Meet The MBA Class Of 2023: Paige Smith, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Paige Smith

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Passionate leader who enjoys solving problems, building teams and improving processes.”

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina

Fun Fact About Yourself:  I am the oldest of six kids – and all five girls are Tar Heels!

Undergraduate School and Major:

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, BA in public policy

North Carolina State University, Masters of Education

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Duke University School of Medicine, Special Projects Manager

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Kenan-Flagler’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? All of the programs I looked at had outstanding faculty and a reputation for a strong healthcare concentration. However, I was particularly impressed by how UNC Kenan-Flagler really walks the walk when it comes to incorporating leadership and diversity into its coursework and culture. They don’t just talk about core values, they actively work to create an environment where everyone’s opinions and perspectives are valued and welcomed. I knew entering business school that I would be one of only a few women, so I asked a lot of questions about the culture. I didn’t just talk to students; I also talked to employers who had hired MBA grads and asked what students they wanted on their teams. People are excited to hire UNC graduates because they are collaborative teammates who have perfected the balance of grit and collegiality.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Kenan-Flagler? Club-wise, I’m looking forward to getting involved with Carolina Women in Business (CWIB) and the Forté Network. I’ve always enjoyed my time in women’s leadership organizations, and get really inspired by women empowering other women. The year before graduate school, I was the president of the local Junior League chapter, which had a similar mission to both CWIB and Forté, so I’m excited to find a similar community at UNC Kenan-Flagler. As far as courses, I’m looking forward to learning more about business strategy, and later the healthcare strategy electives. Strategy is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but not many people are truly doing “strategy.” I’m looking forward to learning more about that bringing that skillset to the workplace in my next role.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In my most recent role, I oversaw an initiative called “Translating Duke Health,” a roughly $40 million investment with the goal of decreasing the time between a basic research finding and clinical care implementation. Initially, there was very little structure to the gift spending. We knew the scientific areas of focus that we wanted to target, but it was up to me to figure out how to bring together scientists, program administrators, senior leaders, and funding partners to create and execute a plan. It was not always smooth sailing because there were a lot of different opinions on the most effective use of the funds. There were a lot of amazing outcomes as a result of this initiative, ranging from recruiting new scientists to building new technologies — and even creating new ways to look at data for making healthcare decisions. However, one that was most impactful was our ability to use this funding as a launching point to create an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Duke. I know my role had a direct impact on a program that is guaranteed to make a difference for patients that otherwise have no options, and that’s a legacy that I’ll always be proud of.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? Working in a healthcare setting during COVID was eye-opening in more ways than one. First, COVID completely changed the definition of “mission critical” overnight. It was a good opportunity for all of us to reflect on the company’s goals to make sure we were spending energy and resources in the right places. Also, COVID forced a level of endurance that no other crisis before has required, which demanded that we more intentionally took care of our work colleagues. Both of these lessons were important for my personal life, too. It’s easy to get caught up saying yes to things that don’t matter, and forgetting about the people that do. I was fortunate to work for a team that really did care about its people, their well-being, and their success; that will be important to me in my job search moving forward.

What is the most important quality of a leader…and why is it so important to success? Humility. To become a leader, you have to have a certain level of confidence in yourself and be able to instill it in others. However, in order to stay a leader, it’s important to make sure your team knows that you are human, too. Being willing to admit mistakes, change your opinion, learn new things, and meet people where they are qualities that are critical to long-term success.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? In my most recent role, I worked directly with a very senior leader who was never afraid to tackle the tough stuff.  She had an extremely difficult job, where she led a medical institution that had a very antiquated business model. In addition, she was often the only female in the room, so everyone was watching her every move.

Before working with her, I was convinced that the challenges facing our healthcare system today were far too complicated for anyone to ever solve. I no longer think that’s true, and instead think that we need more people like her who are willing to take on hard problems and think outside of the box. After graduation, I want to be part of the solution. I don’t exactly know what that looks like yet, but I think COVID will create new models for how healthcare is designed. The vaccination rollout, for example, gave us a teaser: when the government, academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and non-profit agencies all come together to solve a problem, they can make change faster, cheaper and at a higher quality than if they worked individually.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to Emory, Duke and Vanderbilt, but my heart was always Carolina Blue! UNC is my alma matter, so I was eager to boomerang back as a graduate student.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program? Be yourself.  The admissions team is looking at more than just a test score.  They are looking for students who model the Carolina Way in how they tackle challenging problems, how they work together as part of a diverse team, and how they will make an impact in the future.

Also, in case you are reading this and aren’t sure if you’re the “business school type,” apply anyway.  Excellence can be defined in many ways, and the world needs future leaders who break the traditional mold and think outside the box.


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