Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Keerthana Rao Balusu, Duke University (Fuqua)

Keerthana Rao Balusu

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

“A generalist with a passion for marketing.”

Hometown: Visakhapatnam, India

Fun Fact About Yourself: To be financially independent, I started freelancing graphic design when I was 19 and paid a portion of my undergraduate tuition. I continued to freelance and used these earnings to fund my interests, hobbies, and experiences.

Undergraduate School and Major: Bachelors in Architecture – Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Product Manager – Wiingy Pvt Ltd

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? Supportive ambition has been deeply rooted in my life through my mother’s experience. Despite society’s pre-defined paradigms, which determine what we can and cannot achieve, my mother, in her forties, decided to pursue her dream of being a lawyer. Her family and the community around her simply dismissed it as downright useless and discouraged her.  As if this wasn’t hard enough, her elder sister, who was like her foster mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer at this intense time.

My mother, however, overcame all the obstacles, breaking the discriminatory stereotype and not only graduating with a distinction but was also awarded with two gold medals. She went on to practice in areas such as domestic violence, dowry harassment, and divorces – representing women. She fights, counsels, and encourages women around her to pave their own way.

If you support one person, they have the potential to empower 100 more. Throughout my interactions with current students and alumni, I have realized how much everyone believes in the concept of shared success – a reason why I chose Fuqua.  At Fuqua, we believe that success isn’t success unless everyone around you is successful too. As a Fuqua MBA, I’m not “competing” with my fellow classmates, but rather collaborating with each other to be collectively successful. #Teamfuqua is very real.

What has been your first impression of the Fuqua MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Tell us your best Fuqua story so far. Fuqua MBA students and alumni are among the most approachable and empathetic people I’ve encountered.

When I decided to pursue an MBA in 2021, I reached out to multiple people across schools to gather more insights and knowledge about the process. I sent out cold emails to current students, and one such student, Julia S. (Fuqua MBA ’22), took out hours of her time to learn more about me, guide me, and assist me through my application journey. I didn’t know her before this, and yet she came forward to speak and help. This is not a one-off situation – everyone I contacted provided similar guidance: they reviewed my essays, conducted mock interviews, and provided genuine career advice. This spoke a lot about #teamfuqua and I knew in my heart that this is the place I’d like to be in.

Aside from your classmates and school culture, what was the key part of Duke Fuqua’s MBA curriculum programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Over the past several years, I have realized that I’m a better learner when the learning is in a practical setting. Since I’m keen on pivoting to the tech industry, I felt it was important that I have an opportunity to learn and apply my skills in a real-world setting. What attracted me most to Fuqua’s curriculum was the abundant experiential opportunities it provides. I’m excited to participate in the Mentored Study Program (MSP) to get sector-specific experience and strengthen functional skills by undertaking a mentored study with an organization in a space that matches with my career interests, specifically product and marketing.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Duke Fuqua? Fuqua Friday excites me the most! Every Friday, you get to meet members of the larger Fuqua community, from students to faculty, in a very relaxed environment. This is the time you get to meet people beyond your clubs, sections, and C-lead team and form meaningful connections. Of course, free food and drinks are always a bonus. It’s a happy hour – literally and figuratively.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Because of the impact of COVID, my prior organization, a hospitality player, was forced to lay off the whole digital marketing staff in 2020. Following that, the company gave me the additional responsibility of digital marketing. Despite having no prior expertise in this field, I spent hours every day learning the necessary skills. I established cross-functional collaboration with the Brand, Technology, and Operations teams, as well as partners such as Google, Facebook, Appsflyer, and others. In the process, I implemented effective efficiency improvement processes and revamped marketing campaigns, resulting in an over 50% reduction in customer acquisition costs during the critical COVID time.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? The impact of COVID on the hospitality industry, especially in the long-term house rental market, has been severe. We were no longer able to physically show the properties to customers, which meant the revenue went down significantly. We launched 360-degree videos of the properties, allowing customers to immerse and engage with houses before they could rent them. For the first time, I have realized the power of virtual reality marketing, and that’s a field I want to explore. To get there, I needed to equip myself with the necessary technical and business skills in the tech domain and gain global exposure to understand various cultures.

Post-MBA, I’m keen on recruiting for product marketing manager roles in some of the top tech companies, such as Google and Meta.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? Forrest Gump! The MBA application process can be a long and anxious one, and I would watch this movie frequently to simply feel optimistic even when things didn’t seem that way. I’m struck by Forrest’s tenacity, and dedication every time I watch it. My biggest takeaway from the movie was that you never know what you are capable of until you try.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Duke Fuqua’s MBA program? Be your real self on the application. Fuqua values authenticity and integrity. Leverage the 25 random facts essay to show your true self. Regardless of who you are – Fuqua will welcome you and love you.


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