2020 MBAs To Watch: Yonas Zewdie, University of Chicago (Booth)

Yonas Zewdie                  

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

“Friendly, easy-going guy who appreciates humor for the truth it reveals and connections it forges.”

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Fun fact about yourself: I used to have an editorial column in my high school paper called “The Bonus with Yonas.” Thinking about starting that back up again.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Wisconsin – Madison; BBA in Finance

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Midwest Mezzanine where I was an investment associate.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? J.P. Morgan Chase in New York, NY

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be a consultant at A.T Kearney.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I received the Posse Scholarship and participated in the I Grow Chicago community service event during orientation.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was most proud of successfully auditioning for Follies and performing in the Spring 2019 show. I was proud because, unlike in the past, I didn’t let my anxiety and stage fright prevent me from trying something new and flexing my creative muscles a bit. I committed to something I had been interested in for a while, which is performing. Up until that point, I really had just done small improv classes—and that combination of overcoming insecurity and seeing through a commitment and goal was really rewarding.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It was my work on a white paper this summer during my internship. It was a really intellectually stimulating project, where I was afforded a lot of autonomy to shape the direction of the ultimate deliverable, and it was one of the first times in my career thus far where I was helping contribute to thought leadership instead of just process or task management and execution. It was also the first time where I presented my work to such a wide audience of very senior leaders within the company.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Steven Kaplan. I took his Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity course this past fall and I loved how case-oriented the class was. His cold-calling made me prepare harder and kept me on my toes. He did a good job of blending the quantitative and qualitative elements of the course, made the class interactive with lots of discussions, and injected a fair amount of humor to keep things engaging.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? This is a tough one. There have been so many, but the one that stands out most clearly was the spring break trip to Colombia during my first year. This wasn’t an official event, but with almost 300 of my classmates (plus partners) there, it might as well have been. It was my first time traveling out of the country in over a decade. I got to share that experience with so many of my close friends in the program, while also getting to meet and get closer to a lot more of them. It really highlighted the camaraderie in our program and how fun-loving we are, despite our reputation for analytics and rigorous academics.

Why did you choose this business school? It’s the cliché answer, but honestly the people. Being a Chicago native and having participated in some programming at UChicago during high school, I was already all too familiar with the prevailing stereotypes about University of Chicago students being anti-social math nerds, which initially made me hesitant. Subsequent conversations with students and a campus visit helped convince me otherwise. It was ultimately admitted weekend that converted me. I really got to see the spirit of the program and its students. Yes, folks were super smart and analytical and could nerd out about virtually anything, even in casual conversation. However, they were also all really friendly, humble, and down-to-earth—it was actually really disarming. Moreover, they were fun and had a lot of personalities which really drew me in.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Tactically, I’d say…

First, respect the GMAT and try and knock that out early in your process. You don’t want to have to be juggling essays, letters of recommendation, your day job, and studying for the GMAT simultaneously. So sequentially, get this done first!

Second, do your homework—be sure to do a deep dive on the school website, visit campus, and sit in on a class if you can. Most importantly, be sure to speak with as many students and alumni as possible.

Third, get extremely clear on your story—your background, what matters to you, your future plans, Booth’s role in those plans, what you’re bringing to Booth, and how you’ll use your time here. The hardest part here is the brutal honesty and self-reflection required to tell your authentic story, instead of the narrative you think people will want to hear.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That it’s where fun goes to die. These past two years have been some of the most fun ones I’ve had in my adult life. The people here are warm, intelligent, and driven, but they’re also down to earth, and love to socialize and have a good time.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Overall, I wish I attended more events. If I could do it over, I would have said yes to more trips and experiences. Obviously recruiting and academics take up a lot of time, especially in the first year, but I wish I was more balanced in my focus and time allocation. Whether it was random walk, ski trip, more wine club events, or even listening to guest speakers, there were opportunities to forge deeper connections with more of my fellow Boothies and I wish I had capitalized on more of them.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Jose Domingo Guerra—my roommate and one of my closest friends in the program. You couldn’t ask for a more sincere and loyal friend, On top of that, he’s just a really genuine, smart, and quirky individual. As a Boothie, he embodies the pay-it-forward culture and is deeply devoted to the community here. I also really admire his intentionality and balance in cultivating the business school experience that he wanted—I think he did it right!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My high school A.P. Microeconomics teacher, Mr. Belcaster, had the greatest influence on my business pursuits in college. Aside from being a gifted lecturer, he was the first teacher I’d ever had that was able to draw from real-life phenomena to make the subject matter relatable, accessible, and interesting. Moreover, he impressed upon me that regardless of what specific career path I ultimately chose to pursue, having a thorough understanding of the topic would be relevant in both my personal and professional life. To this day, I still remember the two biggest takeaways from his class: (1) PQ (passion quotient) + EQ > IQ and (2) Incentives matter!

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Own a business and eventually write a book about my experience in the trenches.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like them to remember me as a person that they could count on and someone they want on their team, be it in the workplace or in the game of life.

Hobbies? I’m an avid mixed martial arts fan, I enjoy improv, and I love watching stand-up comedy (with Dave Chappelle being my absolute favorite comic).

What made Yonas such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?  

“Born in the United States to Ethiopian parents, Yonas has had a lifetime to observe and understand cultural differences. His unique perspective, keen reasoning, and outstanding communication skills quickly elevated him among his peers and afforded him a smooth transition from finance to management consulting. Curious, analytical, and hungry to learn, Yonas exemplifies the best of Booth.”

Stacey R. Kole
Deputy Dean for MBA Programs and Clinical Professor of Economics


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