2017 Best MBAs: Joanna H. Si, University of Chicago (Booth)

Joanna H. Si

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

“Canadian, Singapore-born, former scientist and attorney, future McKinsey consultant; loves: music, dance, technology and gender equality.”

Age: 31

Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; but spent the first 12 years of my life in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Holland.

Fun fact about yourself: Half of my fingers are double jointed

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Queen’s University (Canada), Bachelor of Science with Distinction in Biochemistry
  • Queen’s University (Canada), Juris Doctor

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? (List Company and Role)

  • Amazon.com, Corporate Counsel to Amazon Web Services (Seattle, WA)
  • Shearman & Sterling LLP, M&A Associate (New York, NY; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Paris, France)
  • United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Legal Researcher (Arusha, Tanzania)
  • Mubadala Technology, Legal Counsel (Abu Dhabi, UAE)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016?

Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, New York, NY

Yoox Net-a-Porter is the world’s largest online luxury fashion retailer.

Where will you be working after graduation?

  • CME Ventures, Venture Capital Intern

(CME Ventures makes minority stake investments in early stage technology companies that could impact platforms and systems, enhance user experience, or provide new products and services in the financial ecosystem.)

  • McKinsey & Co., Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community

  • Facilitator for the Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD) program (LEAD is an experiential leadership program, involving modules on self-awareness, leadership styles and interpersonal skills; all modules are taught by a selected group of facilitators)
  • Co-Chair of Booth’s A Cappella Group, Economies of Scale; Guest Vocals at Booth-Kellogg Battle of the Bands
  • Performer in Booth Follies, the annual spring comedy show
  • Net Impact Board Fellow with Bottom Line Chicago
  • Active member of Chicago Women in Business, and the Retail and Luxury, Marketing, Epicurean, Yoga, Dance, and Management Consulting Groups
  • Student Volunteer on the Dean’s Student Admissions Committee
  • Content Committee Member on Common Chromosome (Booth’s initiative to provide space to discuss issues of gender equity amongst the entire Booth community – men, women, students, staff, faculty, alumni)

Honors

  • 1898 Merit-Based Scholarship Recipient
  • Booth Ambassador Award
  • Steve Jobs Award Recipient – peer-nominated award for demonstrating courage and taking calculated risks in Strategies of Processes of Negotiation
  • Winner of the 2015 and 2016 #BoothHolidays Instagram contests
  • Dean’s List

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

Academic – I had come across many financial models as an M&A lawyer but never had to build one nor determine the underlying assumptions in them. In my Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity class, it was a struggle and a satisfying first for me to finally build a financial model on my own.

Extracurricular – Going through LEAD as a First Year and being a LEAD Facilitator as a Second Year. When I started business school, I wanted to prioritize personal development and building meaningful relationships. I am thankful for the relationships that I built with the Class of ’18, my fellow Class of ’17 LEAD Facilitators and coaches. Scrutinizing my areas of strength and improvement and taking steps to affect behavioral change was challenging, educational, and memorable. As a Second Year, it was rewarding and hilarious at times (business school students get so competitive and creative…) facilitating experiential leadership modules with the First Years. On the last day of the program, one of the coaches gave a speech that commenced with “I woke up this morning with a sensation that can only be described as feelings…” I laughed because LEAD and my time at Booth generally has caused that statement to be so applicable too many times to count!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It was being Lead M&A Associate on a cross-border $400 M sale. I had been a practicing attorney for all of 2.5 years when I was staffed as the senior M&A lawyer on the deal. It was the first time that I would manage a full deal team of specialist and junior lawyers, and oversee a major deal from start to finish. It was the deal for which I worked the hardest, but also from which I learned the most. I remember not sleeping for almost two days because I wanted to make sure the first draft of the purchase agreement I sent to the Partner was perfect (it wasn’t)! He was a fantastic mentor throughout the process, taking time to review my work closely and showing me how powerful an even-keeled negotiation style could be.

Interestingly, it was also while interacting with senior management at the client that it became even clearer to me that while I liked thinking through the legal issues of the transaction (and always will be interested in the legal ramifications of a project), I would love the commercial decision-making process more. I applied to business school a few months after the transaction closed.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Steven Kaplan. I have never been so afraid to show up late to a class! On day one of class, Kaplan showed up having memorized everyone’s names and random facts about our backgrounds. I will also likely never forget the time I was cold called to explain my model to the class and subsequently never showed up to his class unprepared. I learned so much as a result and discovered I liked the subject enough to pursue a VC internship. As intimidating as he may appear in the classroom, he made time to meet with students to go over concepts or discuss their career interests and business ideas.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?

Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity with Steven Kaplan – You’ll learn a lot more when you struggle. “Ask for money, get advice; ask for advice, get money.”

Corporate Governance with Dennis Chookaszian – When you have made the sale, stop selling. Personal governance is important: (i) develop a technical competency; (ii) have a positive attitude; and (iii) build and maintain your network.

Marketing Strategy with Pradeep Chintagunta – You can learn a lot of marketing strategy by thinking through why a vintage electronic product is now obsolete.

International Corporate Finance with Raghuram Rajan – The numbers are only one aspect of whether an international investment decision is a good one; think carefully through the social, cultural, political, and ethical implications of a decision as they can drastically alter what is the optimal course of action.

Why did you choose this business school? I had thought about making the switch from law to business without doing my MBA. In thinking about this decision, my brother had asked me to think about a time 40-50 years from now when my children (assuming I have them) asked me what some of my best memories of my adult life were. If there was even a 50% chance that those memories would be ones from business school, I should go. He was right. As much as I think mergers and divestitures are interesting, my fondest memories were probably not going to be about that or a consulting case study with a client. #WhyBooth? It came down to the people with whom I was going to want to spend the next two years and more. I tell prospective students that they should make every effort to go to First Day (our admit weekend) because it was then that I met the other admits and was so excited about becoming fast friends and future colleagues with this group of people.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Having the time to think about who I really am and what I want in life – and to have a lot of fun while I am at it. My schedule isn’t less packed than when I was an M&A lawyer, but it is definitely a lot more varied. I love that over the last 20 months, a typical week will involve solving differential equations, multiple social gatherings with friends, personal reflection…

Let’s take last week.

In the classroom, I learned about:

  • The rise of Angry Birds and Blackberry’s demise in Platform Competition
  • Kering’s decision to start offering their luxury products online in Managing and Marketing Luxury
  • Tax havens and corporate inversions in International Corporate Finance
  • To what extent people remember acts of kindness in Designing a Good life
  • The effect of incentive compensation on worker performance in Managing the Workplace
  • The role of a board in a company’s strategy in Corporate Governance

Outside of the classroom, I did the following:

  • Went to the beach house of one of our professors with my classmates where we discussed corporate governance in professional services firms
  • Had dinner with Carrie Nahabedian – one of ten female chefs to have ever been awarded a Michelin star – with members of Booth’s Epicurean Club and Common Chromosome (Booth’s initiative to provide space to discuss issues of gender equity amongst the entire Booth community – men, women, students, staff, faculty, alumni)
  • Attempted to do aerial yoga tricks with the Booth Yoga Club
  • Practiced Hamilton and Pentatonix covers with my A Cappella Group, Economies of Scale, and sang backup vocals with a cover band at The Music Garage
  • Went for drinks with fellow Boothies with whom I will be going to Israel for Spring Break
  • met with a Booth Leadership and Development Office Coach about our shared experience as lawyers and about reaction styles in the workplace
  • Put on a ballgown and attended Booth Winter Formal at the Museum of Science and Industry
  • Drafted an RFP template and slides for a board meeting as part of my Board Fellowship with Bottom Line Chicago

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? There will be many people who will offer you advice. Seek it from those who you trust and who know you well. It is an incredibly difficult question to figure out who you are and why you want Booth. All that may change over time (particularly during the transformative experience that is any good business school program), but taking the time to really think about it beforehand will only add to your MBA experience.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That we’re all a little nerdy is not a myth; that’s truth. I have yet to meet one Boothie who doesn’t have a nerd bone – even if it is ossicle-sized – in their body. That we’re all quant nerds? That’s a myth.

What was your biggest regret in business school? If I had time for one more thing, I would like to have tried to join a team for the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge. I do not want to pursue something entrepreneurial immediately post-MBA, although I would not rule it out as an option in the future. I would have appreciated the experience of experimenting and testing out new ideas amongst smart friends and faculty.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my classmates who pursue start-ups. It involves a ton of unstructured work, commitment, and risk. I am also so impressed at my classmates who are still actively engaged in the Booth community while having a young child or baby at home.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I spent many a sleepless night turning contracts for a deal wanting to better understand why the deal was a good idea and wanting to be the one who determined whether it was!”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still working at Amazon (but hopefully in a business-side role) or working at a consulting firm. I’m excited to be joining McKinsey in the fall, but am so grateful I took two years away from work to spend it at Booth.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? For just one day? I would orchestrate a classroom swap with other graduate programs on campus so Booth students would explore other parts of the University of Chicago’s Hogwarts-esque campus. These are some of my favorite spots within a short walk of Harper Center: Fabiana’s Bakery (the Brazilian chocolate cake is my favorite), the Café in the basement of the Divinity School, yoga classes in Bond Chapel, the food trucks just past the Quadrangle, and the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Gender equity in the workplace and diversity on boards is important to me. I love the work that the McKinsey Global Institute is doing on the Power of Parity and would like to contribute to similar initiatives as an Associate. In the long-term, I am determined to be part of that growing number of qualified women in senior management roles by either progressing within McKinsey or leading a business.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My brother, David. I believed almost everything he told me as kid: he was teasing of course, but the six-year-old me believed his warning that becoming too flexible in my gymnastics class would mean I would lose control of my limbs during my swimming lessons. In all seriousness, he has been a role model to me from as far back as I can remember. He is the first person I think to call when I have a question about homework, apartment hunting, or my career. He knows me well and asks great questions to help me sort through difficult decisions. He also taught me that if something really mattered to me, I had to try my best so that regardless of the outcome, I would not regret that I had not tried hard enough.

I am also really grateful to my mentors, especially the individuals who wrote my reference letters to business school. They said yes when I asked for responsibility despite my inexperience, and they gave me the flexibility, guidance, and support to accomplish things in advance of my peer group.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want to be remembered as a driven, competent colleague, and an interesting, kind person.

Favorite book: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Favorite movie or television show: Marvel movies and Downtown Abbey

Favorite musical performer: Pentatonix

Favorite vacation spot: Santorini

Hobbies? Hip Hop and Ballroom Dancing, Singing

What made Joanna such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Joanna Si used her Booth experience to grow as a leader both inside the classroom and beyond.  A corporate lawyer by training, who speaks several languages and has a passion for hip-hop, Joanna is deeply appreciated for her questions and her thoughtful insights in classes.  Having explored the changing world of retail (with internships at Amazon and Yoox Net-A-Porter), Joanna will be joining McKinsey.”

Stacey Kole
Deputy Dean, Alumni & Corporate Relations, and Full-time MBA Programs
University of Chicago Booth School of Business

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