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The 20 Most Notable Duke University Alumni in Business


Duke University, located in Durham North Carolina, has long been ranked among America’s best colleges. Duke offers more than 100 areas of study, and has matriculated many accomplished alumni, from elected officials, to media personalities, to professional athletes. Duke alumni have also had a varied and significant impact on the business sector. Here are twenty of Duke’s most notable alumni in business.

1. Tim Cook

Tim Cook is well known as the CEO of Apple Incorporated, the most profitable business in America. Cook graduated from Duke University in 1988 with a Masters of Business Administration. After working for other companies in the personal computing industry, Cook joined Apple in 1998 and steadily rose up the ranks, becoming Apple’s CEO in 2011. Under his leadership, Apple has continued to thrive, more than doubling its market capitalization since Cook took the helm.

2. David Rubenstein

A 1970 Duke graduate, David Rubenstein went on to eventually co-found The Carlyle Group, a highly successful private equity investment firm. Following his graduation from Duke, Rubenstein initially obtained a law degree and practiced law for over a decade. However, it was in 1987 when he and two colleagues founded The Carlyle Group, which has grown steadily since its inception, now employing over 1500 people across six continents. The Carlyle Group continues to be a high-performing firm, even despite Rubenstein’s recent handing over of control to a younger generation of leaders.

3. Amy Hood

Amy Hood is the executive director and chief financial officer (CFO) of the Microsoft Corporation, and assumed those roles at the young age of 41.  In 1994, Hood graduated with an economics degree from Duke University. She joined Microsoft, initially working in investor relations, in 2002. Hood has been called a forward-thinking leader, and is credited with focusing Microsoft’s growth on both popular and profitable advancements such as cloud computing. During the five years after Hood became CFO, Microsoft stock surged nearly 300%.

4. Peter Nicholas

Peter Nicholas graduated from Duke University in 1964, and in 1979 co-founded Boston Scientific, which would become a billion-dollar medical device venture. After serving the company for nearly four decades, Nicholas has recently decided to step away from daily management duties. Boston Scientific is an industry leader and has made the Fortune 500 list for the past fifteen years.  It continues to become more and more profitable and now reports profits of over $7 billion per year.

5. John A. Allison IV

John Allison IV is a very successful businessman who spent most of his career with BB&T Bank. Allison earned an MBA from Duke’s business school in 1974. Allison left BB&T in 2008 after serving at its CEO for nearly twenty years. During his tenure as CEO, the Bank expanded aggressively throughout the United States, and the value of its assets grew exponentially. In 2008, Allison was one of four finalists for Morningstar’s CEO of the Year award, an award aimed at identifying CEOs who have both demonstrated exemplary corporate stewardship and created lasting value for shareholders.

6. Robert K. Steel

In 1973, Robert K. Steel graduated from Duke University with a bachelors degree in history and political science. Throughout his early career, Steel held a variety of positions in finance, education, and government. In 2008, Steel became CEO of Wachovia Bank, and helped to orchestrate the fledgling bank’s merger with industry giant Wells Fargo.  Since 2014, Steel has served as CEO of Perella Weinberg Partners, a global financial services firm that is slated for an IPO in late 2019, which is projected to value the firm at $1.5 billion.

7. Harsha V. Agadi

Harsha V. Agadi graduated from Duke with an MBA in 1987. Agadi has successfully led many well-known restaurant chains, from Church’s Chicken, to Little Caesar’s Pizza, to Friendly’s Ice Cream, to Quiznos Sandwiches. He has most recently served as president and CEO of Crawford and Company, a multi-national firm that is one of the world’s largest providers of claims management solutions to the risk management and insurance industry. Agadi has been leading Crawford and Company since 2016, and as long as natural disasters and other catastrophic events continue to occur, Crawford and Company will likely continue to thrive.

8. Steven D. Black

Steven D. Black graduated from Duke University in 1974, and then began what would become a lengthy and successful career in investment banking. Following stints at Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase, Black was named Co-CEO of Bregal Investments. Bregal Investments is an multinational private equity group that focuses on direct investments, energy, retail, business services and healthcare industries. Bregal holds approximately $10 billion worth of investments. Black has also served on the Board of Directors of NASDAQ since 2011.

9. Andrew Rosen

Andrew Rosen earned his bachelors degree from Duke in 1982, and then went on to earn a law degree from Yale University. He practiced law for only a few years before joining Kaplan, a for-profit educational services company that provides test prep, continuing education, and professional development services all over the world. Rosen served in various management positions at Kaplan, eventually becoming its CEO in 2008. By 2010, Kaplan had become a multibillion-dollar enterprise, although there were volatile years in the interim. Because federal legislation affecting for-profit education institutions can change significantly during election cycles, Kaplan’s continued success is unfortunately to some extent dependent upon national politics.

10. David R. Goode

In 1942, David Goode graduated with a bachelors degree from Duke University. Goode then obtained his law degree and began practicing law in the railroad industry. The company for which he worked, Norfolk Southern Corporation, was responsible for operations of the Norfolk Southern Railway, a product shipping railway that spans nearly 20,000 miles across 22 states. By 1992, Good had ascended to the presidency of Norfolk Southern and was also named CEO. By 1995, Norfolk Southern Corporation’s operating revenues topped $4 billion for the first time in its history.

11. William Dean Johnson

William Dean Johnson earned a bachelors degree in history from Duke, followed by a law degree from the University of North Carolina. After working in the energy sector for ten years, in 2005 he was named president of Progress Energy, a utility company serving the southeastern United States. Johnson led Progress Energy through a 2012 merger with Duke Energy, which led to profits of nearly $3 billion the following year. However, immediately following the merger, Johnson was let go from the joint venture. Despite the setback, that very same year Johnson quickly emerged as the CEO of another well-known utilities corporation: the Tennessee Valley Authority.

12. Kerrii Anderson

Kerrii Anderson obtained an MBA from Duke’s business school in 1987. Despite growing up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina, Anderson has found success in business time and time again. During her career, Anderson has served as CFO of MI Homes, vice president of Tim Horton’s Incorporated, and even as CEO of Wendy’s. Although her tenure as Wendy’s CEO ended in 2008 when Wendy’s was acquired by a New-York based investment firm, Anderson continues to serve as a board member for several large national and international companies, as she is known for her corporate governance experience as well as her strong record of leadership.

13. Jeffrey Fox

Jeffrey Fox earned a bachelors degree in economics from Duke in 1984. Fox then spent twelve years in investment banking, followed by another twelve years in the emerging mobile phone industry. Finally, in 2010 Fox became the CEO of Convergys, a customer management software firm with over 100,000 employees. In the year following Fox’s arrival at the company, Convergys reported an annual net income of $335 million.

14. Melissa Bernstein

Melissa Bernstein graduated from Duke University in 1987. The very next year Melissa and her now-husband Doug, co-founded a toy company in Doug’s parents’ garage. The company would eventually take the eponymous name “Melissa & Doug” and become more successful than Melissa ever imagined. Despite its humble beginnings, the Melissa & Doug company now has over 800 employees and claims 30 straight years of profitable growth.

15. Jonathan Browning

Jonathan Browning obtained his MBA from Duke University’s business school. After stints working in management for carmakers GM and Jaguar, he was named Head of U.S. Operations for German carmaker, Volkswagen, in 2010. Under Browning’s leadership, 2012 was the first year in a decade that the Volkswagen brand had turned a profit in the American market. While sales overall have not outpaced the competition, Browning did help Volkswagen grow its market share in the U.S. considerably, before leaving his position with Volkswagen to return to his home country, the United Kingdom, for personal reasons.

16. Adam Silver

Adam Silver became the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 2014. Founded in 1946, the NBA is the premier men’s professional basketball league in the world. The NBA’s profits from game ticket sales, licensing agreements, and television programming contracts exceed tens of millions of dollars each year.  Silver graduated with a bachelors degree from Duke in 1984, and a law degree from the University of Chicago’s law school in 1988. However, he practiced law only briefly before entering, and excelling in, professional basketball’s business world.

17. Carter Beard

Not long after earning his MBA from Duke in 1996, Carter Beard joined his family’s business, Annin Flagmakers. Although the company was founded long before Beard was born, he has contributed significantly to its growth. Under Beard’s leadership, the company has invested in modern technology that has allowed the company to keep up with its competitors. What started as a small flag making company over 100 years ago now has an estimated yearly revenue of approximately $135 million and employs over 500 workers. Beard served as Vice President of the Company from 2000-2011, and has served as its President since 2011.

18. Lesa Kennedy

Lesa Kennedy earned two bachelors degrees from Duke in 1983; once in economics and one in psychology. Upon graduation, Kennedy immediately began working for the International Speedway Corporation. The main focus of the International Speedway Corporation is to promote motorsports themed entertainment activities in the United States. Kennedy worked her way up the corporate ladder, becoming CEO of the International Speedway Corporation in 2009. For her efforts, Kennedy now earns an estimated $1 million per year.

19. Grant DePorter

Not long after earning his MBA from Duke, Grant DePorter entered the restaurant business. He has worked in, managed, or owned over thirty restaurants. In 1989, DePorter took over leadership of Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group (HCRG), which owns seven restaurants in the greater Chicago area.  As of 2018, DePorter has been with HCRG for over thirty years and has an estimated net worth of over $7 million.

20. W. Bruce Johnson

W. Bruce Johnson not only earned his bachelors degree at Duke, but also both his MBA and law degree. Johnson joined Sears Department stores in 2005 and by 2008 was named president and CEO.  It wasn’t long before Sears, along with many other traditional department stores, began struggling to compete against discount chains and online retailers. In 2011, Johnson remained on board as Sears attempted to reorganize, but ultimately succumbed to bankruptcy. ( However, due to Sears’ short-lived successes prior to its collapse, Johnson was named one of CNN Money’s 15 Top Overachieving CEO’s of 2010.

Garrett Parker

Written by Garrett Parker

Garrett by trade is a personal finance freelance writer and journalist. With over 10 years experience he's covered businesses, CEOs, and investments. However he does like to take on other topics involving some of his personal interests like automobiles, future technologies, and anything else that could change the world.

Read more posts by Garrett Parker

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