2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Laura Payne, Duke University (Fuqua)

Laura Payne

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

Age: 35

“A passionate, forward-thinking changemaker and problem-solver.”

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Fun fact about yourself: My pandemic hobby was buying way too many plants.  

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Master of Public Health (MPH), Global Health, The George Washington University
  • Bachelor of Arts, International Relations, Boston University

Where are you currently working? Senior Manager, MANNA

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Class Representative / Class Liaison
  • Association of Women in Business
  • Volunteer, Big Brothers Big Sisters

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I came into Fuqua’s Global Executive MBA  programwith only one previous business class in college and minimal quantitative experience. I wanted to push myself to be all in and learn and absorb as much as possible. I have always been one to push myself academically and consistently wish to excel.  However, business coursework was pretty far outside of my comfort zone initially. I started this journey just wanting to survive,  and have now pivoted to wanting to thrive. I am so proud of myself for leaning into the process and the unfamiliar curriculum. I’m learning so much every day from our professors and classmates and have learned to embrace the scary and the unknown.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? MANNA is an essential service here in Philadelphia, and the onset of COVID-19 was the single most challenging adventure of my career — and it coincided with the start of business school. At MANNA, we deliver medically tailored meals to the homes of individuals and families impacted by serious illness, at no charge to our clients. While my day-to-day role involves communications and fundraising, the emergence of COVID-19 meant everyone was doing anything and everything possible to keep our doors open and our kitchen running.

During the first 12 months of the pandemic, we home-delivered over 1.7 million medically tailored meals to some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable citizens. We saw over an 80 percent drop in volunteers and a 40 percent increase in clients. To keep this up, we were all hands on deck. The entire management team worked in the kitchen almost  daily while working hard with my colleagues to bring in the necessary funds to meet our increased client census and generate media coverage. Our clients are immune-compromised, which means going to the grocery store during a pandemic could kill them. Closing, for even a day, was not an option. It was so important to us to continue our services and prevent a waitlist. I’m so honored to share that we’ve stayed healthy and stayed open.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Katherine Schipper (Accounting). Professor Schipper has exceptionally high expectations of her students, forcing you to have high expectations of yourself. She is at the top of her field and is so passionate about her subject matter, but she clearly loves teaching this introductory course.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Team Fuqua! I have a good friend, Autumn Toland, who was part of a previous Global Executive MBA  class, and she inspired me to research Duke. Fuqua’s team-focused curriculum was a huge draw for me. In one of my first conversations with the Admissions team, we discussed the IQ, EQ, and DQ (decency quotient)  that Fuqua  uses in their admission process and curriculum. I wanted to be in a top-ranked, competitive program, but one where the cohort was a team, a place where we helped each other be the best. Finally, it was so important to me to have a diverse group of classmates, which drew me to Fuqua’s Global Executive MBA program. Having classmates from around the world is such a privledge.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Our cohort is in a unique position to be going through an Executive MBA program in the middle of a pandemic. For me, I wouldn’t be able to do it without my classmates. The pressures of school, work, and family are magnified in this current global environment. At the end of Term One, my father was diagnosed with cancer (he is currently healthy and doing well!). The first people I told were my Fuqua teammates. Working full-time while being a full-time student, you have so many balls in the air and sometimes you need help to catch them all. My teammates were so supportive and willing to shift around our team responsibilities when needed. We all lead very different lives, but the common thread of being a member of Team Fuqua at this time brings us together. We can all feel overwhelmed, and it is critical to recognize and call on each other for support. Especially in these challenging times, there is no shame in asking for help.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Everyone kept telling me how hard it would be to get back into the school mindset. For this program, I didn’t see it this way. It’s not a slow start, we go from one  to 100 immediately, and you have no choice but to keep up. Your classmates and teammates are in the same position, and getting into the swing of things came  pretty quick.

What was your biggest regret in business school? It was coming into the first day of class feeling inferior to my classmates. The non-profit industry is full of intelligent, passionate people, but it is undoubtedly an atypical path to an MBA, and I felt that I would be out of place. I was so afraid to give the wrong answer, which is very unlike me to lack confidence. I was completely wrong, and I am lucky that Fuqua brings together so many people of different backgrounds and fosters an excellent learning environment.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire?  First, let me say that all the moms in our class are incredibly inspiring. Anna Sinclair is, without a doubt, one of the most hard-working, intelligent, and caring people in our cohort. I am in awe that she balances a top-tier job, two young children, and the academic demands of this program. She embodies Team Fuqua.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted to go all in. Having an in-person cohort of classmates was vital to me. I also know myself, and going part-time or at my own pace was not going to push me in the way I needed to be pushed.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To make an impact each and every day. Regardless of my title and industry, I want to be in a role that has a positive daily impact on the lives of others.

What made Laura such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“Laura is a pleasure to both work with and be around. She always brings a profound sense of maturity and a good attitude to the table in both her personal and professional life. Her career demonstrates a dedication to helping others through work at non-profits and a sense of selflessness. Through her professional career, she has served countless communities and is dedicated to creating inclusivity at Fuqua and beyond. She strives to listen to all voices as well as ensure all voices are heard by others. Laura seeks to bring positive change on behalf of all her classmates in the Global Executive MBA program, which is likely why she was elected to serve as class representative by her peers.”

Karen Courtney
Associate Dean, Executive MBA Programs and Global Teams


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