2018 Best EMBAs: Gentry Brann, Duke University (Fuqua)

Gentry Brann

Duke University, The Fuqua School of Business

Passionate communicator and brand ambassador, fearless advocate and frequent soccer mom committed to continual learning.”

Age: 47

Hometown: Houston (The Woodlands), Texas

Family Members: Husband Michael and daughter Baylor (age 16)

Fun fact about yourself: I once hosted a weekly call-in radio cooking show for the world-famous Peabody Hotel – but never admitted that I can’t actually cook. Not even to boil water! The experience taught me a lot about how to use confidence and presentation skills to appear more way more talented than I actually am.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Louisiana State University, Bachelor of Arts, Double Major in English Literature and History

Where are you currently working? Chicago Bridge and Iron (CB&I) as Senior Vice President of Global Communications and Brand Management; CB&I is currently undergoing a merger with McDermott International to create one of the largest integrated upstream and downstream infrastructure companies in the energy industry. Following the merger, I will be responsible for communications and marketing for the combined company.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Currently lead Community Relations and Philanthropy programs for CB&I on a global basis
  • Chaired record-breaking United Way employee giving campaign ($1M +) for CB&I Houston office
  • Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center, Advisory Council Member
  • 2013 Institutional Investor Top Rated Investor Relations Professional
  • Institute for Crisis Management: Crisis Communications Certification
  • Communications Advisory Council, Nuclear Energy Institute
  • CB&I Women’s Leadership Network Executive Sponsor and Mentor
  • CB&I Aspire – Young Leadership Network Executive Sponsor and Mentor
  • Leadership Academy, Leadership Development Initiative: Masters Program Graduate
  • American Red Cross: Public Affairs in Disaster Certification
  • Memphis Business Journal: Top 40 under 40
  • More than 50 Public Relations Society of America VOX Awards including Best of Show

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As a liberal arts major (English Literature and History), I took very few quantitative courses in college. In the first term at Fuqua, I was introduced to Accounting and knew immediately that it should have been my career path. I went from zero experience to a love of what is truly an art. And I have been able to apply my new knowledge every day since.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, my husband and I moved with our daughter back to Louisiana where many in our family had been impacted. I was the spokesperson for the Hurricane recovery program, which was full of controversy. In addition to gaining incredible experience in the firing line, I was able to make a personal impact and help a great many families who suffered so much loss as a result of the flooding.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Our cohort was incredibly fortunate to have Mohan Venkatachalam teach our accounting course in term 1. Professor V. is now the Senior Associate Dean of Executive Programs at Fuqua. His energy and enthusiasm for teaching fueled our cohort through the long days and nights preparing for our exams. He is truly one of a kind.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Without a doubt, Global Markets and Institutions with Katherine Schipper has already changed my life. A multi-term course, Professor Schipper has opened our eyes and thoughts to so many ideas. While the course is called Global Markets and Institutions, she is really teaching critical thinking. This course’s impact will be lasting for all of us.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Fuqua’s reputation for TEAMWORK is legendary – and incredibly well-deserved. The team focus along with the global emphasis, exceptional faculty and executive level cohort made it the perfect choice.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Unlike many, I came to business school without the end goal of moving into a new role or gaining a promotion. I am a senior functional leaders, but recognize the need to understand the business function beyond my area. I most enjoyed having the opportunity to stretch my understanding of how other industries work and being constantly pushed out of my comfort zone.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? To think about the global impact of various business decisions. My MBA program has given me the ability to ask questions that shape my understanding of those around me. While in Term 1, it wasn’t always clear why we were learning subjects as outlined. But by later terms, the ability to put it all together is nicely cemented.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Two weeks before Christmas, during my second-term residency in Shanghai, my company announced we were entering into a merger with another company. As head of Communications, my job was to make the announcement and ensure effective communications to all stakeholders. My Fuqua team knew I had a major work issue, but didn’t know what it was until the very last night when we made the announcement. It was fortunate that I could attend class during the day and work all night due to the time difference between Shanghai and Houston, but I never could have made it through term 2 on such little sleep without the support of my team and my family at home who managed to ensure I had a wonderful Christmas waiting when I returned.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Just do it. There is never a right time and it is never too late to go to business school. I’m at the older end of my cohort and often wish I hadn’t waited so late. But I think I offer my team a greater perspective based on my experience and am learning so much from such a diverse group. If you want the MBA experience, just do it.  

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That it’s too late (or too early). Learning is a life-time commitment. I often feel I bring a very different perspective to my cohort based on my years of experience. Similarly, my younger classmates bring fresh ideas and energy to the team. The combination makes for fascinating discoveries and perspectives that aren’t generally the same in college.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Being too focused on the end result and not enjoying the learning for learning’s sake. I recognized this about half way through the program and make a conscious effort to relax a bit more in order to absorb and apply the learnings.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I’m enrolled in the Fuqua Global Executive MBA program, with almost half of our cohort from countries outside of the U.S. who speak English as a second language. I often wonder at how much more difficult it must be for many of them when our professors are firing at high decibels, and I am in awe that so many keep pushing through. But the team environment supports these students, as they have guided us on our world tours and introduced us to so many new perspectives.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… realized my ability to bring value to my company would be limited – and my prospects limited as a result – without the broader knowledge and perspective an MBA program provides.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… much more narrow minded.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? In many ways, I’ve reached my professional goal. I lead the Communications and Marketing functions and sit on the executive team of a $10 billion company with 40,000 employees worldwide. While my role may not change, my mindset already has, and I believe my MBA experience will allow me to make a much richer contribution to my company.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Our cohort was a better experience because of Gentry’s participation and engagement on an individual level.

Favorite book: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I own several copies and keep one by my bedside. When you read a book multiple times, it’s a keeper!

Favorite movie or television show: VEEP with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I never wanted to go into politics, but I love the humor that she brings to the White House.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Visit Machu Picchu (which I am accomplishing in my Fuqua Term 3 residency) and live in Tokyo (haven’t yet figured that one out).

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

“Simply put, Gentry is a superstar not only in her cohort but also across all cohorts that I have taught in the MBA programs over the last two decades. Her unbridled enthusiasm for the subject matter, keen intellect, and attentiveness to detail set her apart from her classmates. Her sharp engagement in the classroom and intellectual curiosity for the accounting course I was teaching made me wonder if she had a strong background in the area. I came to know only later that she had no accounting background and that this was the subject she feared the most!  Such a passion for learning a new subject matter, let alone a feared subject like accounting, is an admirable quality that will serve her well in the long run. Her passion is infectious and encouraged others to elevate the classroom discussion. She is a superb role model and a thought leader who inspires others through her actions and contributions.”

Mohan Venkatachalam
Senior Associate Dean for Executive Programs and R.J. Reynolds Professor
Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

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