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Kate Battle is an MBA student on Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business cross continent MBA programme and team leader of The Fuqua Scholars, one of the seven teams shortlisted in the FT MBA 2014 Challenge with UK charity World Child Cancer (WCC). For the challenge, her team needs to write a business plan that shows how WCC can implement microfinance solutions in Ghana.

There are five other MBA students from Fuqua on Ms Battle’s team, based in France, Ghana and the US. There is also one MBA student from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a masters in urban studies graduate from University College London.

Ms Battle will graduate from Fuqua in December 2014 and is currently working for Golden Source Consultants while studying. In her spare time she enjoys camping and practising yoga.

1. Why did you enter the MBA Challenge?

When I first read about the MBA Challenge I immediately thought it would be a perfect opportunity for the multicultural structure of my MBA programme and a unique chance to combine multiple areas of my life together (career, community and education) for a wonderful cause. I have a lot of respect for the types of challenges WCC is facing so I was very drawn to the idea of helping the organisation. I proposed the challenge to the chief executive of my consulting firm who was immediately interested in helping me build a team. Luckily, we were able to quickly join forces with more of my classmates and some other amazing contacts from around the world.

2. What have you enjoyed about the experience so far?

Co-ordinating activities between eight people with busy careers in different time zones has been quite a task. Nevertheless, the way our ideas seem to come together has been greatly rewarding. Part of the challenge has been to keep our scope narrow enough to really focus on the unique mission of the WCC instead of trying to improve the whole world in one 12-page business plan. With help from our mentor the Right Honourable Paul Martin, ex-prime minister of Canada and chair of the African Development Bank, we have been able to draft out a solid business plan on how to use microfinance solutions to help WCC in Ghana. We look forward to completing the challenge next month with a business plan that WCC can actually implement. Regardless of whether we win it has been a joy to get to know my team mates and put our intellect and passion to good use.

3. How do you deal with pressure?

Working full-time while getting my MBA has brought about more pressures and challenges in my life than I ever would have imagined. I have found that a healthy balance between organisation and flexibility is key. If you are too organised, you will get shaken too easily when things change, as they often do. Conversely, if you are too carefree, you will not have the structure needed to get your work done. I make lists, take things as they come and learn to breathe when life gets hectic.

4. What is the best piece of MBA advice given to you?

Focus less on getting good grades and more on learning from the experiences of my fellow classmates. Sometimes, taking time away from studying to ask someone about their life or career has been much more enlightening than the contents of a book or business case. I’ve been shocked and amazed at some of the experiences my peers have had both in their work and their personal lives. I am coming out of this programme much more enriched because of their business knowledge and cultural understanding.

5. What is the worst job you have ever had?

By far the worst job I ever had was no job. There was a period in my life where I was unemployed and stuck in a recession. It was very difficult during this time to find the confidence to keep trying when so many resources had failed. It wasn’t until I made looking for a job my full-time job that I dug myself out of the unemployment hole. Changing my methods from online applications to really making people notice me was the key to success in finding valuable employment. I would encourage anyone looking for a job to network and meet people in person instead of flatly replying to online job applications.

6. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Everything doesn’t always go your way. I came into the workforce in the middle of a recession when hardly anyone was hiring young college graduates. I did various, low-paid, part-time jobs before I figured out the right way to network and get noticed in the corporate world. So much of life is about continuously stepping outside your comfort zone. The uphill battle I went through in those post-college months was the biggest struggle, lesson and gift in my life.

7. What would you do if you were dean for the day?

I’d work on finding ways for bright young people to be able to afford a high-quality education. Education is one of the most important gifts a person can give themselves. However, many qualified and motivated people are dissuaded from a quality education because of the costs or incredibly high student debt needed to attend a top-tier school. In the past 10 years, college tuition in the US has grown by nearly 80 per cent. Numbers like these are completely unacceptable and schools need to approach this problem sooner rather than later.

8. What do you hope women in business will achieve?

I hope they will achieve the confidence to know that it is possible to have well-balanced families as well as well-balanced careers. I think some women are their own worst enemy and let social norms control their thinking when it comes to career and life choices. We can do it all and still make time for family and fun. I also hope that systems will transform in a way that allows women to better achieve this work-life balance. More affordable options for high quality, early childhood education and better family benefits would be a great start.

9. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

With confidence and emotional intelligence. Having the ability to recognise the personalities and motivations of whoever you are working with, as well as being self-aware is priceless. Therefore, I approach people as people and try to understand the environment but don’t let any of my differences stop me from succeeding. Unfortunately, studies show that when women show strong, firm leadership traits, they are often perceived as less likeable. While I know these perceptions will be adjusted in the future, I am always aware of that balance and I work hard to be a strong leader who is both liked and respected.

10. What are your future plans?

They are always changing and growing! Right now my plan is to continue building my management consulting career for at least another few years and branch into new practice areas and industries . . . I also have plans to start a blog when I graduate. The blog will be focused on talking about the issues surrounding Generation Y, giving career and image advice to fellow millennials and helping other generations understand and work better with us.

Read about the other team leaders:

Onyanta Adama, an MBA student at Lagos Business School in Nigeria and team leader of Ripple

Ingrid Marchal-Gerez, an MBA graduate of London Business School and team leader of Cut out Cancer

Gabriela Galvano, an EMBA graduate of IE Business School in Spain and team leader of Green Light

Sophia Arthur, MBA graduate of Imperial College Business School and team leader of Angel of Hope

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