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Leader of Consequence: Fuqua Helps Soldier Move from Battlefield to Classroom

Deirdre Dixon (Daytime ’95) was the first female Army officer to receive an MBA from Fuqua. Now she teaches future leaders.

By Tim Candon — This article was originally published in the Team Fuqua alumni magazine.

April 20, 2010
Deirdre Dixon
Deirdre Dixon

When Deirdre Dixon enrolled in The Fuqua School of Business and first set foot on the Duke campus, she discovered a world she knew existed, but one that was unfamiliar to her until that fateful day in 1993.

“I had been military my whole life — I didn’t know there was anything else out there,” Dixon (Daytime ’95) says now. “Fuqua opened my eyes to the business and civilian world, and I never looked back. It was a great paradigm shift for me, to learn what the world was about. I didn’t understand the civilian world before.”

Dixon grew up in a military family, attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served in the Army for 22 years, with tours of duty in Desert Storm/Shield, before retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in January 2006. Today, she blends the leadership skills she learned in the military and in her studies at Fuqua to train future business leaders. At the University of Tampa, she currently serves as Program Director of the Leadership Center at the John Sykes College of Business.

Last year, she helped develop a leadership minor for undergraduates in which she teaches the introductory course. She also helps teach an MBA leadership course and assists with development of executive education and leadership
development programs.

“It’s exciting to help young leaders think about their definition of leadership and see how that changes over four years,” Dixon said. “Starting out, most students think of leadership in a very hierarchical way, and we try to teach them that leadership can take many forms. We introduce them to The Social Change Model of Leadership—it’s a model for leaders who may not hold traditional leadership roles.”

Dixon’s teaching preparation began after serving in Desert Storm, where she was a commander of an ammunition company, overseeing 200 soldiers. Upon her return, she was selected to teach the core leadership course and a leadership elective at West Point. To prime her for that role, West Point sent her to Fuqua, and she became the first female Army officer to earn an MBA from the school.

“My Fuqua education gives me instant credibility with people from all walks of life,” Dixon said. “Often people will stereotype me when they hear I was a career Army soldier. Then when people find out I went to Duke and got my MBA, they realize I also have insight into the business world.”

Leadership, Dixon said, takes a number of forms and one’s education never stops. The key is to have a strong, values-based framework and to be analytical about one’s own style and adapt as situations demand. Fuqua Professor and retired Army Colonel Joe LeBoeuf believes that’s at the root of his former pupil’s success.

“She is a model of integrity, courage and character,” said LeBoeuf, who was on the committee selecting Dixon to teach at West Point, and he has remained a close friend and mentor since. “She really has been a great example of the kind of graduate we want from Fuqua; what we refer to as a ‘leader of consequence.’ She was a superb leader as a commissioned officer in the Army, and Fuqua made her better. Now, she continues serving in a consequential way running the leadership program in the business school at Tampa University, contributing to the development of other leaders of consequence.”