Posted by Storm Taft on August 19, 2016
In this Social Impact Snapshot, the Social Enterprise Initiative sat down with Chris Wheat, ’10, to talk about career changes, the minimum wage, and the not-to-be-missed Chicago Booth courses.
SEI: In your five years with the Mayor’s office, what has been the most rewarding experience?
CW: I had the opportunity to work on the mayor’s ordinance to increase Chicago’s minimum wage to $13. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the economic analysis and some of the working groups that the mayor put together. As a result of the ordinance, 410,000 Chicagoans over the course of 5 years will see an increase in their wages amounting to over $800 million of economic stimulus in the Chicago region. So, it was a clear example of how government can have a significant impact on peoples’ lives.
SEI: Why is being socially aware important to you?
CW: Chicago is one of the most diverse cities in America in regards to ethnicity, income, and nationality. The decisions that we make in city hall can have very disparate impacts on different types of communities. It’s impossible to do my job effectively without social awareness and an attempt to understand both the challenges Chicago communities face and the opportunities they seek.
SEI: How has Chicago Booth propelled your interests and career?
CW: I have always had a huge interest in government and public service. I think that my experience at Booth began to refine the skills that I could bring into public service sector around strategy, management, and quantitative analysis. My time at Booth really strengthened my network and helped me connect with a variety of like-minded individuals who were passionate about public service. In fact, my first position in the mayor’s office was sourced by a classmate who let me know that there was an opportunity here.
SEI: What motivated your career switch from consulting to politics?
CW: I really enjoyed my time and my experience in consulting and was planning on staying in consulting until the opportunity to join the Emanuel administration came along. The position that I took had a lot of traits around consulting: the ability to think creatively, being open to all types of solution, using data as the backdrop for evaluation, etc.
SEI: How hard was it for you to change fields after business school?
CW: I relied heavily on my network in order to change fields. As I mentioned, I learned about a position in the Mayor’s office from a classmate. This was a clear example of how important networking and relationships are in all fields, including nonprofits and public service. When coming to the public sector, it was a humbling to be in a field where many people have spent their entire careers. I think it was important to try to be very open-minded and to understand that this is a very different culture and different way of getting things done and learning how to operate in that environment. That’s something that an MBA can’t teach you.
SEI: What would be one piece of advice you would share with a current student hoping to use their MBA experience to change careers?
CW: For a current student, I would say two things. First, the classes I took that I use every day are the managerial and organization behavior classes. Learning and understanding how people think, work, and interact with each other is critically important to everything that I do. As I’ve moved further along my career, I spend more time using those skills than using skills around strategy, economics, or finance. Second, it’s very important during business school to find individuals that have similar career interests. Those individuals will be the friends you seek out and the network that you rely on well past your time at Booth.