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Given the state of the world in 2020 and knowing what you know now, would you make the same decision to get an MBA today?

Yes! Inevitably the decision to pursue an MBA (versus another graduate program, continuing to stay in the job market, or some other path) is uniquely personal and a conscious decision you make at a given moment in your own life, so it’s hard to ignore the challenges of the present day. I remember the first month of my Booth MBA (September 2008), the economy fell into recession and my classmates and I were concerned about what the job market would be. Inevitably, we began to ask ourselves if an MBA was the right decision. If, however, you think about an MBA as a long-term investment into your career, your education, and your network, and less of a short-term trade, the MBA continues to add value regardless of the nature of the economy.


What’s a skill or quality you hoped to develop by attending an MBA program and how has it served you since graduating?

I did not come to Booth with a formal management or economic education background from undergrad, and still didn’t know what I didn’t know. My decision to pursue an MBA was motivated by a desire to become more well-rounded and build a toolkit that I can use in a variety of areas. My Booth MBA has helped me ensure that I’m understanding fundamental problems being faced before diving knee-deep into solutions.

What was class participation like for you?

I remember Steven Kaplan’s syllabus in Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity class stating that class participation was half of our grade because, in the real world, participation was 100% of your grade. I appreciated professors like him, Marianne Bertrand, and Anil Kashyap who actively encouraged pushback and disagreement, yet also challenged students just as much. The back and forth is reality—get ready for it.

What type of support did you receive in navigating Booth’s flexible curriculum?

Career Services was great in thinking through not only how I connect my career planning to my first-year coursework but to my second-year coursework, when I made a significant shift in my post-MBA career aspirations after an unexpected, but successful, summer internship. The flexible curriculum really helped me focus on the types of courses I wanted to take early on and challenge myself from my first quarter on. I also took advantage of the ability to take elective courses across The University of Chicago, taking a class at the Harris School of Public Policy for a different curriculum and different approach.

Where did you live when you were at Booth?  What was the community like near you?

I moved to Chicago three years before starting at Booth and stayed in the Noble Square neighborhood (located between Wicker Park and the Loop) throughout my time at Booth.  Although many of my classmates lived downtown, in the South Loop, or in Hyde Park, living outside those central hubs helped me stay connected to my wife and pre-Booth Chicago life. Even though I did not live near a lot of classmates nor did I spend every moment with them, I never felt distant or apart from the community. I got to experience the great world of Booth while keeping one foot planted with others.

How did your first position after your MBA align with your short and long term career goals?

To be honest, I walked out of Booth more vague about my long-term career goals than when I came in. I knew long-term I wanted to be in the social space—although I was still figuring out what exactly that meant for me. I knew I liked the strategy world and was fortunate to go into management consulting post-Booth. However, the social bug bit me less than two years in and I moved to working in government. Although I’ve now worked more years in the public sector than private, I still take each opportunity to step back and analyze a problem on a regular basis.

What risks are you able to take at work based on your MBA experience?

I took a bit of a leap with my summer internship, working in corporate strategy instead of my pre-MBA goals around asset management. It ended up being the best career decision I could have made at Booth. It helped me identify not only my strengths, but also things I enjoyed doing. That internship led me to explore management consulting and led to the early part of my post-MBA career. Even with such a dramatic shift between my first and second years of my MBA, Career Services was great in helping me navigate a new recruiting process and cycle.


Name a class that you took that you rely heavily upon in your current role?

As I advance in my career I rely increasingly on the lessons learned from my Managerial and Organizational Behavior courses. Specifically, I rely on lessons from Managing in Organizations from Professor Nick Epley about how we create environments and conditions for success. His teachings come to mind whenever I catch myself overemphasizing success or failure from specific individuals and instead try to think about what external stimuli are influencing that result. Then I have to begin thinking about what I, as a manager, need to do to produce the best results.

What is one of your favorite places in Chicago and why is it special to you?

There’s an amazing Chicago neighborhood with great places to eat, beautiful historic buildings, and a ton of rich, Chicago character. It’s called Hyde Park! I was able to find cafes, lunch spots, and the occasional place for a beer, completely falling in love with the neighborhood along the way. I hope more students take advantage of what’s right in front of them in the area surrounding the Harper Center.

What has Booth done since you graduated that makes you proud to be an alum?

I’ve been very impressed with the establishment and growth of the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation. As with all things at Booth, there was rigorous debate and discussion amongst students and faculty during my time about the role of social entrepreneurship in such a discipline-based place of learning. However, through the commitment of Booth’s administration, and the leadership of Christina Hachikian and Caroline Grossman it’s been great to see the Center’s growth while staying true to Booth’s long-term values. I also want to credit Booth for thinking about its role historically and in the future around issues of racial and economic justice, although I believe it still has a ways to go.

So far, what has been your greatest achievement in your career?

A few years ago I was in a meeting with several elected officials and business leaders. Instead of my cursory feeling of “what the heck am I doing here?” I had a feeling that “I should be here.”  I think many Black people have a feeling of “imposter syndrome,” being in spaces where no one looks like them and with a constant questioning of belonging. Over the course of time I’ve been able to get more comfortable in my skin and more confident in the spaces I occupy. My Booth MBA definitely plays a role in knowing I have the skills and acumen to be there.

Chris Wheat is Director of Strategy and City Engagement for the American Cities Climate Challenge at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Climate Challenge works to accelerate climate change actions in 25 cities around the US. Chris joined the Challenge after spending seven years in the Office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Chris held several positions in the Emanuel Administration, including Director of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, Chicago’s Chief Sustainability Officer, and most recently the Mayor’s Chief of Policy. Chris started his career in finance and management consulting. Chris sits on the Board of Directors of Chicago Debates, is an Executive in Residence for the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, and is a member of the Chicago Development Commission. A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Chris holds a BA from Washington University in St. Louis and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.