You come to business school because you have a passion. There is something you want to change or create – and you can’t wait to get started. This is your time. When you arrive on campus, you need to hit the ground running and get your hands dirty. Fact is, you’re now an adult. You don’t need someone telling you where to go or what to do. You just need the resources and support to bring your passion to life.
That’s exactly what the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business is designed to do. The school calls it a “Flexible MBA.” Forget a mandatory core that sucks up most of a first year. Here, MBAs are required to take a mandatory, student-led course called LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Development), which examines the fundamentals of communication and teamwork. From there, first-years pick one course each from three areas: statistics, microeconomics, and financial accounting. After that, they are free to study whatever they want.
In other words, Booth takes students’ backgrounds and goals into account, respecting the academic and professional experiences they’ve already accrued. That was a huge benefit to incoming students like Alexandre Lin, who already holds a Master’s in Management from the London Business School. Rather than repeating courses like Accounting 101, the Flexible MBA enables him to quickly transition to entrepreneurship.In other words, Booth MBAs hit the fast track when it comes to pursuing their interests.
Alejandro Cadena, a CEO who studied finance as an undergrad, describes this approach as “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,” he explains. “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.”
One benefit to this approach, says Dylan Geary, is that students are part of classes where their peers want to be, creating what she calls “a more engaging learning experience.” Maya Shaposhnik Cadena points to her “significant” investment in time and money – and how greater choice enables her to ‘maximize Maya’s potential.’ In fact, Booth’s structure is an educational tool in itself. Jorge Nicolin, who worked as a senior consultant at Bain & Company before joining the Class of 2022, calls it a “choice-rich environment,” adding “part of life is choosing.” By that, he means that students are made responsible for their educational experience.
This structure prepares Booth MBAs to make hard decisions on where to devote their time and attention – the same choices they’ll face after graduation. “A lot of programs put you on a conveyer belt,” explains Stacey Kole, a clinical professor of Economics in a 2019 interview with P&Q. “They’ll tell you which classes to take…Here, we think the world is going to present our students with so many good choices, every day, that they’ll have too little time to really make fully-informed decisions. So they need to get comfortable with ambiguity.”
Not to mention heavy academic demands. Booth is often referred to as a “data-driven” or “evidence-based” MBA program – a place where data is used as the starting point to formulate questions, frame issues, identify trends, pinpoint possibilities, and drive decisions. Sure, MBAs will encounter poetic case narratives filled with bumpy narratives and flawed protagonists. At its core, Booth is non-fiction journalism – facts vetted by sources – with data sets used to define, connect, predict, and measure what is often complex and contradictory.
“You see that in its accomplished faculty, the technical depth of its coursework, and the way it has invested in centers exploring the intersection of data science and fields like asset management and marketing,” explains Patrick Flood Mauel, a commodities trader with Morgan Stanley. “That differentiates Booth’s students from those of other programs, making them increasingly valuable in a world that depends more and more on data-driven insight.”
Dylan Geary is equally bullish on the value of this philosophy.
“Booth not only maintains a data-driven approach, but also strongly supports open dialogue. The University of Chicago is built on the principle of teaching people how to think, not what to think, and cultivating an environment that brings together diverse voices to incubate ideas and push boundaries. I truly believe there is no better climate to prepare us for the disruptions and opportunities we will continue to see across industries.”
A DREAM TEAM ROSTER
At Booth, the mantra is “Ideas compete and people collaborate.” That’s exactly the dynamic that Maya Shaposhnik Cadena experienced when she first started working with 2022 classmates on Slack this summer.
“When you ask a question, the community comes together to help, both individually and collectively. Throughout all the “donut” calls we have been conducting on Slack, I have really been enjoying the diversity of my classmates. On one group call, I felt like we had the perfect mixture of careers. I made this comment: “In this moment we could create an incredible company together.”
And what a dream company the Class of 2022 would be! Think diverse and accomplished. In finance, you could plug in Spencer Velarde, a joint JD-MBA who last worked in compensation for the National Basketball Association. Sales? That’s a toss-up. After all, Chanel Walker was already running US retail sales for Philadelphia Cream Cheese – a billion dollar enterprise – in her mid-20s! Then again, Dylan Geary created a sales workflow that made her to the youngest winner of Cerner’s Masters Award – a recognition only given to 100 of 28,000 employees. Customer relations is an easy choice: Jorge Nicolin. His dashboards enabled a top Mexican bank to resolve issues more effectively, resulting in a Net Promoter Score rising from -4% to 49%. Whoever becomes CEO would be wise to tap Doug Bowen as chief of staff.
“At BDT & Company, I ranked the highest in my Associate class for “fostering client relationships” and was asked to represent BDT at a client’s G4 family retreat as an Analyst (an opportunity usually offered to Vice Presidents and above) to present an overview of our company and the work that our team had done for the family.”
THE FAMILY FIXER
Impressed? Before Booth, Ryan Hall, a U.S. Naval Officer, spearheaded the inoperability project – think system development and integration – for a submarine. Lihi Shadmi also served in the military, reaching the rank of Major in the Israeli Intelligence Corps. Like Hall, she worked on security projects. However, her biggest achievement may have been serving as an example for her peers.
“My unit has very few female engineers and officers, a problem not uncommon in a military and technological setting,” Shadmi explains. “Knowing that my personal example and support contributed to several young female soldiers becoming commanders and rising in the ranks or seeking influential roles, is my greatest point of pride.”
Alejandro Cadena, a native of Ecuador, completed two years of National Service in Israel before moving to New York City. Here, he built a company with products in 500 stores, hotels, and bakeries. His classmate, Alexandre Lin, also boasts dual identities. He calls France and China home. Not surprisingly, Lin entered management consulting after school – a role that took him to projects across the globe. In 2016, he returned home to rescue his family’s real estate portfolio, whose properties had suffered from age and neglect. Over three years, Lin dumped the high cost investments, focusing instead on renovations that would produce stable cash flows.
“This experience taught me to be creative and think in the shoes of an operator, planning for the long term while sorting out the day-to-day operations. Arguing and finding a compromise with contractors and tenants also helped me become a better negotiator.”
“I DON’T KNOW WHAT I DON’T KNOW”
Lin wasn’t alone in facing down adversity. Patrick Flood Mauel cut his teeth on the options trading desk, a “trial-by-fire, no excuses” atmosphere that taught him what he was truly capable of doing. Alas, he’d made it that far thanks to a defining moment when he was 15: taking a bullet in the leg.
“I had been caught in the crossfire of a dispute that unfolded in the restaurant where I was eating,” he reminisces. “The experience made me appreciate the outsized impact highly improbable events can have on our best-laid plans and projections. It taught me that aftershocks like the health and economic crisis taking place today, we have to do our best to forget the old plans, take things as they are today, and start optimizing tomorrow.”
Outside work and class, Maya Shaposhnik Cadena earned a bronze medal in Taekwondo in the Junior Olympics. Speaking of the martial arts, Alejandro Cadena finished 2nd in Ecuador’s Karate National Tournament. At the same time, Chanel Walker practiced ballet for 13 years, while Doug Bowen garnered valedictorian honors in both his high school and college classes.
What brings Bowen to Booth? Simple: he dreams of turning his native Jamaica from “developing to developed” – and views fintech and ecommerce as the means to achieve this end. In contrast, Maya Shaposhnik Cadena, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” (and wife to Alejandro Cadena) believes Booth is the perfect spot to boost her expertise while laying the groundwork for her next venture.
“I feel ready and motivated to jump into the entrepreneurial world again with the right idea and even the right partnership. At the same time, I want to be open-minded and enter business school with the mindset of “I don’t know what I don’t know.”
Page 2: Class Stats
Pages 2-3: Interview with Starr Marcello, Deputy Dean for MBA Programs
Page 3: In-depth profiles of 12 members of the Class of 2022