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At Management Conference 2023, a total of 1,050 attendees came together to hear from prominent business leaders and researchers on topics that ranged from artificial intelligence to leadership, to criminal justice, and beyond. The enthusiasm of both the presenters and the attendees made this year’s Management Conference, in Chicago Booth’s 125th anniversary year, truly one to remember.

Madhav Rajan, dean and the George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting, set the tone for the event during his opening remarks with the announcement of a $100-million gift to Booth’s PhD Program from Ross Stevens, PhD ’96. The gift, which coincides with the program’s 100th anniversary celebration, will support the PhD Program in continuing to develop world-class business scholars and advance cutting-edge research.

Explore key takeaways from the different sessions at this year’s conference.

Keynote Conversation with Steven N. Kaplan and Satya Nadella, ’97

Steven Kaplan, the Neubauer Family Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Finance and Kessenich E.P. Faculty Director at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and Satya Nadella, ’97, chairman and CEO of Microsoft, and University of Chicago Trustee, discussed a range of topics during their keynote conversation. Among them were Nadella’s journey to CEO of Microsoft, his views on leadership, and the future of cloud technology and artificial intelligence.

On Leadership

“The hardest job I had at Microsoft was the first job of being a leader,” Nadella said. He went on to describe his three leadership principles, to: create clarity, generate energy, and deliver success.

"[Leaders] create clarity when none exists…They don’t confuse you more," Nadella explained. He went on to explain that generating energy is another important attribute of a leader: "Energy is the other meet someone who is a leader, and you come out energized.”

He emphasized the need for managers to learn leadership skills like empathy and coaching early in their careers, remarking, “It’s too late to be CEO and say, ‘I care about people.’ It just doesn’t work.”

On Refounding Microsoft

When he became CEO of Microsoft in 2014, Nadella said he needed to “refound” the company and “reanchor” its mission. “I distinctly remember how energized I was by the mission when I joined in 1992 and how we had lost sight of it over the years,” Nadella said. “In fact, by the late ‘90s, we had essentially achieved the success of a PC in every home and on every desk, and we said ‘Ok, what’s our mission afterwards?’” Nadella explained he centered the company around a new mission “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Empathy has played a central role under Nadella’s leadership. He said it’s been crucial to his success both as an effective leader and product designer. “If you are going to be innovative and create products, to live our mission…that means you have to be able to be in touch with the unmet and unarticulated needs of the people out there. What is that? That is deep empathy for what people need around us, what do communities need, and what do countries need. And so in an interesting way, and in fact, people talk about design thinking, but design thinking, in my mind, is applied empathy,” Nadella said.

"If you are going to be innovative and create products, to live our mission...that means you have to be able to be in touch with the unmet and unarticulated needs of the people out there."

— Satya Nadella, '97

On the Cloud and A.I.

Kaplan asked Nadella about his views on artificial intelligence and the future of work.

Nadella said he sees artificial intelligence as a way to not only solve computing challenges, but address global issues like climate change, the energy crisis, even the quality of life for everybody on the planet. “We need something that drives productivity and economic growth in a very massively non-sort of linear way. I think A.I. is one element of it,” Nadella said.

Leadership Is a Choice

Linda E. Ginzel, clinical professor of managerial psychology, challenged popular beliefs about leadership and learning during her session. She refuted the notion that leadership ability exists intrinsically in certain people and not others. “Leading is a behavior,” she said. “You can choose the behavior of leadership. And you don’t have to do ‘capital L’ leadership. Small changes can make big differences.”

Workshop attendees received copies of Ginzel’s textbook, Choosing Leadership, which she used to guide them through writing their own “zero draft” definitions of leadership.

One of Ginzel’s central points was the distinction between leading and managing. “Both are essential,” she explained, “but they are different. Managing is about the present and creating stability, whereas leadership is about the future.”

 “One is not better than the other. We have to be able to switch between them,” Ginzel added.

"Leading is a behavior. You can choose the behavior of leadership. And you don't have to do 'capital L' leadership. Small changes can make big differences."

— Linda E. Ginzel

Technological Change and the US Labor Market

Technology and automation have played a role in the unemployment of working-aged men without college degrees, especially those who had previously worked in manufacturing, argued Erik Hurst, the Frank P. and Marianne R. Diassi Distinguished Service Professor of Economics; Deputy Director of the Becker Friedman Institute; and John E. Jeuck Faculty Fellow. Automation and technological development, Hurst explained, have dramatically decreased the need for unskilled laborers in the manufacturing sector.

“The US manufactures more products than ever before,” Hurst said, “but manufacturing jobs in 2023 are for engineers, not line workers.” As a result, this portion of the workforce is undergoing an “adjustment period,” Hurst explained, during which workers are gaining the skills necessary to transfer into different job sectors.

Hurst pointed to similar adjustments that occurred in the 20th century agricultural industry as evidence that the workforce would eventually adapt, but cautioned that the adjustment period could be slow and costly.

Hurst reviewed policies he argued would hinder the adjustment of the workforce, such as corporate tax cuts and universal basic income, as well as policies he thinks would be helpful, like earned income tax credits and tax-subsidized apprenticeships.

Improving Criminal Justice Decision-Making with Operations Management

Amy Ward, the Rothman Family Professor of Operations Management and Charles M. Harper Faculty Fellow, began her session by posing a hypothetical scenario to the audience: a 20-year-old male with two prior arrests is convicted of a minor offense. She asked if the audience would incarcerate this individual or put him into a diversion program, which would favor treatment and behavior correction over punishment.

Ward described how knowledge of resource allocation and operations could be paired with machine learning algorithms, which already help judges make these decisions, to improve sentencing and reduce recidivism. She introduced additional considerations, such as: How can we prioritize who to admit to diversion programs? Are there any fairness considerations? What are the societal consequences of denying an offender entry into a diversion program?

Ward’s session drew on research about machine learning and the criminal justice system that she coauthored with Pengyi Shi (Purdue), Antonio Castellanos (Postdoc, Booth), and Zhiqiang Zhang (PhD candidate, Booth), in partnership with Adult Redeploy Illinois. Their work examines how operations management—specifically process analysis methods—and machine learning algorithms can be used to develop tools that reduce relapses into criminal behavior by improving decision-making.

Business Opportunities in North America

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the first North American Free Trade Agreement, which was enacted in 1994 and created a free trade zone for Canada, Mexico, and the United States, there remains much to be done toward integrating trade across each country’s economy.

Jaime Chico Pardo, ’74, moderated wide-ranging discussion on the opportunities and challenges of a more integrated North American trade market. Speakers included Anil Kashyap, the Stevens Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and Finance; Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico, and the Frederick Iseman ’74 Director of the Program for the Study of Globalization at Yale University; and Byron D. Trott, AB ’81, MBA ’82, chairman and CEO of BDT Capital Partners, and University of Chicago Trustee.

Drawing from experience in academia, government, and commerce, the speakers agreed that future success in global trade—for partners within North America and beyond—also depends on countries’ and leaders’ commitments to the rule of law and sound domestic policies in education and other critical areas.

Acknowledging the issue’s historic and continuing complexity, Trott expressed optimism for a more robust trade market between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. “There are headwinds,” Trott said, “but I see the bright side of everything, and there are also tremendous opportunities for the countries of North America.”

"There are headwinds, but I see the bright side of everything, and there are also tremendous opportunities for the countries of North America."

— Byron D. Trott, AB '81, MBA '82

Why Understanding Behavioral Science Is Important to Understanding Financial Markets and the Management of Organizations

Emmanuel Roman, ’87, CEO of PIMCO and University of Chicago Trustee, and Richard H. Thaler, the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics and 2017 Nobel Prize recipient, engaged in a lively conversation touching on everything from their careers and their connections to Chicago Booth to their thoughts on economic policy.

When asked how Booth factored into his accomplishments, Roman acknowledged that luck plays a role in success in his field. However, he said, the economics courses he took at Booth transformed his outlook on the world and reshaped the way he did business, which helped him gain an edge over competitors.

Roman asked Thaler what economic challenge he would solve with a “magic wand” if given the chance, and Thaler answered that he would aim to reduce the “sludge,” or wasted time, that Americans spend on all sorts of activities. He advocated a tax reform suggested by Austan Goolsbee, the Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Economics at Booth, that draws on the fact that some countries issue pre-filled tax returns that citizens only need to review and confirm—some, even, via text.

 “Almost 90 percent of Americans do standard deductions, so think of the hours we could save by modernizing and streamlining the processes to help all people,” Thaler said. “It’s doable, and no sensible person would disagree.”

Other Conference Highlights

Other highlights of Management Conference included a screening of Tune Out the Noise, an Errol Morris documentary chronicling the intersecting stories of David Booth, ’71, and Rex Sinquefield, ’72—from their introduction on the University of Chicago campus and deep connections with revolutionary faculty to their subsequent business partnership, which led to transformations in the theory and practice of modern investing.

Additional breakout sessions included:

Inflation: How Did We Get Here and Where Do We Go? – Stefan Nagel, the Fama Family Distinguished Service Professor of Finance

Does Anyone Really Know What A.I. Is? – Sendhil Mullainathan, the Roman Family University Professor of Computation and Behavioral Science

Undersociality Is Unwise – Nicholas Epley, the John Templeton Keller Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow

NVC Pitches with Mark Tebbe – Mark Tebbe, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship

A Conversation with David Rubenstein and Bill Conway, Cofounders and Co-chairmen, The Carlyle Group – Bill Conway, ’74, and David M. Rubenstein, JD ’73, chair of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees