Chicago Booth Magazine Spring 2018

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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Building on Big Ideas

Though you might not realize it, you’ve likely encountered USG Corporation’s landmark product recently, maybe even today. In fact, it may very well be in the room where you’re sitting right now. That’s because the company’s drywall, flooring, ceiling, and roofing products are part of countless homes and buildings. As the creator of the iconic and ubiquitous Sheetrock brand of wallboard, Chicago-based USG has led the building-materials industry for more than 116 years, with a storied history of innovation and sales of $3.2 billion last year. It made panels for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. It helped build homes for American GIs returning from World War II. And in November 2016, Jennifer Scanlon, ’92, became the first female CEO in the company’s history. “We are a transformed company,” Scanlon said, just days before leading USG’s first-ever Investor Day in New York City. “That transformation came in a number of ways—interestingly, from a lot of the initiatives that I led prior to becoming CEO.” A Chicago-area native, Scanlon joined USG in 2003 after studying government and computer applications at the University of Notre Dame and holding roles at IBM and in operations consulting. In recent years, she has made USG more global and more responsive to its customers. She was named president of the international division in 2010, when it included only Canada, Mexico, Europe, and a small operation in Asia. She went on to lead the divestiture of the European business, and then assembled an Asian joint venture called USG Boral, with $1.2 billion of revenue in 2017.

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Putting Creativity to Work

These days, companies are deploying creative thinking across departments while replacing strict office policies with opportunities to tinker. Firms are allowing employees time to test out ideas, encouraging new concepts without a fear of failure, and building out collaborative, couch-filled office environments. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, and tapping into the potential of creative thinking can be a challenge. Striking the delicate balance between brainstorming ideas and moving forward on a project is one way Ted Wright, ’00, founder of Fizz, a word-of-mouth-marketing agency headquartered in Atlanta, taps into his own creative abilities. When Wright works with clients, one of his strategies is to use hard data as the backbone for creative thinking without heading straight for the answer. In the beginning of each project, he and his team spend hours gathering data on 53 questions in 18 categories to get an idea of the client objectives. Back at the office, teams set aside time for idea generation based on the results. “If you start to care what the answers are, you throw a lid on creativity. The trick is knowing that it’s a journey,” he said. Wright is not the only one figuring out ways to encourage this kind of open-ended thinking at work. Here are some other ways alumni create opportunities for creativity:<br/>

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Distinguished Alumni Awards 2018

Since 1971, the Distinguished Alumni Awards have honored leaders across industries who strive to make the world better by turning ideas into action. This year’s winners have applied their transformative insights to address the challenges of a rapidly changing world—from Singapore, to New England, to Nigeria. Their successes in industries as diverse as oil, biopharmaceuticals, education, and agriculture exemplify the resounding impact of Chicago Booth. Swee Chen Goh, ’03 (AXP-2), is the chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore—the first woman to earn a role that high in the company. Goh wants Shell to continue to play a prominent role in Singapore’s future and contribute as an active member of the Singaporean community. In 2003, Goh joined Shell as chief information officer, oil product, East. Just a year into her tenure, she was promoted to vice president of global IT services, a move that made her the first Asian woman to hold such a senior role. She took on a P&L role in 2011, running Shell’s lubricants and commercial fuels business for Asia Pacific/Middle East. Goh, with her family, relocated to Beijing before returning to Singapore, where in October 2014, she assumed the role of chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore, which currently has 3,200 employees.

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Class, Behave!

In 2017, Chicago Booth professor Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Thaler’s students describe him as “a luminary,” “a guru”—someone who changed their lives and set their careers on a trajectory to success. So it might be surprising to hear that those superlatives contrast amusingly with the way Thaler’s close friends and admirers—and even Thaler himself—have described the newly minted Nobel laureate: “We didn’t expect much of him,” said Sherwin Rosen, AM ’62, PhD ’66 (Economics), his thesis advisor at the University of Rochester. Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel laureate in Economic Sciences and one of Thaler’s closest friends, described Thaler as “lazy.” Early on in Thaler’s career, his fellow Booth professor and future golf buddy Eugene Fama once quipped, “His work is interesting, but there’s nothing there.” Thaler’s own self-assessment is hardly more glowing. He considers himself “at best, an average economist.” How did an “average economist” change the field of economics, gain a worldwide reputation, and influence public and corporate policies for millions of people—and win the Nobel Prize? It turns out that Thaler’s ability to spot anomalies, tell stories, and share credit for his successes have made him not only a great researcher, but also a great teacher.<br/>