#NeverAgain

Survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting in Florida confronted the state’s lawmakers earlier this week demanding gun control reforms.

Chicago’s Soda Tax Fizzled Out

Two months after introducing a “soda tax”, a one-cent-per-ounce of sugar or sweeteners levied on beverages, Chicago (more precisely the Cook County) decided to abandon the scheme again. The controversial tax approved by the slimmest majority of 9-8 county commissioners faced strong consumer backlash, legal challenges and fierce lobbying effort by soda companies.

Sodas.JPG

The repeal is a major defeat to national soda tax proponents. While several other cities have introduced or consider introducing a similar tax (for example San Francisco or Berkeley) Chicago was by far the large municipality that has done it so far.

According to its advocates, the tax is meant to fight obesity and related health problems, alleviate health care costs, and raise revenues for municipalities. The scheme is also promoted by the World Health Organization as a ‘Pigovian tax’ – tax that discourages and offsets activity with negative externalities. Just as we pay extra taxes on fuel, tobacco and alcohol, tax advocates claim, we should also pay for sugar due to its harmful effects on individuals and the society.

Tax critics point out that while tobacco consumption is proved to be harmful even in minimal amount, moderate consumption of sweet drinks does not seem to cause health problems. Moreover, focusing on beverages only may unfairly and ineffectively promote equally bad substitutes such as sweet snacks. If obesity is the problem then other measures targeting it directly instead of one of its many possible causes might be more adequate. Some also believe that the soda tax is simply excessively paternalistic and goes beyond the nudge-style interventions envisioned by Richard Thaler.

Importantly, Cook County’s primary motivation for introducing the tax was much less theoretical. Cook County’s commissioners have admitted that they mainly wanted to fill gap in the 2017 budget by raising additional funds. Presumably, soda tax might be an effective source of revenue for the public sector. Distortions caused by taxation are in direct proportion to demand elasticity. Assuming that people are addicted to sugar as much as smoker to tobacco, sugar tax can raise funds without significantly distorting customer behavior.

Unfortunately, Chicago’s proximity to Indiana with no soda tax made the levy far less effective and more distortive. Many customers made the extra effort and started driving to the neighboring state to buy cheaper beverages. According to the Chicago Tribune, Costco’s nine Chicago stores witnessed a 34 percent decline in soft drink sales while nine closest stores outside Chicago experienced a 38 percent increase. As Costco’s representative says: “You’re displacing shopping from one area, you’re creating congestion in another and it’s just counterproductive.”

It is clear though that the epidemic of obesity is a growing problem throughout the world. Unless we find more effective measures, the soda tax debate will continue. But perhaps we are tackling the issue from a wrong end. Research has identified a very clear link between wealth and obesity – poorer people tend to be more obese and income inequality correlates with the share of obese people in population. Shouldn’t we just work on reducing income inequality then? But that’s a whole other debate...

Can separatism bring better governance?

On October 1, Catalonia (a Spanish region that includes the country’s second largest city Barcelona) was scheduled to perform a long-sought independence referendum. At the time of writing this article, it wasn’t clear whether Catalans voted in favour of the independence of even whether they voted at all as Spanish central government opposed the referendum vigorously. Nevertheless, Catalan separatism seems to reflect a wider centrifugal trend seen across Europe but also United States and India.

 Fred Heineken's proposed redrawing of European borders.

Fred Heineken's proposed redrawing of European borders.

From Scotland to California to Telangana, separatists advocate for breaking up their states… while staying part of the continental “federation”. Traditional arguments for and against separatism revolve around national feelings and historical rights. However, the states of the EU, US and India can be also regarded simply as administrative units providing public service. And there are good reasons why to consider some of them too large or too small to perform its role.

Arguably, large member states are also simply too large and diverse to provide effective governance. At least that’s the logic behind the “Six Californias” initiative launched by venture capitalist Tim Draper in 2013. Draper would like to partition California into six parts to address differences in its economy, population growth and geography. In Europe, all large member states are already further divided into smaller parts that are responsible for large part of practical governance. Catalonia with its extensive autonomy may ask: “If we have Barcelona and Brussels – why do we need Madrid?” Conversely, tiny Delaware and Luxembourg exploit their position to become tax haven and their oversized representation in federal politics raises democratic questions.

Suggestion that European should become a federation divided to smaller parts of similar size is not new. Freddy Heineken, from the famous beer family, advocated for creating new states with 5-10 million citizens each. He believed that the reform could provide better governance for the whole continent as it would mitigate risk of large states dominating small ones and competing with each other for domination –  Europe’s painful 20th century story.

Separatism of any kind is usually abhorred internationally as it invokes memories of aggressive nationalism and even wars. But the experience of my former country Czecho-Slovakia may be a showcase example that peaceful divorce can bring improved governance without harm. Increasing urbanization and globalization shift most policy-making and administration from central “national” governments to both more global and local levels. Might large states become simply an obsolete extra layer?

In monetary policy (taught at Booth in the International Financial Policy class), Optimal Currency Area describes criteria for a sound currency union – for example, labour and capital mobility, similar business cycles and balancing transfer mechanism. Perhaps a similar concept of “Optimal Governance Area” should apply to fiscal and administration policy. Perhaps we should stop treating current states, which are mostly random products of history, as “sacred homelands” and discuss critically how they should be redesigned to provide better governance.

Will Amazon Make Chicago Great Again?

Future Amazon HQ - .PNG

Amazon announced a ‘beauty contest’ for its second corporate HQ and Chicago belongs among the early frontrunners. The city is taking the contest very seriously - it even created a 600-member bid committee formed by local businessmen, entrepreneurs, artists and community representatives to champion Chicago and help develop a concrete proposal.

Chicago will face strong competition as just about every metropolitan area in the US, including Los Angeles, Denver, Boston, New York, Dallas and even Chicago’s close neighbors Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Gary, indicated interest to attract Amazon. However, Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel believes that his city’s prospects are strong. “What city can say to you, unlike Seattle or San Francisco or New York, is one-third of the cost of living of those cities and has a cultural attraction equal to those cities? That makes Chicago the most competitive city.”

Amazon will assess candidate cities based on a number of criteria that include size, business environment, ability to attract talent and attractive locations. Chicago certainly ticks off several of important dimensions. Real estate magazine Curbed.com lists Chicago among the main contenders thanks to its rail and air transportation infrastructure, attractive urban amenities, affordable housing and several development areas that could accommodate the up to 50,000 employees Amazon intends to eventually locate in its second HQ – for example the Old Chicago Main Post Office. Proximity to at least two top US universities (including Chicago Booth - Amazon’s number one source of MBA hires) and emerging tech sector should also speak in favour of Chicago. However, the city also has some strong issues, particularly its budget problems, high taxation and soaring crime rate. Success of its bid will depend on the city’s and state’s administration’s ability to collaborate and overcome Chicago’s weaknesses.

The city would likely strongly benefit from winning the much publicised competition even if it offered Amazon significant tax exemptions. Attracting one of the most valuable US corporation could reverse the streak of mostly negative news and help Chicago overcome emerging reputation of a failing city with declining population and close to bankruptcy. Amazon’s presence would foster already emerging Chicago tech ecosystem and help the city find its new defining industry. Amazon’s arrival could be a boon for the whole struggling Midwest region.

It also wouldn’t be the first time that Chicago managed to “steal” a major company from Seattle. When Boeing decided to move from the West coastal town to Chicago in 2001, Seattle lost its most famous corporation and biggest employer. But one’s city loss is another city’s gain and Amazon does not plan to leave Seattle completely - at least yet.

So, will Amazon make Chicago great again?

The Power of the Journey

  Prof. Davis teaches Business Policy, Strategy Symposium & Strategy Lab courses at Booth

Prof. Davis teaches Business Policy, Strategy Symposium & Strategy Lab courses at Booth

“Give some advice to the graduating students” was an email request I received early in the morning on Tuesday.

I immediately thought that perhaps I didn’t have any meaningful advice to give. Norman Maclean, a renowned Professor of English at this University and author of the novella A River Runs Through It, shared my concern. He wrote: “I can seldom help anybody. Either I don’t know what part to give or I don’t like to give any part of myself. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, I do not have the part that is wanted.”

But if I did commit to give some advice, I would definitely stress the importance of focusing on the journey in the years ahead—i.e., the process—as much if not more than the outcome. It’s tempting to fixate on the destination given expectations of others not to mention one’s own criteria for success. In my experience it’s costly to ignore the rich learning opportunities of being fully present in one’s day-to-day experiences.

Here are three behaviors that I have found helpful in making this happen.

1. Ownership

As the traveller, take ownership in shaping your journey and how you play your many roles over time. For example, occupying a position within an organization obviously sets some boundaries and expectations. But there is considerable wiggle room. You can bring your work role to life in ways that highlight your values and unique capabilities far beyond the job description. Those performances frequently benefit an organization and bring more fulfillment into your life.

2. Persistence

Journeys often have sunsets, beautiful vistas, and memorable photos but also impassable roads, dead ends or getting lost. Careers can follow a similar trajectory. In my own years at Chicago there have been times of excitement, new ideas, new initiatives, applause. At other times, a bit of boredom, a feeling of nothing new, some fatigue and occasional boos. Loyalty and persistence may sometimes be challenging to maintain, but both can have a positive net present value.

3. Attention

Opportunities can arise unexpectedly and from unusual sources outside of your usual network. Some of my most important actions resulted from “blind dates,” saying “yes” without knowing very much about what was going to happen, or taking side trips. These behaviors do not imply just wandering aimlessly. They manifest from a discipline of paying attention to what is being heard, seen and felt. Attention demands a willingness to improvise, experiment, make mistakes, and being forever curious.  

Someone asked me the other day how my own journey is unfolding (or has unfolded) after spending more than a half century as a member of this great institution. I think she was surprised when I suggested that the journey still continues. To use the metaphor of a sculptor, I still keep sanding away. I’m not sure I have any precise plan other than a general direction. I will continue to chip away, sand and polish to see what emerges.

I hope all of you who are graduating will throw yourself into your lifelong journey. If you do, I predict you will discover more about your “something special,” and experience outcomes that are both unexpected and deeply meaningful.

Madhav Rajan: ‘I’m Exactly Where I’d Like to Be’

 Incoming Dean Madhav Rajan

Incoming Dean Madhav Rajan

Why are you here and not somewhere else?

I guess I’m just lucky. Steve Jobs famously said that you can never connect the dots looking forward but only backwards. However, considering my background, the things I have done and where the new role might lead me, I’m pretty much exactly where I would like to be. In particular, I believe I think very similarly about academic life and research as does the University of Chicago: I share the belief of using the latest research as a basis for teaching, business practice and policy making.

Speaking of research, how did you discover your passion for accounting?

I wouldn’t say this is how I became an accounting professor. One makes several decisions for all kinds of random reasons. My older brothers were engineers, which is the standard thing that everyone does in India. And I thought I didn’t want to be exactly like my brothers, I wanted to do something different. So, I decided to study ‘commerce’, which is an equivalent of Wharton’s undergrad business degree. However, becoming an accounting professor obviously was not on my radar.

Later, I moved to pursue a masters degree at Carnegie Mellon University where my father worked. I did well and eventually a faculty member asked me whether I had ever thought about doing a Ph.D. – I hadn't. But they offered me funding and I thought, "hey, getting paid to study, that’s really cool! This particular professor was in accounting and that’s how I also ended up in accounting. However, Carnegie is very unique in not having an economics department separate from the business school. I did all the coursework for economics even though I majored in accounting.

Even then I wasn’t sure I would become an academic. Many of my Ph.D. friends ended up in consulting and I always thought the same would happen to me. But I liked the academic work and I was successful at it, so when I got a job offer from Wharton it was opportunity to keep going.

What made you take the step from research to school administration later?

When I joined Stanford, they hired me as faculty member because they liked the research I was doing. A year later, the head of the accounting department stepped down and asked whether I would be interested in overseeing the area. Being still quite new at the school, I thought I needed to engage in school matters as a service.

However, the intersection of faculty that have interest in working with the school administration and faculty who are at least mildly competent at it, is extremely small. If you exhibit even a little bit of talent, or just don’t say no, you will keep getting asked to do more. Eventually 7 years ago, I join the Dean’s Office. First, I thought it would be an interesting thing to try. I think I wasn’t fully aware at the time that if you take that step and if you are successful in the new position for a while, it’s very hard to return to being a pure academic.

At Stanford, I oversaw the MBA program and a part of faculty matters. Some time ago, when former Stanford dean went on a sabbatical, I became the acting dean and here is where I am now.

How do you see your new role at Booth? What areas do you plan to focus on?

I think the big difference being the Dean instead of a Deputy Dean is that the focus shifts from internal to external. I expect to spend perhaps 50% of my time being the face and voice of the school towards external audiences, primarily the alumni. That’s the big change and it’s particularly important now when the university is running an ongoing fundraising campaign, which has been a slightly disrupted by the transition. Therefore, getting into this role will be a big priority from the beginning.

The second area that I’m keen on is connecting Booth more closely with the university. Booth has largely been a stand-alone entity and the university would like to see Booth taking on a bigger role. This was a considerable part of my work at Stanford.

What would this mean for Booth students?

One thing that I want to push for is increasing the number of joint degree students (JD, MD, computer science etc.) to ~25% of all degrees awarded. That’s a lot, but Stanford, an admittedly smaller business school, is almost there now. There are joint degrees at Booth already but very few students actually do them. So, I’m very interested in understanding why and identifying the pain points.

Secondly, we may be able to better serve the University of Chicago undergrads. I spent 12 years at Wharton and I always loved teaching undergrads, they were amazing students. Quality of undergrad students at Chicago has gone up dramatically in the past 10-15 years. For instance, the econ majors are a great student body and Booth should engage them more.

What opportunities for undergrads do you see specifically?

Many of Chicago’s econ majors eventually end up doing an MBA. Perhaps, we could offer them to the opportunity to take some Booth courses now, go away to work for 2 years and come back to finish their MBA. The 2+2 model, wherein you apply to MBA as a senior at college and get deferred admission, is currently very popular at HBS and Stanford. Booth doesn’t do that too much yet. But it’s a great pool of talent, at Stanford it forms about 20% of the class.

How much room for collaboration do you see at the faculty level?

We should consider engaging more with other parts of the university in research. I see Booth as a preeminent institution that believes in empirical research, data and analytics. But that world is changing – you have different types and sizes of data sets and new processing tools. Booth needs to remain at the forefront, and to that effect, collaborating with the computer science and other departments of the university would be beneficial.

Historically, Booth has been reputed mostly for finance. What is your perception of that?

I think about Booth as an economics-based school and finance is just one application of that. When you look at the current faculty, economics, finance and accounting are certainly huge areas of strength. But at the heart of all these disciplines are data and analytics. Booth should profile itself accordingly. That’s where the world is going and we are uniquely positioned due to our strengths.

Marketing is a good example. Externally, Booth doesn’t seem to have the reputation for being a marketing school. But we have a phenomenal marketing group that is very good at the quantitative aspects of marketing. The trend towards more a more data-driven approach to not just marketing but also other functions, is clearly in our favor. We just need to capture it.

There exists a perception that Booth produces CFOs or COOs but Stanford and Harvard produce CEOs. Do you think there is any merit to this argument and if yes, should Booth try and change that image?

I think data doesn’t really support that claim. Harvard and Stanford are general management schools, they don’t offer any concentrations. So maybe that’s where the perception comes from. Regardless, we should definitely aspire to change that perception. Anybody who comes to a school like Booth has the ability to become a general manager, entrepreneur or a c-suite executive.

What students actually do at Booth has changed dramatically over past 10 years. Entrepreneurship is the top concentration now. Investment banking no longer tops student target industry surveys, more people want to work in technology. Our aspiration should continue to be this: being the best school that provides discipline-based learning in the most important business fields and let students decide where they want to go.

Recently, there is an increasing debate over the usefulness of a business education and MBA programs, in particular. What is your take on this?

If you take the top 10-20 business schools, the MBA market has not changed significantly. However, the market below that market has almost completely dropped out, with second-tier schools struggling to fill even their full-time programs. Students question the ROI of doing an MBA and losing their job security. As a result, they are increasingly interested in evening or part-time programs.

Nevertheless, applications to Booth have been going up and students’ caliber in terms of GMAT or GPA has also improved dramatically. People still see the value of a top MBA and I don’t think it’s going to change. However, the set of skills demanded by industries is evolving and we need to adapt. Whether it’s entrepreneurship, machine learning or whatever else. If we keep innovating, we will be fine.

In some parts of the world such as Europe, one-year program have become the standard MBA format. Do you think Booth will ever move in that direction?

Europe has moved there, Asia is mixed. But essentially, no top US school has followed that route and I don’t see it that changing. Treating an MBA as a purely academic degree that you finish in 10 months would not create the same value in terms of skills, connections or the opportunity to do an internship.

However, I see changes in what you actually do during the two years. Be it joint degrees or other experiences, the ability to skip basic courses if you have a specific background. I can see that happening.

As you are about to move to a new city, do you have a list of things you would like to do in Chicago? What are your hobbies?

I honestly don’t know enough about the city yet. My wife and I definitely want to do the architecture tour. This weekend we are going house-hunting. We would like to live downtown like all the MBAs, although probably not in MPP. :-) Both at Wharton and Stanford, we lived in the suburbs so I’m quite excited about exploring city life.

With respect to hobbies, I used to do trivia. At Stanford, I organized trivia contests for faculty and the executive program participants. Perhaps I’ll get to do at Booth as well, at some point.

Finally, how would you recommend MBA students to make the best use of their time at school?

At Stanford, I used to tell students not to feel the need to do everything right now. I think MBA students tend to be highly driven by what other students are doing and I would discourage that. Take your time and enjoy the experience. For almost all of you, this is the last time you will be in school. There is plenty of time after you graduate, so do not neglect the academic experience. Also, don’t obsess about the first job and the recruiting process. A vast majority of you will change your job within 2 years of graduation– it’s just another stepping stone.

France and Turkey Show That Liberal Democracies Struggle for Survival

Despite living under a prolonged state of emergency, citizens of Turkey and France went to polls that can radically alter direction of both countries. Results confirm that the established liberal democratic model of governance continues to face lethal challenges. Results confirm that the established liberal democratic model of governance continues to face lethal challenges.

Turkish voters were asked to approve constitutional changes that the opposition calls a power grab by President Erdogan. The main changes proposed would introduce a presidential system and erase several key checks and balances, raising the fear that Turkey’s short-lived plural democracy is coming to the end.

The referendum was organized under conditions that were strongly condemned by international observers. Almost a year after an attempted coup d’etat, Turkey remains in a state of emergency. At the same time, it is involved in a messy conflicts in Syria and with domestic Kurdish insurgents. Moreover, years of aggressive persecution of independent media prevented opposition from effectively addressing Turkish public. The changes were approved with the thinnest possible majority (51-49%) with a lingering suspicion of voting fraud.

A week later, France voted in the first round of the presidential election. Its winner Emmanuel Macron is sometimes called the “French Justin Trudeau” for his young age and uncompromisingly liberal positions. Given his strong advocacy of open borders, free trade and European integration, France seemed to resist the move towards illiberalism sweeping through the world recently.

However, that perception was deceptive. Macron won the first round and is an overwhelming favourite for overall victory. But he was the only major candidate that ran on a liberal platform. Extreme-right and extreme-left candidates that explicitly wish to close borders to trade and/or migration gained combined 40% of votes. Marine Le Pen, whose party has a history of holocaust denial, attacks on foreigners and extreme nationalism, gained only 4% less votes than Macron and will face him in the second round.

The sharp divide between the friends and enemies of liberal democracy in the two major NATO member countries show that the populist uprisings in 2016 were not one-off events but part of a fierce battle over the character of our societies that rages all around the world. In Turkey, liberal democracy seems to have lost. In France it is likely to survive another round. But for how long?

Karl Popper in his The Poverty of Historicism well explains why claims of “historical inevitability” are fundamentally unscientific and likely false. Indeed, the ongoing deterioration of democracy, social liberties and press freedom in Western and non-Western countries may well be reversed eventually. However, the scary abyss is getting closer.

By the way, who was the only Western leader that called Erdogan to “congratulate him on the referendum victory”? The same US President that backhandedly endorsed Le Pen on Twitter.

 Marine Le Pen surrounded by allied European extreme-right leaders

Marine Le Pen surrounded by allied European extreme-right leaders

First Booth Conference on Machine Learning Draws a Large Crowd

On April 19, Built@Booth organized the inaugural Chicago Machine Learning Venture Capital Summit. The team, led by Cayse Llorens, managed to bring together entrepreneurs, investors and student for a 5-hour conversation on machine learning, Artificial Intelligence and their application in the business realm.

Booth’s first conference focused on machine learning attracted over 600 attendees to the downtown Marriott’s conference center. The summit featured a number accessible yet technical lectures such as “Cutting Edge Concepts from Applied Machine Learning Research” by Booth’s professor Sanjog Misra. However, most of the evening focused on finding ways to apply machine learning techniques to solve practical issues and commercialize the technology.

In this spirit, panelists from several leading Chicago-based analytics start-ups warned that actual problem-solving is crucial for real value-creation rather than letting technology be a hyped fad. Szabolcs Paldy from Discover Financial Services expressed a hope that companies have learnt the lesson from the ‘big data’ frenzy 5 years ago and will approach the emerging AI opportunity pragmatically. Not every problem requires AI and not every pile of data is useful.

Several speakers also expressed opinion that good machine learning models are unlikely to provide sustainable competitive advantage to ML-focused start-ups unless they manage to build superior data sets. A wave of open-sourcing in the industry makes many powerful tools easily available and commoditized. Gaining access to better data than competitors thus becomes critical.

An important part of the summit was a pitch competition. Three entrepreneurs had an opportunity to showcase what type of problems machine learning can help solve. Booth alumnus Abraham Pabbathi talked about his early prototype of a diabetes management app that leverages ML to predict blood glucose levels. Other entrants talked about Enodo Score, a predictive analytics platform for real estate investors, and Heretik, an M&A due diligence analytics tool for automated analysis of contractual data.

Given this year’s success, the summit’s organizers already contemplate the format of the next year. Cayse says: “There's clearly a lot of interest in commercializing ML and AI and we are very excited to be part of such important conversation. Initial feedback from summit’s participants is very positive. Importantly, our sponsors see excellent value in it and already expressed interest in participating the next year. Many people would like the summit to take a full day.

Recently, Booth started to pay a lot of attention to machine learning and related data analytics tools. Classes such as Machine Learning, Big Data, Augmented Intelligence or Digital and Algorithmic Marketing offer hands-on glimpse into the still not widely understood field. The Chicago Machine Learning Venture Capital Summit adds a welcome connection to real-life applications and businesses. Our school’s effort to claim leadership among MBA programmes in this extremely hot area is highly commendable.

 

 Attendees of the summit almost completely filled Marriott’s large conference room

Attendees of the summit almost completely filled Marriott’s large conference room

 Team of Boothies who prepared and organized the summit

Team of Boothies who prepared and organized the summit

How United Airlines Could Have Avoided a PR Disaster

Imagine you run an airline. One of your flights is overbooked – a typical revenue maximization strategy. Unexpectedly, you also need to fly four crew members because some pilots at the destination airport got sick and you need a replacement team. You offer cash incentives to the passengers but do not find enough volunteers, even for $800. Your corporate rules limit how high you can go and your employees follow the supposedly unlikely procedure of randomly choosing passengers to be involuntarily removed from the flight. No one is happy to be kicked out of a plane but few physically resist – unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens this time. You are inevitably embroiled in a huge PR problem.

Business schools teach you: PR issues are incredibly hard to manage and prevention is better than a cure. In early March, the Booth Leadership Development center organized a Leadership in Crisis simulation with seven teams working on resolving a strangely similar case. Assuming roles of CEO, Marketing and HR executives and Social Media managers, we had to manage a quickly evolving PR situation where a our company’s good was involved in a tragedy that damaged lives of several people. A team from Hill+Knowton, a communication agency that created the simulation, prepared all elements of a first-class PR crisis: social media exaggerations, fake and true news reports, speculations, and facts release. Our job was to craft messages to different audiences (media, employees, NGOs, the general public etc.), distribute them through appropriate channels, and build alliances with some stakeholders.

Three lessons that I learned from the simulation would be very much applicable to United.

First, respond with a quick public statement quickly and use very clear language. Instead, United ended up creating a widely-mocked euphemism ‘re-accommodate’ that people will remember for a long time.

Second, make sure your internal and external communication is consistent. Any internal email to employees should be assumed to be public and should be released only after you craft the public message. United’s defiant internal message was a stark contrast to its public apologies to customers and made the company look disingenuous.

Third, take responsibility and find a solution that demonstrates empathy (after checking with legal). Public opinion assesses companies by how they managed the crisis aftermath, not by the crisis itself. Perhaps, United can still ‘win’ the situation by enacting well-visible changes.

Last week, the Operations Strategy Group brought fifteen Boothies to United’s headquarters at the Willis Tower to meet several operations managers and tour the Network Operations Center. While our discussion mostly focused on how to make 2+2 equal 3 (by combining LatAm and Asian routes - each of which require two airplanes otherwise), the tension from the incident was palpable.

Interestingly, we learned that only pilots trained by United can operate their airplanes. If the industry managed to commoditize pilots, airlines would not need replacement crews from other cities as they could ‘borrow’ crews from other airlines. Perhaps, as a bigger business strategy, instead of managing PR disasters, United could find a way how to stop ‘re-accommodating’ its customers.

 The large screen depicting United flights live sits in the middle of its Network Operations Center. Its sole purpose is to entertain visitors.

The large screen depicting United flights live sits in the middle of its Network Operations Center. Its sole purpose is to entertain visitors.

European MBA Students Meet at Annual Retreat

Europe faces severe disintegration pressures but European MBA students would have none of it as they continued a tradition of yearly meetups. Between 7-9 April, over 120 Europeans from 8 schools (Booth, Harvard, Wharton, MIT, Columbia, NYU, Yale and INSEAD) met in Mystic, Connecticut for a week-end of drinking, eating and chatting.

Mocking each other’s accent, cuisine and politicians, participants demonstrated the best of European camaraderie. Calling alcohol alcohol (instead of frosty beverages), being slightly overdressed and partying till 5am, the retreat really felt like being back in the Old Continent. Booth was represented by 14 students (half first years, half second years) - a solid number for the farthest participating school with low number of Europeans relative to other schools.

Small seaside town Mystic with a long fishing history proved to be a pleasant, if hard to reach, place. Having filled every single restaurant in the town for Saturday brunch, we were certainly attracting a lot of attention. Especially when answer to the usual “where are you from” question was followed by a list that often exceeded number of people in the group. Mystic features the US largest maritime museum with several preserved ships including the last surviving wooden whaling ship. Some people also visited nearby vineyard, aquarium and adventure park. However, everyone’s favourite activity was the evening party in a rented mansion.

Booth participants appreciated the opportunity to meet new peers from other schools. Nikolai Oudalov says: “It was a great way to expand my network to other business schools, make new friends and have lots of fun!”. Irene Dien says: “I loved meeting other MBAs and learning about their experiences.”

However, cross-school mixing still offered some space for improvement. With so many people and just two days, there was little chance to get to know each other well. As Irene says: “I would definitely appreciate if the organized events more strongly encouraged interactions between schools and forced people to abandon their home bubbles a bit.” For Boothies, it would be also nice if some of the future meetups could be take place in the Midwest. However, dominance of East Coast schools makes it very unlikely to ever happen.

The European Union is often criticised for lacking European demos - shared sense of citizenship. Nevertheless, among MBA expats shared European identity was clearly felt and national clustering was almost unseen as participants mingled freely. Perhaps, one needs to step outside home to truly appreciate it.

 Over 120 Europeans met for an annual retreat

Over 120 Europeans met for an annual retreat

 Some Boothies extended the trip with a short visit of Boston

Some Boothies extended the trip with a short visit of Boston