Paul Sansone is a 1992 graduate of the Daytime MBA Program. Before coming to Fuqua, he worked for Pricewaterhouse Coopers. After Fuqua, he worked at IBM and Scientific Atlantic before becoming the CFO of Atlanta based B Corporation Better World Books, an online bookseller which donates to literacy programs (more than $19 million to date) around the world. He then became CFO for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and is now Partner – Finance and Operations at TechCXO.
Why did you come to Fuqua and what has been your career path since graduating?
I knew during the latter half of my undergraduate career that I wanted to continue to invest in my education. I had a pretty good idea when I was a senior in college that I was going to go back and get my MBA. I just didn’t know when. When I was a senior in undergrad, I came down to Fuqua to visit during spring break while everyone else was partying somewhere in Florida. That was a life-changing spring break for me. During that week, I got to meet some of the people and sat in some of the classes. The more time I spent in Durham, the more I fell in love with the city.
So I applied during my senior year and received deferred admission. I actually wanted that because I wanted to go work for a few years before I came back. So, I worked for Pricewaterhouse Coopers for two years in New York and then returned to Fuqua. At that point, I had no idea about social enterprise. In fact, the concept of social enterprise just began to develop at that time. Over time, I was able to merge my MBA skills with my passions by working for a B Corporation called Better World Books. I joined Better World Books in 2008 and was there until summer 2014. I recently had the opportunity to transition to the nonprofit sector and am serving as the CFO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. BGCA helps put young people on the path to great futures. Annual, we serve nearly 4 million young people in over 4,100 Club facilities throughout the country and BGCA-affiliated Youth Centers on U.S. military installations worldwide.
What activities were you involved in that have led to your career in social impact?
I was heavily involved with the MBA Games, and anything from a social impact standpoint I could, from nonprofit service rows to Special Olympics. I was active in Consulting Club at Fuqua as well. I was also very involved in a University-setting and served as a Resident Advisor to undergraduates.
After graduating from Fuqua, I worked for IBM, then a company called Scientific Atlanta, which was eventually acquired by Cisco. During the evening, I often found myself doing work for the American Cancer Society and Juvenile Diabetes. So, when I called my Fuqua friends and told them I was leaving Cisco to work for Better World Books, they responded: “That’s you – you should go to this company, because that is what you’ve always been about.”
What advice would you give to students who are pursuing careers in social impact?
If you are interested in a career in social enterprise, there are a few ways to pursue it. These days you can start off directly in the field because the network of social enterprises is so much more organized than it ever was and many of the companies are small and growing, so they need the help. There is a way for you to find your way into these careers right out of school if you want to and have an immediate impact on the social issues you feel passionate about.
The way I played it was unintentional but turned out to be beneficial for me. I went the corporate route for the first part of my career so I could learn what it was like to work in a larger organization and understand what makes it successful, and then apply all of that back to the smaller company that I ended up going to. If you have an aptitude in a certain discipline like finance or marketing functions you can hone those skills at a larger organization and then bridge it to a social enterprise. Either path is a great option for having a social impact.
In terms of the skills that have been critical for my career path, a lot of what I learned at Fuqua were building blocks that have helped me navigate real world decision-making. What you truly take away from Fuqua is working with small groups to get things accomplished. Those building blocks are fundamental at how you look at solving problems in business. Like optimization modeling—how do you make most with the least? How do you prioritize constraints? You always have constraints on everything so how do you decide to manage that?
You definitely get skills in the classroom and you learn from your peers because you are surrounded everywhere by smart people. Being at Fuqua is the one time in your career where you will always be around high-energy, passionate and intelligent people no matter where you turn.