“A team player.”
That’s a put-down to some. Most people imagine themselves as Zion Williamson – not the guy who sets his picks. A team player is often considered disposable, the high-effort specialist who should just be happy to play. In reality, “team player” is the ultimate compliment.
It’s not hard to find talents. Too often, they head off on their own, racking up accolades but never winning the “big one.” But being a complementary piece – that takes someone special. Together, team players can move faster, cover more terrain, and achieve unimaginable ends.
TEAMWORK IS THE FUTURE
How do they outpace individual talent? Team players come together because they aren’t satisfied with the status quo. They accept that teams are short-term propositions, so make the most of the moment. Great teams watch out for each other, knowing when to step back or step in, never hesitating to sacrifice for the greater good. They police each other, reinforcing expectations and never allowing politics to creep into the mix. Most of all, team players celebrate each other. Operating from a foundation of trust and respect, they never forget that work can’t be impactful if it can’t fun.
The great teams point their fingers towards at the mission instead of each other. That’s what makes them so valuable. These days, employers aren’t seeking the smartest person in the room. They want team players who can bring people together and harness their gifts. Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to teamwork. In a world that pays lip-service to teamwork, Fuqua has made it central to its MBA culture. They call it “Team Fuqua.” It is more a state of mind than a slogan. Here, everyone is a complementary piece of something bigger…and more profound.
We believe that it’s essential that future business leaders be able to unlock the power that lies in difference,” writes Dean Bill Boulding in a 2018 blog post. “Bringing out the best in others isn’t just a nice approach to work, it’s a winning business strategy. In fact, it’s the secret sauce to meaningful collaboration that leads to true innovation. Innovation happens when people who have differing perspectives and experiences come together to approach problems and new thinking emerges.”
Indeed, Team Fuqua breathes a “We’re all in this together” mentality, where doing good – and doing it together – translates to doing well over the long-term. “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,” explains Colin Emerson, a 2019 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA. “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.”
Being a team player doesn’t mean you can’t be a leader of consequence, however. Don’t forget, Apple’s Tim Cook and Microsoft’s Melinda Gates are part of Team Fuqua too. At their core, team players are servant leaders, the ones who listen and lighten, collect and conceive, build and bridge. That goes a long way towards making a difference, says Jyoti Singh, a first-year Fuqua MBA. “My peers at Fuqua are a living example of the notion that if you put a whole team of enthusiastic people together, the possibilities for that team are endless.”
This desire to be part of Team Fuqua – to make an impact through unity – also brought Singh’s Class of 2021 peers to Durham. “As cliché as it may sound, it is the “Team Fuqua” spirit of collaboration, respect for others, and energy for life that I find to be most embodied in each of my classmates,” writes Lauren Whyte. “Simply put, positivity and compassion run rampant throughout the student body as people here genuinely care about each other. Moreover, I feel that people come to Duke not simply to experience these values, but to seek to contribute to them in their own unique way.”
COORDINATING MARITIME ACTIVITY…FOR THE MIDDLE EAST
Whyte herself is a self-described “former data scientist turned pro volleyball player [and] Ice, rock, and mountain climber.” Admittedly, she chose Fuqua for its “supportive and collaborative culture” where she “would be OK—better yet, encouraged—to fail.” Make no mistake, Whyte isn’t afraid to take a risk. That includes her volleyball career, where she summoned the courage to fire her agent and launch her own agency.
“Initially, I was overwhelmed by the new responsibilities of creating my own brand, designing a social media presence, and negotiating contracts,” she remembers. “Through persistence, I learned to stay afloat in the ambiguous world of entrepreneurship. With each of the successive three contracts I secured, I received an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment. More importantly, creating my own agency gave me the strength to weather the fear and uncertainty that comes with forging your own path.”
Think that’s responsibility? In the U.S. Navy, Jackie Callahan served as a Surface Warfare Officer. On some shifts, she acted as the Battle Watch Captain. Translation: she oversaw all maritime activity in the Middle East. That was just one of her roles where she relied heavily on teamwork.
“While stationed in Bahrain with the U.S. Navy, I was responsible for coordinating the maritime operations for around 25 NATO warships in the Middle East,” she notes. “It was eye-opening to facilitate counter-smuggling operations, oceanic research missions, and warship transits through the strategic chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb.”
LEARNING FROM FALLING SHORT
“Team” has been the driving force behind Taylor Foster’s career so far. Before joining Team Fuqua, she worked as a senior strategy analyst for the Cleveland Indians baseball team. Here, she helped spearhead a renovation to the team’s Progressive Field to prepare for the 2019 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. As she learned from the Indians’ trip to the World Series in 2016, it isn’t always winning that makes for a successful team.
“I was huddled together with the rest of the Cleveland Indians front office, she writes. Unexpectedly, Rajai Davis hit a 2-run home run to tie the game, and in that moment all of our differences in department or tenure disappeared. We stood together celebrating as if we were part of the team on the field because of all the work we had put in to indirectly get our organization to this point. Later that night, we ended up losing the game and the 2016 World Series. In that moment I was crushed, but as time passed it became easier to focus instead on how special the journey had been. It’s natural to see winning the championship as the pinnacle of any sports career, but instead I learned how unifying the experience of losing the championship could be. Since then, I’ve learned to place a large importance on the culture of any organization.”
Teams may be like-minded in purpose, but diverse in personality and approach. Case in point: Jaz Henry – “a proud feminist fundraiser turned Fuquan [who is] turning rage into action for gender equality and better healthcare.” Like Taylor Foster, Henry took her greatest pride from falling short…to an extent. In her case, she volunteered to manage a complex technical data migration and integration project – one that required re-designing a website and launching a new e-CRM in the process. Sound intimidating? That didn’t stop Henry, who learned to manage “up, down, and sideways.” While she bit off a little too much, the result ultimately prepared her to tackle even bigger challenges.
“I made a lot of mistakes along the way,” she admits, “but I rose to the challenge, communicated shortcomings, mobilized a cross-functional team, learned to ask for a lot of help, and didn’t give up—even in the early days when I was not so intimately acquainted with terms like API, GDPR, and SSL certificate.”
CREATING SOMETHING FROM NOTHING
You won’t find any quitters in the Class of 2021 – just achievers like Henry who know how to leverage the people and resources around them. That includes Jyoti Singh, who managed a $3-million dollar missile testing system revamp – one that saved over $300,000 dollars – not counting all the man-hours. Patrick Pierson-Prah launched his own impact investment firm and helped 2,500 smallholder farmers find new markets for their products – and double their revenues along the way. At KPMG, Vidhu Venkatesh turned a “dormant” project into a cash cow.
“I laid the groundwork for the R&D, built and led a small team of interns, and successfully pioneered the new client service,” he writes. “With this service, we disrupted the market of software asset management as a first mover and today the service has grown to more than 20 client projects globally with a project team of more than 10 members. I was awarded the Rising Star Award for exceptional performance as a new joiner.”
Looking for some great cocktail hour stories? The Class of 2021 has you covered. Stanford grad Jonathan Lautaha is “technically” a national judo champion…though he is careful to point out that there were only two people in his weight class. How did Jackie Callahan choose the U.S. Naval Academy? As a 5th grader in Space Camp, she learned many of the astronauts studied there…and her heart was set. As children, neither Taylor Foster nor her brother was allowed to swim in their lake because their parents feared they’d drown. A decade later, both competed in Division I swimming. Speaking of sports, basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski had better watch out for Eddie Flood.
“While I was in college at Notre Dame, I emailed the head men’s basketball coach, Mike Brey, asking to play him in a game of H-O-R-S-E. He accepted and we spent two hours playing basketball in the men’s practice facility.”
Go to Page 3 for a dozen in-depth student profiles from the Class of 2021.