2019 MBAs To Watch: Kaitlyn Desai, University of Chicago (Booth)

Kaitlyn Desai

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

Reliable and determined, wife and expectant mom, athlete and sociable, I strive to live without regret.”

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Fun fact about yourself: I played on the first women’s U.S. lacrosse team to compete in China

Undergraduate School and Degree: Claremont McKenna College, Economics-Accounting and Finance

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? SSA & Company, Associate Director, New York City

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Pritzker Private Capital, Chicago

Where will you be working after graduation? Pritzker Private Capital, Vice President – Manufactured Products Investment Team, Chicago

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Associate Board Member, Girls on the Run Chicago
  • Board Fellow, Shine Fertility
  • Co-Chair, Booth Ski and Snowboard Club
  • Co-Chair, Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (ETA) Club
  • Mentor, Chicago Women in Business
  • Trip Leader, Random Walk Orientation Trip
  • Teaching Assistant, PE/VC Lab and ETA Class
  • Intern, McNally Capital and NextGen Growth Partners
  • Dean’s List

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? When speaking to Booth alumni about their business school experience, many of them will talk about the winter ski trip as a highlight of their two years. Whether ski pros or first-timers, they remember meeting new friends, holding mountain parties, and exploring a cool ski town. This year, as co-chair, planning the winter break ski and snowboard trip to Steamboat for 400 Booth students is something that I am very proud of doing. Not because the actual planning process was complicated or impressive but that I, and fellow co-chairs, were able to create that memorable experience for so many of our classmates. Business school is about the people, so bringing my classmates together to have a great time outside the classroom, outside of Chicago is something I am very proud of as a way to pay it forward. It’ll be something they always think of when they look back to their two years at Booth and it’s great to be a part of that.

What was your biggest professional achievement? Instead of one specific achievement, I am most proud of my ability to thrive in different roles across different companies prior to business school. I started in finance at Deutsche Bank, moved to an operating role in a small start-up, and then worked as a management consultant at a boutique consulting firm. These diverse experiences have broadened my viewpoint on problem-solving and shown me there are many workable ways to approach a complex problem.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Adjunct Assistant Professors Mark Agnew and Brian O’Connor teach the Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition course at Booth. They are a dynamic duo in the classroom together – bringing energy and a personal perspective on acquiring and running a business. Nothing is off limits with these two. Whether looking to acquire a business after business school or not, Brian and Mark strive to make their class a community. They meet with each student individually outside of class hours – even though they are each busy balancing their own full-time jobs and families! In the classroom, they challenge us to think critically not only about the fundamentals of a business, but also our own management style and life goals.

What was your favorite MBA Course The lab course, Regulation, Reputation and Communications: How Media Influences Business. The class is taught in collaboration with Tusk Ventures, which meant we were given an “under the hood” look at Tusk’s unique perspective to navigating regulatory and media hurdles for its portfolio companies. I partnered directly with one of those companies on a project lasting the duration of the quarter. Professor Guy Rolnik has an incredible background and experiences that allow him to capture the classroom when discussing how intertwined business, regulation, and media truly are in practice. Additionally, Professor Rolnik brought in several guest speakers who are or were leading experts in their industry. He also ensured that the conversations with these guest speakers were confidential so we could have truly honest dialogues that would be hard to recreate outside of a business school setting. I enjoyed the overall experiential learning and practical, real-world approach to this class.    

Why did you choose this business school? Booth won me over with the flexible curriculum and city location. I had a business background coming into school, so the ability to challenge myself and cater my classes to my specific goals right off the bat was extremely appealing. Additionally, as a “career switcher,” I knew that hands-on experience would be very valuable. Booth’s programming, especially through the Polsky Center, and close proximity and relationships to top firms in Chicago enabled me to intern at various private equity firms throughout my tenure. Additionally, something I didn’t necessarily consider during my school selection process but what I have found to be invaluable is the grade non-disclosure policy at Booth. This policy, in my opinion, helps foster a community environment among the students and professors. I find that it really decreases sharp elbows and allows students to focus on their individual goals of why they are pursuing an MBA at Booth.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? First, stick with it – applying to business school can be a tolling process. But most importantly don’t hesitate to be honest! Show the admissions committee who you really are – what has truly made you the person you are today and how can a Booth MBA help you achieve your actual goals going forward. This will be more powerful than just relaying what you think they want to hear.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? Use this opportunity to reach out to people in and outside the business school community for advice and battle stories. The conversations and connections you make are invaluable. I have learned a lot from my talented classmates and professors, so be sure to put yourself out there. But even outside of Booth there is something people find disarming about speaking with business school students – take advantage of this! The access that I have gotten to amazing executive mentors is incredible. Also, the willingness of business professionals to meet with you as a student is something you only have a short window to capitalize on, so make sure to utilize it right away.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Over the past two years I’ve gotten married, moved cities (kudos to my husband for agreeing to that one), traveled internationally and domestically, secured a new job, survived a doozy of a first trimester of pregnancy, learned from the experiences of my incredibly talented classmates, bonded with other women pursuing impactful careers, built lasting new friendships, discussed key business trends and issues with talented professors, and met with top business leaders from across the globe. It would be hard to not be transformed after all of those great adventures. Most importantly, I believe I am a more confident, capable and agile business leader now than before Booth.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a tough one – there are so many talented people in my class. However, Brian Kim is definitely one person who sticks out. He is intelligent, determined, and accomplished. Most of all, I admire his ability to check his ego at the door. You would never know everything he has accomplished when you first speak with him. Instead, you would only notice his sense of humor and willingness to help his classmates. One of Brian’s most recent feats is opening a new restaurant in New York City, TabeTomo, by partnering with a chef from LA. Not to mention, he was a member of a winning team, BrewPub, at Booth’s New Venture Challenge and can run circles around others in any finance-related capacity.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My grandfather, or as I know him “Poppy.” Throughout my childhood, he always stressed education and hard work. He moved from India to the US by himself when he was only 18 to pursue his education. He earned an undergraduate degree in engineering and eventually an MBA. This allowed him to transition from a full-time engineer to executive. Now, he is managing two family-owned businesses. I believe there was also a failed attempt at retirement somewhere in there. Seeing how he has enjoyed and built an entire life in a new country from his business pursuits has been an inspiration to me.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? Frosty Beverage…aka alcohol.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still enjoying status on airlines from my consulting days but missing out on an incredible business school experience.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? More money than I like to think about, but it was definitely worth it. I’m already seeing a positive ROI, even before graduation.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • Finding the successful balance of family, work, and friends
  • Visit all the states in the US – almost there

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As someone who they would want to grab a coffee or drink with.

Hobbies? Golf, traveling, skiing, self-admittingly terrible reality TV.

What made Kaitlyn such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Kaitlyn’s presence in a classroom elevates the level of discourse – her thoughtful analysis and honest comments make her voice among the most respected in Booth’s Class of 2019.”

Stacey Kole

Deputy Dean for MBA Programs

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