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Leading Profitability and Productivity

David Duncan MBA'97

Executive Vice President, INVISTA

Wichita, Kansas
David Duncan

“In my current job, I’ve had the chance to apply almost all of the disciplines I studied in the MBA program.”

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David Duncan is knee-deep in nylon, spandex, and polyester. As executive vice president of INVISTA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries that produces intermediate chemicals, polymers,  and premium fiber products such as LYCRA® fiber and STAINMASTER® carpet he manages employees and operations on four continents. His Kelley MBA education set him on the path toward the knowledge and experience he needed to lead a global company, a job that requires extensive travel and time zone-challenged conference calls.

Duncan chose the Kelley MBA program to expand the scope of his business career, and he’s put the theories he learned as an MBA student into practice from day one. “In my current job, I’ve had the chance to apply almost all the disciplines I studied in the MBA program,” he says. Before going back to get his MBA, Duncan worked as a lender with NationsBank (now Bank of America) for five years. His MBA degree enabled him make the jump to a management position at INVISTA, and the curriculum  prepared him for taking the helm of several aspects of the business. “It has been a rewarding challenge,” he says.

Part of the challenge—and reward—of his job is leading business groups to constantly strive for greater innovation and efficiency. A productive environment—where employees are respected and rewarded—is the key to improvement, he says.

His main duties at INVISTA include developing talent, designing operating strategies, and helping the company become more innovative and open to growth opportunities. Of the many facets of his job at INVISTA, the part he enjoys most is coaching his staff. “I like helping people discover what they’re good at,” he says.  The company’s success is attributed to its philosophy of decision making (called Market-Based Management®) that is based on creating a principled, entrepreneurial environment within the company that enables and incentivizes employees to add real value for customers and society with everything they do. Employees are rewarded based on the value they create—the same way entrepreneurs are rewarded in the market.

“While this seems like a common-sense approach,” Duncan says of the philosophy, “we find that it is not all that common or easy.” Duncan rewards his staff members with compensation and by giving deserving employees additional responsibilities. “People respond to incentives,” he says. “Giving them more opportunities invigorates them.”

He says he learned similar principles at Kelley. Feeling like he was gaining practical knowledge and raising the expectations he set for himself were the highlights of his MBA education—and it’s what he now tries to emulate with his staff. “Working with talented classmates and instructors helped me challenge myself in terms of what ‘good’ looks like,” he says. “The program offered great teaching, a culture of teamwork, and a reputation for developing strong candidates and career opportunities.”

In Brief

Why Kelley: “I had two requirements for selecting an MBA program: a strong academic reputation and a town that my wife and I would enjoy. IU and Bloomington fit that description.”

Favorite place on campus: “Assembly Hall. We loved going to see the Hoosiers and Coach Knight.”

Staying in touch: “We stay in touch with many friends from Kelley and trade Christmas cards with Professor Hettenhouse, who was head of the MBA program and a great teacher and mentor.”

Kelley memories: “The friendships made through normal activities—late-night study groups, case studies, golfing in the spring, spending time with other married couples with no money—were a lasting highlight.”

Published April 14, 2011