2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Jessica Stark, Duke University (Fuqua)

Jessica Stark

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

Age: 30

“Connecting brands to consumers in a turbulent retail environment, but not before my morning tea.”

Hometown: Dallas, TX (originally from Borger, TX)

Family Members: Matt Rocco (partner), John & Laura Stark (parents)

Fun fact about yourself: In the 2020 election, I helped more than 400 people get out and vote by registering individuals, volunteering at call centers to answer questions about how to vote, and working as a clerk on election day. I plan to double this number for the 2022 election!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Texas Tech University, B.A. Advertising

Where are you currently working? Fossil Group Inc., Senior Manager – Integrated Marketing, North America

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Board Secretary and Volunteer, League of Women Voters – Irving, TX Chapter
  • Dallas County Volunteer Deputy Registrar and Election Clerk
  • Board Member, Dallas-Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association
  • Alumni Relations Liaison, Duke WEMBA ‘23 Class Representatives
  • Member, Fuqua On Board Executive MBA Club
  • Part-time Trivia Host, Geeks Who Drink
  • Fortè Fellow

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business I am typically a more reserved person and keep my opinions to myself as I prefer to not ruffle feathers. In one session of Leadership and Development, as we were talking through the gender pay gap, an opportunity arose for me to make an informed statement about my thoughts on gender equity in the workplace and I took it. Instead of anxiety creeping in and doubting why I spoke up, I immediately had classmates from my section message me that they wanted to have lunch to discuss my thoughts about how I saw equity growing in businesses. And then, later in the evening, I had additional classmates from different sections say they heard about the discussion and wanted to hear what I had to say. This made me realize that being confident and speaking my mind can be a powerful tool to push forward important topics that many people have kept quiet about in the past.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In 2020, I made a major career change from working at advertising agencies moving to the brand side of marketing. It was a goal I created for myself in 2016, and I truly started working towards the goal in 2018. I applied to more companies than I could count for roles that aligned mostly with my experience from agencies, knowing that my ultimate goal would be to branch out to wider responsibilities once I established myself. Two years later, I hadn’t found a good fit, so I took a chance and applied for a job that, on paper, I had many gaps on, but I knew I would succeed. I was able to convince the company that I was the right person for the job and have proven that since my first day at Fossil. This is my proudest achievement as I believed in myself enough to not question my abilities, did not waver on my goal, nor take a job that was just good enough.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? In short, the people. I was considering a handful of top programs but what sold me on Duke was the info sessions. The program managers and past cohort members were genuinely excited about getting to talk to prospective students that I knew this was a community that I would be able to hold onto forever. So far, that has rung true. Even during the program, I saw many people make successful switches in their careers thanks to the relationships that we have built within the Duke community.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? How interconnected business really is and how to be sympathetic to other cross-functional teams. Working in marketing/advertising my whole career, it was so easy to focus on that one aspect of the business before I started the program. The MBA program has taught me how to see the bigger picture and has helped me establish relationships with other teams in my company, which has helped me stand out as an employee.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Midway through my second term, my company organization restructured, and my team size tripled within a few months. I was working to delegate work to and train new employees while simultaneously having to turn in a case every two weeks for Managerial Accounting (along with other homework). Thankfully, I have an amazing boss who coached me through the changes of my day-to-day work, and my team within the cohort was extremely helpful in making sure we worked as a true team on our cases. Also, my boyfriend, Matt, was a great outside source to measure my stress and made sure I didn’t let it get to extreme levels. Without a strong support system within my cohort, at work and at home I would not have been able to mentally make it through this time as successfully as I did.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Lean into any opportunity to connect with your cohort. Time in the program will go by much quicker than you think. Since we aren’t on the campus every day, take advantage of gaining knowledge and growing a connection with your cohort when you can. Those connections are essential to making the experience last after you’ve finished the program.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish I would have explored the city of Durham more! Since I was only out there once a month, I became a creature of habit of what food and drink spots to go to during residencies. And while all of them were excellent, I’m sure there was much more to experience. Special shout-out to Hi-Wire Brewery, Boxcar, and Mothers & Sons in Durham!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Lakshman Rao. He is so invested in expanding his knowledge and learning from the courses, even though he is well established in his career and could easily get through with his existing knowledge. Alongside that, in the classroom he encourages others to share their expertise when a relevant subject comes up to help give a spotlight to those who may not be as confident. And he’s able to do that because he has built out relationships with most (if not all) of the cohort members and understands their strengths. He’s created such a deep connection with everyone that he’s known as “The Godfather” of the cohort. That ability to connect with the individual and truly have a respect for what we are learning is something I really admire.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I liked the idea of Executive MBA programs because it gave the best of both worlds. With part-time/online programs, I would be allowed to apply the learnings I have in real-time while I work and learn simultaneously. With full-time programs, you get to connect with your cohort consistently and build relationships throughout the programs. And an Executive MBA gets both perks where I didn’t have to compromise my work or building my network.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I thoroughly enjoy being able to make a lasting impact on people’s development and helping retailers grow and be profitable. My long-term goal is to be in a position where I can be responsible for setting the standard for both. Where I can create and sustain an environment everyone wants to be a part of while making impactful decisions about how we connect with customers.

What made Jessica such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“Jessica stands out in her cohort because she embodies many of Fuqua’s core principles but, in particular, that of impactful stewardship. It is telling that her “fun fact” was all about her success getting individuals to vote during the 2020 election and her plans to increase her voter turnout in 2022. Jessica is also active in various WEMBA clubs and serves as the Alumni Relations Liaison for her class encouraging connection to the school after graduation.

Her authentic and genuine personality make her popular among her peers. This, along with her quizmaster level knowledge, is the reason every student in her class wants to be on her team – in trivia and in the classroom. She is also not afraid to speak her mind when warranted. Jessica’s knowledge of a topic and calm demeanor allow her to present information without being combative or demeaning to a difference of opinion. This creates an atmosphere of shared dialogue that is the building block of classroom discussions at Fuqua.

Jessica has taken advantage of her Fuqua education thus far and has already parlayed it into a promotion. She studies hard but works hard too. In short, Jessica is the total package of what makes a great Executive MBA student: impactful stewardship, authentic engagement, humility, hard work, and fun.”

Amanda Laird
Assistant Director, Executive MBA Programs

Dianna Leonard
Assistant Director, Executive MBA Programs


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