Last Updated on May 6, 2022 by MBA Gateway Team
Fuqua MBA Perspective
CHRIS RYAN (FUQUA [DUKE]
Prior to MBA Career Path: High-school Teacher
Post-MBA Career Path: Consultant, Education Company Executive, Independent Film
How many years of work experience did you have prior to the MBA: Six years.
What was your greatest concern applying to business school and how did you address it: I was concerned more about getting in and less about what I would do afterwards, as I thought I had that figured out. With regard to getting into school, I was worried that my nontraditional career path to that point would hamper my chances.
Why did you select your MBA program: I had known about and liked Duke as a university for a long time (I almost went there for undergrad). So when I started looking at business schools, Fuqua was definitely on my list.
Around that time, I met another teacher who was a year ahead of me in the process. He went to Fuqua and was very pleased with the program. When I went for the campus interview, I was struck by the atmosphere of the place—it felt both serious and welcoming, both focused and warm. At that point I had a strong sense that Fuqua was the place for me.
What was the most interesting part of your MBA program: My classmates, hands down. They brought an amazing diversity of experiences and backgrounds to the school. At graduation, I remember feeling that there was still so much more to learn about my classmates—but the two years were up.
What surprised you the most about your program: What surprised me the most was how important extracurricular activities would be for me and for the bulk of students. During school, I devoted a great deal of time to video production, of all things! For many years, Fuqua has had a club called “Fuquavision” that puts together “Saturday Night Live”-style videos and shows them regularly to the entire school on Friday nights. As you can imagine, putting together a nearly hour-long program of videos every six weeks is very difficult and time-consuming (especially while trying to meet the other obligations of school), but it was also very enjoyable. Even more important, it gave me a chance to develop my skills and interests in filmmaking (since then, I have been an executive producer on a film featured at the Sundance Film Festival, and I continue to write and develop projects). This aspect of business school was ironic for me, since I had even considered going to film school instead of business school.
How did you find the academic part of your program: Both practical and interesting. I really enjoyed learning all sorts of material I had never studied before, both for its own sake and for its real-world utility, which was generally obvious.
I found most of the professors not only excellent thinkers but also inspiring teachers. True, there were a few who were less than scintillating in the classroom (I imagine that’s true at every school), but I was very happy to see that the administration took student concerns very seriously. As our class’s representative to the Curriculum Committee, I was pleased to be part of the school’s efforts to make the curriculum and teaching even better.
How did you find the social part of your program: Outstanding. The dean when I was there, Rex Adams, used to put it this way: “No jerks and no weenies.” Don’t get me wrong—I probably qualify as a weenie, or at least a geek or a nerd. That said, what Rex was getting at was the collaborative culture, the “team Fuqua” ethos that really does pervade the school. I’m sure every major business school is fun and has its share of happy hours, etc.
But one thing I loved about Fuqua that I think is unique or at least rare is that the single biggest social convener is a year-long charity effort on behalf of North Carolina Special Olympics—and not just raising money for them, but interacting with the athletes and building bridges to and within the surrounding community. That’s pretty cool.
What was your job search like: I came in focused on management consulting as an initial career step into business. As a consultant friend had put it to me, a few years as a consultant can act as a kind of “residency” after business school (as if after medical school). There were many other aspects of the consulting path that appealed to me as well.
With the immense help of Fuqua’s Career Services Office and many second-years (including my teacher friend), I got summer offers from McKinsey, BCG, and Bain and spent the summer with McKinsey. At the end of the summer, McKinsey made me a full-time offer, which I accepted.
How did the MBA prepare you for your career: It helped me in several ways:
1. Developing leadership. As a high-school teacher, I was used to directing the activities of students. However, I had only limited opportunities to exercise leadership among my peers. Fuqua gave me a chance to do just that.
2. Developing discipline among chaos. Since business school is so intense and “multifarious,” so to speak, it is a great lab in which to figure out how to prioritize a multitude of commitments of differing types.
3. Developing specific knowledge/skills. As a consultant, a film producer, and an executive at a small, growing company, I have frequently drawn on specific ideas and techniques I learned or exercised in business school, from Excel modeling to negotiating contracts.
What advice do you have for applicants to maximize their application: Tough one! I think it’s very important to figure out WHY you want to go to business school. It’s not like, say, dental school: for one thing, you don’t need a license to practice business, and also every business-school class contains a variety of folks with different dreams and goals for their career. So you must go into the application process with a strong sense of what you want to go and do.