Bay Area MBA Students Trisha Durant Quicksteps into New Success at the Gap

Trisha Durant had no ballroom experience when she joined UC Berkeley’s competitive dance team as an undergraduate earning an economics degree.

Instead, she leveraged her cheerleading and classical training and used hard work, determination and ambition to win numerous awards.

She made a repeat performance as a second-year UC Davis Bay Area MBA student. Last fall, Durant quickstepped from a successful career in transfer pricing at consulting powerhouse Ernst & Young (E&Y) to become a senior manager in the global supply chain strategy group at San Francisco-based Gap Inc. The leap would surprise most of her former colleagues, she says. Transfer pricing consultants who leave this specialized world typically go into tax, finance or accounting—not a business strategy role.

Now Durant is managing global costs for the Gap’s five brands. Every expense to make a product—such as fabric, buttons, zippers, labor and shipping—is her responsibility. She’s learning the very detailed business of apparel manufacturing and retail. Fabric is not just denim or wool. It’s judged by feel, whether it’s woven or pure, its capacity to stretch and a myriad of other factors.

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” Durant says of her new position. “It’s about being humble, being grounded and knowing that you can be great in one profession, but when you join another you need to know how to fall and get back up.”

Transfer pricing involves the valuation of inter-company transactions that are not in the same tax jurisdictions. It usually applies to companies with international operations. At E&Y Durant was a point of contact for clients, typically major corporations in a variety of industries. If the clients wanted to expand their supply chain to China, for example, they would ask Durant and her team to research the tax ramifications. She also negotiated with federal tax authorities for her clients.

Durant rose from analyst to manager at E&Y in less than five years. During the economic downturn, many of her colleagues were laid off or left.

She used the experience to her advantage, “to show my new bosses that although I’d only been doing this one or two years, I can manage clients, I can manage projects, I can challenge myself intellectually,” she says.

When Durant and a colleague were asked to translate IRS cost-sharing rules into lay terms for their clients, she helped create a document to help E&Y employees navigate these rules that has since become a company standard.

Durant hopes one day to lead a major consumer goods company and be a leader in corporate culture. “I see myself backing products in the everyday American household,” she says.

One of Durant’s challenges has been balancing work with being a mom to a 2-year-old son. Sometimes the spontaneous happy hours are the most critical ones for getting to know key company leaders, she says. “Time is of the essence for any working parent,” says Durant, who is extremely strategic with how she divides her time between being a professional, a student, and, most importantly, a family woman.

She credits her husband and parents for her accomplishments. “They taught me how meaningless successes can be if you don’t help others get to the same level. At the end of the day, what is important is not your paycheck: it’s the difference you’re making in people’s lives.”

– Joanna Corman