Rhea Norwood

MBA '08

Senior Director, HR Consulting, Small Business at Capital One
Member, Fuqua Minority Alumni Advisory Board

What do you do professionally?

I serve as the HR Leader for Small Business at Capital One. I’ve been in human resources my entire career, but Kelly Services is where I spent the first 15 years. You name it and I did it—all things human capital, staffing solutions, on-sourcing, off-shoring, outsourcing, reorganizing entire recruitment structures, and managing vendors in general. I was traveling or moving every two years or so. Kelly Services is what introduced me to Duke University and health system—they were my client at the time—as well as the business school. I had always heard of Fuqua, having gone to undergraduate business school at University of Michigan, but I wasn’t sure when I wanted to return to school. My CEO sat on the Board of Visitors at Fuqua, and knowing my next assignment at Kelly was going to be global account management, as I took over the RTP territory I began researching Fuqua’s fantastic Global Executive MBA program. At the time I wasn’t exactly at the number of prerequisite years of experience needed, but I thought the residencies were fantastic, so I began what I affectionately describe as stalking the program. I was very intrigued, had lots of dialogue about the program, and ultimately applied and was accepted a few years later. Today, I lead HR for a small business segment of Capital One.

Describe your Fuqua experience.

I had a most enjoyable experience in the Global Executive MBA program. I developed deep, extraordinary bonds with my classmates. Since graduation, I’ve reconnected with two of my GEMBA classmates, Alexandra Reyes and Andrea Gutierrez-Avila. Sometimes, twice a year or more. We help keep each other sharp and encourage one another to make personal and professional goals happen. It’s so wonderful to have that network.

Rhea Norwood and classmates
Norwood and GEMBA classmates Alexandra Reyes and Andrea Gutierrez-Avila

What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

I enjoy helping people reach their desired potential. I love seeing the spark that finally reaches people’s eyes when they are doing what they truly desire to do. It spreads into my personal life, and the more experienced I get, the less I try to compartmentalize that. In Black professional culture growing up, I was taught to compartmentalize, and I realized how exhausting it is to keep professional space and personal space segmented. I’ve learned to truly integrate and not hold back as much so I can truly be my authentic self. It helps to not carry that weight. When I realized that it’s my passion and purpose in life to serve and help others reach their full potential, I realized I do it in every aspect of my life—for my family, my friends, and in how I’m serving or volunteering. Thus, it’s wonderful to leverage that in all facets.

What is the biggest challenge you face?

My biggest challenge is trying to get to the other side, so to speak, and truly understand what all will be different and how I can enjoy life post-pandemic. This is probably the biggest challenge I have ever experienced in my years on Earth. The isolation I personally feel at times with having to quarantine from loved ones as well as the loss of life has an emotional impact. Being in human resources also means having to help others process the loss of life. We are in crisis—in healthcare, racially, economically, and politically. In so many different fronts, we are accosted by what I consider to be a pandemic of not only health but of conscience. That’s where I spend the bulk of my reflection: How do I ensure my loved ones and I are safe? How do we get to the other side? And what does the other side really look like?

Rhea Norwood and partner
Norwood and partner Clive Flores

What sorts of interesting places has your position taken you? Do you have a favorite?

It sounds cheesy, but one of my favorite locations that I’ve ever lived is Charlotte, North Carolina. At the time, it was such a quaint little town bursting to become more of a city—it was affordable, had great connections with people, and clean living. I enjoyed every bit of it, and I miss it thoroughly. Travel-wise, I really enjoy participating in volunteer vacations or trying to find a way to give back to the community I’m in when I travel. I’ve been to so many interesting places all over the world between my job and personal travel—from Calgary to Guadalajara and all over the United States—but Charlotte is a place I really do miss living. One day I may return!

What is the best professional advice you’ve received?

Someone early in my career told me to “Be myself, because everyone else is taken.” What that means to me is not only be yourself, but do your best to try to be open, transparent, honest, and sometimes vulnerable with the people you have to work with day to day. If you do, you will get the best out of every experience. I get my fuel from reflection, reading, and quietude, and in that space I realize the most important thing I could ever do for myself and anyone I work with or for is to be my authentic self. I have choice in every single thing I do. I may not like the consequences, but I have choice. Every day I choose to bring all of me to work—whether I’m having an off day or not—and it works for me. Being myself helps me focus on the journey of being me and what it means to really belong or truly contribute—and that requires being authentically me. It’s one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love reading, dancing, and (pre-pandemic) traveling. When I’m traveling I love finding spots that speak to me. I’ve been to South Africa several times and there is a giant boulder on the coast of Cape Town that I visit. I’ve spent many hours there sitting, thinking, reading, or doing nothing at all over the course of my stays. That’s one of my favorite things to do: Find a place where you can hear nature and do nothing.

Keiko, Rhea Norwood's dog
Keiko, loyal puppy companion

How do you engage with Fuqua as an alumna?

During my time at Fuqua, I learned the skill of finding how to give from everything I’ve taken. I started thinking about how I could give back to the fantastic experience that I drew out of Fuqua—from the new knowledge to deep friendships and connections. I regularly give back to Fuqua with my time, whether it’s with the women of Fuqua, the Black and Latino community and the Minority Alumni Advisory Board, or just my fellow GEMBA alumni. My time, money, and whatever talent I can bring back to the organization are so important. I am entrusted to bring others along to experience Fuqua. I was one of less than 10 Black individuals and one of 15 women in my class of around 100. Fuqua gave me an experience that, as a Detroiter and a Black woman, I could have never dreamt that I would experience. Because of the knowledge, experiences, and friendships I got out of Fuqua, I seek to ensure other individuals who may look like me or grew up like I did also get the opportunity to experience the same thing. I am so grateful for those who helped me hone my skillset, and I want to give that to others as well.