Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Feature Story

Operation Blue Devil Teaches Leadership in New Way

Non-military MBA students get a glimpse of Army life

April 05, 2013

Soon to be MBA graduate Bee-Lian Quah likes a good challenge. But, Quah admits she had some fleeting doubts about her ability recently when faced with moving a 55 gallon drum filled with water nearly two miles. Her team of 12 was given only four tires, six poles, and 50 feet of rope to build a contraption to get the job done.

"As a petite person, I was concerned I would be the weak link on my team,"Quah said.

Instead, Quah walked away from that military drill and others with a new appreciation for how far she could push her physical ability and problem solving skills.

"My big takeaway was that as a leader, we should always be confident that we will have something to bring to the table. We should never underestimate the value of our unique experiences and knowledge," she said.

Quah was one of 26 MBA students to participate in the first ever Operation Blue Devil. Members of the Duke Armed Forces Association (DAFA) and Duke Building Outdoor Leaders and Doers (BOLD) hosted the event with officials this past March at Fort Bragg, a U.S. military training facility in North Carolina. For the better part of two days, non-military students went through a series of rigorous drills and team building exercises used by the Army.

"The goals were to provide a unique experience that allowed participants to demonstrate personal and collective leadership in an ambiguous, complex and changing environment," said Mike Rybacki, one of the student organizers of Operation Blue Devil. 

Student organizers say the event was such a success they are already making plans for next year.

"I'm extremely excited about the prospects of establishing this program as an annual Fuqua event," Rybacki said.

Quah says she had no exposure to the military before the two day event.

"All of us who work in business can learn a lot from the military," Quah said. "Similar to the ambiguous environments that the military is trained to operate in day-to-day, the uncertainty in the business world also requires leaders who can adapt quickly and communicate well to achieve a mission."