Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Eric Nakano

Class of 2014

Eric Nakano

"I know many of the readers of these profiles (like me) are daunted by the admissions process and often have doubts about whether they can measure up. But as I continue to learn at Fuqua, being a leader of consequence is striving for your own personal excellence every day. And what you learn about yourself on the journey is just as important as getting into business school."

My Background

I grew up in San Dimas, California, which is the home of the fictional celebrities, Bill & Ted, of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures. Like the characters in the movie, I often felt like an outsider trying to fit in. I am the oldest of four children and a fourth generation Japanese-American. This means that my family fights over the bill when we go out to restaurants, and on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter, rice and sushi are served right alongside turkey and ham.

I also am gay. Since I came out right after college, helping LGBT people has been a big part of my life. In 2008, I worked as an organizer volunteering to engage progressive churches and people of faith on the "No on 8" Campaign, which took away the right of same sex couples to marry in California. After the measure passed, I organized the largest campaign training for LGBT activists who wanted to win back the right to marry in California. Empowering LGBT people to get involved in the democratic process and win back their rights was a transformative and emotionally powerful experience. Seeing the need for more leaders to step up in the LGBT community, I decided to go to business and public policy school so that one day I could either run for office or run a nonprofit that helps gay people.

In the two years since I arrived at Duke, I've acquired a taste for BBQ and sweet tea along with a slight Southern accent that occasionally makes an appearance after a fun night out with friends. School is a lot busier than I thought it would be, so I don't have much free time. But when I do, I enjoy cooking, playing board games, traveling to places far off the beaten path, blogging, hiking through the Duke forest, playing kickball, and doing my laundry. I also admit that I sometimes watch reality TV shows like Real Housewives and Jersey Shore because I like seeing their fancy houses and clothes and it helps me stay current with pop culture and lingo.

Why I Chose Fuqua

The reason I came to Fuqua is because it is hands down the best business school in the world. The faculty members are renowned leaders in their field and many of them share research in their classes that is so cutting edge, students at other schools will be reading about their work in textbooks 5 years from now!

I also wanted to be at a school where I could engage deeply with my classmates, work in teams, and be exposed to people who are different from me. At Fuqua, 40 percent of my classmates are from another country and every member of my teams has come from a different industry than I did. Having this kind of exposure at business school was important to me and has opened my eyes to different ways of thinking about issues and solving complex problems.

Like 90% of business school students, my future plans are a little hazy with respect to industry, but I do know that I want to work in the private sector so that I can gain additional experience in managing a business. Fuqua was perfect for that becuase they have all kinds of companies that recruit on campus and the alumni network is famous for being ridiculously helpful to current students. Plus, I knew that I could learn a great deal in and out of the classroom and gain experience tackling all kinds of problems. Over the past year, for example, I consulted for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction on improving its middle schools for a public policy class, strategized on how Barnes & Noble could survive in the e-reader age in my strategy class, and presented at Lenovo on how they could grow their Chromebook business in my marketing intelligence class.

Finally, I wanted to study at a place that inspired me and Duke is a beautiful place to study. Even on really stressful days, all I have to do is stroll through the 9,000 acres of forests, gardens, and of course, the majestic Duke Chapel, and I feel ready to tackle another operations case or competitive analysis problem set. So far, my experience at Duke has been a transformative one. I have developed leadership and management skills and have built friendships that will last a lifetime. I am really grateful for the opportunity to be here and can't wait to see how my second year unfolds.

Leadership Attribute: Excellence

For four years, I debated whether or not to go to graduate school. I had accomplished a lot and maintained a good GPA in college, but when I compared myself to my friends or to the students whose profiles were featured on school websites like this one, I always felt inadequate. And so I sat on my indecision trying to figure out what my next move would be.

This all changed during my third year at UCLA, where I worked as an Associate Development Director. At our year-end meeting, the head coach of the UCLA gymnastics team, Valorie Kondos, spoke. Coach Val, as she was known, was one of the most successful coaches at UCLA; but what I didn't know, is that when she started as an assistant coach, she was trained as a ballet dancer and knew almost nothing about gymnastics! Despite this, she was promoted to head coach and went on to lead the team to 6 national championships.

I was inspired by her talk and asked to meet with her for coffee to talk to her about her career and my own plans for graduate school. She shared that the secret to her success was her relentless focus on her own self-improvement rather than focusing on the success of others. She believed that by working with each girl on her team to ensure that each was performing to the best of her ability, they would improve a lot over time and walk away knowing they had achieved success, regardless of what the scoreboard said.

She encouraged me to apply to school and told me that the worst that could happen is that the schools say no. Plus, I really had no idea what the schools were looking for, and I may offer something compelling that was different than what the students on the website did. "The journey," she said, "is more important than the destination," and it was up to me to make each day that I lived a masterpiece. After our meeting, I committed to doing the best job that I could on my applications and in school, and to strive for my own personal excellence, while not worrying about what others thought or did.

Obviously, it's worked out, and I am very happy at Fuqua. I share this story because I know many of the readers of these profiles (like me) are daunted by the admissions process and often have doubts about whether they can measure up. But as I learned from Coach Val, and continue to learn at Fuqua, being a leader of consequence is striving for your own personal excellence every day. And what you learn about yourself on the journey is just as important as getting into business school.

Five Random Things about Me

  1. When I was 5 years old, I flew on a plane for the first time. I looked out the window and exclaimed that I saw Jesus watering his plants on a cloud. My parents and the passengers around me chuckled, but to this day I swear I did!
  2. I wanted to be a figure skater growing up, and spent hours watching figure skating on videos, making clay Olympic medals, and practicing with Rollerblades on our driveway. Not only could I skate backwards really fast, but I could also do a few pretty mean jumps and other cool tricks.
  3. I was a terrible cook and even burned toast until I started subscribing to Martha Stewart after college. Since then, I regularly have people for dinner all the time and make an awesome Thanksgiving meal with 15 side dishes every year for 12 - 20 people.
  4. When the Democrats took the House of Representatives in 2006, my roommate and I were at the victory party in Washington, DC. We were selected to go stand in front of the American flag on stage with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and other leaders while they spoke. The next day, our photo was on the front page for stories from the AP, the BBC and Yahoo News.
  5. I am an avid advice column reader and friends always come to me for advice. I save the best columns in my email so that when friends have problems, I can look them up and forward them the column that fits their needs.