2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Anna Sturkey, Duke University (Fuqua)

Anna Sturkey

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

“I spend 80% of my time petting my cats and 20% working on gender equity.”

Hometown: Charlotte, NC

Fun fact about yourself: I am currently completing the “Rory Gilmore reading challenge” – I’m reading every book ever referenced in Gilmore Girls. My favorite so far has been The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Undergraduate School and Degree: UNC Chapel Hill, Political Science

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Bain & Co., Consultant

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (Raleigh, NC)

Where will you be working after graduation? Bain & Co., Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Keller Scholar, Gender Equity Working Group

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Coming to business school, l had a dream common among many business school students across schools – I was finally going to get a pet. My husband was less excited at the prospect. He had a list of counter-arguments: yes, we might have free time now, but that was only for two years; we wanted to travel a lot during school; he’s allergic and likes being able to breathe; and so on. Anyway, we compromised and got two kittens.

I know it sounds silly to call that an accomplishment, partly because it is. But it’s also sincere, and it’s not just because I won (which was inevitable).

Business school is dynamic. It’s a time when people pursue their ambitions, and it’s a time when friends celebrate success together. But that pursuit is stressful, and many of the ambitions are stressful, too. I believe we don’t spend enough time celebrating the other type of success: the things that make us less stressed and allow us to pursue our ambitions refreshed rather than exhausted.

For me, that’s these cats. They’re simple, reliable little creatures, and they put everything in perspective. No matter how stressful my day was, I can count on them demanding food when I walk in the door. I can count on them jumping on the counter when I try to make myself food. I can count on them curling up in my lap when I’m working on the couch, displacing my laptop in the process. I can count on them bringing me a toy at night, to show me how well they can hunt (very well!). If I spent my day working on something incredibly important to me, I can count on them giving me permission to relax (after I feed them).

That’s a success I want to celebrate. I encourage everyone to discover and celebrate whatever their equivalent of these cats is for them – and hopefully, it’ll be cats, too.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Helping the Women at Bain (WAB) group in Atlanta become (in my completely objective, not-at-all-biased opinion) the best at Bain – and sharing our successes with WAB groups across the company.

Everyone knows we’re in the middle of a long-overdue conversation about gender dynamics in the workplace, from Hollywood to politics to business. And what has stood out is how hard it is to start and progress those conversations. Atlanta WAB has done a phenomenal job of fostering conversations. We developed Atlanta WAB into a group that maintains its previous success (sharing and discussing experiences among women), but also creates dialogues, mentor support structures, and training that bring our men into the group. The work we’ve done is serving as a model for other WAB groups. It’s super exciting to get a call from someone at another Bain office asking how they can build their WAB group like we built ours.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? The best professors at Fuqua bring their full selves into the classroom. That could mean sharing personal connections to cases, nerding out over their research, or showing genuine personal interest in students. For Qi Chen, who teaches Financial Statement Analysis, it means all of those things.

My favorite moment was during a case about Costco when Qi revealed that he once bought a six-foot stuffed bear. Why? It was only $25, and he couldn’t rationally pass up such a great deal. When he put it that way, it was hard to argue. He further revealed that his nephew asked if he could have the bear. And of course, he said no; he couldn’t lose the evidence.

One day before class, Qi asked which of Rory Gilmore’s books is my favorite. I was…confused. But then I realized that Qi had learned about the Rory Gilmore reading challenge from my resume. Plenty of professors look at students’ resumes, of course. But for Qi, it wasn’t about figuring out whose experience could be relevant to a given class; it was about understanding who his students were and appreciating what they do when they’re not calculating return on net operating assets.

Qi’s class was so good that I mandated my husband (also at Fuqua) take it. I don’t have the authority to mandate other students at Fuqua to take it too, but everyone should. Not just because I learned more in Qi’s class than in any other at Fuqua (which I did), but also because Qi brought his full self to every class, which made the class so much better.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? This answer is a bit of a cheat because it isn’t a tradition… yet. One of my peers, Juliana Collamer, piloted a new tradition called “Dinners of Consequence.” The idea behind the dinners is to create opportunities to cultivate authentic relationships between diverse groups of students at Fuqua. Participating hosts bring together five fellow classmates (who don’t particularly know each other) to share a home-cooked meal and to build deeper connections across all corners of our community.

This dinner was a wonderful chance to:

  1. Eat killer homemade tacos with all the fixings (Jules is a killer chef)
  2. Get to meet – and truly know – five new people

For example, one of the first years in attendance was at Planned Parenthood pre-Fuqua and all throughout the fall, ~8000 people had told me I needed to meet her (I just hadn’t had the chance yet). We spent the evening discussing sex-positivity, the intersection of business and impact work, and totally unrelatedly, our love for Thursday boots.

This tradition is about deliberately creating space to build community – and I can’t wait to see what other connections form.

Why did you choose this business school? Lots of schools talk about how they have a unique culture, but Fuqua was the only one I visited where the described culture felt alive to me. It started at Bain where my Fuqua colleagues were hands down the most excited about me applying to their school, most willing to help me, and most willing to send me Poets&Quants articles about why Fuqua is the best. It continued through my interview experience, where there were people just hanging around the lobby to chat with the interviewees while they waited – answering questions and calming them down. Essentially, every part of my Fuqua interactions was screaming “we are a community of people who are extremely enthusiastic about wanting each other to succeed.”

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The absolute proudest I’ve felt at Fuqua had nothing to do with my own accomplishments. Instead, it was when Dean Boulding used his position as chair of GMAC to create a coalition of business school deans and business leaders to advocate for the benefits of increased immigration.

At Fuqua, Dean Boulding preaches that DQ – decency quotient – is just as critical as IQ and EQ. Well, this initiative was Dean Boulding living out DQ.

At his core, Dean Boulding believes business has to shift from being viewed as the “root of society’s problems” to an active contributor to positive change. At Fuqua’s core, we believe our strength comes from our diversity; we have among the highest percentages of international students and deliberately structure our curriculum to learn from each other.

Leading a coalition on immigration reform was a chance for Dean Boulding to put this core belief together and lead with decency. And my entire Instagram feed was bursting with the pride of my peers sharing his editorial.

So that’s a very long build-up to my advice: If what I just described resonates with you, you’re probably a good fit at Fuqua. Think about how you will use your Fuqua degree to be decent, to do good for others, and to use business to actively contribute to positive change. And when it’s time to interview, just say those thoughts aloud. Our dean is modeling it, and we need students to model it, too.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that Team Fuqua is all talk. EVERY business school talks about being supportive and having a great community culture; is Fuqua actually different?

This summer I had an idea: I wanted to have a talk with all 400 new first years about sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct is a hot button issue in social media and impacts every business school. I wanted to have a real talk about it. I wanted people to talk about how they ask for consent; how alcohol makes everything complicated; how afraid we are of talking about sexual misconduct.

When I pitched the idea to the administration, I was pretty sure they were going to say no. Students talking about consent not facilitated with a Title IX admin…the whole thing was a liability. Their response: “Yes, and how can we help?” Team Fuqua isn’t just a student thing; it is administration supporting students and initiatives to improve Fuqua even when it’s scary.

We planned the event for three weeks. Three other second years volunteered to fly in for the day, drive back early, and request a day off (during THE summer internship when you are terrified to ask for a vacation day). They threw themselves behind the idea, showing more courage and vulnerability than I could ask for. Team Fuqua was rallying around this idea, asking for a vacation day during a summer where every day matters, and bravely talking about a scary topic. Team Fuqua isn’t just words about how we support each other and care deeply about our community; it’s action.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Host more brunches! Some of my favorite memories are Sunday morning brunches at our place. Unclear to me why we didn’t make it a weekly occurrence.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I don’t need to think about this one. Hands down, Andy Chenlo (definitely not you, nameless husband). If I have children, I hope they turn out like Andy.

Sometimes working on gender equity can be exhausting. You’re trying to balance all the things: creating a space for women to share, initiatives to change the culture, identifying short-term tactical strategies, and engaging male allies, all while trying to take care of yourself.

And then you meet Andy. Someone who is thoughtful and clear-eyed, who listens and cares, and – most importantly – who is pissed off by the status quo and wants to put in the legwork needed to change it.

At the start of our second year, Andy was mad. Why weren’t men doing more to change the culture (at Fuqua, in the US, in the world)? Women shouldn’t feel this exhausted. Men need to listen to women and then lead other men to share the burden of changing culture.

His philosophy is this: when men see other men act poorly, that behavior gets normalized; to change the norms, men need to see other men act well. Men look to other men to see what is socially acceptable, and if we had a sufficiently sized group of men living the new norms every day, we could start to see change.

Andy and I spent countless hours together creating a group of “change agents” within Fuqua’s Male Allies program: ~30 men who are sharing the burden of changing culture. We crafted a program, content, and measurement mechanisms. We want to move the perception of male allyship as episodic interventions to an expression of a deeper identity – men who know what they stand for and manifest that identity through a fulltime commitment to actionably learn and support. And we’re starting to see that come to life.

I firmly believe we could have the best content in the world, but this program would not have been a success without Andy. I believe every single one of our change agents looks at Andy and thinks, “That’s what I want to be like”. He is the true change agent.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Honestly, I ended up in consulting after a “What am I going to do with my life” anxiety attack. I went to UNC with a plan: major in political science, serve as a counsel for the Honor System, study for the LSAT senior year, and head to law school.

My junior year after a really emotionally challenging Honor System case, I realized why Elle Woods (Legally Blonde anyone?) disagreed with Aristotle. The law is not reason free from passion and I could not imagine spending the rest of my life doing it.

But it was internship application time and I suddenly had no path. A friend who had just secured a full-time offer at BCG recommended consulting: “It’s great for people who have no idea what they want to do.” I dropped applications while googling “What is consulting”.

And that’s why I ultimately ended up coming to business school – to be more thoughtful and deliberate in how to approach the business world.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Be invited to a mentee’s wedding (I want proof that they really love me)
  2. Work abroad! And depending on where see if I can learn a language as an adult. (I did take Spanish with the Duke undergrads last year…)

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? The one who constantly showed really cute pictures of her cats, no matter how many times she was asked to stop.

Hobbies? My cats, cooking, all of Netflix

What made Anna such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Someone I deeply admire once said, “Time is a big, precious, and unrenewable resource.” I, like everyone who has met her, am incredibly grateful for the time I have spent with Anna Sturkey. Anna is unbelievably intelligent, an extraordinary listener and leader, and she gets things done. While Fuqua is a student-led and student-driven school, with many students deserving of recognition, Anna has stood out as an invaluable addition to the class.

As a huge Duke fan, I am an even bigger fan of Anna, who happens to be a loyal and dedicated Tar Heel given her undergraduate experience at the University of North Carolina. Despite the strong (and somewhat silly!) rivalry, I am very appreciative to be on her team at Fuqua, and will genuinely miss her when she moves on to impact the world. In full disclosure, I am looking into scenarios where I can convince her to not graduate this spring!

Anna has helped make Fuqua a better, more welcoming, more open, and more inclusive community. In working with her over the last two years, I have appreciated her courage in confronting some of the most difficult issues facing Fuqua, and our society. Her eagerness to work outside of the spotlight, on important issues like decency in business and gender equity and inclusion, is admirable and inspiring. She lifts the heaviest load, with incredible thought, intentionality, and selflessness.

Recently, Anna received one of Fuqua’s highest honors, the Fuqua Paired Principle Award for “Uncompromising Integrity.” In celebrating this award, and recognizing Anna’s contribution to her peers, one of Anna’s classmates shared the following: “Anna does things for Fuqua because she cares and not because she wants any recognition. Anna has been key in getting the pilot panel of the Decency Quotient (DQ) series off the ground and is extremely passionate and involved in the Gender Equity Working Group.”

Anna has inspired Fuqua with her commitment and courage. Personally, she has helped me see our community and our business through a different lens. She has helped me, and many others, work through and learn from our blind spots. Our leadership team at Fuqua has most appreciated that Anna makes the daily choice to choose courage over comfort. Anna’s presence, intelligence, leadership, and influence has left an inspiring legacy. And while I regrettably can’t prevent Anna from graduating this spring, her impact on Fuqua will last long after she walks across the stage in Cameron Indoor Stadium this May.”

Steve Misuraca
Assistant Dean Daytime MBA and MMS Programs


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