Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Alejandro Cadena, University of Chicago (Booth)

Alejandro Cadena

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

“Enthusiastic serial entrepreneur who is utterly passionate about CPG, wellness and underrepresented minorities.”

Hometown: Quito, Ecuador

Fun Fact About Yourself: Ranked 2nd in Ecuador’s Karate National Tournament

Undergraduate School and Major:

IDC Herzliya

Degree: Business Administration

Major: Finance

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Co-founder & CEO of Global Cadena Inc.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Given that my undergrad was in Business Administration and Finance, I was intentionally looking for a MBA program with a very flexible curriculum. This was of paramount importance to me since I did not want to repeat many of the intro classes that a regular/typical MBA along with their core curriculum would have made me.

What quality best describes your MBA community and why? Highly intentional. Given the flexibility at Booth, students learn from day one to own their path and their MBA. It is important to recognize that Booth gives students the flexibility, yet great responsibility to build their curriculums based on the student’s personal preference. This is something that is unparalleled to any other MBA program in the US. This quality of Booth makes Booth’s MBA community highly intentional, not only when it comes to picking the right classes but also picking and making the right career choices. Instead of having only one year to take electives of one’s interest, at Booth one gets the unique opportunity to tailor the curriculum according to one’s true passions and inclinations.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far? I am proud to say that at age 19 I moved to Israel, where I did two years of National Service, lived there for seven years and became fully independent. Building my current startup in a successful way has been a great milestone in my career. It has been less than five years since I moved from Tel Aviv to NYC to start Global Cadena Inc., and I am proud and humble to see the incredible growth the company and my team have had. We are a team of ten diverse people and our products can be found in over 500 stores, supermarkets, gyms, hotels and bakeries.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Currently my company is in negotiations with each of our distributors in the different regions to continue managing and building the relations and brands my company has built in the past five years. I want to take these two years at Booth to deepen my knowledge in an array of areas including finance and operations. Moreover, I want to continue building my network in the US and exploring careers as a consultant within the CPG industry. I know that getting a MBA from a top program like Booth will open many exciting doors. Additionally, I want to take this time to continue building my problem-solving and analytical skills so that I can later work on projects in different functions, such as M&A, Marketing & Sales, Operations, and Strategy and Transformation within the CPG industry.

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Booth? It is getting to truly know my classmates, alumni, professors, and staff while enjoying these two intense, yet incredible two years at Booth. As someone who has lived in four different countries (Ecuador, Panama, Israel & USA), I can confidently say that I have developed a fascination with travel and a deep interest in learning and experiencing new cultures. The MBA perfectly dovetails with this fascination since I plan to build a strong international network through my classmates. Furthermore, I plan to take advantage of the different international projects, experiences, and opportunities to keep exploring the world. I am really excited about this new chapter!

What makes you most nervous about starting business school?  As a true extrovert, I know that I would want to be part of as many social and academic activities as humanly possible, yet, I know that this won’t be possible or an efficient way to use my time. Therefore, I am creating a sheet with certain goals that I want and seek to achieve during my MBA. This way, no matter how busy my schedule gets I will not lose sight of why I came to get my MBA, allowing me to achieve my most important goals.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? It is the different internships (not summer internships only) throughout my career that I can explore given Booth’s incredibly flexible curriculum are once again unique to this school. In terms of clubs, as someone who candidly enjoys solving problems and working on challenging tasks, Business Solutions Group (BSG), and Booth Outdoor Leadership Development Group (BOLD) make some of the clubs that excite me the most. BSG gives students the opportunity to work on real consulting engagements with businesses and non-profits. These projects last ten weeks and students come up with innovative and practical solutions for the client, resulting in a very hands-on experience. Having the experience as a former athlete in martial arts, BOLD gives one the ability not only to develop mental stamina but also to develop the physical stamina making you a well-rounded, resilient and powerful future executive.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I think one of the most challenging questions I received was on the topic of giving back. I truly believe in Booth’s pay-it-forward culture. Given that time and finances are both limited resources, one must be able to prioritize and carefully select what matters most to one’s self. Growing up, every year my mother would ask me to pick my favorite toy and give it anyway to a less fortunate child. Hearing about the recipient’s joy, I understood the power of giving back to the community and decided to incorporate a similar commitment into my life. A few of the organizations I am currently involved in and expect to become progressively more involved are the following: IDC Alumni Board Member; Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT fellow); Jumpstart fellow; Toigo fellow; and AIPAC’s Young Leadership Council Member, Latino Community in the US. All these organizations play an important role in causes I truly care about. Therefore, I would be remiss not to support them.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I went to visit all the different schools that I applied to and also attended a couple of classes of each respective school. For me there were three important factors when selecting schools. At the end of the day, all the top MBA programs have excellent professors and are fairly diverse, so here it is how I narrowed down the list, making me choose Booth.

  1. Curriculum’s Flexibility: As I mentioned above, this was a very important piece. Another program that has a fairly flexible curriculum is Sloan. Most of the other programs have the more “typical” core classes for everyone regardless of the student’s previous backgrounds. Booth has one mandatory class (LEAD) and three foundational courses. And even in those foundational courses (Microeconomics, Accounting, and Statistics), students have the ability to choose between three different levels (Basic, Medium, Advance) so for people like me that come from a solid business background gives us the best flexibility to push our learning to the next level.
  2. Brand: I wanted an MBA that will provide me with options so that I can truly take advantage of the different internships, consulting projects, and corporate engagements while doing my MBA. Brand was a strong component in my decision. Booth is not only currently ranked as the 3rdbest MBA program in the US (2nd place for Finance),but also, The University of Chicago itself is one of the most prestigious universities for Economics in the world. This perfectly fits my plan to take a couple of classes in the school of Economics with world renowned professors.
  3. Cultural/Fit: All the top programs pride themselves for being highly diverse and supportive of minority groups as well as veterans. The only two programs that waived my application fee as a minority student were Sloan and Booth. Also, Booth was the only program that waived my wife’s application fee since she is a veteran. Although the application fee is a small amount in comparison to the cost of the MBA, Booth seemed to me that they were a program in which their actions spoke louder than words. I am absolutely proud to be a Boothie.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? When I moved from Tel Aviv to New York, I learned that the local Ecuadorian community was the largest of its kind in the US, with the highest number of young professionals. After attending a few events, I quickly realized that this community was incredibly entrepreneurial, yet there was something hindering them from starting their own businesses. Most people came from humble backgrounds. However, many had tenuous legal status and the prospect of failure was daunting. I remember asking them why they hadn’t pursued their dreams of starting their companies. The common response was this: “I can’t do it alone” or “I don’t have the experience or the know-how to get started”.

I wanted to remove some of their barriers to entrepreneurship and thought that I could help by sharing my experience. In coordination with the Consul General of Ecuador in New York, Linda Machuca, and a couple of entrepreneurs, we worked on three seminars per year that I would design and deliver. We launched the first one in April 2018 and have since delivered five seminars,attended by 200-400 people each. Because of this success, I expanded my partnerships with Latino organizations and have given educational seminars to the Council of Ecuador and the Trade Office of Ecuador. Equally importantly, I began mentoring several entrepreneurs individually, leading to at least two new businesses. It has been truly uplifting to coach young Ecuadorian and Latino entrepreneurs, encouraging them to pursue their dreams.

It reminds me of a quote from Theodor Herz: “If you will it, it is no dream.”

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? I have many companies that I truly love and look up to. As a Co-founder and CEO of my current startup I have tried to emulate the different values from two companies:

  1. TOMS: Besides liking their products, TOMS was able to successfully grow and get acquired while remaining true to its socially responsible identity. They popularized the “one-for-one” business model by giving one free pair of shoes, to children in need, for every pair sold.
  2. Amazon: For Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s employees should treat their days at the company as Day One always. This is because he truly believes that that’s the only way to remain agile and nimble like any other startup. Given that Amazon employs 600,000 people, this is not always easy. However, Jeff Bezos’s formidable leadership has made this one of the most remarkable companies in the world. I admire the company’s values on being obsessed with customers. I truly believe that paying attention to what one’s competition is doing is important, yet it is even more important to pay attention to what one’s customer is seeking.

When I started Global Cadena, an importing and distribution company that brings and develops Latin American consumer brands into the US, there were two main principles I wanted to follow.

  1. Working solely with socially responsible businesses: I was able to get exclusive rights from three different companies from Ecuador, whom they are not only fair trade but also they do phenomenal work enhancing the lives of thousands of farmers in Ecuador.
  2. Treating every day at Global Cadena as if it is Day One. When starting and running a startup, the first few dozen clients are the most challenging to get. Every day counts significantly since there is never a day where the number of things in one’s to-do-list is scarce. On the contrary, the overwhelming number of new things that come up on a daily or hourly basis makes this a very challenging job. I truly believe that successful entrepreneurs have treated their daily responsibilities in their companies as if it was day one all over again.