Meet Chicago Booth’s MBA Class Of 2021

Ethan Ardern

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

“Someone nurturing a measured balance of dumb jokes and geeky passion for technological progress.”

Hometown: Milwaukee, WI

Fun Fact About Yourself: I lived a nomadic-lifestyle for most of 2018. I was working a rotational schedule (two weeks on / two weeks off) and traveling around in the off-time.

Undergraduate School and Major: Civil Engineering at Rice University

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: 

Full-time – Project Planning & Cost Engineer at Shell

Pre-MBA internship (Startup Summer program) – Business Development Intern at Omnidian

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: It was an accomplishment shared with thousands of people, but I am especially proud of helping to bring Shell’s Appomattox platform online safely, months ahead of schedule and billions of dollars under budget. In a high stakes industry where things can go so terribly wrong, it was incredible to help a peerless group of diligent and inventive colleagues accomplish such a rare feat in the world of industrial megaprojects. The mind-boggling physical scale and technical complexity that introduced millions of dollars of daily revenue for the US government far surpassed my wildest engineering aspirations from my undergraduate years.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? The classmates I have met so far have impressed me with their apparent desire to dig deep to understand what makes things tick at a fundamental level, rather than getting distracted by more superficial forms of hype or prestige. They’re exactly the sort of people alongside whom I want to learn.

What makes Chicago such a great place to earn an MBA degree? As a kid, I would always enjoy our family trips from Milwaukee down to Chicago and I’m very excited to be returning to the Midwest after almost a decade in Texas. I am hoping that Chicago’s geography and well-distributed alumni provide a chance to objectively survey opportunities along both coasts and everywhere in-between without being pushed to a specific, default industry or city. The placement reports from Booth compared to peer institutions seem to reinforce this notion.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? Compared to other schools, Booth’s alumni engagement seemed to be in a league of its own. As an applicant, it can be difficult to sift through the many impressive claims in this arena, but I viewed initiatives like the Startup Summer program, the New Venture Challenge, and the multitude of lab courses as powerful testaments of the school’s willingness to devote resources towards especially student and alumni-friendly causes.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am most looking forward to getting involved in the Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club. From what I understand, this club serves as a hub for students hoping to make the most of Booth’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Having spent most of my early career in a corporate role, I will be grateful to lean on my peers as I learn to navigate this strange new world.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I think, “Where do you see yourself in ten years” was one of the most challenging questions I faced during the admissions process. As an outsider, I viewed full-time MBA programs as the perfect opportunity to take a step back to evaluate all that I wanted to achieve professionally and otherwise. Throughout the application process, I received feedback that those who do best at business school are the people who know which doors they want to knock on; this advice motivated me to reflect more seriously about what I’m after. While I don’t yet have it figured out, I’m confident that I’ll be much closer come graduation.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Having spent the early part of my career in a technically complex environment and hoping to spend the remainder in similarly-challenging environments, I began finding it exceedingly difficult to assume a corporate role that offered balanced development opportunities. At this point in my career, I’m hungry to develop both the breadth to lead groups of people and the depth to truly understand promising new technologies and business models. The economics of pursuing an MBA on a full-time basis can seem head-scratching over a five to ten-year time horizon. As someone hoping to run a business well beyond that timeframe, I felt it was a worthwhile investment to open myself up to the longer-term, nebulous benefits that seem to find alumni of the top programs.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to the schools in Chicago and Boston.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? As an applicant, I prioritized academically rigorous programs in cities where I wanted to live. I also put a lot of weight on placement reports to get a sense of recent employment trends/momentum. I was fortunate that my work schedule allowed for extended campus visits at most schools, which offered a more tangible form of insight into how each school is run and what their cultures are like. MBA websites were definitely helpful early in the process, but I think if you spend too much time on them, you go crazy.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? The year was 2000 and the setting was a big 4th of July picnic in northern Wisconsin. I had just suffered what I felt was a serious snub in the bike-decorating event, so I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder going into the watermelon eating competition. While most kids seemed content to daintily munch on their slices, I employed a strategy that could best be described as frenzied, reckless abandon. Fortunately, this approach paid dividends as I emerged victorious, although I found myself surrounded by kids and parents with aghast expressions on their faces. That day I learned the value of rolling up my sleeves and throwing myself into whatever I do, even if it sometimes grosses other people out.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? In ten years, I hope to be leading people who are scaling promising technologies to solve some of the world’s more challenging problems. Stay tuned for a more specific response…

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.