2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Saron Strait, University of Chicago (Booth)

Saron Strait

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

“Insight-driven brand marketer. Resourceful problem solver. Passionate community builder. Devoted wife and dog mom.”

Hometown: Mesa, Arizona

Fun fact about yourself: While studying journalism at Northwestern I had the opportunity to interview Meghan Markle while she visited the school to promote the latest season of Suits. You can say the pressure got to me, because shortly after I pivoted to pursue a career in marketing.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Northwestern University, Bachelor of Science in Journalism, Minor in Legal Studies, Certificate in Integrated Marketing Communications

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Razorfish (a Publicis Groupe company), Senior Content Strategist (Chicago, IL)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Molson Coors, MBA Marketing Intern for Coors Light (Chicago, IL)

Where will you be working after graduation? Molson Coors, Associate Marketing Manager (Chicago, IL)

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

* James M. Kilts Center for Marketing Fellow & Scholarship Recipient: The Kilts Marketing Fellowship is awarded each year to select incoming Full-Time MBA students who plan to pursue a career in marketing. Kilts Marketing Fellows receive significant tuition support and access to a dedicated network of alumni with careers in technology, marketing, and general management.

* Forté Fellow & Scholarship Recipient: In partnership with Forté, Chicago Booth awards Forté Fellowships to candidates who exhibit exemplary leadership, represent diverse backgrounds, and demonstrate a commitment to advancing the interest of women in business.

* Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation Net Impact Board Fellow: Led by the Rustandy Center in conjunction with the Net Impact student group, which connects Chicagoland area nonprofits with current Booth students to complete a strategic consulting project for the organization. The Board Fellows program brings valuable pro bono business skills to nonprofits while giving students hands-on experience with nonprofit management and governance.

* Chicago Booth Admissions Fellow: Selected by the Chicago Booth Admissions team to interview and evaluate potential Chicago Booth candidates.

* Booth Marketing Group, Co-chair: Coordinated a professional student group of more than 60+ members, which provides developmental programming, peer-to-peer interview prep, resume reviews, firm networking events, and educational resources for students pursuing marketing career paths. Responsible for facilitating sponsor relationships.

* Booth Marketing Advisory Committee, Co-chair: The Booth Marketing Advisory Committee (BMAC) aims to increase student awareness and participation in Chicago Booth marketing initiatives and to build a sense of Chicago Booth pride among students and alumni. This is accomplished by acting as conduits between the student body and Dean’s office and Booth marketing team.

* Chicago Women in Business, Circle Captain: Chicago Women in Business (CWIB) is the student organization for full-time MBA candidates dedicated to empowering women and advancing gender equity at Chicago Booth and in business. As a circle captain, I am responsible for planning connective small group events throughout the school year.

* Random Walk Leader: Selected to lead a group of first year students on a pre-orientation trip to Croatia. Each year, incoming full-time Chicago Booth students can elect to take part in one of a few dozen small-group domestic and international trips, known as Random Walks. These trips are led by four second-year students and provide a way for first year students to kick-start their MBA community and network.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’ve spent my second year at Chicago Booth volunteering as a Board Fellow with the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation and Net Impact Club. Rustandy is committed to harnessing the power that social business innovation can wield in making the world more equitable and sustainable and accomplishes this mission by jumpstarting nonprofit and for-profit ventures with social missions. To enable these businesses, Rustandy created the Board Fellows program, which pairs Chicago Booth MBA students with Chicagoland nonprofit organizations. Students are expected to act as non-voting members of the board and complete a strategic consulting project.

I have spent my time as a Board Fellow working with an organization known as Grace Sister to Sister. Throughout this experience, I have been inspired by the organization’s founder and board members’ commitment to enabling the young girls and young women in their community. To do so, Grace Sister to Sister provides programming that teaches essential life skills including personal finance management, communication, conflict resolution, and vocational skills. My co-fellow and I have spent the school year developing a revised program model for the organization as well as identifying marketing strategies to increase board membership, program participation, and corporate donations. My hope is that the work and insights my partner and I have brought to the organization can facilitate Grace Sister to Sister’s programming and enable them to further realize their mission of empowering young girls and young women in Chicagoland communities. If that happens, I will be extremely proud of all our work. I’m excited to see how this organization continues to grow in the coming years.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While working on the Warner Media Content Partnerships team, the President of Sales tasked the team with securing a multi-channel sponsor for the second season of a top-rated TBS show. After months spent pitching and 10 business days from the show’s premiere at the New York Comedy Festival, we went from having no sponsor, to having two. However, our sponsorship program only accommodated one brand and we faced a short execution runway. Nonetheless, retaining both sponsors (a major spirits brand and a major electronics company) was paramount, as this would boost quarterly sales, provide more show funding, and could have productive long-term business implications (as neither brand had previously made a significant investment in our networks and success here could foster future investments). However, we couldn’t provide both sponsors with the exact proposal we pitched. My manager and I worked closely with sales, production, and the show to refine each sponsor’s omni-channel program, which included digital, social, linear, and experiential deliverables. Our goal was to keep the program elements as close to the original pitch as possible, while finding creative ways to replace infeasible deliverables and ensuring we hit our pitched KPIs. After aligning internal stakeholders, we went back to the clients, who agreed to forgo sponsorship exclusivity and accepted the revised sponsorship proposals.

After a long 10 days of jumping over hurdles and pivoting, we successfully executed both sponsorships with each far exceeding all KPIs. We later earned industry recognition winning awards at Digiday, Promax, and more. We were asked to present our work at the WarnerMedia Annual Global Town Hall. This experience taught me the value of continuously developing and fostering strong relationships with cross-functional partners. Our established relationships and existing trust with our cross-functional partners was the cornerstone of these programs’ success. After explaining the significance of these partners and acknowledging the task’s magnitude and the time-consuming implications for our cross-functional partners, everyone was willing to jump on board to make these programs a reality.

Why did you choose this business school? As I researched various programs, spoke to alumni, and connected with present students, I became drawn to Chicago Booth’s pay-it-forward culture, marketing offerings, commitment to leadership development, and supportive and diverse community of students. However, what really made me determined to earn an MBA from Chicago Booth was the autonomy provided to students to tailor their course loads. As a “non-traditional” candidate coming from the entertainment and advertising industry, I had limited quantitative and business fundamental skills, and I believed Chicago Booth’s flexible curriculum, coupled with the grade non-disclosure policy, would allow me to take advantage of Chicago Booth’s renowned analytics courses without the fear of underperforming – something that precluded me from seeking such classes in undergrad. Further, I was confident the flexible curriculum would enable me to bridge my other knowledge gaps and explore parts of the business environment that I hadn’t been exposed to previously.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? If given the chance to start over, I would have joined clubs beyond those with a professional development focus. At Chicago Booth, I’m surrounded by classmates with a diverse set of experiences and skills that don’t always present themselves in the classroom. Some of my classmates are former Division 1 athletes, sommeliers, proficient in numerous languages, and more. I wish I had invested more time getting out of my comfort zone by learning new skills from my fellow classmates by joining the Tennis Club, Golf Club, or joining a language family.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Chicago Booth has earned the reputation for being “the quant school” with a primary emphasis on finance and economics. While the finance and economic courses, professors, network, and general programs are undoubtedly renowned, I’m happy to report Chicago Booth is a holistic MBA program offering students a breadth of learning opportunities. As someone with a “non-traditional” background – having spent my career to date working in the entertainment, media, and advertising industries – I was apprehensive about pursuing an MBA, let alone an MBA from a school with such a quantitative reputation as I had limited quantitative exposure but knew many of my fellow applicants possessed these skills. However, this notion of homogeneity couldn’t be more of a myth. Many of my classmates hail from “non-traditional” backgrounds spending their pre-MBA years teaching in elementary schools, working on oil rigs, and serving across the military branches. I spent my first year at Chicago Booth pleasantly surprised to learn about the unique paths that brought them to Chicago Booth. This professional diversity has fostered such incredible learning and growth opportunities in the classroom and beyond.

What surprised you the most about business school? Prior to business school, I had the misconception that students in MBA programs were cut-throat with everyone solely focused on their own self-interests and professional advancement. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It quickly became apparent that many of my classmates embodied Chicago Booth’s pay it forward culture and were invested in my learning and success.

Coming to Chicago Booth, I wanted to further develop and hone my quantitative, strategic, and general business acumen. Nonetheless, I was anxious given that many of our classes encouraged students to work collaboratively and in groups on assignments. However, my fears were unwarranted. I’ve had numerous classmates like Laura Dillon, who spent hours answering my questions about our economics course and helped me learn R while taking Data Driven Marketing. Laura, as well as other classmates, went out of their way to facilitate my learning and ensure I felt confident in my understanding of the course material. The supportive nature of the Chicago Booth community gave me the courage to pursue courses I’d typically shy away from.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? When applying to business schools I prioritized quality over quantity. This means I didn’t apply to a vast number of programs, but instead committed to conducting thorough research by speaking to students and alumni, and attending events to not only get a grasp of each program’s academic offerings, but also garner a sense of the community and culture amongst the students. I wanted to be sure that I was a good fit for the community and could contribute value to my classmates and the program. As part of this, I was committed to being authentic and humble in my application. I acknowledged my shortcomings and identified my growth potential and contributions I hoped to make to the program. I believe conveying my understanding of the program and how I could fit within the community throughout my application gave me an edge in the application process.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Since meeting her during orientation I’ve had a deep admiration for Kendall Meyertons. She is whip-smart, determined, resourceful, and frankly should have been a comedian in another life. Having spent her prior career in male-dominated industries and roles, Kendall constantly advocates for the women around her to recognize the respect they deserve and be confident in their talents and abilities. Kendall has not only had a profound impact on my business school experience but has contributed greatly to the broader community. Kendall has served as a Booth Ski Club co-chair, planning multiple international ski trips for 600+ students. She has also served as co-chair for the Entrepreneurship through Acquisition Club planning many of the group’s networking and professional development events throughout the school year. Kendall has an admirable work ethic, balancing her academic course load with her extracurricular leadership positions, while also frequently maintaining an internship during the academic year. At present, Kendall is preparing to launch her ETA search, and I am confident in her abilities and excited to see how her professional career blossoms in the coming years and how she will continue to enable those around her to succeed.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Through my prior career working in the entertainment, media, and advertising industries, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many brands on their marketing programs. However, in my prior roles, I was often working with established brands and products. Consequently, whether through my own endeavor or working in an innovations role, I’ve always aspired to develop, market, and commercialize a new product.

I also aspire to leverage my professional skills in service of a social cause, by serving on the executive board of a nonprofit organization. I’ve previously served as a member and co-chair of the CASA-NYC junior board and this experience had a profound impact on my personal and professional development, inspiring me to seek more social-sector opportunities as my career progresses. This passion was reinforced at Chicago Booth as I volunteered as a Rustandy Center and Net Impact Board Fellow and listened to class guest speakers like Valarie Jarrett, Christie Hefner, and Tina Tchen speak to the importance of board service and the impact our professional skills can provide to a nonprofit organization.

What made Saron such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“I am honored and eager to provide the following recommendation in support of recognizing Saron Strait as one of the best and brightest MBA students at Booth. In my twelve years working with MBA students, I have seen a select few make a mark on the Booth community like Saron Strait. She consistently brings a unique, spirited presence to a room, and she makes an effort to foster a sense of belonging by actively working to include others. In her first year at Booth, she met an admitted student who was struggling to make a final decision on which MBA program to choose. Saron took her out to lunch to learn more about her. She took the time to get to know her as well as detail how Booth would offer a unique and unbeatable experience. This is one of numerous examples that show how, since day one, she has been eager to be involved in promoting the school and its excellence in marketing. The fact that she does this while simultaneously building up others is one of the many ways she is unique.

As a second-year student, I have witnessed Saron leverage her seniority not to position herself above others, but instead to welcome all others into the community. For example, in the context of Kilts Center scholarship student gatherings, she goes out of her way to invite new members of the group (e.g. first-year students and students from the Evening MBA and Weekend MBA programs) into conversations, making them feel at home. Her magnetic energy and concerted efforts to welcome others have undeniably helped foster a strong bond that I have never seen among the Kilts Centers’ community of scholarship students. I suspect that her peers would share the same sentiment as me by saying that when I walk into a room and see Saron, I feel an added sense of excitement as well as comfort. It takes a special person to have that kind of effect.”

Katie Claussen Bell
Senior Director and COO, Kilts Center for Marketing


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