Michele Payne MBA ’87 on Career, Diversity, and Giving Back

A headshot photo of Michele Payne.Michele Payne MBA ’87 has frequently been described by classmates, colleagues, and friends as a storyteller. She considers that quite a compliment as this skill is exhibited in many aspects of her life. One of her early managers described her as “taking the time to discover what will make each person feel special.” Michele finds great joy in bringing out the best in a group of people with diverse perspectives to reach a common goal. As a natural leader and team player, Michele exemplifies Team Fuqua and has been steadfast in her pursuits to improve the school through her giving, board service, and mentorship.

Michele’s Fuqua story begins with her first day on campus: “What solidified my decision to choose Fuqua was attending the Fuqua Minority Workshop. It felt familiar. It felt like home.” She reflects fondly on meeting longtime Fuqua Building Maintenance Manager Tony Jenkins in the hallway of the Kirby Winter Garden. “I remember him saying to my parents, ‘Don't worry, I'll take good care of her. She's going to be fine.’ And we have maintained a friendship to this day.” Michele was one of only six Black students in her class and values the connections with others like her who remain greatly underrepresented within business schools and workplaces. She notes how much Fuqua has progressed since then in terms of diversity and has stayed involved in this space since graduation through the Alumni Council, The Duke MBA Workshop held annually by Admissions, and the Minority Alumni Advisory Board.

After graduating from Fuqua, Michele went into investment banking where she traded foreign currency for the Bank of Boston in Boston and the Bank of Montreal in Chicago. After more than a decade in the business and seeing structural changes in the trading sector, Michele was inspired to begin a new chapter. She had childhood dreams of being a surgeon and admired her mother’s skill as a surgical nurse, so when Johnson & Johnson was looking for business analysts, she accepted the opportunity for a new challenge. This move changed the shape of her career, and she has made incredible strides over her 22-plus years in the oncology division, moving from the financial side to sales and account management.

Michele’s focus in her career is similar to her approach to engaging with the Fuqua community—being a resource for people and sharing her experience. She is a creator and executor of Johnson & Johnson’s “The Black Table,” a safe space and developmental forum to elevate black oncology talent and foster more representation in management across the organization. Michele was also instrumental in developing Janssen Oncology’s Anti-Racism and Equity Speaker Series. The platform’s mission is to educate the organization about systemic racism and its impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion and ignite positive change in the ways we work and in the communities they serve.

Giving back has been instilled in Michele since childhood, and she does this for Fuqua in many ways. Michele is currently the chair of Fuqua’s Minority Alumni Advisory Board, a platform she uses to improve connections between students, alumni, and the school. She is also a dedicated donor, giving to Fuqua nearly every year since graduation. She emphasizes the collective power of giving, encouraging others to be consistent donors to Fuqua, “Representation matters, it’s more important to have 1,000 people give $1,000, versus one person giving $1,000,000.”

Outside of work and her volunteer pursuits, Michele is an avid golfer and skier. She also loves traveling the world, live music, Broadway, and public speaking. For her next chapter, she dreams of creating her own golf leisure clothing line. As an impactful contributor and collaborator, Michele lives up to the values of Team Fuqua and describes it as “A family of possibilities. Once you become part of Duke and Fuqua, it lasts a lifetime!”