Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Paul Vitelli

Class of 2013

Paul Vitelli

"At first, I was scoffed at. My teammates called me 'figlio,' joking that I was the coach's son. Yet, as time passed, more teammates lifted weights with me before practice. Then, each conditioning drill became a race. Soon, scrimmages became so competitive that the losing team had to buy dinner. The increased intensity in practice began to manifest itself in games."

My Background

My father was my mother's paperboy in Brooklyn, NY—that's how they met. My Pops is Catholic, of half Italian and half Irish descent. My Ma is Jewish with a mix of Eastern European and Russian ancestry. For a living, my Pops wanted to open a corner-store in Brooklyn and moonlight as a guitarist. Ma casually suggested that he take advantage of his skills with numbers. He got his CPA and worked his way up the corporate ladder to become a business leader in consumer electronics. Ma arguably worked the more difficult job of being the mother of two boys. Explaining in limited words what they mean to me would be an injustice. I am so thankful to have been blessed with such wonderful parents.

I also have a younger brother. He endured the teasing that a younger brother must until I left for college. Thankfully he forgave me, and now he is my best friend. He went to Vanderbilt for undergrad and for law school. He just got married to a wonderful woman, and is currently working at a boutique anti-trust firm in New York City. After all the years he looked up to me, I think our roles have finally reversed.

Since I was young, basketball has been my passion. My dream of playing in the NBA guided most of my decisions throughout my teenage and young-adult years. While I never did get to play in the NBA, playing professionally in Italy helped me make peace with a dying NBA dream as my competitive basketball career came to an end. I still love to play, though. Before coming to Fuqua, I played in many corporate and lawyer leagues in New York City. A fun fact is that I am still undefeated when playing at Madison Square Garden, where those league championships are played. I am also on the Fuqua Hoops team. We won the MBA Winter Tournament at Harvard in December.

I am still unsure what I am passionate about when it comes to the business world. I know that I dislike finance. I think that consulting will give me some freedom to search and explore what I am passionate about while giving me the skills to excel once I find it.

In my down time, I enjoy reading nerdy books (theoretical physics), watching movies, playing hoops, traveling, and learning to cook.

Why I Chose Fuqua

When deciding on which schools to apply to, I reasoned that the differences between factors considered in business school rankings such as tuition, strength of the career center, and average salary among the top 10 or 15 schools would be negligible. While that did not shorten my list, it did allow me to focus on other discerning factors. Because I was going to business school to redirect my career away from finance and toward management, I eliminated finance-focused programs from my list. There were then 3 requirements that I had when choosing between the remaining business schools: 1) energy concentration, 2) location and campus feel, 3) fit with culture.

Alternative energy is something that I am passionate about. There are few top schools that offer an energy concentration. The fact that Fuqua has one and has EDGE (the Center for Energy, Development, and Global Environment) was a huge selling point for me. While I will be in consulting next year, my hope is that the energy concentration combined with a few years of consulting experience will one day help me to get an alternative energy start-up off the ground.

I wanted to attend a school that had a true campus feel. Going to school in a metropolitan area is fun, but I believe that stronger camaraderie is built when the campus is one of the city's main attractions. I have heard many stories about a business school experience being diluted by the draws of a busy city. Since growing and strengthening my network was a very important goal of mine, I wanted to attend a school with a larger class, but a more intimate setting. Also, after living in the Northeast all of my life, I wanted to live somewhere warmer for a change.

Lastly, the Team Fuqua culture was critical to me. I had just come from a 3-year stint in a bank, where individuality was encouraged and rewarded. As a former basketball player, I needed to return to a collaborative, supportive culture. Team Fuqua is often mentioned casually when talking about the school. It is a difficult concept to translate into words. There is just such a positive energy buzzing within the halls of Fuqua that is palpable. Students at Fuqua care about the school and about each other. I knew the moment that I visited Fuqua that it was the place for me.

Leadership Attribute: Resilience

I think that a very important characteristic of a leader of consequence is resilience. As a leader, your decisions and actions will not always be right, but they will always be scrutinized. To stay focused and unwavering during difficult times is a necessary attribute to being a successful and influential leader.

I learned the importance of resiliency during my first year of playing basketball in Italy. It was an extremely difficult time for me. A few months before, my best friend passed away in a car accident. Still mourning his loss, I went to a country that was very far from my family and friends, where I could not speak the language, and I had almost no money. Furthermore, the team to which I was signed was last in the league at the time. Right before I arrived, the coach had been diagnosed with cancer and the organization was spiraling out of control. Sponsors had pulled their money, we did not have an acting coach, and the overall morale was the worst of any team on which I had played.

I had spent my whole life practicing and preparing to play professional basketball, but this was by far the most difficult situation, both personally and professionally, that I had ever been in. I decided that I would have to cut through the challenges by focusing on my goals.

As a rookie, and one of the youngest on the team, I was not very good. I was actually a terrible player during my first month. But I worked on my game and my body strength during my free time. While everyone else maintained a blasé attitude toward practice, I used it as an opportunity to get into better shape. When my teammates saw what I was doing, and saw my resilience to the environment and my dedication to my goals, some of them began to follow my lead.

At first, I was scoffed at. My teammates called me "figlio," joking that I was the coach's son. Yet, as time passed, more teammates lifted weights with me before practice. Then, each conditioning drill became a race. Soon, scrimmages became so competitive that the losing team had to buy dinner. The increased intensity in practice began to manifest itself in games. Although we finished the season in second-to-last place, we had won 5 more games in the second half of the season than we did the first.

I was not actively trying to be a leader; I was just trying to fight through a difficult time. That experience made me realize the inspiration that is sparked by resiliency, and how important it is to remain strong when you experience even the most devastating setbacks.

Five Random Things About Me

  1. Before playing basketball in Italy, I applied for and received Italian citizenship. In order to do so, I had to trace my lineage back to the old country by gathering documents such as birth and death certificates, and marriage licenses from several different New York City archives. I can hardly speak Italian, but I can cook a century old recipe for chicken soup passed down from my Italian ancestors. 
  2. I am red-green colorblind. I was convinced that I was going to fail first grade because I could never see the difference between blue and purple or pink and gray. 
  3. I am very interested in astronomy and theoretical physics. It has yet to get me a date. 
  4. I am 6' 8". The list of things into which I do not fit surpasses the word limit of all of my business school essays combined. 
  5. I love orange juice. For me, nothing beats Tropicana Pure Premium Low Acid orange juice; it is so smooth. In college, I finished a 59 oz. container every 1.5 days.

The Impact of Team Fuqua

A person's true colors are revealed through adversity. One of the most difficult and stressful times of business school is during the recruiting season, especially during the interviewing phase. There are sometimes hundreds of students, from multiple schools, all vying for the same position. While the purpose of the interviews is to evaluate and choose the best candidates, I have found that the interview waiting room can act as a barometer, measuring the true culture of a business school.

To be more specific, I am referring to off-campus interviews, where candidates from different schools are put into a seating area to await their interview. The way in which students of the same school interact with each other in that waiting room is usually a microcosm of a business school's culture. Granted, there are always exceptions to that theory, but Fuqua never fails this test: Fuqua students are always the most supportive students in that room.

The best example of this was in a waiting room for a consulting firm. The firm wanted to be efficient, so it was interviewing students from Duke and another school that's down the road. In that waiting room, the Fuqua students greeted each other with hugs and smiles. The Fuquans who were waiting huddled together on one side of the room to ease the pressure and talk strategy. Those who had completed their interview returned to the waiting-room huddle to relay their experience and wish others luck. The non-Fuquans sat with their hands folded over their portfolios, hardly acknowledging each other. No smiles were exchanged; no interview tips were given. I have observed this dynamic multiple times in my job search. Needless to say, I walked into that interview, and others just like it, more confidently and proud to be part of the supportive and collaborative culture that defines Team Fuqua.