From the first time Liz Tilatti, ’13, visited the Chicago Booth campus, she knew the business school was a perfect fit for her—even though she lived a time zone away.
“I came up and sat in a class and literally fell in love with it,” she said. Distance was no obstacle: Like roughly 70 percent of students in the Weekend MBA Program, Tilatti commuted to classes from outside Illinois, and earned her degree without pausing her career or moving cross-country.
She, along with fellow Weekend MBA graduates Andre Hughes, ’88, and Carl Lingenfelter, ’00, recently returned to campus during a celebration of the program’s 30th anniversary to share how its flexibility helped them take the next steps in their careers.
For Tilatti, now the cofounder and CEO of retail start-up ZipFit Denim, the weekly trips from Indianapolis with fellow classmates were the perfect way to brainstorm her entrepreneurial visions.
“I would sit and carpool for three-hour rides and talk start-up ideas and new businesses. Then I would come to class and we would discuss how you would market those new businesses, or how you would build the right financial model for them,” she said. “Those people I met along the way became some of my best friends here. They became some of the investors in ZipFit.”
Thirty years ago, the business school originally envisioned the program as a way to cater to Chicago-based professionals with hectic weekday travel schedules, said Harry L. Davis, Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management, and one of the architects of the Weekend MBA Program. Often consultants or salespeople, these road warriors wanted an MBA but couldn’t fit weeknight classes into their schedules.
But when a student applied from Knoxville, Tennessee—and explained to Davis that it was “a no-brainer” to fly in and out each weekend for a top-tier degree—Booth realized they had a hit on their hands.
“I called [a fellow faculty member] and I said, ‘You and I are going to go on the road to other cities: Omaha, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Detroit, and so forth,’” Davis recalled. Now, students commute in from more than 30 states and provinces, and from as far away as San Francisco.
The flexibility that the Weekend MBA Program affords was a big draw for Lingenfelter, who was working in public policy in Washington, DC, when he enrolled. He knew that if his role or travel schedule changed, he would still be able to attend classes, he recalled. Once at Booth, he found a powerful network of fellow professionals, many of whom “are still my best friends today.”
“I spent every afternoon after class with the same evolving group of people. . . . We knew what each other’s strengths were, and that is exactly the way it works in the business world,” said Lingenfelter, now chief administration officer at Northern Trust Hedge Fund Services.
“It is that sort of informal network that continues to help us advise how we are navigating our careers,” he said. “I have been able to think back and check with some of my classmates and how they met with similar problems.”
Hughes was one of the first students to go through the program. An engineer by background, he was quickly rising in the telecommunications industry in Chicago and sought an MBA when he realized he wanted to be able to run a business.
“Travel was a significant part of my role, and I didn’t want to not continue my career, so full-time education was not even a thought, and the only time I had that I could sacrifice was Saturday or Sunday,” said Hughes, now a retired global managing partner at professional services company Accenture.
For Hughes, the camaraderie and connections he made with fellow students and professors stands out as a highlight. “That made a big difference, I think, in most of our lives,” he said.
Thirty years after its founding, the Weekend MBA Program at Chicago Booth continues to give working professionals the environment and resources to take their careers to the next level, all while developing lasting connections along the way.“I look back at my career, and I must say this program means an enormous amount to me,” said Professor Davis, “because of what we have made available and the energy and quality of people in this program.”