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Features

Personalities, characters, visionaries, trends, emerging ideas, industry insight, history, evolution and more… Features explore the topics that matter most to the Chicago Booth community with memorable storytelling and insightful reporting.

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The Next Generation of Enterprise

On the day of the NVC finals in May, David Rabie, ’15, and his team stood in front of a panel of judges in a Booth classroom and passed out samples of Thai chicken curry, quinoa, and ginger soy broccoli. The meals had been cooked in a futuristic countertop device—similar to a crockpot—called Maestro. Rabie’s vision of simple, healthy meals calls for customers to pop pods of raw vacuum-sealed vegetables, grains, and proteins into the machine and scan the QR-coded cooking instructions on the package. In a half hour, a well-rounded meal is ready to go. The judges tossed out plenty of questions: How did Rabie plan to grow the company? Who would develop the recipes? Rabie had answers, which is why the judges awarded Maestro first place in the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC), Booth’s signature startup program. With a cash prize of $70,000, business services, and enviable industry connections, Maestro has a good start in life. Four months later, the start up is fine-tuning the product, building a

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The Survivor

José Antonio Álvarez, ’96 (EXP-1), has seen some of banking’s darkest hours. He was elevated to CEO of Madrid-based Banco Santander a year ago—with Europe still struggling to climb out of an economic malaise and the Greek debt crisis threatening to destabilize the fragile eurozone. Álvarez had been through worse. He was named CFO of the bank 10 years earlier, as the housing bubble was about to peak, then burst, hobbling highly leveraged US and European banks. Yet Santander emerged as Europe’s seventh largest bank, with assets of more than $1.5 trillion. Of course Santander was by no means immune to the crisis that engulfed Europe and its banks, with Spain’s overleveraged construction industry contributing to the frenzy. “The worst was summer 2012,” Álvarez said. It’s when Spain was downgraded by the three major ratings agencies, “a few notches in one shot” from Fitch, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s. However, through it all, Santander never posted a quarterly loss, unlike many of its European peers, including BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole Group, and Deutsche Bank. Royal Bank of Scotland suffered such steep

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A Bowl of Cashews

Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you wish you didn’t have to decide. A quiet revolution in economic thinking instigated by Richard H. Thaler traces its beginnings to a dinner party he hosted in the 1970s. As Thaler explains in his latest book, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, the guests while waiting with cocktails for the meal, were devouring the cashews—the entire bowl half-eaten in minutes. So Thaler, worried that his guests would fill up on the salty snacks, whisked the bowl away. He recalled that when he came back, his friends thanked him for it (and found themselves with room to enjoy a big dinner). “But then, since we were economics graduate students,” Thaler recalled, “we immediately started analyzing this. Because that’s what economists do.” Even cashews could hold the key to unlocking insights about our idiosyncratic behaviors. Without the temptation of the nuts, he said, “We realized that a.) we were happy, and b.) we weren’t allowed to be happy, because a first principle of economics is more choices are better than fewer choices.”

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Of Like Minds in the C-Suite

When an organization’s CEO and CFO both hail from Booth, there’s a common methodology to problem solving that cuts to the chase. In a fast-moving environment, according to Byron David Trott, AB ’81, MBA,’82, founder, chairman, and CEO of BDT & Company, applying “the same disciplined approach” as his Booth-trained CFO Mike Burns, ’03, speeds decision making and removes unnecessary drama from the equation. This doesn’t mean that they always agree—far from it. Maria Kim, ’12 (XP-81), CEO of Chicago-based the Cara Program, describes her CFO Carla Denison-Bickett, ’04, as “a healthy agitator.” But in many ways, the open debate leads to increased dynamism that infects the entire leadership team. At BDT & Company in Chicago and Oaktree Capital Management in Los Angeles, the CFOs were the first and most significant external hires by the founding CEOs—and the pairs are still together. At Oaktree, it’s been 20 years as a team for CEO Howard Marks, ’69, and David Kirchheimer, ’78. Kim and Denison-Bickett have led nonprofit the Cara Program for the past year, but previously worked at the organization