Meet UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA Class Of 2022

Kenan-Flagler Business School


In many ways, you can think of Kenan-Flagler as a business school built into a powerhouse research institution. In 2020, U.S. News ranked the University of North Carolina among the Top 5 U.S. public universities, with the 30,000 student school considered among the best in medicine and public health. Kenan-Flagler itself finished among the top online MBA programs, which enabled it to quickly adapt last spring in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, the undergraduate business program ranks among the Top 10 undergraduate business schools, giving it a scale that is unmatched by most peer programs.

The MBA program is best-known for Healthcare, Sustainability, Leadership Training, Real Estate, and Accounting. In fact, Kenan-Flagler rated among the nation’s ten-best in Real Estate and Accounting according to a 2020 survey of business school deans and MBA directors conducted by U.S. News. Real Estate is a source of pride at Kenan-Flagler, which attracted 12% of the Class of 2019 to its ranks. Over the past seven years, 40% of Kenan-Flagler real estate hires have moved into the development side, with a near equal number choosing investment management or banking. The program also boasts a $12.2 million dollar Real Estate Fund with nearly 50 investments in 21 states, including hotels, retail outlets, office space, family dwellings, and storage units.

“Once we have ownership of some portion of the asset, they become asset managers and stay on top of the sponsors and make sure that they’re stewarding our capital as well as possible,” explains David Hartzell, who heads the Leonard W. Wood Center for Real Estate Studies. “We’re involved in the disposition. So they write quarterly reports, they deal with owners, they work with our lawyers, and so on…It has provided an awesome learning experience that I don’t think I ever simulate in a classroom with a case.”


One area where Kenan-Flagler is making strides is entrepreneurship. The school certainly benefits from being located 25 minutes from Research Triangle Park (RTP). The largest research park in the United States, RTP features over 300 companies with a combined 55,000 employees. It includes a mix of computer sciences, biotechnology, and finance giants and startups, with top firms including Cisco, Fidelity, and Credit Suisse, and GlaxoSmithKline. IBM remains its biggest tenant with over 8,000 employees there. Such concentration creates opportunities to partner and incentives to innovate. And UNC has been a “dominant player” there from the beginning, says Ted Zollner, director of The Entrepreneurship Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, in a 2019 interview with P&Q.

“Almost all of the big-scale companies that have exited were founded by UNC entrepreneurs. I’m not disparaging my friends at Duke or NC State, but we clearly are the leader.”

Zollner likens Research Triangle Park to Austin, Texas – an entrepreneurial ecosystem where a spirit of creativity and a sense of possibilities is in the air. True, Kenan-Flagler devotes deep resources to startup networking, mentoring, training, apprenticeships, and physical space. However, the program deviates from the status quo by teaching intrapreneurship to prepare students to grow existing enterprises.

“Where a lot of schools position themselves as a tech startup or startup-founder program, ours actually focused on founders, funders, and growth executives,” Zoller tells P&Q. “That’s a new science for many of the schools that are building out entrepreneurship programs.”

Faculty and students


For many, 2020 has been a year to forget. At Kenan-Flagler, it may be remembered as a defining year. Aside from boosting enrollment, the school also launched a STEM-designated concentration in business analytics and management science that is planned to take effect in January 2021. This designation enhances the program’s data-driven approach, while also making international students eligible to tack two years onto their VISAs. In April, the school announced the launch of a pilot program, NC Business Next. It allows graduates from 16 North Carolina campuses – and state residents from other universities – to start on their MBAs right after earning their undergraduate degrees.

“Recognizing the difficult and uncertain career opportunities for new college graduates in North Carolina, we decided to launch an initiative that provides a route to career success for new college graduates in North Carolina,” explains Doug Shackelford, UNC Kenan-Flagler dean. “We view this as part of our school’s service to the state: educating our best and brightest in a field that fuels the state’s economic engine and innovation. It is right thing for the people of North Carolina and embodies UNC Kenan-Flagler’s core values.”

What else can MBAs expect from Kenan-Flagler in the coming year? P&Q recently posed that question to Brad Staats, the school’s associate dean of MBA Programs, who also serves as professor of operations and faculty director of the Center for the Business of Health. Along with discussing measures the program has taken to combat COVID, Staats also shares how the school perceives the Carolina Way. Here are Staats’ thoughts on the state of Kenan-Flagler.

University of North Carolina’s Brad Staats. Courtesy photo

P&Q: What are the most exciting new developments at your program?

Staats: “After the murder of George Floyd and the urgent call to end systematic racism and inequity, the UNC Kenan-Flagler community examined our responsibility to be an organization that models the behaviors we want to see in the world. As a business school, we want to help our students develop the essential leadership skills around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) required for success in their careers and in their lives.

An important part of our incoming MBA students’ education will be “Inclusive Leadership,” a new, required course. It is designed by Dr. Elizabeth Dickinson, who previously taught the elective “Diversity and Inclusion at Work.”

The class will provide training and knowledge students will use in their professional lives and to improve inclusivity at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Students will discuss, analyze and critique DEI topics and phenomena in professional and workplace contexts; think critically about related workplace issues; learn how DEI issues impact daily interactions; assist historically represented and underrepresented groups in understanding, negotiating and addressing DEI matters; relate complex DEI topics to personal, organizational, leadership and management perspectives; and better understand inclusion and equity (not just diversity). Students will engage in conversations and solutions to position them as agents of change.

Our goal is to help all students to become inclusive leaders and colleagues, and to understand the importance of how to recruit, promote and retain historically underrepresented groups. Leading diverse teams is a critical capability for leaders and for the success of their organizations, and we are excited to better support our students’ development in this area.

In addition, we added inclusion as our sixth core value. We formalized our five core values – excellence, leadership, integrity, community and teamwork – in the late 1990s. We realized diversity and inclusion are intrinsically critical to achieving our other core values and the importance of formally recognizing that.

Here is how we describe inclusion as a core value:

We are committed to creating an inclusive environment where diversity is celebrated. All members of our community should have the same access to opportunities, be treated equitably and respectfully, and contribute fully to the success of our community. We want all members of our community to be welcomed, valued and feel a true sense of belonging. We welcome all identities, including – but not limited to – nationality, race, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, heritage and veteran status. We seek to share ideas, learn from each other and gain understanding so that we can reach our full potential.

Finally, to help support faculty in driving change across the school, we rolled out an “Inclusive Teaching Workshop” all faculty are taking. In this workshop faculty build skills in having difficult conversations in class and integrating DEI tools into our teaching.”

Student in the Capital Markets Lab. Photography by Steve Exum

P&Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your business school?

Staats: “When we began online class and working remotely in March, we had three clear priorities: Ensure the health and safety of students, faculty and staff; keep our students on track for graduation; and continue to provide teaching, research and service at the highest levels possible. Our long track record in online education with our top-ranked online MBA programs (MBA@UNC since 2011 and the online MAC format since 2015) eased our transition. I have been impressed by and proud of resilience, flexibility and kindness our students, faculty and staff demonstrated.

We also examined how we can better serve students and how to serve more of them realizing the job market had declined rapidly and a recession was looming. We developed the NC Business Next Program for a small group of highly qualified recent college graduates to earn their MBAs now. Interest has been great and over 50% of those we accepted are women and about 18% are underrepresented minorities. In terms of the overall admissions process, we met uncertainty with flexibility, extending deadlines and creating waivers, so people who had been negatively impacted could expedite their plans to earn their MBAs.

We also have been determined to use this period to innovate and rethink what’s important – not just improving how we teach online. As in other industries, we in education are in the midst of ongoing digital transformation in turbulent, uncertain times and some of the changes we are experiencing now are likely to alter what we need to do in the future. We are thinking about what we should be teaching and to whom. As we identify the most effective ways of learning, we are using our sophisticated in-house instructional design and technological capabilities to create the right content delivered in the right ways for our students to make their education better than ever. That means we deliver some content asynchronously through well-produced video content and we deliver other content in live, synchronous sessions. This balance varies across classes and programs, but increasingly flexibility is going to be what students and companies demand and we are prepared for that change.

Education has been too slow to change, and the dramatic economic, health, and social changes are demanding that we not just respond but innovate. This is the opportunity, amid all this disruption, to think differently, to innovate and take some risks.”

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.