2018 Best EMBAs: Clay Berardi, Duke University (Fuqua)

Clay Berardi

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

Career Marine Corps fighter pilot focusing on transition from cockpit to C-Suite.”

Age: 46

Hometown: Rochester, New York

Family Members:

Wife Jamie – Assistant City Attorney Chesapeake Va

Son Clayton – Elementary school student

Fun fact about yourself:  I began my college studies at Wadham College, Oxford University when I was 15 and left high school after my Junior year without a high school diploma or GED to attend the United States Naval Academy.

Undergraduate School and Degree: United States Naval Academy – BS, English

Where are you currently working?

SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) – Training Analyst

I represent U.S. Navy interests during development and execution of international live, virtual, and synthetic events designed reinforce the United States’ global partnerships and validate current naval, joint, and coalition doctrine.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Coach – U10 Lacrosse, Southside Lacrosse League

Player – Chilled Ponds adult league ice hockey

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud to be nominated for Poets and Quants’ Best and Brightest. I am working very hard to keep pace with an incredible group of peers so to be recognized as a standout student is incredibly humbling and unexpected.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I had the great fortune in my military career to fly fighter jets, attend TopGun, be a flight instructor, and deploy all over the world in service to my country. Since leaving the military, I am most proud that I was able to envision and execute a transition plan that makes me an attractive C-Suite candidate in the business world. Getting my MBA at Duke was central to that plan.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Foundations of Strategy – Dr. Jeremy Petranka. Honestly, this class is a ton of work. Each week, we conduct a case study involving a company in industries that seemingly have no relevant bearing on my future career. We have looked at everything from legal marijuana cultivation to Chinese software development companies. Just this week, I was asked to interview with a publicly-held company in an industry well outside my technical expertise. While preparing for a conversation with the board, I was stunned at how easy it was to identify why the company had failed on their last venture. The board was shocked when I presented an accurate deconstruction of their last 5 years of operations and was able to justify a pivot which could result in turnaround.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Like most EMBA candidates, my goal was to attend the best school that was logistically feasible. “Best” means different things for each student and I was no expert on business schools, so I relied on MBA ranking organizations to help inform my decision. There were three top tier programs that I determined were logistically feasible. I have a social connection to a group of professionals who are all Duke graduates so they might have biased my opinion. However, one conversation with the admissions staff at Fuqua solidified my choice and I knew Fuqua was the place for me. I determined that if I could not get into the 2018, I would use the next year to improve what I needed to and try again the next year. I never applied anywhere else. Krystin Fleming, my admission counselor, was instrumental in making this amazing experience a reality for me.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Being in business school in the middle of a career, I am finding that the things I study during and between residencies are immediately applicable to my current position. Not surprisingly, I have found that being in an MBA program has made me introspective and I am applying the things I am learning in school to my personal life as well. My wife should be prepared for a marketing campaign in the future – my son and I would like dirt bikes and a dog.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I wouldn’t say that there is one particular lesson that I gained during my MBA that has made the difference. Instead, it is the collection of knowledge and the interplay between them that I am benefiting from. At Fuqua, the courses are designed to leverage each other and each builds on the foundation of the ones before it. Each professor is keenly aware of what we are doing in our other classes and does an amazing job of tying it all together.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Having a full-time career and a young family makes for a full schedule. Adding a full-time MBA program on top of that was daunting and would require sacrifice, but I was prepared for the challenge since my wife had just finished law school and successful bar prep. My current position includes travel to the Middle East and Europe for about a week each month. I leaned on my military experience and used Polyphasic sleep cycles while in another time zone. This basically meant that I would take a short nap after work hours and sleep in two separate 2-3 hour sessions. This allowed me to stay on a US clock while in a time zone 6-8 hours away and helped me avoid jet lag as well. This sleep schedule is not for everyone, but has worked really well for me. I continue to play adult league ice hockey and coach my son’s lacrosse team. If someone really examines their daily schedule, most of us waste lots of time. There is no more watching TV for me, instead I’ll play a board game with my son or cook for my wife. I enjoy having the discipline to work hard for long stretches and have undoubtedly seen my efforts bear fruit. If you are considering an MBA program, especially an executive program, don’t be intimidated. Managing your time is challenging, but it will make you keenly aware of inefficiencies in your daily actions and I’ve found that making overt efforts to connect with my family has made us even closer.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? See the above comment regarding time management. Other than that, I would say “Go for it.” Business school is as much about human psychology and personal growth as it is about the numbers. I am a firm believer that this experience is a transformative one for me.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? It’s too late. Many people feel that once they start a career, it is too late to get an advanced degree. More and more schools are catering to the professional and making their programs accessible to the busiest of us.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I think every student always feels a bit behind while going through an MBA program. Each semester, I try to be as prepared as possible, but always feel like I could have started earlier or studied more.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It’s difficult to pick just one classmate.  I really feel fortunate to be associated with such an amazing and diverse group of individuals. Instead, I’ll share an experience. During first term, one of my teammates had near mirror image personality traits. That is to say, if I was right on the chart, she was left. We were literally exact opposites. I surmised that we would disagree on everything, which we did. She also happened to be wildly intelligent and incredibly hard-working. We very quickly learned how leverage our differences to cover all the bases on a project and ended up working with each other instead of against. I wish I had this experience earlier because it changed my perspective on conflict resolution and enabled me to look at those with differing opinions in a completely different light.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was asked to present a business plan, sales projection, and proposal for a project I was leading and I had to google “business plan example.” It was an impactful moment.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…less able to contribute to the collectives I am involved in, whether speaking of my son’s Boy Scout Troop or my business dealings.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would like to be the COO of company experiencing explosive growth or turnaround.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Someone that would be on the top of their list if they needed something because I am generous with both time and resources.

Favorite book: I love Kurt Vonnegut.  I bought the complete collection of his works and intend to read him chronologically but that plan is on hold until I graduate.

For a single book I would say A Monk Swimming by Malachy McCourt. This book was written by the brother of Frank McCourt (“Angela’s Ashes”) and is the true story of his time as a poor Irish immigrant in NYC during the 50’s and 60’s. I love this book for many reasons, but it will always be special to me because it was the topic of discussion the night I met my wife.

Favorite movie or television show: The Power of One.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? I would like to race the Baja 1000 and hike the Appalachian Trail.

What made Clay such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Although potentially intimidating to his peers as a decorated veteran of over 20 years in the Marine Corps, Clay established himself early on as an approachable mentor, resource, and friend within the Weekend Executive MBA cohort. His humility, generosity, and gratitude serve to enhance his impressive leadership experience as a Naval Academy graduate, fighter pilot, and senior officer within the United States Fleet Forces Command. Clay has served the Weekend Executive MBA program and Fuqua by lending wisdom from his expansive international career, volunteering as a resource for job seeking students, sitting on various leadership and crisis panels, and supporting staff and student initiatives. Clay is an engaged and integral member of Team Fuqua, exemplifying service, respect, integrity, and a sense of humor in all interactions across faculty, staff, and students.”

Riane Corter
Assistant Director
Executive MBA Programs
Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF 100 BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBA GRADS OF 2018