Interview With An Academic: Alexis Mellon, Regional Director for Europe for Duke University
Today we interview Alexis Mellon who is the Regional Director for Europe who is based in London for Duke University. After studying at Cambridge University and graduating with a double 1st Class Honours, Alexis then began her career in marketing as a Account Executive at Ogilvy & Mather. After that, she transitioned into academia at Duke Corporate Education as a Programme Manager and moved up the ranks to become the Regional Director for Europe for Duke University.
What non-academic skills do you believe are important for young entrepreneurs in today’s economy?
As for any young professional, communication skills are critical to success. Not only those that have been considered traditionally important, such as developing a clear and distinctive written and verbal communication style, but also those that have become increasingly relied upon for communication, such as the ability to build business relationships across geographic distance and cultural boundaries. One of the greatest unintended benefits of The Duke MBA – Cross Continent is the students’ learned ability to communicate effectively and deliver successful projects with their teammates around the world. This is achieved by placing them in teams with peers from diverse industries, functions, and geographies throughout the programme, and ensuring the team’s collective success is a key part of the grading system for all classes.
How important do you believe it is for young entrepreneurs to have a tertiary academic qualification such as a degree?
I believe there is no single answer to this question. Each individual will require a different set of experiences and formal education to enable success. There are huge benefits to a tertiary degree: they provide a formal learning structure, facilitate a young person’s maturing process, and require a level of intelligent thought and perspective that can be very formative. But everyone learns differently and will require different tools to be successful – no one route works for everyone.
Do you believe small businesses have a greater or lesser chance of success than five years ago?
Small businesses have always benefitted from greater flexibility than larger corporations whose size can lead to strict process requirements inhibiting innovation. Clearly a nimble organisation is more likely to be able to succeed in a challenging economic outlook. However, innovation has proven possible within larger companies, which might also have greater resources to support organisational change. We teach innovation at Fuqua, and link it closely to entrepreneurship. But being entrepreneurial doesn’t just mean starting your own firm: an employee with entrepreneurial abilities in a large business can add a lot of value to the firm too.
How do you see business schools changing during the next five to ten years?
Business schools have changed a lot in the last 5 years, and I think the coming decade will see a continued push in the same direction. Being globally distributed, as Fuqua is, allows a business school to embed around the world and build meaningful relationships with businesses, governments, and other academic institutions. This is critical as it makes the business school answerable to the community it is trying to serve. We don’t operate in a vacuum; we are graduating individuals we believe we have equipped to be leaders of consequence in important roles around the world. We cannot claim to do this if we have not first holistically understood and engaged with the world into which those young professionals are graduating.
Many working within the employment sector say today’s graduates don’t have the ‘soft skills’ necessary to achieve in the real world – what’s your opinion on their view?
The UK education system is designed like a triangle – it restricts in stages the number and variety of academic subjects a child studies until the point of tertiary education. So by the time a student graduates from university, he or she is relatively academically narrow. We have a reputation for graduating superb engineers, medics and philosophers, but the education system is also designed in such a way that learning is achieved by listening to lectures and submitted papers, rather than through rigorous debate and discussion with peers. This all contributes to individuals with a respected degree but perhaps without the ability to work effectively in a team, or communicate their point of view succinctly. Both of which are critical skills to the ‘real world’.
In a diminishing economy, do you believe postgraduate business degrees are still as important as they once were?
Unlike other professional degrees, an MBA is not a requirement to practice business. The world and technology create an increasing number of alternatives. Business schools needs to constantly innovate and focus on providing even more value for students so that they continue to stand out for companies that hire graduates. We think that despite all the advances in technology and the different global economic shifts, we have some key differentiators, including the best ranked faculty according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, a unique collaborative culture and touch points to the world. Ultimately though, the value of a postgraduate business degree will differ for each person. There is no one-size fits all approach.