Shannon and her daughter take a photo in front of historical buildings while on their El Camino hike.

MBA ‘93

Cascade Leadership

1. You recently went on a motivational journey to El Camino De Santiago in Spain, during which you initiated a personal #FuquaStepsUp challenge. Will you please share that story with us?

In 2002, I walked 800 km/500 mi across northern Spain along El Camino de Santiago. I share the journey in my book, WE the Change: Launching Big Ideas and Creating New Realities. Prior to that experience, I suffered two miscarriages and wondered if I would ever have children. After completing the journey, I made a commitment to walk the route again with any children I had. I have now completed it four times. The second trip was with a group of women as a fundraiser for United Planet in 2016. I completed it the third time with my daughter, Savannah, in 2021. The most recent trip in 2023 was with my youngest child, Fiona.


I am very service oriented and donate 20% of my working time to non-profits focused on eradicating poverty through education. I owe a lot of my success to my time at Fuqua and wanted to share my experience with others. The #FuquaStepsUp challenge seemed like perfect synchronicity. What’s not great about celebrating Fuqua while also taking many steps along the Camino.



2. On your trip, you described the spirit of #TeamFuqua that first drew you to the school as a potential student. How have you continued to experience and participate in this sense of community as an alumna and a donor?

I met some of my closest friends at Fuqua. I believe in the power of collaboration, and I was intentional in targeting MBA programs that were focused on collaboration and lifting everyone to be at their best versus programs that were known for cutting 10% of the class in the first year as if it was a badge of honor. I enjoy competition, but I believe we accomplish more together when we are focused on ensuring everyone can work to make their highest and best contribution. I continue to participate in the community by staying in touch with friends and attending Fuqua Reunions. I’ve also been a speaker for Fuqua Women’s conferences as well as for COLE. In the Seattle area, I’ve expanded my relationships beyond Fuqua and managed the Duke Women Wednesday’s program for a couple of years.  I know that I have maintained so many Fuqua friendships because we share the same underlying values of service and collaboration.



3. What was the concluding outcome of your journey and #FuquaStepsUp challenge?

Fiona and I put a lot of steps on our Fitbits, and we made it to Santiago. I donated $1,500 for the FuquaStepsUp challenge, and my husband’s company, Microsoft, matched it.



4. Why Fuqua? What has encouraged you to support the Fuqua Annual Fund for the past eight consecutive years?

My friend, Lisa Canafax ’87, encouraged me to apply to Fuqua. I didn’t know much about the school beyond the stellar basketball team. When I researched the MBA program, it stood out because of the #TeamFuqua focus. When I applied, Fuqua accepted me for who I was. This meant a lot to me at the time. I doubt many people remember their essays from 30 years ago, but I remember mine because I knew I was writing about something that would not typically be explored in a business school application, especially not during the era of movies like Wall Street. I chose to share my blended spiritual beliefs from Christianity and Buddhism in my essays and talk about how I felt called to support people to realize their full potential and how I believed a business degree, not a divinity degree, would best support that. While it may not sound so risky now, at that time, my closest friends said, “Don’t do it. You will never be accepted into a reputable business school.” I understood their concerns and agreed that if no university accepted me that I would send a more “traditional” application the following year. While I was accepted to a few programs, Fuqua was the only top ten program that accepted me. I felt “seen” and inspired. When I arrived on campus, I was completely authentic and comfortable in my own skin. Bringing my entire self to the endeavor was a critical part of my own life’s learning journey, and I’m so grateful that Fuqua accepted me just the way I was. I also believe being completely authentic is what enabled me to create deep and meaningful life-long friendships while I was there.


I support the Fuqua Annual Fund because I want to share the opportunities I’ve had with others. I have experienced a remarkable change in my life situation because of my education. I was raised in South Dakota in a single-parent home in the bottom 10% of the socioeconomic ladder in the United States. I am careful to note that I grew up with privilege because of the good fortune of being born in the United States. I had access to education, healthcare, and food. I have worked on six continents, and I have seen devastating poverty throughout Africa, Latin America, and India. I have worked with children in the slums of Kenya and India. I am blessed because I had access to education that transformed my life and the lives of my family. My situation today is quite different than that of my childhood. Supporting Fuqua is about supporting education for individuals who may not have access to it otherwise.  



5. How did your time as a Fuqua student uniquely prepare you for your career and professional endeavors?

Fuqua prepared me for my future in three ways: establishing credibility, generating new ways of thinking, and building relationships.


Establishing credibility. Prior to Fuqua, I worked in a Chicago bank where I administered benefit programs. On more than one occasion, I experienced an officer of the bank who treated me disrespectfully. I observed similar behavior with other employees in the human resources department regardless of title or tenure. I assumed the bank officers did not value our function in the same way they valued commercial lending, for example. I have never been treated that way again since graduating from Duke. One could say my confidence grew, and I no longer tolerate discourtesy, but I also believe that the Fuqua MBA is respected, and other business people viewed me as more credible when I talked about business. 


New ways of thinking. I am a lifelong learner and loved learning at Fuqua. I was exposed to so many new ideas and tools that have formed my thinking since then. For some reason, one tool that has always delighted me is the decision tree. I learned the usefulness of decision trees in a quantitative analysis course. I enjoy constructing them and the myriad branches that can be formed to make better decisions. I think they are a very powerful tool, and I also know that I’m not always the best person to put one together. In fact, I remember telling my quant professor at the end of the course, “I’ve learned the benefits of decision trees…and if you want a really good one, you should ask an engineer to make it for you.”  I stand by that principle.


Building relationships. Relationships are everything in my field. I have had my own consulting and coaching firm for nearly 14 years, and all of my work is generated through referrals. While I may not have all of the answers, I always know that I am only a Zoom call away from finding the answers through one of my Fuqua friends.



6. If you could give one piece of advice to recent and upcoming graduates, what would it be?

Utilize your network; don’t just build your network. I enjoy meeting recent Fuqua grads, but very few reach out. I may not have a job for you, but I have a network that you can connect with. As your career grows, so will the careers of your peers; stay in touch with them. They will understand your challenges and successes more than anyone else. It’s so nice to have a trusted confidante outside of your own business. You are welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn.



Want to view more of Shannon's vlog from her journey? Check out these links:

WE the Change

Madrid to Sarria to Segovia

Sarria to Portomarin

Count Your Blessings

Palas de Rei to Arzua

Arzua to Lavacolla