Ranked 15th in the Financial Times Global MBA rankings, Duke University's The Fuqua School of Business boasts of alumni such as the current Apple CEO Tim Cook, Melinda Gates and closer home, Shivinder Mohan Singh, CEO of Fortis Healthcare. In recent times, the school has slowly been growing its presence in India with the intended endgame of starting a campus here.
In this interview, PaGaLGuY speaks to Dan McCleary, Fuqua's India regional director about the school's Indian activities, applying to the Fuqua MBA for the 2013 admission cycle and the b-school's view on the next-generation GMAT.
Can you explain the nature of your work at Fuqua School of Business?
Sure. I am the regional director for India at Fuqua's residency in New Delhi and that brings me to India every other month. Apart from running the residency, I am also engaged in MBA recruitment and organising information sessions in Indian cities for prospective applicants. In fact, we would be bringing 150 Executive MBA students to Delhi in mid-April.
What do these students do in India as part of their New Delhi phase?
These Executive MBA students are coming from all over the world representing several nationalities. Executive MBA programmes across the world tend to be structured differently. For example in India, executive MBA tends to be almost entirely on campus. In the USA, almost all executive MBA programmes require participants to attend classes only on the weekend. At Fuqua, we have two programmes that are delivered at five international locations --- the Cross Continent MBA and the Global Executive MBA --- including at Dubai, China, Russia apart from New Delhi and the Fuqua campus at Durham, North Carolina in the USA.
After arriving in India, these students would converge on April 13, 2012 at the Fuqua residency in New Delhi. They would first be taking a strategy class and a finance class. They will also take classes on Indian culture and civilisation, how India has evolved to result in today's business context, India's role in global markets and institutions, what bankruptcy means in India versus say Russia, and so on.
Then there will be a mix of speakers coming in from the Indian industry to the residency as well as student visits to companies and organisations. We will have the students understand India in an experiential way by going out on the streets and shooting videos. This is something we do not just in India, but at all of the global residencies of Fuqua.
What insights does India have to offer to someone looking to build a global career?
India is a place that is misunderstood or unappreciated by the rest of the world. In the US for example, there are a number of people who think of India as a 90% BPO economy. They also don't understand how much domestic consumption drives the Indian economy, or how a lot of the infrastructure here is developing around the mobile industry. It is in India that you understand the power of mobile technology as opposed to broadband, which is more prevalent in the US. So the idea is to get a handle on how business is done in India and what are the opportunities.
Are there plans to start an India campus?
We are evaluating acquisition of land and a building for a possible campus. We are waiting for India's parliament to pass the foreign universities bill but until that happens, we would have to be active here in partnership with different universities. For example, our corporate executive education office is run in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad from their campus.
If and when we do start a campus in India, we will not offer an MBA, but rather an MMS degree. Unlike the Fuqua MBA which is for people with work experience, the MMS degree will be for pre-experienced students keeping in mind the demand of the local market here in India.
How has the Fuqua MBA evolved in recent times and how has the admissions process changed in response?
In 2007, Fuqua had got a new dean in Blair Sheppard and under his leadership the school launched a new strategy in 2008 to become a globally distributed b-school. We then opened these residencies in China, Dubai, New Delhi and Russia.
I think it's obvious that these days global business is unavoidable and that the future of business is really going to be global. We chose these five locations for our residencies because we felt that this was where the rules of business were being rewritten.
After we took that leap, we decided to become much smarter about evaluating candidates from these regions. Today we are much more educated about the quality of education of various systems across the world. For example, we now know how in the University of Delhi St Stephens is a lot different from other colleges. Such knowledge has made us much more smarter about evaluating candidates for admissions.
But as we get our message of teaching global strategy and business out, we are attracting a group of people for whom that is important. These people have a better understanding of what makes the Duke University MBA different and they learn that using rankings and descriptions of our school.
In order to demonstrate that they value business in a global context, do applicants need to have worked internationally in order to stand a chance of making it to the Fuqua MBA?
If you're asking if it will work against an applicant that he has worked in only one country, then the answer is no. We value the work they've done in an organisation, in terms of quality and the leadership skills they've shown. India itself is an extremely diverse place. Those working in North India end up having different experiences than those who work in South India and that results in different perspectives. So international work experience is something we value but its not necessary for getting an admit.
What kind of an applicant is best fit to join the Fuqua MBA programme?
What we do in the admissions process is look for someone who wants to make a difference in the world. It could mean going back to India and joining an NGO or having a short-term plan of working in Europe or Dubai and a long-term one of settling in the US. What we're looking for is for applicants to have a vision, something greater than themselves and wanting to be part of organisations that make a difference.
Indian applicants are known to primarily come with work experience in the IT industry. Do they also dominate Fuqua's Indian applicant pool or have you seen this changing?
We've been seeing a broader mix of applicants from India. There are people who have worked in a variety of occupations such as journalism, non-profit or the medical field. There is a higher diversity in applications. As the Indian economy gets more diverse, people are doing a variety of jobs now.
Regardless of what background you come from, what we really look for is if an applicant can craft a story demonstrating how passionate he has been about his career and support it with examples.
For example, we have one first-year student in the MBA programme who has worked in HCL in India. He was able to transition into a strategic role even before applying to b-school. In his essays, we saw a level of business thinking that was very different from that of others with a similar background. So even though HCL was a technology company, the strength of his application was more about his experience.
Do you judge an applicant's stated post-MBA goals with respect to the possibility of achieving them in a bad job market?
We definitely put some weight on how realistic someone's goals are. It shows a level of self-awareness. If an applicant has two years of experience working in IT, and if he doesn't have a great GMAT score, but they write all of their essays focused on the idea of becoming an investment banker on Wall Street, then that's a hard transition. It's hard to achieve even for someone working in the US in commercial banking before their MBA.
There is a common belief that after the recession, top US schools have started preferring younger applicants because they are more easily employable in banking and consulting jobs. Does that belief hold weight?
I wouldn't say that we have made admission adjustments based on demographic trends. The admissions committee really wants to know if an applicant can make that switch to strategic thinking. Feedback from companies tells us that they are looking for people who value teamwork or collaboration. We additionally want people to be able to really maximise the benefit of going away to a b-school. That person is someone who has been in a work environment where he has had the opportunity to go through strategy, marketing, accounting, etc issues. People in India in general tend to apply earlier than those in the United States. So we expect them to have gone though such experiences before they apply.
As for age, we admit people with no experience too, but we admit people with three years of experience also. For example, we've got a woman in the current class with two years experience, in whom we saw the potential to be a great leader. She has proven to be a superstar.
There are also people in their 40s in the class, so we don't look at any sort of a maximum age limit either. We've had people in their late 30s. If you are able to articulate and tell a story that seems compelling and achievable, then you can get in.
The GMAT is changing its format in June 2012, after which applicants will have an additional score. Would you rather that people applied with the existing GMAT format or the new one?
It's okay if they take the GMAT now and apply. We do accept scores of GMAT taken within the last year too. As for the new GMAT, we will work with some of our peer b-schools to understand how to evaluate the new aspects of the Integrated Reasoning section. None of us right now really knows how we're going to be looking at that. So as an applicant if I felt ready to take the GMAT now, I would not wait to take it.
How can international applicants finance their MBA at Fuqua?
Fuqua has a loan scheme for international students called the Coastal Federation Credit Union using which all applicants can get the full loan for their programme costs without a US co-signor. This includes the full cost of tuition as well as living expenses.
This loan is available to everyone. Of course, there might be a process which looks at one's past credit history to ensure that there are no risks. But a US co-signor is not required because Duke University has essentially agreed to assume the risk for this loan.