2021 MBAs To Watch: Giovanni Lu, Duke University (Fuqua)

Giovanni Lu

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

“I spent 2020 supporting the international community but mostly getting out of my comfort zone.”

Hometown: Lima, Peru

Fun fact about yourself: I’m 100% Peruvian, but according to 23andMe, I’m 22% Italian and 16% Chinese. That might explain my name.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Universidad de Piura (Peru), Business Administration

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Brand Manager, Premium Brands, Peru

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? The Kraft Heinz Company

Where will you be working after graduation? The Kraft Heinz Company

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • MBA Association – VP of International Affairs: MBAA is our student government and I oversaw subjects related to international students, from visas to community inclusion, working together with the international club presidents in the process
  • Change Agents Lead: Group focused on discussing and taking action on gender and equity issues, specifically the role men play in our society
  • Duke’s Graduate Schools Rugby Club Cabinet
  • Latin American Student Association Cabinet

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of my roles as MBAA VP was organizing Global Week, which is an entire week to celebrate and share Fuqua’s diversity and international cultures. The biggest challenge was organizing this initiative in a virtual environment, were Zoom fatigue was real and options were limited.

I asked two rock star classmates — Allen Huang and Henry Wu — to be part of the international cabinet and take on this project. Together, we were able to brainstorm, plan, co-sponsor and/or execute eight virtual events during that week. From a cultural fair to a keynote speaker speech, along with giving away prizes to participants, we successfully developed and implemented a COVID-safe protocol. I am proud we were able to achieve a high level of awareness and attendance from our classmates. But I am mostly proud we were able to prove to our community and to ourselves that we can still be together while being apart. There are still many things we can do in this adverse context if we tackle our projects with the right mentality.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The professional achievement I am most proud of is the sales growth my brands achieved in less than a year at Premium Brands, a medium-size company, which allowed a great deal of flexibility and empowerment in allowing me to make my own decisions. I managed five different brands of wine and spirits and was able to identify new and different opportunities for all of them. From introducing some brands to new retail outlets to creating campaigns with local restaurants, sales of these brands grew from 29 to 79 percent in the time I was there.

Why did you choose this business school? When I thought about business school, I knew I wanted to join one of the top programs in the world, and for that I would need to look outside my home country. I also knew I wanted my experience to not only focus on academics and recruiting, but to serve as a platform for me to keep developing my leadership skills. I also wanted to get out of my comfort zone and be able to contribute to my community in any way possible. Most importantly, I wanted this place to not only become my school, but my home for at least a couple of years.

Fuqua checked all those boxes with its community spirit and Consequential Leadership approach. Especially during the last year, I have been able to work with some amazing classmates, that are not only among the brightest people I have seen, but also among the most caring and selfless human beings I have ever met.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Although it’s hard to choose only one, my favorite professor was John Nance, my Managerial Communication instructor. Speaking in public can be challenging for everyone. As a non-native English speaker, this has a special connotation. John not only delivered with excellence the class content and tips, but he was also able to find in each of us what presentation style best suited us and how to keep improving on it. This not only had a direct effect on my communication skills, but also in my self-confidence when speaking to an audience in a language different from my own. Also, I knew he was special when he started calling me, “Gio” before most of my classmates did.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I know this may sound obvious, but definitely Fuqua Friday, which I have to confess was one of the reasons I choose this school. As I mentioned, for me it was not only coming to business school to learn about finance and marketing, but also to keep developing my people skills and making valuable and meaningful connections, while making Fuqua my home. Before COVID, Fuqua Fridays provided a space to change our mindset from an academic and professional perspective to a more social and relaxed one, allowing us to stay in the building and talk to our friends in a casual environment. I was even able to make some new friends, with Fuqua providing food and drinks in the process. I even registered for Friday afternoon classes so I could go straight from the classroom to Fuqua Friday.

After COVID hit, Fuqua and my classmates were still able to organize virtual Fuqua Fridays. With different themes, games and conversations every time. It was great to see such an important tradition still happening. For me, it was still the best way to start the weekend.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have gotten out of my comfort zone sooner! My Fuqua experience let me discover how valuable my opinion and ideas can be, and how much of a positive impact I can make on my community. I feel I have grown as a professional, but especially as a person in the last year. It was all because I started to say, “yes” to every leadership opportunity I found along my path during my second year — even if I was scared to try new things at first. I can only imagine how much greater my experience could have been if I could have embraced this mindset on day one, in a non-COVID world.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that Team Fuqua is just a marketing tool. During my experience here, and especially during COVID, I found so many people that wanted to have a positive impact in our community and gave their hearts and souls to making our classmates experience better without expecting anything in return. In a year where everything seemed to be crumbling down, Fuqua stood strong, supported by these people that did it only because “they care.” This selfless, collaborative culture is something very tangible, so it’s definitely not only a marketing tool.

What surprised you the most about business school? How “it depends” can be a valid answer to most things. There is no “right” way to do things, so you can actually shape your business school experience the way you want. I thought I had to follow the guidelines and methodologies of previous students. At Fuqua, I realized that what might work for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. It was up to me to find my own way to prioritize and approach my tasks, while finding my own balance between academics, recruiting, wellness and having a social life.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? It was probably my willingness to get involved in, learn from, and support my community. Although I had this big imposter’s syndrome and never considered I would take a main leadership role in a club (and even less in the MBA Association!), I knew I wanted to come here and help in any way possible. My family always encouraged me to be my best, but at the same time, they taught me to always look beyond myself and find happiness in helping others. Fuqua is composed of people that want to support each other, so this mindset was probably the reason Fuqua and I made a good match.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It’s extremely hard to only mention one person because in the last year, I have met so many inspiring people. But I definitely have to mention Nathalia Borges. Both of us came from South America. We met during the international bootcamp, even before our class orientation. We have remained close friends since then. I admire her for being a bright, talented, action-oriented person, but also for being a huge source of support for me and my classmates. You could always see her in every event Fuqua organized, not only making friends but also finding ways to help in any way possible. She took on the challenge of organizing activities for our class and the incoming class during the beginning of COVID with the only purpose of giving her classmates a space to relax and keep socializing with each other in a safe way. It was not a surprise when she became one of the Latin American Student Association’s co-presidents, taking the lead on a club that I can definitely call home. She was one of the first people to believe in my potential and encouraged me to take a leadership position while going through the same process herself, and for that I will be forever grateful.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? It was a big challenge, not only because the learning experience is definitely not the same, but also for the mental toll it took. I struggled to stay focused, staring at a screen the entire day. But most importantly, I had a hard time staying in my room so many hours a day and not being able to interact with my friends during breaks. I started to go out for runs by myself more often, as an excuse to be outdoors and also to balance studying with a computer with physical activity outdoors. Also, I became more intentional with reaching out to friends because I knew this was the only way to keep having regular interactions with them, even if we could only meet virtually. Finding this balance between working hard but also keeping track of my physical and mental health has been key to making it through 2020.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Both of my parents have been a huge influence on me. Even though I’m the first to pursue an MBA in my family, my parents were always my role models on how to become the best person you can be and to achieve your full potential. Also, my dad was a store manager, so I grew up learning about leadership from him without even knowing it. When I thought about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I wasn’t sure exactly. But I definitely knew I wanted to be able to lead big teams and be a positive influence on people.

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

  1. Live and work internationally (and at this point I can check that one off!).
  2. Continue being involved in gender equity initiatives at work.

What made Giovanni such an invaluable member of the Class of 2021?

“My colleagues from Fuqua’s International Programs Office have witnessed Gio’s efforts at Fuqua first-hand. They note that his partnership has been invaluable to the Fuqua administration as we have navigated supporting international students during the challenges of the past year. Despite the many obstacles, they have also seen how Gio never wavered in his dedication to support of his fellow international students. He helped keep a pulse on the international student body during a turbulent year and helped to ensure international students felt informed and supported.

I have also seen how Gio has had a positive impact on the entire Fuqua community. He has been a unifying force and a source of strength, in a time of significant disruption and uncertainty. Gio’s selfless service to his classmates, his empathy for all his partners, and his solutions-oriented mindset have had a dramatic influence on the Fuqua community.

I have admired his desire, in a time that must have been challenging to him, to step   outside his comfort zone and lift up all of those around him with a positive attitude and an authentic desire to improve the experience of his peers. He has an honest and genuine desire to make Fuqua the most welcoming and supportive community it can be.”

Steve Misuraca
Assistant Dean for the Daytime MBA program
Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

DON’T MISS: THE FULL LIST OF MBAS TO WATCH IN 2021

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