Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Abby Larus, Duke University (Fuqua)

Abby Larus

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

“Former pop culture professional; passionate about business as a tool for social change.”

Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC

Fun Fact About Yourself: As a teenager, I begged my parents to let me attend a Harry Potter fan convention in Florida. They finally gave me permission when I was 17, but I doubt they expected how large of an impact that decision would have in my life! I fell in love with live events and spent the next nine years working for the company that organized the convention.

Undergraduate School and Major: Duke University, double-major in Psychology and Global Health

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Event Operations Director at Mischief Management, a company that produces fan conventions for pop culture franchises

The MBA program is renowned for its “Team Fuqua” culture, which is predicated on six paired principles: Authentic Engagement, Supportive Ambition, Collective Diversity, Impactful Stewardship, Loyal Community, and Uncompromising Integrity. Which of these resonates most with you – and what does that principle demand of you as a Fuqua MBA? Fuqua’s paired principles were one of the reasons I was drawn to the school. But the principle of supportive ambition is the one that stood out to me the most. Fuqua’s culture rejects competition because students understand that success is a shared achievement. With that mindset, students are able to think more broadly about ways to give back to the community and to each other.

I actually applied to Fuqua in May, after COVID shut down the live events industry. This means that I had about a three-week window to write my application and interview. That window happened to align with Fuqua’s finals and graduation, but current students were incredibly quick to answer my emails and talk to me about the school. I was even connected with other incoming first-years who were quick to jump on phone calls to give me interview tips! This supportive ambition, even amidst global turmoil, really underscored that Fuqua’s culture was something special.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you?  It was important to me to find a school that would offer a solid foundational business education while also allowing the opportunity for exploration and discovery. Fuqua offered stellar academics, a diverse student body (both in terms of ideology and backgrounds), and a career management center that is invested in helping you find the right job for you.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Engaged. Everybody at Fuqua cares deeply about something and is eager to share that passion with their classmates. This summer, the second-years and administration created a whole series of events and programs so that we could get to know each other in the lead-up to the school year (and to occupy our time during COVID restrictions!). But what amazed me most was seeing other incoming first-years step up to lead their own events and to share information about their interests, backgrounds, and industries. Fuqua is a really incredible environment that brings all of these passions together so that we can all learn from each other.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? As a North Carolina native, I’m excited about joining Fuqua On Board to give back to local nonprofits. I’m also excited to join Net Impact, Association of Women in Business (AWIB), and FuquaPride – the official LGBTQ+ student club.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My previous company was an all-volunteer endeavor from 2009-2014, so when I was hired to my full-time role, I was the fourth paid employee. During my time at the company, I worked to scale our operations and we grew to a team of 20+ employees that ran nine annual fan conventions and served more than 190,000 attendees. I’m incredibly proud to have been a driving force of this growth and innovation and I hope to carry this energy into my time at Fuqua and beyond.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I studied psychology and global health as an undergrad, so most of my business education has been from on-the-fly experience. I’ve learned a great deal from some incredible mentors at work. Ultimately, I wanted to go back to school to ensure that I had strong foundational business knowledge.

The timing, though, was definitely influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The events industry has been devastated, with most live events being canceled through summer 2021. Hitting the “pause” button on my career in this way forced a lot of self-reflection. Ultimately, I realized that the experience was solidifying my desire for an MBA: I want a formal business education to learn to build resilient and sustainable systems in order to better prepare businesses for unexpected shocks.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I knew that I preferred to stay local, so I applied to UNC Kenan-Flagler and Fuqua. I also applied to Emory Goizueta and the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? The hardest question for me was definitely, “Where do you see yourself post-MBA?” Coming from a start-up environment, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in many different areas of business, so it’s actually challenging for me to narrow in on one particular function that I want to do after business school! I’m interested in social entrepreneurship and management, but I’m excited to spend the next two years learning new ways to answer that question.

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school?  I was accepted to the program in June, so getting caught up has felt like trying to drink from a fire hose! So far, I’ve been focused on meeting my classmates and brushing up on my accounting knowledge.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? For the past few years, I wanted to formalize my business education, but I wasn’t sure that I was the right kind of student for an MBA program. As a queer woman with a non-traditional background, I didn’t see myself in business school and didn’t know where I’d fit. Participating in the Forté Foundation’s MBALaunch Program was a really important step for me to realize that I could succeed in an MBA program. Forté connected me with a network of ambitious, supportive female business leaders, who modeled professional success and inspired me to pursue my ambitions.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? I’m not sure I have a single favorite company, but I do want to celebrate the adaptability and resilience of local businesses here in Durham. In the middle of an unprecedented public health crisis, I’ve been really inspired by so many small, local shops here that are centering on community needs. I’ve seen distilleries turned into hand sanitizer production lines, restaurants turned into grocery stores and event spaces turned into distant classrooms.  The day-to-day business operations in our hometown is a testament to the power of business as a force of good, even among the most challenging circumstances.

DON’T MISS: Meet The MBA Class Of 2022: The COVID Cohorts

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