Mary Lou Gorno
Illustration by Greg Betza

The Book of Booth: Mary Lou Gorno

The managing director of Ingenuity International and vice chairman of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees discusses her passion for the university and her thoughts on why women thrive at Booth.

As a board advisor to Fortune 500, mid-cap, and privately owned companies, Mary Lou Gorno ’76, specializes in organizational governance, succession planning, and leadership issues. In addition to her MBA, she holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

Chicago Booth Magazine: Is it different now for women in business than when you started?

Gorno: There are many more women in key leadership positions, so there are more mentors and role models. If you can’t see success, it’s harder to dream about it. When I was young, we were really journeying alone, carving out our own career path. As Booth alumnae have made their mark on the world, they’re eager to help Booth students to do the same.

CBM: Why is Booth a good environment for women?

Gorno: It’s an excellent environment because of the distinctive culture and the values of the university. The university has always sought students from diverse backgrounds and experiences who can benefit from and contribute to its intellectual life. As [Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management] Harry L. Davis once described it to me, “There is a willingness to get into the shoes of others without judgment.”

It’s also a culture of constant change. We are committed to continually exploring new breakthrough ideas and learning from each other. We wrestle with the most-difficult problems at the most-challenging times. I think women thrive in this environment.

CBM: Why has the university become such an important part of your life?

Gorno: I was raised in an immigrant family in Detroit. My mom was a teacher and my dad dropped out of college during the Depression to support his extended family, and they made it possible for me to graduate from one of the world’s leading academic institutions. That experience dramatically changed the trajectory of my life. I want to invest my time, my knowledge, and my financial resources to make sure that all students of talent and promise, regardless of their circumstance and their background, can come to the university and take full advantage of the opportunities that are available.

CBM: What important leadership lessons have you learned?

Gorno: The most important lesson I’ve learned is that leaders must appreciate diversity in all of its forms. One cannot effectively lead without honoring, encouraging, and celebrating differences.

CBM: Are you a risk taker?

Gorno: Yes, I’m a risk taker. Understanding your own risk tolerance is important in making informed decisions. For me, that means being willing to tackle hard challenges and unfamiliar situations even though there may be a risk of failure. Those moments where you really push yourself are moments for the greatest growth.

CBM: Does mother know best?

Gorno: On the eve of my 16th birthday, my mom and dad announced that the gift I was soon to receive would change my life. I assumed that there must be a red Mustang convertible in my future. What else could it be?

To my surprise, I learned that I was being given the opportunity to spend the summer studying in Paris. And yes, in fact, it did change my life forever. It opened up a new world to me and the many places that an education can take you. By the way, after I graduated from Booth I was able to secure the coveted Mustang.

—By Eva Yusa