A Transformative Experience

During a Dean's cabinet meeting in 2012, Dean William Boulding announced that Sanjay Valvani MBA '01 had endowed two scholarship funds through a $250,000 commitment over a five-year period. One scholarship is named for Associate Dean for Career Management Sheryle Dirks, and one is named for Associate Dean for Admissions Liz Riley Hargrove.

"I really thought Bill was teasing me!" Hargrove said. "It was so generous, and I'm so humbled. There aren't many times I'm speechless, but this was one of them."

"This isn't something that happens often," Dirks said, "and I felt true humility and pride in our alumni. I was surprised it was in my name, but I wasn't surprised to hear it was Valvani behind it."

The scholarships will play a large role in raising the profile of the school and attracting the best students. It provides the school with a competitive advantage to appeal to students with unique and diverse backgrounds, offering them the opportunity to have the same kind of transformational experience that Valvani had at Fuqua.

Education has always been an integral focus for Valvani's family. With humble beginnings in India, his parents' academic aptitudes offered them the opportunity to attend the University of Michigan in the 1960s. Additionally, Valvani married a former first-grade teacher/reading specialist, Jot Sandhu, who naturally shares his strong value on education.

After growing up in Kalamazoo, Valvani began his undergraduate education at University of Michigan, then transferred to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to study Health Policy & Administration. Post-graduation, Valvani spent four years working as a health care consultant in Chicago and San Francisco before attending Fuqua and looking to transition to Wall Street. With the Health Sector Management program's top reputation, Fuqua was a prime choice to support that transition.

"When I met him in 1997, I knew Sanjay was a star academically," Hargrove said, "but he didn't have much work experience, so we thought an admissions deferral would be beneficial. It was our way of saying, 'We think you're wonderful and will add tremendous value to our school, but you'll get more out of your time at Fuqua if you have work experience to apply what you're learning.'"

"Liz took a chance on me, even with my limited experience," Valvani said. "She offered me admission and took the time to understand the dynamics of my situation. She kindly gave me a two-year deferral so I could pursue an opportunity with a San Francisco based health care consulting firm."

Once he arrived at Fuqua, Valvani found the collaboration and team focus a valuable and unique aspect of his education. In his first year, his team included a Navy Seal, a consultant, a newspaper editor and a narcotics prosecutor. With vastly different backgrounds, each team member learned from the others' perspectives.

"The expanse of experience adds to the education and culture at Fuqua," Hargrove said. "The diversity and commonalities that we bring together make Fuqua such a special place, so we seek students who will embrace, protect and promote that."

From the beginning, Valvani focused on equity research, with Dirks as his career adviser. At that time, Dirks was a coach in Fuqua's Career Management Center, and Valvani credits her with helping to mold his career path.

"As a non-finance guy, there were natural barriers to break into Wall Street," Valvani said. "But with my tenacity and persistence, and through Sheryle's wonderful career advice, I was fortunate to have four summer internship offers in equity research."

From his summer internship at Bear Stearns in 2000, Valvani joined Salomon Smith Barney/Citigroup for full-time employment upon graduation in 2001. Valvani continued to develop his career and shape the future for the companies that employed him. At Salomon, he covered the Specialty Pharmaceutical sector as a sell-side associate and then joined Jacob Gottlieb, who was a Portfolio Manager at Balyasny Asset Management (BAM), in May 2003.  He joined as a pharmaceutical analyst and was promoted to Portfolio Manager in 2005. In 2006, he was named Partner.

Gottlieb and Valvani and other members of the team eventually spun out to form Visium Asset Management. Visium has since grown to a 130-person, $5+ billion multi-strategy hedge fund. There, Valvani leads a five-member portfolio team with a focus on the global pharmaceutical sector.

"In the beginning, I really had to convince Jacob Gottlieb that I was hungry to join his hedge fund," Valvani said. "But I believed in myself, my education and my experience. I work hard and try to be the best at what I do, which is why a hedge fund is so suitable for me—here I have a lot of control over my own destiny."

"Sanjay's career after Fuqua demonstrates that he certainly has all the qualities we expect in a Duke MBA," Dirks said. "He is smart and ambitious. He makes great contributions, solves problems and helps organizations be better. He understands that much of business is about people and relationships."

Alongside his career growth, Valvani has remained connected to Fuqua. 

"I think very highly of Dean Boulding and Fuqua, and I am very bullish on the future of the school," Valvani said.

"It would be easy for Sanjay to forget the people and programs that helped him along the way," Dirks said. "But he has a mindfulness and attitude of appreciation. He supports what we're trying to do as an institution and is contributing to our goal of attracting the brightest and most dynamic business leaders. As someone who continuously learns from those around him - absorbing their insights and perspectives - he truly understands the importance of a strong Fuqua network."

"My friends and classmates were part of how I grew and learned during my two years at Fuqua," Valvani said. "Every individual with his or her unique experience really makes a difference. I want to present an opportunity for potential students to enrich their own lives and education and ultimately enrich Fuqua."

In addition to his financial support, Valvani has accepted an invitation to join Fuqua's Board of Visitors and assumed his position in July.