Nancy Duarte spent just one year as a student at The University of Southern Mississippi, but that brief foray into higher education played a significant role in shaping the successful businesswoman she has become today.
On Thursday, April 11 the university’s College of Business acknowledged Duarte’s impressive success story with the annual Boardman Entrepreneur of the Year Award during a ceremony held on the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, Miss.
Duarte, who attended Southern Miss between 1980-81, is CEO of Duarte, Inc., an internationally recognized communications company which is also the largest design firm in Silicon Valley. Who knew that the teenage girl once struggling in collegiate classes would ascend to such professional heights?
“My dirty little secret is that I got a C- in speech communications and a D in English and now I write best-selling books in English about speech communications,” said Duarte. “Performing poorly in those classes shaped me. It gave me the will and drive to master a skill at which I was poor and one that ultimately became my life’s work.”
“My year at USM is the only formal education under my belt, so being honored with this award means more to me than receiving this from any other institution.”
The annual Boardman Entrepreneur of the Year Award is part of the Boardman Forum, established by Joseph Boardman of Gulfport, Miss. Nominations for the honor are presented by the Southern Miss Business Advisory Council.
“We are honored to recognize Ms. Duarte with the Boardman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, as she is representative of the true spirit of entrepreneurship, a key component of the College of Business’ mission,” said Dr. Joe Peyrefitte, interim dean of the College of Business. “With this award we acknowledge and pay tribute to the significant impact that she has made on some of America’s leading companies. Duarte Design has helped firms create persuasive messages that strike emotions with audiences and influence how brands are perceived, thereby creating commitment to a firm and its products.
Personal issues prompted Duarte to leave Southern Miss after one year but her academic achievements did not end there. She has since earned a Master’s of Business Administration degree from the UCLA executive MBA program, which included delivering the commencement speech for her class.
“Receiving that degree silenced the voices in my head that told me I wasn’t smart, that I was too dumb to finish college, that I didn’t deserve my success,” she said. “That degree closed a hole in my heart and changed my perspective about myself.”
A highly sought-after speaker, Duarte has been featured in Fortune and Forbes magazines; the Wall Street Journal; New York Times and on CNN. She is also the author of several books, including “Resonate,” which spent nearly a year on Amazon’s Top 200 business book bestsellers list.
Duarte has nearly 20 years experience working with global companies and thought leaders, helping influence how the world perceives some of the more important brand entities such as Apple, Cisco, Facebook, General Electric, Google, Twitter and World Bank.
Her company’s overarching concept is rather simple – create memorable presentations.
“When we decided to focus on presentations in 1990, they were not cool and were actually reviled and called evil in the press,” said Duarte. “But I loved this niche, believing that the power of the spoken word was more effective than any other communication medium.
She credits a book by Jim Collins, “Good to Great,” for helping streamline the mission for Duarte, Inc. “He said to find the one thing you’re passionate about that you can be the best in the world at. That’s what we did,” said Duarte. “We trimmed all other services and became masters and influencers of presentations.”
Duarte offers basic, proven advice for budding entrepreneurs. “You have to stand out. Find a niche,” she said. “Once you find out what you love, as soon as you can afford it, hire people smarter than you.”