Thursday, January 17, 2013

At Booth, We’re Not Just About Finance (Though We Have That Too!)

In the first part of this three-part blog post, I explore the question of “Why Booth?” and focus on the diverse academic and professional opportunities for students. In the second part, I will talk about what I have gained from my own leadership positions at school. In the third-part, I will discuss the long-term professional value of leadership opportunities at Booth.

Donnie Phillips, President, Graduate Business Council


When I was thinking about applying to Booth, I was in my third year as a private equity associate. At the time, I was undecided on whether I wanted to stay in private equity or pursue a more entrepreneurial career path. I knew Chicago Booth had a reputation for having a rigorous academic program, so I wanted to make sure that the school was right for me: if I decided to stay in PE, how would I spend my time in the classroom and if I decided to pursue the world of startups, was an analytical school a good choice? As I continued to do my research, I was able to confidently craft a story as to why Booth was a great fit.

Always a fan of data, there were three salient pieces of information that helped convince me to apply to Booth.

1) More than 80% of classes offered are outside of finance: Every year Booth offers more than 150 courses across 550 class sections. With 20 courses required (plus LEAD) for a degree, I knew that if I wanted to go the entrepreneurship (or any other) route, I had more than enough courses available at my fingertips. Plus, with a fully flexible curriculum, I could take those courses in almost any sequence I wanted.

2) Private Equity / Venture Capital represents 7% of incoming students: As a big believer in diversity of thought, I knew that I would have different professional experiences than 90% of my classmates. Whether it was in study groups or case competitions, I knew my colleagues would bring a diverse set of opinions and perspectives to the table.

3) The school is rapidly expanding its foothold in entrepreneurship: The annual report from The Polsky Center – Booth’s hub for entrepreneurship – details some of the 75+ events put on each year. And the thirst for entrepreneurship at Booth is growing with more than half of students opting for entrepreneurship as one of their concentrations.

Collectively, these three pieces of information allowed me to dig behind stereotypes about Booth and helped me decide that Chicago was the best place for me to spend two years. With only two of six quarters remaining, the experience has exceeded expectations. Some examples:

1) Here are just two non-finance courses I have taken at Booth: The Ethics of Business, a course that builds a philosophical case for capitalism, starting with Adam Smith and going all the way to the likes of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, and Managerial Decision Making, a course about the dozens of psychological biases managers make and how to avoid them. This course in particular contained important concepts I would not have learned on the job or, if I did, it would have been the “hard way.”

2) On my student government executive team is a U.S. diplomat, real estate development analyst, private equity investor, commercial strategy manager for a soccer team, a consultant to domestic for-profits, and a consultant for USAID-funded projects abroad. The diversity of our pre-Booth backgrounds helps us immensely when it comes to prioritizing, marketing, and executing on programs and initiatives to enhance the student experience.

3) Last January, I attended the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club’s New York City Trek where we visited 12 startups and VC firms in two days. It was on that trip that I met one of the founders of General Assembly ( and started a conversation that ultimately led to my internship with GA this past summer.

Whenever I speak to prospective students I encourage them to go through a similar thought exercise about how their learning style, social preferences, and professional objectives fit with Booth. For example, if they have more “traditional” career interests such as consulting, investment banking, or investment management Booth certainly fits with the bill, with more than 50% of our graduates pursuing such career paths. Or, if they are interested in marketing, social enterprise, or entrepreneurship, they should explore Booth’s Kilts Center for Marketing, The Social Enterprise Initiative, or The Polsky Center.

This story – from my private equity experience before school to my pursuit of more entrepreneurial environments after graduation – is certainly my own. So why is Booth right for you?

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