Allison Fansler is a 2006 graduate of the Daytime MBA Program. Prior to Fuqua, she worked for the Department of Treasury, ThinkWave and the KIPP Foundation. She is now President and COO of KIPP DC.
Why did you choose Fuqua?
I had been working in the social sector in California, but knew I wanted to move back to the East Coast to be closer to my family and establish a network in that region when I went back to business school. At the time, I was working at the KIPP Foundation so I knew I wanted to stay in the social sector in some way. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but it was important for me to find a school where the social sector was a priority, a school that attracted great organizations, and a school that had an established culture in the field with a supportive cohort of classmates that might be searching for the some of the same things I was looking for. After living in San Francisco for a while, I also loved the notion of living in Durham. I was really excited about living in a place that was more “livable”. All of those factors added up to me choosing Fuqua.
What activities were you involved in at Fuqua that helped propel you towards your goal?
I had experience in charter schools and I knew I wanted to stay directly involved in charter schools while I was there. As a first year MBA student, I participated in Day in Durham and met someone who worked in Duke’s community affairs office who I immediately connected with as he was on the board of a local charter school. I very quickly joined the board – it was just important to me to be grounded in something going on outside of the University community. When you are insular to a particular community, you can miss 95% of what’s going on in the world. On campus, I also became very involved in Net Impact because I knew I wanted to maintain my career in social impact so participating in Net Impact events and with a cohort of students that were searching for similar things was important to me.
Describe the work you are doing today?
When I started [at KIPP DC], it was at the perfect level. I was essentially employee #3 at a headquarters office and had the opportunity to build it from where it was in 2006 to where we are now with 500 employees, 70 of which report to me from the operations side. The organization has just grown tremendously, and I feel like I have grown right alongside it at a pace that fits my ability to lead it. I have had the exact same job title since the first day, but every day is different. Every year I look back and I think, “I can’t believe how much we have done.
I feel like I found my dream job coming out of business school. We’ve gone from helping principals understand basic budgeting to getting the highest S&P rating of any charter school on its first review which allowed us to receive funding to finance more schools. Also, things like knowing how much to build and how much to acquire – these are all things that I feel like I have the grounding to do because of what I learned in business school.
What do you think are the critical skills needed for careers in social impact?
The hardest thing for me to find is management and relationship skills in candidates, so if you can put yourself in positions to practice leading people you should do it. It really is so much harder than people think! I wish people would not be as worried about what they can deliver and produce, but how they present themselves since it is already assumed that you are very smart. You gain the edge when you can be the person to come in and build really authentic relationships since that is hugely important to how organizations work. A big part of the culture at Fuqua is all about teamwork and it is definitely one of the reasons I decided to go to school there. The relationship, management and team skills are so important that you can never overemphasize them.