2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Paige Smith, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Paige Smith

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Six-foot-one Tar Heel committed to developing the potential of others.”

Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina

Fun fact about yourself:  I’m the oldest of six kids, and all four of my sisters went to undergrad at Carolina!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

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

North Carolina State University, Master of Education

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Duke University School of Medicine, Manager of Special Projects

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? McKinsey, Charlotte, North Carolina

Where will you be working after graduation? McKinsey, Charlotte, North Carolina

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: (Include school awards and honors)

  • President, Consulting Club
  • Project Leader, STAR Program
  • Business Communications Center, Consultant
  • Forte Fellow
  • Buck Williams Fellowship – Awards a student who serves as an ambassador for the MBA program and leader in the community
  • Teaching Assistant, Global Marketing

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m certainly proud of leading the Consulting Club, the biggest career club at UNC Kenan-Flagler. However, that really felt like a team effort with a mountain of support. Failing at that endeavor was never really on the table. I’m much more proud of some of my academic accomplishments. During my second year, I purposely over-indexed on classes I knew would be a stretch. I have zero finance background, but opted to take courses like Private Equity, Mergers & Acquisition, and Topics in Financial Reporting. I had to put in a lot more time than most other students because I was starting from zero knowledge, but I’m proud of myself for pushing through and stepping outside of my comfort zone. I advise everyone to take at least one stretch class during business school, especially after recruiting is over. It’s one of the last times in your career when you can “fail” without consequence.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was lucky to work on a team at Duke University School of Medicine that was highly invested in rethinking the status quo, which meant I worked on all sorts of interesting projects in the healthcare space. I regularly think about my work leading our internal executive search function for the School of Medicine. Over the course of five years, we completely changed the way we thought about diversity in the hiring process and were trailblazers in the academic space on how to think about evaluating leadership candidates. Historically, leaders were selected because of their research and clinical accomplishments. Today, they need to be selected based on their ability to navigate a complex healthcare environment. To meet the changing leadership profile, we revamped our screening processes, increased our pool of diversity candidates from <10% per search to 20-50% per search; cut average time from launch to hire from two years to six months; and ultimately hired ~20 of the most dynamic leaders that Duke has ever seen. I was pretty junior when I started working on that project, but really believe my contribution made a lasting impact on the organization.

Why did you choose this business school? As Danielle Richie, our director of admissions, often says, “We are looking for dolphins, not sharks.” UNC Kenan-Flagler produces leaders who demonstrate excellence through collaboration and teamwork, and that’s the type of leader I want to be one day. Additionally, I love being in the Southeast, and want to eventually start a family here, so the concentration of alumni on the East Coast was highly attractive.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? John Gallemore teaches Strategic Cost Analysis and Performance Management, which is part of our core curriculum. Somehow, he made cost accounting fun. Plus, he’s went to UNC for undergrad, MBA and PhD, so he can truly do no wrong in my eyes.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Data Analytics: Tools and Opportunities with Seyed Emadi. We refer to this as DADM 2 at UNC; it’s a continuation of the core curriculum in data analytics. For our final project, we started with a messy data set that was basically an unfiltered export of Yelp reviews and turned it into actionable insights that could help a Charlotte restaurant improve staffing and menu choices at each of their three locations. Not only did I learn a lot about data analysis, but I also overcame my fear of “breaking” the data set.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Every spring, UNC and Duke compete in Blue Cup. This historied tournament is a very important tradition in the UNC/Duke rivalry. From football and basketball to table tennis and CrossFit, the two programs face off head-to-head in a variety of sports in a week-long battle that is bookended by ceremony events. The program with the most wins receives the Blue Cup Trophy, and more importantly, bragging rights for the next year. It’s a fun celebration of the longstanding rivalry between the two universities. I have absolutely zero hand-eye coordination, but I am a great cheerleader!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I’d change very little! The summer before business school, I attended a women’s conference held by the Forte Foundation. That weekend, we were advised to make a wish list of our goals for business school. I wrote something cheesy at the top of my list: “All you need is 30 seconds of courage.” For some reason I carried around that piece of paper for most of my first year at school, and I think it served as a grounding principle for my time at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I assumed that everyone who went to business school was a highly competitive quant genius who would find every way possible to push others out of the way. I’m sure there are schools that recruit that type of student, but I have yet to meet someone like that at UNC Kenan-Flagler. During your first year, you are paired together with study group members who you work with for the entirety of the core curriculum. In my group, I had a PharmD/MBA who was previously a Division I student athlete; a JD/MBA who was launching a crypto-currency start-up on the side; and two veterans with deep engineering backgrounds. I’m still trying to figure out what my value-add was to that team, but I know that every person’s skill set was critical to the five of us making it through the core. That experience transformed the way I think about diversity on a work team. 

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Seeing a sea of Carolina Blue while walking through campus on game day. Cue James Taylor!

What surprised you the most about business school? The number of people who are genuinely committed to helping you succeed.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I was brutally honest about who I was as a person, what I was looking for in a program, and what I wanted to be when I grew up (or so I thought at the time). I decided that if I was going to succeed in business school, I was going to have to be myself, even though that was still very much a work in progress. I think this is important for all prospective students. There are a lot of myths about what it takes to succeed in the business world, but I think most are out of date. Today’s employers are looking for a diverse set of individuals who can think creatively about problems we don’t even know exist yet.  Carolina is known for producing leaders, not just thinkers, and the admissions process really helps identify that potential.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is the hardest question from the whole interview, because I’ve been surrounded by some truly incredible humans over the last two years. I’ll have to pick Jyo Kamat, a classmate from India who I had the pleasure of working with on my STAR team. We were tasked with re-invigorating a drug’s marketing plan for a major pharmaceutical company. Despite being the project leader, I had zero experience in the commercial drug space or in marketing. Jyo had both, but instead of taking over the project, she served as our in-house subject-matter expert and helped bring all of us up to speed quickly. In addition to her deep technical expertise, she was a lovely teammate. She is the type of person who can fit in everywhere, make others smile, and sees the positive every day. In general, I am especially in awe of our international student community, who not only is going through the same challenging coursework and recruiting schedule, but also is adopting to a new country and completely different business norms. I hope I can carry Jyo’s unflappable charisma on with me post-graduation.

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

1. Work on a project with Melinda Gates.

2. Convince more women that they can be excellent both personally and professionally (I’ll start with recruiting more female Tar Heels into consulting!).

What made Paige such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Paige epitomizes all the qualities that make a great Carolina MBA graduate. As a double Tar Heel, she exudes the key tenet of The Carolina Way – leading with excellence and integrity. She is smart yet humble, driven yet collaborative, detail-oriented yet never loses sight of the big picture – someone who caries her weight without throwing her weight around.

She has lived out these qualities on numerous occasions during her time here in our MBA program. As president of the Consulting Club, she has been instrumental in rolling out a series of process improvements that afforded wider and deeper peer-to-peer support for all our aspiring management consulting full-time MBA students. These changes greatly helped our students be better prepared for their consulting interviews and upcoming summer internships. She personally has spent hundreds of hours helping mentor her fellow classmates. As a STAR project leader, Paige’s mentorship greatly benefited her team to better understand the scope of their client engagement and provide the greatest value-add. She continues to leave a mark on our program and school in numerous other ways, including her leadership role as a Forte Fellow, consultant in the Business Communication Center and as a TA for the consulting and global marketing electives here at UNC Kenan-Flagler. All in all, Paige is a consummate class act!

In my pricing elective, she and her team earned the top spot in the Deloitte-sponsored case study. She and her team not only addressed the acute business challenges of the case, but did a remarkable job of communicating and defending their recommendations with rigor and data-supported evidence. In this Shark-Tank-on-steroids atmosphere, they not only came out as case winners, but completely won over their client with their intellect and sense of humor. She is the kind of leader whom her team members hate to disappoint.

These qualities will hold Paige in great stead as she pursues a career in management consulting. I am delighted to see her off to McKinsey as a full-time employee following her successful summer internship with the firm this past summer. Had Paige re-recruited, I expect her to have been courted by every flagship management consulting firm there is.

As you can see, Paige leaves behind a wonderful legacy that will benefit an entire generation of MBAs who will come through our program in the near future. Students like Paige truly make Carolina special. Paige is absolutely deserving of this recognition. Wishing you continued success, Paige!”

Sriram (Sri) Venkataraman
Professor of Marketing and Assistant Dean, MBA@UNC Program

“I have been on the faculty at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School since 2013, and I have been teaching the core MBA operations management course. Thanks to this course, I have the privilege to meet all our first year MBA students every year. Before joining UNC Kenan-Flagler, I had the privilege to interact with Stanford MBAs during my PhD studies at Stanford Graduate School of Business. I have known Paige for two years; we met during the core operations course in 2021.

Paige is truly an exceptional student in our program. In fact, she is one the best students I have seen in my career. Based on her outstanding performance in my course, I can confidently tell

that she has everything needed for success in her career: exceptional critical thinking and quantitative skills, amazing personal skills, dedication, creativity, and self-drive – just to name a few. I was especially impressed to see that she was one of the students who can think out-of-the-box in complicated business problems. On top of all these, she has a very pleasant personality and high energy that motives everybody around her. I am sure she will be a
phenomenal future business leader in her consulting career at McKinsey & Company.

Paige is so invaluable to our program not only because of her exceptional academic and professional achievements, but also because of her distinguished contributions to the professional development of her peers and our first-year MBA students. She has been putting an impressive effort to guide and mentor our first years. Paige’s name came up in almost all of my conversations with our first-year MBA students who are interested in consulting. It has been impressive to hear about Paige’s constant support and mentorship to our students. Overall, Paige is certainly deserving the Best and Brightest award for the Class of 2023 because of her unique contributions to our program.”

Nur Sunar
Associate Professor of Operations


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