Alumni Profiles Series: Edwin Cooper
Following his undergraduate degree in economics and finance at Rutgers University, Edwin Cooper graduated from Duke University in 2005 with a master’s degree in economics and in 2007 with an MBA with concentrations in finance & strategy connections. Since leaving Duke, he has worked in companies spanning the world of healthcare technology and pharma including UCB, Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola. His most recent position was as Vice President and Business Unit CFO at Change Healthcare in Atlanta, Georgia.
Could you tell me about your background?
I grew up in Liberia, a small country in West Africa. It's a fascinating place with a rich history. Liberia was founded by free slaves from the U.S. in the 1800s. They settled there when slaves were being sent back to Africa. In 1847, Liberia declared independence and became the first independent African country. The capital, Monrovia, is named after James Monroe, the fifth U.S. president. It's interesting how history shaped the nation. Liberia is about the size of Ohio, and that's where I was born and raised.
How did you decide to pursue your academic path?
My graduate journey has been circuitous: I came in with one idea and it ended up being very different. I got accepted to Brown to do a Ph.D. in economics, and I was excited; I visited Brown along with a couple of other schools. And then two or three months before entering, I started having doubts like, “Man, I don't know if I really want to do this Ph.D. thing quite yet.” I had already applied to some other schools as well to master’s programs, including at Duke. My plan was to come to Duke and do the master’s, and then after the two years, tighten up some other academic skills, and then I'd go off and go to the Ph.D. So, I came to Duke and started in the program. While I was here, I was still having some lingering thoughts about doing the Ph.D. so, I started taking elective classes throughout the business school.
Tell me about your career.
My career path has mainly been in finance, but I've worked in different industries. I've been fortunate to explore finance in consumer products at Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola, as well as venture into the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare technology. Finance is like a universal language in the business world, and it has allowed me to gain insights into various sectors and understand their dynamics. Currently, I serve as the business unit CFO for a healthcare technology company. In simpler terms, I see myself as a problem solver, finding cost-effective solutions that make a difference in the market. I work with diverse teams including engineers, researchers, and business professionals. It's a global environment, too, as I collaborate with colleagues from the Philippines, Germany, and other parts of the world. One of the things I enjoy most is the agility required to work with people from different backgrounds and cultures. It's been a great learning experience, and it's rewarding to see the impact we can make together.
How did your Duke education prepare you for your career journey?
In the MBA program, I focused on finance, but there was also a strict strategy component of it, as well as accounting and healthcare management in the business school. And then coming specifically from an economics master’s program, econ is more or less a way of thinking: how can you specifically apply theoretical thinking to real-world applications?
The biggest thing that I picked up from Duke was the habit of thinking, “How do you approach a problem? How do you think about it?” That's essentially what the business world is. You're solving problems. Can you work as a team? Even if you're the most brilliant person, decisions don't happen in silos. So how do you bring people along? How do you inspire them to do things that you think are for the greater good? How do you get them along, even if they're resistant in the first place? And it's a world where you can’t just dictate things based on position and authority. You got to build a coalition of folks. I think that the environment here, being in The Graduate School and the business school, that was the key skill set that I was able to really sharpen.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
I'm currently on a sabbatical from my corporate career because I've decided to go back and complete my Ph.D. studies in economics. It's a bit of a full-circle moment for me. I started the program years ago, but then veered off into the business world. Now, it's time to finish what I started. I've been working on my dissertation and aim to defend it by this fall. It's definitely a balancing act, juggling my corporate responsibilities with my academic pursuits, but I'm excited to continue learning and growing. I also just joined the board of the graduate school here at Duke for an initial 3-year term starting in the fall. The official name is The Graduate Board of Visitors. I am looking forward to adding my voice and to provide recommendations on the graduate experience while being more connected with the university that has been such an integral part of my journey.
Ph.D. student, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
Griffin Carter is a second-year Ph.D. student at Duke University in the department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. He is currently working on oncolytic immunotherapy of glioblastoma in the Gromeier Lab. He received his B.S. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Miami and worked as an undergraduate research assistant in the Microbiology and Immunology department for three years. His current interests are developing novel therapies that use viruses to target and activate the immune system to destroy cancer cells.