pursue an internship in supply chain operations at a biotechnology company after graduation and started my path in business.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? Consulting.

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