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From Securities to the Stage

April 03, 2014

Once asked, "What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?", Booth alumna Lucy Wang replied, "I took my babysitting money, walked into Merrill Lynch and said, 'Buy Chrysler.'"

By age 15, Lucy Wang, '86, knew she wanted to go to business school. As a teenager, she had already won awards for speech writing and public speaking in business, free enterprise, and capitalism. While in high school Wang was hired to be a director of marketing research for a consulting firm where she was nominated to the board of directors at age 16.

So how did this business-minded whiz kid end up trading in her career as a bond trader on Wall Street to become a celebrated writer whose mentors include the likes of Gloria Steinem? In a recent profile for the Booth Women Connect Conference, Wang referred back to what she learned at Chicago Booth as a guiding light in how she approaches many of her career-related decisions: problem solving, negotiating contracts, and even how to portray characters in her scripts.

Rigorous Academics 

Wang's educational background includes a degree from the University of Texas, where she majored in economics and Asian American studies. When she decided to pursue her business degree, Wang was drawn to Chicago Booth and its top-ranked MBA program.

"One of the main reasons I chose to attend Booth was because of its reputation for finance and rigorous academic training. As a young woman, I felt like I needed indelible proof—or as indelible as you can get—that I could think critically, solve problems, and cut the mustard," says Wang, who was born in Taiwan and raised in Ohio.

"We have many Nobel Prize winners and critical thinkers who teach at Booth and graduate from the school, exemplifying our approach to break down problems, look at things differently, or come up with a different way," says Wang. "That's the Chicago Approach: Here's the problem, what's an innovative way to solve it? What does it change? What if we change the price? What if the market goes this way?"

Wang says the intense preparation she received at Booth supported her quest to land a job on Wall Street, where she spent four and a half years as a bond trader in mortgage-backed securities. But what she didn't know at the time was that it would also prepare her for an entirely different line of work, as a professional writer.

No Risk, No Reward

Wang always loved writing, but she took a risk when she decided to try it for a living. She used anecdotes from her Wall Street days to craft her 1994 play Junk Bonds, about the intricacies of the lives of bond traders. The play won two awards the year it premiered and prompted a jolt of media attention for Wang with a feature in the New York Times.

As a writer, Wang continues to channel her MBA education. When confronted with a challenge, she tackles it with a metaphorical spreadsheet. "It's like an options pricing formula... I kind of 'price' it out—what is the most worthwhile to write about?" She also tests and collects data about her writing choices. "Some people think I just write about Asian American issues, and as a result they try to marginalize my work. And then there's the problem where minorities don't get as many meaningful roles on stage, TV, or in film. As an experiment, I thought, 'What if I started writing works where I got rid of everybody's last name, and I didn't tell you what ethnicity they were, and I made it open? How would that hurt the story or enhance it? How might that change how directors and artistic directors envision my work on stage?'"

Throughout her MBA program, Wang was inspired to dream big. She embraced Booth's culture of curiosity, open mindedness, and willingness to take risks. It fueled her move from finance to creative writing, and from writing to on-stage performance. At the encouragement of journalist and feminist activist Gloria Steinem, Wang recently stepped into the realm of standup comedy with Chinese Girls Don't Swear, a one-woman show that Wang wrote and performed.

With mentors such as Steinem, who remind Wang to stay humble and to be kind, she hopes that Booth graduates will become even more active in nontraditional careers. Her suggestion? Wang hopes to someday be on the bill at a Chicago Booth reunion to raise support for the creative arts community as well as Booth's network of women business leaders.—Kate Hoffman