My background has allowed me many opportunities to be involved with diverse people and situations, where my values were different from others and my opinions did not fall in line with the majority. From my first summer job as a teen, to meeting with Sheiks in Iraq and facilitating group changes at the company I worked for, I believe that the lessons I obtained from these experiences, through which I grew significantly as a person, would definitely add value my fellow MBA students at Fuqua and contribute to the Fuqua community and culture.
My first moment of true responsibility occurred when I was a young teenager, and my parents decided it was time for me to get a job and earn a little money. A local self-storage facility was looking for someone to clean their storage doors, all 500 of them, for about $4.00 an hour. I worked eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, for what seemed like years, in the hot Memphis sun, cleaning every door from top to bottom until all 500 were completely clean. Believe me, those doors had more mildew and grime than any door I have seen to this day. Yet it was at this storage facility that I not only learned the value of hard work, but also taught myself how to create my own budget, to allocate the money I earned. I bought my first stereo soon after finishing that job, and by living according to the budget I created, several years later bought my own car, purchasing my own gas, insurance, and clothes for high school. I continue to value hard work, following a budget and overall self-reliance to this day. These simple lessons could enhance the culture at Fuqua in an ethics class or case method discussion based on integrity or leadership decisions based on moral principles. Additionally, I might be able to push my teammates to work a little harder or longer when the time arises.
Some years later, I found myself at the first “leader engagement” of my first deployment, with a Sheik nonetheless, and what seemed like his entire known family and friends. I spoke a different language, wore very different clothing, and even sat differently than anyone else present. Sitting uncomfortably in the Sheik’s living room, the only person in the room I had any connection with was our Iraqi interpreter. We were there because my platoon’s initial attempts to bring farming supplies and equipment to the local people had failed, turning into a mad grab for what was needed, rather than an organized distribution, and we needed the Sheik’s help to turn things around. From our first conversation, I quickly realized that my normal meeting etiquette and conversation customs would be of little use. Over time, at each of our meetings, I began to pick up the Sheik’s meaning based on his tone of voice, and began to rely more on non-verbal communication, like the shrug of a shoulder, even after my proficiency in Arabic had improved. Soon I could determine the Sheik’s response even before it was translated. I also learned to recognize the different norms and traditions within this culture and apply them in our interactions. Meanwhile, my team helped the local famers in the community to create a sound and organized plan, their trust in us increasing as my relationship with the Sheik grew. All of these meetings and the growing bond eventually allowed the farmers to become sustainable and economically viable in a relatively short amount of time.
I feel that this experience would be extremely beneficial at Fuqua in our group meetings and classroom environments, where different communication customs or habits might hinder others from getting their point across. Effective communication is one of the most important aspects in any business action, and I hope to enhance that aspect both in and out of the classroom at Fuqua. I also believe that those lessons I learned in my international experience would allow me to bring one more perspective to Fuqua’s already diverse culture. There is an extremely delicate balance with the respect to values and what is right or wrong when you are immersed in an entirely different environment. I understand that balance, and I would be able to share those lessons I learned in my experiences with others on Day 1 at Fuqua. In addition, as a day-to-day platoon leader, I could help my fellow study group partners analyze complex negotiation case studies and contribute to varied project planning discussions. Further along, I feel that I could contribute significantly to other Fuqua MBAs interested in participating in the GATE program. I hope that my understanding of diverse communication and varied backgrounds in an extremely dynamic setting would help others better understand the different business environments or dissimilar groups we might encounter.
Recently, my experience at the Energy I worked for has also allowed for me to use my value set to make a significant impact. Prior to my arrival as the Production Manager, it was common knowledge that the specified directions or course of action to improve production numbers, given by my predecessor, were to be followed without question. I decided to change this custom. Thus, every time there was a question raised concerning a troubleshooting method or a technique required to solve a problem, I would ask the questioner what he or she recommended in order to solve the problem. I would not dictate what needed to be done solely on what I thought was correct. This not only forced them to come up with possible solutions to their issues, but also allowed for open creativity and new ideas amongst our team. We shared these best practices on a regular basis in our weekly team meetings, and it resulted in a net ten percent increase in our production volume. This joint effort in understanding differing problem solving approaches reminded our team that individual input is paramount in overcoming obstacles and achieving our production goals. This change was not easy. Only after my team felt completely safe to voice their opinions and provide input was this change in how we sought to improve our production numbers achieved.
At Fuqua, I could impart some new best practices I have learned, from both a developmental and a sustainability standpoint, into the many inter-disciplinary settings at the Duke EDGE Center. I feel that my recent group experiences at the company could definitely help others within the center create workable solutions to the energy problems we face, regardless of the setting or sustainability problem we approach. Listening to others and allowing everyone to provide feedback is vital to solving such tough issues as energy sustainability and environmental impact. I might even be able to provide a supporting perspective to other Energy MBAs on those subjects that some students might not understand due to my background in the industry. Or, there might be subjects or ideas presented by key speakers where I would be able to provide first-hand knowledge of the successes or failures I experienced working in the Barnett Shale. Whether it be a Mentored Study Project that focuses on the efficiency of a clean-tech invention and how it affects the environment, or the Duke Startup Challenge, where our group pitches a new renewable energy-based business plan to industry leaders, I feel that my experiences in both teamwork and communication could greatly benefit the not only the EDGE center, but also my all fellow MBA students at Fuqua.