Veteran Alic Kelso takes us on a tour of his busy life, military journey, and most memorable highlights of Chicago Booth.
- April 05, 2022
- Part-Time MBA Blog
Alic Kelso, Director of Portfolio Management at Spaulding & Slye Investments and Adjunct Professor for Masters in Real Estate Program at Georgetown University
Weekend MBA student and former Major in the Marine Corps
Did you always know you wanted to join the military?
My dad was a Corpsman in the Navy and served with the Marine Corps during Vietnam. I think that growing up in the post 9/11 world, joining the Corps was something I knew I wanted to do. Figuring out what I wanted to do after that was a lot harder. During college I went to see a recruiter. I did a program called Platoon Leaders, where I spent my summers training in Quantico while in school. Once I had my undergraduate degree in hand, I was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Tell us about your military service
I spent six years in active duty and five years in the reserve. I was a communications and information operations Officer in the Marine Corps. I moved out to beautiful Camp Pendleton in California and became a platoon commander, deploying to Afghanistan in 2012. That posting was probably my most significant because of the people I worked with. We supported communications in Helmand province at the major installations as well as with all the advisor teams that were training the Afghan military.
It was an interesting time because we all thought we were going to be one of the last deployments there. We were taking a lot of the conventional troops out of that region of the country and were leaning more heavily into an advisor mission. We were expecting to collapse our footprint but obviously that did not happen.
After Afghanistan, I returned to Camp Pendleton and became a company executive officer, it's a larger unit than platoon and it means you serve as the Commanding Officer’s number two and are responsible for the readiness of that organization. After holding a few more positions, I found myself as a Staff Officer working in a secure compartmentalized information facility back on the east coast. It was a big building with no windows or natural light. It was a very interesting few years and the work we did there was very rewarding but I knew that the time had come to leave the Marine Corps.
Can you share the leadership lessons you’ve gained from your time in the military?
I think relative to the other services with more diverse mandates, Marine Corps Officers generally go through a somewhat homogenous experience as it pertains to their training. By the time you get to the fleet and check into your first unit, you have a bunch of 6-foot tall guys that look alike, talk alike, and have the same leadership values ingrained in them. That doesn't change the fact that you're often still a 20-something year-old with relatively little life experience and a lot of responsibility.
In my experience, if you show up, are confident, transparent, and care about your Marines, things will generally come together for you. I was in a pretty technical military occupational specialty, but at the end of the day as a leader, you're there for your Marines. When your team sees you put yourself out there for them, they will do the same for you.
How was your transition from military to civilian life?
While in the military, I started taking some evening classes in real estate. I was very fortunate because I met someone who became a very important mentor and advocate for me. I credit him with developing many of the skills that helped me transition to the private sector. As I transitioned out of the Marines, he both hired me and recommended I pursue graduate school.
Leaving active duty, I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, and pursued a Masters in Finance and Investment. Going from being an Officer in the Marine Corps to being a full-time student in an international setting was a bit of culture shock but it was also a great way to decompress and orient on where my wife and I wanted to go next.
After that, I moved back to Dallas where my family is and worked at a commercial real estate investment trust. My firm asked if I would be interested in moving back to Washington, D.C., and taking on a portfolio management role. It was a great opportunity with a very unique platform. So I started commuting between Dallas and D.C. for work. While back in D.C., I started teaching at my alma mater Georgetown and a few other graduate programs, which has been a fantastic experience.
Why did you choose to attend Chicago Booth?
The point of origin for most concepts I’ve studied in the past has been Chicago Booth. In every program I’ve gone through, everything has been devised from the University. I knew my wife and I would start planning a family in a few years so decided to put in an application and LAUNCHed in 2021. It’s been a tremendous experience between the quality of the education, the faculty, and especially the people who hands down have blown away my expectations. There’s a saying “knowledge is cumulative but you never have it all.” Even courses that I’ve taken as a refresher I’ve gained from. I originally thought I’d push through and finish at the end of 2022, but I’m going to be taking a hiatus for my first child who is due any day now. The flexibility to actually have a life is pretty incredible.
How did you connect with the Chicago Booth community while school was virtual?
I connected with the Armed Forces Group (AFG). They comprise a big part of my social circle. Four of us from the AFG all started Booth at the same time. We all took a weekend to go fishing in Florida together. Although a lot of the program has been virtual, between programs like LEAD (Booth’s experiential leadership course) and clubs like the AFG, I’ve been able to connect with others and have benefited tremendously. Even though it’s a pretty big school overall, you generally run into people who have the same interests or are taking the same concentrations as you. You end up self-selecting opportunities or interests that put you into contact with people you enjoy taking classes or chatting with.
What has been a highlight of your Booth experience?
My favorite highlight has been the AFG’s Dining Out event, which Eric Gleacher was the guest of honor at. We do this with the veteran Full-Time MBA students and alumni. It was great because directionally we’re all at different periods in our lives but we all had the shared experience of having served, and we are all beneficiaries of a fantastic educational experience. It was a lot of fun.
I’ve also recently joined as a co-chair of the AFG as well as the Real Estate Group. With the pandemic lifting, I’m looking forward to holding more social events and hosting more industries and speakers because veterans need to see that there are many ways we can pivot. I think one of the most challenging things about leaving military service to come to corporate America is that you don't have the same degree of exposure to different career fields and opportunities or the knowledge of how to pivot into one of them. Getting a myriad of people that have successfully made those pivots to come in and describe their experience and what it means as it pertains to your lifestyle and your future over the next 20 years is really useful.
What advice do you have for prospective students?
Don’t hesitate. Apply! Even having been in graduate school before, I can say the resources that Booth provides you are really unparalleled as a veteran. It's a fantastic school not only in terms of support, but also in terms of community. If you are working, and you're considering the Evening or Weekend programs, there's that flexibility for you to build out your own schedule. You don't have to view it as a fixed term. You can really make this work to your convenience. You may not even be in a rush to graduate, because it's a lot of fun.