2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Colin Emerson, Duke University (Fuqua)

Colin Emerson

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

“Husband, son, brother, and friend who values people and their personal and professional development.”

Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC

Fun fact about yourself: A close friend in Malaysia asked me to be the emcee at his Chinese wedding dinner in Kuala Lumpur. I learned to sing a classic Chinese love song – “Yueliang Daibiao Wo De Xin” (“The Moon Represents My Heart”) – to surprise him and his bride. I am a terrible singer, but I have now been asked to sing the same song at four other wedding dinners.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Princeton University, Bachelor of Arts in History

Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), Postgraduate Diploma in Education

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Ministry of Education Singapore, Subject Head of Talent Development (2008-2017 total time with MOE)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Deloitte Consulting in New York City

Where will you be working after graduation? Deloitte Consulting, Senior Consultant in Human Capital Offering Portfolio

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Center for Leadership and Ethics (COLE) Leadership Fellow: Member of training team responsible for development of 40+ Second Year COLE Leadership Fellows; mentor and guide for first-year student teams to support their academic, career, and leadership development goals.
  • Co-President of Human Capital Club: Design and co-lead workshops to prepare students for case competitions and job interviews at top consulting firms and HR leadership development programs; promote thought leadership in the human capital sector through student-faculty-corporate partnerships.
  • Academic Fellow for Economics and Strategy courses: Taught review sessions to support learning for more than 100 Economics students; co-led team of 20 Teaching Assistants to ensure equality of learning opportunities for 400 Strategy students.
  • Active Member of MBAA Diversity Subcabinet: Support MBAA Vice President of Diversity on schoolwide diversity initiatives, bringing an open mind and learning mindset to collaboratively build a more inclusive Fuqua community.
  • Active Member of Gender Equity Working Group: Work with fellow students, faculty, and administration to further gender equity initiatives to build a more inclusive Fuqua community.
  • 2019 McGowan Fellow
  • 2018-2019 First Year Dean’s List

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Along with two great business school friends, Rosanna Arias and Emily Carsch, we set a vision for a Human Capital Club that would provide tangible support to Fuquans wanting to enter the human capital space. After going through the human capital/human resources recruiting process, we realized that future generations of Fuquans could benefit from a professional club that catered to their specific interests and needs in the human capital space. Over the last year, we have brought together previously unconnected resources, designed recruiting preparation resources, and nurtured a community of human capital thought leaders. I was proud of how we came together and collaborated to solve an unmet need, providing a platform for fellow Fuquans to successfully enter and lead in the human capital space.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Two things immediately come to mind: one is programmatic and one is relational. At a program level, I met top Humanities students at Catholic High School (CHS) in Singapore hungry to deepen their understanding of the world beyond what was taught in the traditional classroom. To this end, I designed a Humanities Talent Development Program to stretch the minds of our best and brightest students. As part of the program, students engaged with diplomats, academics, and financiers to deepen their understanding of the practical applications of economics, history, geography, and literature. Seeing students and fellow teachers excited to learn new things was very rewarding, and the knowledge that some students chose to come to CHS because of the program is humbling.

On a more personal note, I was responsible for working with troubled students at CHS. I worked with one particular young man who had a history of discipline problems. I poured my heart and soul into our relationship, trying to show him that I cared about him as a person and about his goals more than anything else. After working together for several years, he successfully graduated from secondary school—something that had looked unlikely several times. The day he graduated, he posted a picture of the two of us on Instagram, with a caption stating that he probably would not have graduated without my help. A teacher’s job is often thankless, and thinking about this particular thank you still brings tears to my eyes.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor is Robert Swinney. Robert teaches the core Operations course to many Fuqua students, and he also teaches an Operations Strategy course. I had zero interest in Operations until I took Robert’s core class, and I took his Operations Strategy course solely because of his teaching. As a former educator, I probably observe teaching with a slightly different lens than many classmates, and Robert is a great teacher for several reasons: he carefully designs his courses such that each reading, case, lecture, and assessment fits neatly into the overall flow and learning objectives for the course; he facilitates classroom discussion in a very inclusive way, encouraging participation from everyone; and he engages his students in-and-out of the classroom.

What was your favorite MBA Course My favorite course was Consumer Behavior taught by one of my other favorite professors, Gavan Fitzsimons. Consumer Behavior taught me that mass marketing does not come naturally to me, so I better conduct a lot of market research and trials to understand how consumers think if I want to successfully sell anything.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Fuqua because the Team Fuqua culture really resonated with me. I was confident that I could get a strong general management education at any of the top schools, and I wanted to go to a school that would push me to be a better teammate, mentor, and leader. My wife often reminds me that I felt Fuqua would provide this the first time I visited, and I have been happy about my choice since day one. The “team” in Team Fuqua is more than simply working together on projects—it is an ethos that permeates everything from how we behave in the classroom to the expectation that we make personally beneficial decisions without being self-interested. Through my roles as a COLE Leadership Fellow, leader in the Human Capital Club, and willing learner in our diversity initiatives, I have had the opportunity to lead, work for, and work with classmates who have held me accountable to my goal of becoming a better people developer for ALL people.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Think carefully about what you want for your career. If you want to be a leader of people, then seriously consider Fuqua. If you solely want to focus on your technical skills or recruiting efforts, then seriously consider somewhere other than Fuqua.

If you do consider Fuqua, then make sure to be authentic in your application essays and interviews. Lean in to who you are, and let that shine through by focusing on what really matters to you.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth I heard is that everyone becomes a Duke basketball fan. Most of my classmates have become Duke fans, but I am from Chapel Hill, and as far as basketball goes…TAR…HEELS!

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I had known how all-encompassing on-campus recruiting would be during my first year. I was targeted in my job search, so my time commitment was not as great as my friends, but I wish someone had told me recruiting would be like dating multiple companies at the same time.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Business school has been transformative for me because it has allowed me to reflect on my own biases and privileges. I came to Fuqua not knowing what I did not know about the experiences of those who are different from me, and classes like Ashleigh Rosette’s “Women and Leadership.” Friends such as Beth Henderson Davis and Gaby Sena have also helped me progress in my journey to become a more inclusive leader. I am still a work in progress, but listening to, dialoguing with, and being held accountable by my MBA peers has transformed my awareness of the importance of being an inclusive leader.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Tom Peacock. Tom is the epitome of the word thoughtful, both in terms of the careful consideration he gives his decisions and his consideration of others’ needs. He puts both on display as a COLE Leadership Fellow, always coming prepared with questions and ideas no one else has considered to ensure that we do our absolute best to support each of the first years. In addition, Tom is a diligent student who cares more about truly understanding course content than he does the end grade—something he puts to great use explaining things to struggling classmates. Finally, Tom is a model husband and friend—he even gives handwritten thank you notes, something we should all really do.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My wife, Fon, most influenced me to pursue an MBA. She encouraged me to apply my passion for people development to the corporate world, and that started my journey to an MBA. She also teasingly commented that my long-winded teaching answers would not cut it in the boardroom, so I had to get up to speed somehow.

What is your favorite movie about business? The Intern. Not only is the movie fun and entertaining, but it shows us that if you hire the right people and empower them to do their jobs, then you can lead a company without sacrificing everything in your personal life.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…the headmaster of an international school.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? I think it was worth every penny.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Driving tour of Scotland with my wife and family.
  2. Hit a hole-in-one.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as someone who was always honest, yet respectful, and who worked hard to learn about others and set them up for success.

Hobbies? Traveling, golfing, eating, and spending time with my friends and family.

What made Colin such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“There are days where I wish the class of 2019 was made up of 400+ Colin Emersons, as Colin is a student who is fully committed to making the most of his time inside and outside the classroom, and is intentional about elevating the experience of others within the Fuqua community.

There are also days where I have said to fellow staff members, “I want to be Colin Emerson when I grow up!” Colin is an amazingly well-rounded student at Fuqua. He is at the top of his class academically, and has deeply impacted his peers throughout the last two years through his leadership and personal interactions. While Colin stands out for his work as a COLE Fellow, Academic Fellow, Club President, and member of the Gender Working Group, it is his day to day interactions with his classmates, faculty, and staff that truly set him apart.

Colin is frequently mentioned as THE student that ALL Fuqua students feel comfortable approaching to talk about difficult or uncomfortable topics or to pass on sensitive feedback. Colin has incredible empathy, patience, and a willingness to listen.

Colin is able to advocate strongly for and represent his own beliefs and is mature and thoughtful enough to articulate, share, and recognize opposing views. Because of his thoughtfulness, he has a gift for bringing people together and enacting change.

Colin represents the best of Team Fuqua given his strong desire to learn, his commitment for helping and advancing the experience others, and his genuinely positive and happy approach.”

Steve Misuraca

Assistant Dean of the Daytime MBA Program, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business



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