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Tell us about yourself and how you came to Chicago Booth

I knew I wanted to be in business before college. I went to the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and studied accounting, finance, and international business. I accepted a job with Deloitte right out of school to do auditing but realized pretty quickly that I wanted to look forward with the numbers instead of backwards and do something more investment focused. Once you brand yourself as an accountant, it’s pretty hard to shift gears, so I was told I should consider a CFA in order to transition to the investment side. I then worked at Northern Trust Hedge Fund Services doing fund administration. While I was in the CFA program, a portfolio manager I knew through the Chicago CFA society at the University of Chicago reached out to me and I ended up moving into the office of investments, which manages the University’s endowment. I was on an operations team supporting private equity and private debt teams, and it was  one step closer to private investing. Every step of the way I keep inching closer and closer. 

Why an MBA and not just a CFA?

The CFA is really powerful in the investment industry. It can open a lot of doors for you and it got me into the University of Chicago endowment. For me, any MBA wasn’t going to add that much extra value, but the Chicago Booth name really did. What was missing for me was the focus on leadership development versus just management. So starting right away with LEAD (Booth’s leadership development program) and taking other classes like Managing In Organizations and Interpersonal Dynamics are the things you don’t learn in undergraduate. Adding letters to my name wasn’t my goal, but rather knowing I’d learn those insights are what really drew me to the program.

Why did you choose a part-time MBA program?

I was working in the industry I wanted to work in, but not in the role I wanted. I also still had more to learn at my job and wanted to be able to work and go to school. The flexibility of the Chicago Booth curriculum allows you to not put your career on hold in the short term. I was still learning so much about the investment world and it’s awesome to get real world application while you’re learning. It was fun to learn something in class and show up at work the next day and be able to implement it or think about my work differently because of what I’ve learned. The ability to keep earning an income while being in school was also important to me.

On Launching Virtually

I launched (started orientation) in Spring 2020, right at the end of March. I think our cohort has been resilient and there’s a unique connection amongst us because we went through this experience virtually together. We’ve done an excellent job of maintaining those online connections, in part because we didn’t have the in-person experience before so we didn’t have anything to compare it to. In a sense, it has been easier to be more involved because you can wear your sweatpants and go to a virtual networking event. 

Booth Evening MBA student Tess Watson

"What was missing for me was the focus on leadership development versus just management...Adding letters to my name wasn't my goal, but rather knowing I'd learn those insights are what really drew me to the program."

— Tess Watson

What have been your favorite courses so far?

Managing Organizations with Ed O’Brien. It helped reframe my work experience and caused me to think about my role in the job differently and the impact I have on other people just by showing up. I think about how to do that with more intention and reflect more critically about my impact on others.

Corporation Finance is such a critical foundation and Elisabeth Kempf was a great teacher. It teaches how to value investments and cash flows. In my internship last fall, I thought back to that class every day and was able to really apply it. I even pull up my notes as I’m looking at an investment deal. 

Entrepreneurial Finance and Private Equity with Steven Kaplan. This is a fan favorite and this class is so powerful. Kaplan brings in industry leaders to talk about their experience and each week we review a deal or an investment or two. They share their lessons learned and what they considered when making decisions. You see a framework and what professionals are actually doing in the industry. It was definitely worth every bid point (points students use towards registering for courses).

Interpersonal Dynamics. The class focuses on how to improve your interpersonal skills and to create and maintain effective and meaningful relationships. It's an opportunity to identity and retrain your mental models that affect how you show up and interact with other people. It's a class unlike any other, and it really gets you out of your comfort zone, but I've learned so much about myself and interpersonal relationships from this course. 

Why are you interested in investing?

I like investing because I love analytics and looking at the numbers. With investing, your hard skills are valuable, but then you use them to form an objective opinion about what’s going to happen in the future. There’s a lot of creativity involved and that really intrigues me. As I was studying for the CFA, I really enjoyed the content — how to price an investment and how two people can look at the same instrument and get a different price on it. I thought it was so cool that you could have many differences of opinion and that it’s all based on the assumptions you use.

I kept taking baby steps to gett closer to my goal. With the pandemic, I had more time to reflect on my life and my goals. I knew before Chicago Booth that I was going to make the transition. I kept hearing myself say, “after Booth I’ll do this” and it just kind of hit me — why wait? The MBA will open so many doors for you but you can start taking advantage of those opportunities now. 

People told me I was crazy, but I quit my stable job in the middle of a pandemic and just went full force towards my dreams of doing investing as a career. Going to Chicago Booth gave me the confidence in my skills because I had already learned what I needed. I decided to take a full-time workload at school while I looked for an internship opportunity. I knew I could count on the Chicago Booth network to make that happen and it happened much faster than I anticipated. Over the fall, I worked for O’Brien-Staley Partners as an investment associate and it was an invaluable experience. Jerry O’ Brien is the co-founder and a Chicago Booth alum who I met through a virtual networking event last year. Being a part of the Chicago Booth network immediately made that connection easier. Your network trusts that your training is good and that you’ll be able to hit the ground running. I took a big risk and it paid off.

What’s next for you?

I returned to school in January and will be looking for investment career opportunities. When you join Booth, your classmates are so inspiring and doing such great things. It gives you the confidence to take risks. The flexibility of the program allows you to work on your own timeline. You can chart your own path and forge a way however is best for you. You don’t get that everywhere. The fluid structure allows you to build your own structure that is ideal for your individual MBA goals, which I love.

What advice do you have for current and prospective students?

Some weeks you’ll be the best student, employee, partner or friend. But you’re not going to be the best at all of those things at once. It’s really about managing your time to know when you’ve got an important deadline at work so you may not give your homework the best attention, but then you prioritize so that you’re ready to hit the ground running on the weekend. It’s about balancing your priorities and giving yourself a little bit of slack when you need to. 

The network is key. Don’t get so bogged down in the homework or the tangible commitments that you forget about the networking and the relationship building. Part of why you go to Chicago Booth is to meet people. What I love about my cohort and Booth more broadly is there are people in many different professions and you hear more experiences that broaden your mindset rather than just echoes of how you currently spend your time. A huge perk is to get out of your own bubble and learn about what other people are doing.

Be intentional with your time. If you’re going to attend an event, be present and show up and get the most out of it. If you’ve got too much going on, give yourself a week off and come back next week. You can get burnt out if you overdo it and aren’t present and intentional with your time.

Chicago Booth gave me the tools to perceive my dreams and feel confident that I would be successful. Sometimes taking a risk or betting on yourself really pays off. At Chicago Booth and in your career it’s all about what you make of it. If you take a backseat you’ll be in that backseat. Get to know your professors and the students. Try to spend time with people you might not normally encounter in your day to day.