James C. Fish, Jr., ’98

President and Chief Executive Officer
Waste Management, Inc.

Jim Fish

James “Jim” C. Fish, Jr. is president and chief executive officer of Waste Management, Inc., the Houston-based provider of comprehensive waste management services. He also serves on the company’s board of directors. 

Since joining Waste Management in 2001, Fish has held several key positions in the company, including senior vice president for the Eastern Group, area vice president for Pennsylvania and West Virginia, market area general manager for Massachusetts and Rhode Island, vice president of price management, and director of financial planning and analysis. He became CFO in 2012 and president in July 2016.

Previously, Fish held finance and revenue management positions at Yellow Corporation subsidiary WestEx, Trans World Airlines, and America West Airlines. He began his professional career at KPMG Peat Marwick.

Fish earned a bachelor of science in accounting from Arizona State University before pursuing an MBA in finance at Chicago Booth. He is also a certified public accountant. 

Madhav Rajan:

Hi, I'm thrilled to introduce James Fish Jr., Chicago Booth's 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award winner in the Corporate category. Jim is an alum of the Booth class of 1998. He is president and chief executive officer of Waste Management, which is that the gigantic Houston based provider of comprehensive waste management services. And he also serves on the company's board of directors. Jim has been with Waste Management since 2001, and he's had several key positions in the company, including senior vice president for the Eastern group, area vice president for Pennsylvania and West Virginia, market area general manager for Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He's also been vice president of price management, director of financial planning and analysis. He became CFO in 2012, and president in July of 2016.

Prior to Waste Management, Jim held finance and revenue management positions at Yellow Corporation subsidiary, WestEx, at Trans World Airlines, and America West Airlines. He began his professional career at KPMG Peat Marwick. Jim earned a BS in accounting from Arizona State University, and then his MBA in finance from Chicago Booth. Jim is also a certified public accountant. Congratulations, Jim, and thank you for speaking to us today.

James Fish Jr.:

Thanks Madhav. How are you?

Madhav Rajan:

I'm doing well, thank you. Again, it's a pleasure to be able to speak to you. So I thought I'd begin with a question that all of us see. So at Harper, there's a big sign that says, "Why are you here and not somewhere else?" So perhaps you could just sort of speak to that more broadly, and then I could delve into specific questions as we go along the way.

James Fish Jr.:

It's really interesting because I have seen that sign. And when I first started thinking about a graduate program, really there were three programs that I thought about. One was, of course, Chicago, one was Wharton, and one was Stanford. My mom went to Stanford, so she was maybe a little bit biased towards Stanford. But what I really felt like in making the selection that Chicago fit me maybe the best. I was a big fan of Milton Friedman and loved his book Free To Choose. And really, I felt like what kind of defined to me was a compassionate capitalist maybe. And to me, Chicago best defined that. And certainly as I read Free To Choose and some of the other Friedman books, I felt like that's what he was really. So as I looked at, at where I wanted to really further my education, Chicago made all the sense in the world, with some deference to my mom. She, I think, was maybe a little disappointed initially, but she was thrilled at the end.

Madhav Rajan:

So maybe you could speak a little bit about Booth sort of helped you discover your why. So just broadly, what matters to you? How do you want to make an impact in the world?

James Fish Jr.:

As I think about, and this probably relates as much to Waste Management as it does to Chicago Booth, we want to have a purpose here. And I think Booth is teaching students the same thing. I mean, live with a purpose. It’s not just about—at WM, it's not just about the financials each quarter or each year. There's a purpose beyond it. And I think great companies today are focused on not just their financials, not just their shareholders, but also what purpose beyond shareholders are you serving? And I feel like that was a message that started to really be ingrained in me, well, I guess first and foremost, with my parents. Because we're all impacted by our parents.

But also in particular at Chicago Booth. I mean, the professors that I had and the classes that I had, that really came through to me. And so I carried that through in my career, not only at some of the companies I was with previously, but then into WM. And that's really certainly shown up as we've gone through a tough year in 2020. And so I can talk a bit about that. But that really is what I've tried to focus on is doing things with a purpose, not just focusing on what the quarter looks like, but what are we going to do purposefully?

Madhav Rajan:

Well, we'll get to 2020 and the difficulties that you've gone through. But before that, Jim, could you speak a bit about sort of what are some pivotal points in your career at Waste Management? Or before? What were some difficult decisions that had to be made or difficult challenges that you had to overcome?

James Fish Jr.:

I'm not sure it was a difficult decision so much, but every job I'd ever had was a white collar type job. I mean, whether it was an accountant position, or a finance position, or an office-type role. And my father-in-law was a pipe fitter from St. Louis, Missouri. And so in about 2005, I'd been with the company four years. I wasn't sure whether I was going to stay with a company or not. I'd been in a pricing role, in a finance role, but I really wanted to understand the business.

And so I talked to my father-in-law at the time. And he said, "Look, if you really want to understand the business, you should ask to move into one of the field operations. And even though you've never been in a field role, you should see if you can get yourself into one of those operations. That's where you really learn the business." And so it was a bit scary for me because I'd never managed truck drivers or recycle workers. I, I'd never been in a blue collar type managerial role. But the company agreed to move me, and they moved me to Boston, and then subsequently to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

But that first move to Boston, there was some trepidation there. As we moved out there, and my wife Tracy was very supportive in the move, but I think without my father-in-law...Sorry, I got a fly flying around me here. But if it had not been for my father-in-law encouraging me to make that move, I'm not sure I'd be sitting here today talking to you. That was a big move for me to move out. And one of the things that he said was, "Don't just sit in your office. Make sure that you go out to the field. And by the way, go out to a meeting. And if they have a safety meeting or whatever," which we did, he said, "don't go to the 6 a.m. meeting. If they have a 3 a.m. meeting, go to the 3 a.m. meeting. And by the way, if you only go once, then don't go at all. Because then they'll say, 'Well, yeah, he came out once, but we never saw him again.'"

So for every week over a period of seven years, I listened to my father-in-law. And he passed away a while, while we were living out in Pittsburgh. But every week I would make sure I went to a meeting. And part of that is carried through to what WM is today, which is really a people-first company. It helped me learn that there's 50,000 people here, and I am not the most important person. I may be the most visible person, but I'm certainly not the most important person.

Madhav Rajan:

You mentioned 2020. Perhaps you could speak a bit about the pandemic and the challenges that brought to WM. And what are some of the ways that you've been trying to take the company through that?

James Fish Jr.:

Well, 2020 has been really the most difficult year, I think for most of us. While we always have these constituents that we serve, whether it's customers, or whether it's employees or communities, or the environment, shareholders, we were distracted a bit from those normal constituents that we focus on each and every day. And we're focused on—necessarily focused on—the pandemic and focused on social justice, and some of those things that really reared up last year in 2020 and did serve as somewhat of a distraction. But not in a bad way. I mean, I think we needed to focus on those things. I think we needed to focus on social justice. And obviously we needed to focus on the pandemic because of the seriousness of it.

But we pretty quickly decided, look, first of all, the people-first approach that we've taken, this is the time to really shine on people-first. It's easy to be people-first in 2019 when we had a record year financially, and everyone's doing well, and so we call ourselves people-first, and everybody says, well, of course your people first, and it’s not that hard to be people first in a great year. 2020, when in March, everybody's jumping on the layoff train and immediately cutting back.

And I do remember, and I'll never forget, sitting in front of the television on the night of Saturday, March 21 and watching TV. And that was the only time in 2020, where I really felt maybe a little scared, honestly, a little worried. And I said, wow, I mean, if I'm feeling this way, then how is a truck driver who works for us feeling, how is a recycle worker feeling? Knowing that WM services, I think half of Major League Baseball teams. And that business is going to go away overnight. And we pick up a lot of universities, and all the way down to kindergarten. So big part of our commercial business is schools, and that's going to go away because there isn't going to be anybody at school. And all of the hospitality business that we service will go away overnight.

And those drivers knew that. And they're thinking to themselves, I'm watching this TV show that looks like the world's spiraling into the abyss. I might lose my job next week. And so I said, look, now's the time to really demonstrate that we are in fact people first. So we came out literally on Monday morning after that Saturday night scare on television. And said all of our hourly employees, which make up about, about 32 to 35,000 of our 50,000. All of our hourly employees, you don't have to worry about your hourly pay. You are guaranteed 40 hours. You will not lose your job as a result of this pandemic, because you had nothing to do with it. And if the pandemic last five years, and boy, I hope it doesn't, but if it lasts five years, you're guaranteed 40 hours.

And it really took that distraction away. And I think it helped us with the service of our customers and our communities. And by the way, it may even have helped us on the safety front. You're not driving down the road a 50,000 pound vehicle thinking, am I going to lose my job tomorrow? Because I can't afford to lose my job. I have bills to pay. I have a mortgage to account for. And we took that distraction away. And I think it was helpful, but it also, I think, proved to a lot of people that when we say people first, we truly meant what we said.

Madhav Rajan:

And so many of the people who work for WM were viewed as essential workers, right? And so that sort of kept going. How did you approach the whole work from home for the other parts of your organization? And what do you think the future of that is for WM?

James Fish Jr.:

We, along with just about everybody else, had to transition to home. So we have approaching 20,000, maybe a little less, of office workers in addition to those essential workers who are out on the front lines. So the office workers, we said, look, we've got to transition to home. I was able to, and this will come up in one of your later questions about, as I talk about the alumni network, but I was able to reach out to Satya. And I've known him through the alumni network and through the university. And say, "Look, we need laptops. What's the quickest you can get us some of the Microsoft Surfaces?" Because we'd called other companies. I won't name other companies that we called, but we called other companies. And they said, "It's six to eight weeks before we can...You're not the only person calling looking for laptops. Everybody's moving home. Everybody needs computers at home. Not everybody can pack up their desktop and take it home with them. So it's six to eight weeks."

And so I sent a note to Satya, and he immediately responded, I mean, within an hour, and said, "Let me get on this." And within probably three hours, I probably had 20 people texting me from Microsoft saying, "Okay, we can get you this." And within three to five days we had, I think it was 4,000 or 5,000 Microsoft Surfaces delivered. They were actually on a pallet sitting in the front of our office building. So whoever delivered—whoever the delivery company was, they probably should've taken them inside because you probably had $10 million worth of inventory sitting out in the front of our office.

But that really helped us tremendously transition. And we transitioned all 20,000 people home in 10 days’ time. I asked our chief digital officer, "How long would this have taken if I'd asked you this four months ago?" And he said, "I would have told you it's going to take 18 months." And we did it in 10 days’ time. So a credit to our whole digital team and our customer experience team, and all the teams that work worked on this. But honestly credit to Microsoft for getting us the equipment. We could have transitioned home, but we would have been sitting in front of a television set instead of a laptop.

Madhav Rajan:

And now is WM back fully now, Jim, in terms of the work from home? And sort of where do you see the future of that?

James Fish Jr.:

We're not back fully. We did transition back to the office on the 5th of October, and then we reversed course again. This has been a lot of ebb and flow with everybody with all businesses. And so we transitioned back to work from home about two months later, so towards the end of November. We haven't made a final decision on when we'll transition back fully to work from the office. I suspect it'll be sometime in probably early Q2. But we haven't made a full decision on that. So right now we're back to work from home.

You may be able to tell that I'm sitting here at our office. So we moved into a brand new office in Downtown Houston. Love to have you down and visit because it is fabulous. It's the most sustainable building in the state of Texas. And what's behind me is a 10-story live green wall. So it's pretty spectacular. So a lot of people are wanting to come in here. And we just started voluntary return this week. I expect we'll have quite a few volunteers at this building. But we have people working from home all around North America. And I expect, we'll probably transition back sometime in second quarter.

Madhav Rajan:

You mentioned the building, and of course the sustainability forum that you and Satya and Doug McMillon did, what does sustainability mean to you personally? What does it mean to WM? Is it a fad, or is this something that we should all be looking at going forward?

James Fish Jr.:

Well, it's certainly not a fad. Because we're the biggest recycler in North America, so it is our business. And the fact that's we focus on, even at this golf tournament that we're hosting this week, for eight years in a row now we've done zero waste. Last year we had almost a million people at the golf tournament. So you can only imagine what that looks like. It's something that players have never seen before. They only see it our event on Saturday. We're not supposed to report how many attendees there were because Department of Homeland Security said, "It's so many attendees that we really don't want you to report the actual number."

But suffice it to say, the previous record was set in 2018, which for one day was 218,000. And it was quite a bit more than that. But we made a zero waste, and that's what it's been now for eight consecutive years where we recycle everything, or we compost it, or we donate it or turn it into energy, or what have you. And so sustainability is one of those purposes that I mentioned early in our conversation. And it's such a natural for us because it's a differentiator. We are at the biggest recycler in North America. And so recycling is what we do every day. It's not something that is a fad.

But it also serves to differentiate us. As other companies, whether it's Walmart, or Microsoft, or PepsiCo with Indra and her team when she and I sat down several years ago. Before she retired, we talked a lot about sustainability for PepsiCo, and how important that is for them. And as we think about providing that as a service provider to those companies, it becomes a differentiator. The better we are at it, the more likely PepsiCo or Walmart or Microsoft or other companies are to say, look, we want to be a customer of yours because you take this seriously. So it's a purpose that goes beyond just our care for the environment and our care for the earth that we all inhabit. But it also is something that differentiates us and becomes better for our shareholders.

Madhav Rajan:

So you talked a bit about the alumni network. I'd love to know on you connected to your alumni network? That was a great story about Microsoft helping you, and Satya. Are there other cases or instances of just how connected you've been, has it been helpful to you in your career journey?

James Fish Jr.:

It's interesting. Look, I don't have exposure to what Stanford or Harvard's network looks like or other great schools. Other than my mom always used to tell me that, wow, she was so impressed when we lived in Pittsburgh, that there was a University of Chicago network in Pittsburgh that was very active. And there's one in Houston that's very active. And she said, "I never got that from Stanford. It's amazing that Chicago has that." And really it's helped me to...I still stay in touch, not only with my classmates, but also with a number of folks within the University of Chicago alumni network. And so if I have a question, whether it's a question for an alum who's with an investment bank, whether it's with Goldman Sachs, or I mentioned Satya, of course, but it really helps to be able to reach out to someone.

And one thing I've noticed about the network at Chicago is that whether it's a student reaching out to me, whether it is whether it's an alum, maybe it's a professor, maybe it's you as dean. I mean, there's always this closeness, this willingness to respond and I've always felt, I'd say an obligation is maybe the wrong word but, but a sense of loyalty. So when a student reaches out and I'm guessing that it's the same for others like Satya, but when a University of Chicago student reaches out and says, "Hey, I'd love to have some counsel on a topic or some advice," I always feel like, look, Chicago did so much for me and Booth was so valuable to me.

And really, if I were to pinpoint one reason why I'm sitting here beyond just my parents, it would be the University of Chicago and the Booth Graduate School. And so I feel like, gosh, I can certainly do something for today's students or for a professor. And so I think the network really is such a closely knit network. And I believe there's uniqueness in that compared to some of the other great schools out there.

Madhav Rajan:

Well, thank you. And I should note that you and Tracy have been incredibly philanthropic to the school and giving back to the community in so many ways. So we are really grateful for that. So I wanted to ask what does winning the Distinguished Alumni Award mean to you?

James Fish Jr.:

Well, obviously it's incredibly flattering to me. I'll tell you a story, Madhav. When I was first coming in for orientation, and I'd applied to these three schools, all great schools, and I'd picked Chicago. And I'm coming in for orientation and I'm looking around, and I'm thinking, gosh, I'm not even sure I'm really worthy of being in the room here. Because it was a room, literally, I felt like I was sitting in a room of geniuses, and I am not a genius. And so I'm thinking, first of all, I was flattered to even get in to the university. But secondly, I was amazed at the quality of my fellow students.

And so for a nanosecond, I was thinking, I mean, am I even going to fit in here because these are all brilliant people? And then a quote came to mind, and it's a very famous quote from Thomas Edison, that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. And I thought, okay, I can compete on the 99%, at least. I don't know whether I can compete on the 1%, but I can certainly compete on the 99%. And I think that's maybe in large part why I've been able to be successful in my career, is that while I'm not maybe in the same category as some of my fellow students who were MIT engineers, and Chicago undergrads, or Harvard undergrads, but certainly on that 99%, I felt like I can compete with an MIT engineer who happens to be a classmate of mine now at Booth on the perspiration side. And I think that might be a bit of advice for people who watch this is that really you may be part of that 1%, but really it's the 99%, I think, that ultimately is going to separate you from others.

Madhav Rajan:

So our students, Jim, are always interested in sort of people's leadership journeys. And you had the great story about how in 2005 you decided to take a very different sort of role in order to learn more. Along the way, were there people who were mentors to you in Waste Management or other companies that sort of were people who sort of guided you as you went through your journey, people that you have to thank?

James Fish Jr.:

The one guy that I really think back on as being a mentor to me was a guy named Maury Myers. He had worked for Ford Motor Company, and then he'd moved from Ford to Continental Airlines, and ultimately ended up at America West Airlines because America West was having some trouble. And after undergraduate, I had gone to work for KPMG, as you said, early on. And then gone over to this little small airline called America West Airlines, which was kind of the forerunner airline of what is today American Airlines. And so Maury Myers came into America West Airlines.

And I really didn't have a mentor, so to speak, at the time. But Maury was coming in as the CEO, and I was pretty far down in the organization, but he was very approachable. And so I talked to him at one point. And then he kind of took me on and was my mentor for me. And he was the one that had suggested, when the company was in pretty bad financial shape, and he said, "What are you going to do with your career?" And I said, "I'd really love to go back to graduate school and I'm considering applying." And he said, "What kind of program are you interested in?"

And I told him about the type of program that I was interested in. And he said, "Look, I didn't go to University of Chicago." But he said, "I think that program would fit you very, very well." And he said, "If you're going to go and get an MBA, I would suggest you get it from a top two or three program in the world. And that is a top first, second, third in the world." And he said, "That would be my recommendation, would be University of Chicago."

So when I applied, and he had written a letter of recommendation to those three schools, I was thrilled to get accepted at Chicago. And it's part of why this distinguished alumni award is so meaningful to me because Maury was the first one, in addition to really knowing about the university as I mentioned through reading Milton Friedman, but Maury was the first one to say that would be a really good school for you. And so he was really my mentor. And when I got out of the university, he had kept up with me and he said, "Look, love to have you come work for Yellow Corporation." And then interestingly, I went to work for Yellow Corporation, and six months later, Maury jumped ship and comes to be the CEO at Waste Management.

And so I called Maury down here in Houston, and said, "You know, thanks for jumping ship there six months after you hired me at Yellow. Would you be interested in hiring me down there in Houston?" And he said, "Absolutely. Come on down." So that's kind of how I ended up getting to Waste Management. A funny, quick side note. I told my dad, I said, "You remember Maury?" And he's said, "Oh, sure." And I said, "Well, I'm going to go work for him." And he said, "Well, where is Maury now?" And I said, "He's at Waste Management, which is in Houston." And my dad said, "I think that business is run by the mafia." And I said, "No, it's a public company, Dad. I you've been watching too much HBO." But that was my dad's response when I first came to work for Waste Management.

Madhav Rajan:

So Waste Management is obviously a huge company. What would you say is sort of your leadership style, and how has it developed over the years, and what role, if anything, has Booths had to play at that?

James Fish Jr.:

Well, I mentioned there's a compassion at Booth that I think has carried me forward. And I'll just be frank about it, some schools, there's a bit of arrogance when you get into a school that has the reputation. And Booth could easily be that school, but it's not. I mean, I happened to be looking through the Nobel Prize winners. I just scanned the list last night. And it is incredible how many Nobel Prize winners have come from not just Chicago Booth, but the University of Chicago overall in all these disciplines. And honestly it's a school that could have this level of arrogance, but there is none of that. And so I think I took that with me. And part of that, of course, would have been hopefully my personality that my parents taught me.

But coming from a school that had every reason in the world to be pretty cocky, but it's not, really led me to my leadership style here at WM. I know that I'm the CEO of a company that's a pretty good sized company. But I also realize that there are 50,000 people that probably work a lot harder than I do. I mean, I know I'm the face of the company, but the people that make up this company are the people that really make it happen. They're the people that matter the most. I'm just out there telling the world about what we're doing, I'm out there whether it's on Squawk Box or whether it's yesterday on Golf Channel in Phoenix, all I'm doing is bragging on the accomplishments of the other 49,999.

And so I think a lot of what I learned at Booth is that while you, you want to study, and you want to educate yourself, and you want to make sure that you bring that to your position, do it with a sense of modesty. And I've always felt that the University of Chicago in general, and also Chicago Booth, really I think demonstrates that so well. And I've really tried to represent that as CEO of Waste Management.

Madhav Rajan:

You spoke about the first day you came to the university, is there any experience, or class, or a faculty member from Booth that comes to mind to you still?

James Fish Jr.:

There are a lot. I will say I never took a class from Eugene Fama, but one of my classmates did take a class from Fama. So I sat in it. And I don't think I was supposed to do that, honestly. I'm not sure. I think unless you audit the class, you're not really supposed to sit in. And he was renowned. Still is obviously. But at the time, everybody talked about him. And honestly, he was a little intimidating because of all of his accolades. He hadn't won a Nobel Prize in Economics yet.

But this friend of mine took his class. So I did sit in with him. And what I remember from the class, it was actually kind of funny. And he had an interesting way about it, but very matter of fact. Boy, if you weren't studied, and of course I wasn't studied for his class because I wasn't taking it, but if you didn't for his class, it became obvious pretty quickly. And so this class was largely comprised of PhD students. So I think the MBA students that were taking the class, we were kind of second class citizens there. And so the class, they were talking about asset pricing, I think, and efficient asset pricing.

And so one of the MBA students asked, "So I mean, beyond stocks and bonds, I mean, are things like artwork and real estate, are those also efficiently priced?" And so Fama looked at this student, and said, "Even that ugly shirt that you're wearing is efficiently priced." That is a great answer. And it was very vintage Professor Fama. But I think that scared me out of taking his class, not that I would have taken it anyway. He was on campus, and my classes were all at the Gleacher Center. But I think my fellow MBA student was like, wow, that was a tough answer.

Madhav Rajan:

Our students and our alumni always want to know, how do you balance your time? Sort of how do you manage your sort of work-life balance, if you will? What do you do to sort of reduce the level of stress that a job like this mistake on you?

James Fish Jr.:

I think it's important. I say this just from my own personal experience, and it might be advice for those who are watching, that you set your priorities in the right order. And so I say this all the time, and I said it in my note to all employees when I took this job, I said it even when I took the job out in Boston as a general manager running our operations out there, that my priorities in my life are in this order, faith first, family second, and job third. And the reason they're in that order, and I say this as well, is that while my job is very important, it's a distant third to the other two because the first two are just so important to me. I think if your priorities, whatever they are, and whether it's faith or not, but your job, at least in my opinion, should not be your top priority. And so I really try and prioritize my life in that way.

And my family realizes that there are times, this is one of those times a year, January, February, March, first quarter, it's a very busy time for me. And so they understand that, and they realize that there may not be as much of Dad around. So it becomes much more about quality time than quantity time. And then summertime, I do purposefully try and take time off and spend it with the girls. Tracy and I have two girls. One is a senior in high school, one's a sophomore in high school. And they understand that Dad has a busy job, but it is important. Indra talks a lot about family. She talked about it yesterday. And I think as busy as I am at a Fortune 180, 190 company, she was CEO of a Fortune, probably, 25 company. And the demands on Indra's time were even greater. But she focused very heavily as CEO and chairman of PepsiCo on family time.

And I know Satya does the same. I mean, he definitely focuses on his family, even though he may be one of the most sought after CEOs in the world. The fact that he would agree to do our Sustainability Forum CEO panel was incredible to me. I was incredibly flattered that he would do that along with Doug as well, and Indra as well. And she still is very busy. But I think it's important that you have to set a balance there. And part of it is setting your priorities in the right order.

Madhav Rajan:

I'm going to ask you one final question, which may be a bit off the wall. I know that Doug McMillon began his career in accounting as well. Because I met him once at Stanford. And I know you did. And I was just wondering do you think that helped you, being a CPA, going through the accounting training, has that been helpful to you in your career as a leader?

James Fish Jr.:

Absolutely. It absolutely did. Now I'm not going to say I enjoyed taking the CPA exam. I felt like they could test you on six feet of material, but the test was only a quarter inch. I guess not a quarter inch because you have multiple parts of exam, but there was so much material that you had to prepare for. I guess it was probably comparable to a bar exam. But I did feel like, and I was certified before I went through graduate school, that was hugely helpful in my finance classes. Obviously in my accounting classes, I felt like I had a leg up on some of the other students whose discipline was something different than accounting or finance. But to this day, I still use my accounting and my finance. Every day, I take something from the curriculum at the University of Chicago at Booth and apply it in some way, whether it is Ron Burt's class, which was not an accounting or finance class. And then there's a very funny story, if you have a few minutes, that I'll tell you about that Ron Burt class.

We were in his class, we had a project. And we're supposed to interview a high-level executive and talk about kind of organizational structure and things like that. So one of the guys that was in my class worked for United Airlines. And so we paired up with him. So there were four of us on this team. And so we interviewed John Edwardson, who I know has been a big supporter of the university, and was an alum from before us. So we interviewed him. He was president of United Airlines at the time. So we lined up the president, which was a pretty big deal. Some of the other groups lined up a vice president from a small company or whatever. And they filmed him with an old Sony camera.

First of all, John Edwardson did not expect this to be filmed in his office. So we walked in his office with him, and he thought we were going to just film it in a little conference room. His office looked like a Steven Spielberg movie set. And he was surprised. He said, "Wow, okay. I guess we're doing it in here." And I mean, they had two or three cameras. And so they filmed this interview. And then the video, my friend was also a Booth graduate who was with United Airlines, his name is Dave Wickersham.

And so Dave went to their editing room, and they put this thing together, and they had the “Rhapsody in Blue” song. And the opening of the video is this 747 kind of peeling off to “Rhapsody in Blue.” And then it kicked into our interview with John Edwardson. I think Ron Burt actually thought, did you guys take this to a professional and have it done? And we did get an A in the class. But he did ask. We said, "No, no, no. I mean, we did this ourselves and we helped edit it." Although honestly, I have to admit I didn't participate in the editing. That was all Dave Wickersham. But that was a funny story.

And Edwardson was very gracious to give us as much time as he did. He was president of a huge company like United Airlines. And it kind of goes back to that network that we talked about. I mean, when a student from University of Chicago calls the president of United Airlines, and he says, "Yeah, absolutely. Come on over," that doesn't happen, I think, at other programs. But boy, it was a fantastic experience for me. I'm flattered. So flattered that you've chosen me to be the Distinguished Alum here. And this was a great experience also having chance to talk to you about it.

Madhav Rajan:

Jim, thank you. Congratulations. Again, we are incredibly proud that you are a Chicago Booth alumni. And that you have done so well in your career, and made the school very, very proud. And thanks. We really appreciate you giving us the time today to do the interview. All the best. And again, thanks so much for your engagement back with the school, with the extent to which you and Tracy have supported the school, and be connected with us all the time. So thank you very much.

James Fish Jr.:

You bet. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Hopefully either up there in Chicago or down here in Houston.

Madhav Rajan:

I'll come to Houston, if you invite me to the Super Bowl.

James Fish Jr.:

All right. Deal. All right. Take care. Thanks a lot.

Madhav Rajan:

Bye.

James Fish Jr.:

Bye.