2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Doug Fiefia, Rice University (Jones)

Doug Fiefia

Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business

An islander (Tongan), raised in the snow (Utah), who is a proud #GirlDad of 3.”

Hometown: South Jordan, Utah

Fun fact about yourself: I have won over 75 claw-machine prizes that have brought priceless joy to my three daughters. Because of this weird talent, one year my wife gave me a big bag of quarters for my birthday. I’m just glad that my daughters are still at an age where they think it’s cool. I also would like to apologize to the many people who have received one of these said prizes as a white elephant gift.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Utah State University – B.S. Business Administration, B.S. Marketing

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Workday – Manager, Corporate Sales Development

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Google, Redwood City, CA.

Where will you be working after graduation? Google – Manager, Google Customer Solutions

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Student Body President (Jones Student Association) – The purpose of the Jones Student Association is to maximize student access and opportunities, optimize learning, and ultimately, increase the value of the Rice MBA. I was elected by my fellow classmates to fulfill this purpose and represent the voice of students to faculty, staff, and administration.
  • Scout Master, Boy Scouts of America – I volunteer 3 hours per week mentoring 10 young men (ages 11-14) through the scouting program. The purpose of the scouting program is to contribute to the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual potentials as individuals, as responsible citizens and as members of their local, national and international communities.
  • Rice Board Fellow, Urban Enrichment Institute – Served 1 year as a non-voting member of a local Houston non-profit.
  • Communications Fellow – Coached 1st-year MBA students on interview, presentation, and public speaking skills.
  • Admissions Ambassador – Interview and assist in recruiting events for prospective Rice MBA students.
  • Consortium Fellow

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During the first year of my MBA, there were suggestions and ideas that I felt could benefit the MBA program. While searching for who to share it with and where to share them, I realized that there was no formal process or protocol for student concerns, ideas, suggestions, etc. I met with several stakeholder groups to try to resolve this gap and came up with a tool and process we now call Owl Voice. It is an online feedback tool that allows students to voice any concerns, suggestions, ideas, or questions. The submission goes to Jones Student Association officers, and they then work with staff, faculty, and administration to resolve any concerns or implement suggestions in a timely manner. This tool and process has given students a real voice and has further created a sense of community because now we are all working together to make Rice Business a better place. Today, many of the initiatives and changes that have been made at the Jones School, has come from students through Owl Voice. I’m grateful that I am a part of an MBA program that listens to students and that I was able to implement change benefiting students for many years to come.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At the beginning of my career, I was in a sales role where much of my time was spent making cold calls to find out key information in order to qualify companies as potential customers. When I questioned this practice because of how much time it took and the low percentage of prospects answering their phones, I was told that this is just how the job is done and that there is no way around making cold calls. Being convinced otherwise, I came up with an idea to send a survey to all these prospective companies asking for these key pieces of information and in turn offer a $15 Starbucks gift card to get them to fill it out. There were many who doubted the simplicity of the program, but I knew people love their coffee and I would make the survey easy and short enough that it would be worth the $15.

Within minutes of the surveys being sent out, we had many Director, VP, and C-Level Executives respond to the survey. With the surveys, we discovered opportunities that we otherwise may have never known and were able to qualify four large customers that would lead to millions of dollars in the sales pipeline. Because of its success, it opened opportunities for me to share and train others how to effectively use surveys. It has saved hundreds of hours in the sales rep’s day to day schedule, is now used as a best practice throughout the company, and has led to millions of dollars in revenue. Although increasing revenue for the company is important, I’m prouder of the fact that it allowed me to help many of my peers to become more effective, efficient, and ultimately more successful. The personal success was great, but it was more gratifying seeing it help everyone around me to be more successful.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Rice because of the close, tight-knit community, class size, academic rigor, and entrepreneurship program. Everyone talks about community and culture, but I could literally feel it at Rice. The great part about having a small class size is that you can immediately step into leadership positions and begin to make an impact on the program and your personal experience.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Take time to get to know Rice above and beyond what you can find online. I understand campus visits may be difficult for some, but phone calls and coffee chats with alumni or current students is a great alternative. I think you will be surprised at the willingness of the Rice community to answer prospective students’ questions. Doing this will not only help your application and interview, but it will also help you identify if Rice is the best fit for you.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Rice is only for those who are looking to get into Energy. Yes, Rice is a great place for those looking to get into Energy because we are in Houston, but graduates also find jobs in many other industries. Many of my classmates and I are going to industries outside of energy, including finance, consulting, healthcare, real estate, tech, and others.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would get more involved with other organizations and programs outside of the business school. As an MBA student, it is very easy to stay in, study at, and only attend events at the business school. There is so much that the rest of the Rice campus has to offer and I wish I would have started taking advantage of these resources earlier.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Aamir Hasanali is the President of the Adam Smith Society, Vice President of the Jones Student Association, and Chair for Owl Olympics. What makes Aamir special is that he is selfless and humble. He is always giving of his time and talents and would give you the shirt off of his back if you needed it. When there is a job to be done, Aamir is typically the first to volunteer, especially when they are the tasks that no one wants.

During our first semester, we all took Corporate Finance, and Aamir got the high score on the mid-term. His first thought following the mid-term wasn’t to celebrate his success but to organize Finance study sessions to help anyone who wanted it. He didn’t get paid or any recognition, but the ones who received his help will be forever grateful. Though many students will never know how much he does, he is a large part of why many of our student events and activities go without a glitch. The best part is that he doesn’t do it to get recognition, he does it to make a difference.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My dad has been the biggest influence on pursuing an MBA. He immigrated to the U.S. from Tonga in the late 70s, leaving the comfort of home for the promise of the “American Dream.” What they don’t tell you is that the “American Dream” typically comes with a lot of struggles and hardships along the way. Most of my childhood, my dad was juggling 2-4 jobs at the same time. He would usually leave for work long before we were awake and return after we had gone to bed. Though he couldn’t always be with us at home, when he was, he was present. The most impressive part of how much and how hard my dad worked was that he never complained and that he always found time to serve in the community.

My dad isn’t only a hard worker, but also a self-starter. With little education and broken English, my dad managed to learn drywall and start his own company. One day after a long day of working with my dad, I asked, “Dad, why do you work so hard?” He responded with an answer that I will never forget. He said, “Son, the reason why we work so hard, is so that you can get an education and be better than us.” My dad (and mom) have made so many sacrifices so that I could get an education and I am doing my best to make all their sacrifices worth it. After taking nearly every entrepreneurship course offered at Rice, I finally got the courage to start my first company. The best part is that I was able to do it with my hero, my dad.

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

  • Make my start-up construction business a success, jumpstarting me to become a full-time entrepreneur.
  • Sit on non-profit boards that work on eradicating human trafficking, and also boards that support educational opportunities for underrepresented minorities.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want to be remembered as someone who gave more than I took, was kind to everyone, and helped others to become their best selves.


  • Eating & Cooking (Especially using my smoker)
  • Playing guitar & singing
  • Watching movies
  • Golfing
  • Working out

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

“The word that best describes Doug, and sets a basis for all he does, is family. Doug’s parents emigrated from Tonga, and Doug brings the Tongan culture — where family and faith is everything — to all that he does, including his role as the Rice Business student body president. From the moment Doug set foot on campus, he has embraced, fostered, and furthered that sense of family. While I could detail many achievements, I will focus on aspects that Doug implemented that have dramatically increased the connectedness of the student body, with each other, as well as to the faculty and staff.

Doug has brought a voice to the student body. One of Doug’s first achievements as president was to implement a feature that has become the single most important feedback mechanisms we have on campus, Owl Voice. Owl Voice allows students to provide real-time feedback on any facet of their experience at Rice. Most major school initiatives have been driven from this tool, whether it be small improvements such as adding filtered water to the student lounge to much more significant improvements such as the start of STEM programming. As associate dean, what has also impressed me is Doug’s ability to work from both sides of the aisle. He represents the student body to the administration, but he also is wonderful at helping the administration explain the why behind the decisions that are made and dispel misinformation that may exist.

Doug had deepened the sense of community and inclusion. As are most full-time programs, we have a very diverse population of students. Doug has helped us make students, particularly international students, feel much more included in the community. At Thanksgiving, the domestic students all return home to celebrate what is an American tradition. However, the international students, some of whom are unfamiliar with the tradition, are still on campus. Doug matched each international student with an American family to make sure that no one was left out and that each student had the chance to experience one of the most favorite American traditions. One student wrote that “This was one of the best experiences of my MBA.” Doug then extended this to include other very American traditions such as watching the Super Bowl and enjoying the great American sport, baseball, both of which are baffling to many international students but are often a great source of conversation among students. Now, our international students feel they too can participate in these discussions. It is a small thing but turns out to be crucial to students’ feelings of inclusion.

One more example that I must point out, due to its impact, is Doug’s idea to have second-year students celebrating first-year students during key times of the year. We have a colloquium lunch each Monday. Doug had the fantastic idea to have the second-year students use these lunches as a way to celebrate milestones for first-year students, creating a new tradition for us at Rice. When first-year students arrive at their first Colloquium lunch, they are greeted by a long receiving line of second-year students applauding and cheering. When returning from the Christmas break, they repeated the experience by putting leis around the neck of each student, along with treats and welcoming them back “home” from the long break. The students ended up wearing the leis the entire day (some the entire week).

Doug has improved the well-being of our students. Students, by necessity, end up sitting for long periods. Couple this with the copious amounts of food that the school provides, and it is a recipe for weight gain and waning health. Doug implemented morning SweatWorking classes. At SweatWorking, first- and second-year students get a chance to mingle with each other as well as faculty and deans during a morning exercise class. It is one of my favorite activities (sore muscles aside) and an opportunity to interact with the students in a less formal way while also enhancing their wellbeing.

Doug represents the Rice culture of Respect, Integrity, Community and Excellence, as well as anyone I have known. He walks the walk, and he lives out his values each day. International Partio is perhaps the premier event for the students each year. It is a chance for us to celebrate the diversity of our student body. Last year, Doug flew his entire family: mother, grandmother, brother, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, all the way from Utah. They prepared authentic Tongan cuisine for his classmates, and then, as if that was not enough, performed a traditional Tongan song that brought the house down. Doug believes that where much is given, much is required. To that end, since moving to Houston for the program, Doug has volunteered three hours a week mentoring boys ages 11-14 and is Scout Master of the local Boy Scout Troop.

If you talk to Doug, he will not point to any of the above as his crowning success or focus of his life; he will point to the three young daughters he is raising alongside his beautiful wife. You can see why Google aggressively recruited Doug, both for an internship, as well as placement at graduation. Seeing Doug walk across the stage at graduation, for me, will be an emotional moment. Doug has become family, and I am excited about what he will do as an alumnus. I so appreciate the legacy he has left at Rice.

After 15 years of being an associate dean at both the University of Chicago and now Rice Business, Doug is easily in the top 1% of all student leaders I have had, and my recommendation to you could not be more heartfelt or expressed more strongly.”

George Andrews
Associate Dean of Degree Programs


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