Many applicants associate the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business with finance. Others laud its flexible curriculum, academic rigor, and teaching excellence. Often times, “the people” get overlooked at Booth. As a result, no business school is more misunderstood.
Thanks to its large size and urban locale, Booth has been saddled with the dreaded “commuter school” label. By shunning the tradition cohort system, the program gets knocked for “community.” Let’s face it: any collection of academically gifted overachievers will reflexively be portrayed as wonky and withdrawn.
Just don’t say that around the Class of 2019.
Survey the class about why they came to Hyde Park and the answer can be summed up this way: They admired the Boothies they met – and want to be just like them!
A CULTURE OF CURIOSITY
That was true of Caitlin Geehan, a first-year who built the brands of Sony music acts after studying marketing at NYU. Initially, she was dazzled by Booth’s “qualitative edge.” What sealed the deal, she says, was a welcoming culture defined by a “pay-it-forward” ethos. “As a career switcher, the opportunity to be in such a diverse, accepting and collaborative environment that is also paired with a killer academic curriculum is exactly what I need to be inspired and continue to grow to my full potential.”
Booth is a program built on the maxim that “ideas compete, not people.” Juan Vasquez witnessed this ethos first-hand when he visited campus. “Booth’s overarching goal present across the entire student body is not to outperform your peers, but to help them any way you can,” observes the Peru native and McKinsey alum. “I once remember seeing a first-year student after an internship interview going to meet with another student to coach him for an interview with the same company, for the same position.”
This egalitarian spirit is rooted in Booth’s careful selection of MBA talent. Kurt Ahlm is the associate dean of full-time admissions at the school – and a 2009 Booth alum. In a 2017 interview with Poets&Quants, Ahlm portrays Booth as a program that deeply values an “innate sense of curiosity.” That filters down to the students who flourish in the program: life-long learners who are always open, exploring, and never satisfied. “They are compelled to ask questions, think about how things connect, and dive deeper,” Ahlm notes. “That’s just baked in whether you talk to students, staff, or faculty.”
LEARNING SOMETHING NEW AND VALUABLE EVERY DAY
This difference was clear for Tim Lewis, a soccer aficionado who climbed the ranks at Google. As an applicant, he reached out to several of his classmates at the University of Michigan who’d already started business school. He describes their reactions to their core courses as “mixed” – with one exception.
“A Booth student was emphatic that he was learning something new in every class,” he remembers. “He discussed how controlling his class schedule gave him the ability to challenge himself as much as he liked, and how most classes introduced some form of quantitative modeling that enabled him to take a new approach to familiar subjects. As this was exactly what I wanted, I became a firm believer that Booth would enable me to realize more growth than other MBA programs.”
Such experiences also dispel other myths about Booth. A commuter school where you don’t develop deep relationships with classmates? Hardly, says Ahlm. For one, the entire program – all 1,165 full-time MBAs – is housed in one building, meaning students are constantly crossing paths with each other. For another, the school’s decentralized model fosters the “right” types of relationships where students with shared interests are constantly working together.
CURRICULUM DESIGNED TO FOSTER RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN 1ST AND 2ND YEARS
“You’re taking classes with the 1st and 2nd years from the very beginning,” Ahlm asserts. “Because we don’t have a prescribed approach to learning, the community becomes small fast because you’re getting to see, work with, and interact with so many students across classes because you’re choosing your courses based on interests. You’re choosing your clubs and your teams based on those interests and passions you bring to the table. Because everyone respects that we all get better because we support each other, the community becomes incredibly tight and collaborative.”
In the process, students develop larger networks because they’re exposed to more second years and interacting with people beyond the usual cohort. This interconnectedness may also explain Booth’s engaged alumni network, which added another layer of community for Jennifer Dunn, a 2017 graduate and member of P&Q’s “Best & Brightest” MBAs.
“During the fairly intense consulting recruiting process, Booth alum were remarkably involved, flying in from their engagements all over the world and spending enormous amounts of time connecting with Booth student,” Dunn attests. “Once I started at BCG, the Booth community came out in full force: a Booth alumna staffed me on her exciting summer project and Booth alumni organically formed a network of mentors across the firm. This instant support system gave me added confidence that I can and will be successful in the workplace.”
Workplace success hasn’t been an issue for the Class of 2019. Do you have The Chainsmokers on your playlist? Thank Geehan. She helmed their international marketing campaigns for the past two years – a profoundly gratifying experience considering where she started. “It was a path of consistent and strategic artist development, not overnight success, which made every single milestone challenging to achieve but ultimately rewarding,” she says. “It is incredible to remember where we started and then recognize how far the project has come with several #1 singles, a chart-topping album, multi-platinum sales, billions of streams, sold out shows, and even a few Grammy awards along the way.”
CLASS STARRED AT JP MORGAN, GOOGLE AND THE NFL
Looking for a versatile student who defies labels? Let me introduce you to Babatunde Oshinowo. Boasting a degree in electrical engineering from Stanford, this 325-pound defensive lineman was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and played for five teams over three seasons. When he wasn’t busy closing running lanes and collapsing pockets, Oshinowo was teaching himself how to code – eventually launching his own website design and development firm.
That’s just the start for a class whose resumes range from an LPGA pro to a U.S. Navy Special Warfare Officer. At J.P. Morgan, Atsushi Yamazaki did the heavy lifting – valuation and due diligence – on a merger between two Japanese energy giants that made headlines worldwide. If you need someone to achieve a “big, hairy, audacious goal,” Lewis is your man. At Google, he was asked to sell small and medium sized business clients on upgrading their mobile websites – and doing it while building an in-house team that lacked dedicated technical support. Too scary? Not for Lewis, whose scorecard campaign drove 14,000 clients to adopt Google’s suggestions and earned him the company’s coveted Platinum Award for boosting advertising revenue.
Go to page 3 to see in-depth profiles of incoming Booth students.