Coffee on the Third (Second) Floor: Evolution of Chicago Booth - Straight from the horse’s mouth

By Paritosh Kumar '16

Paritosh Kumar '16

Paritosh Kumar '16

After meeting with 23 universities over a span of 3 days, riding up and down the hotel elevator, post her PhD Dean Kole decided to go teach at the University of Rochester, her undergraduate alma mater and the only school her husband had asked her not to apply to (laughs). What followed was 14 years of teaching micro and industrial organization at the Simon School. But then Dean Kole decided to make a change. 

Finding herself in the small pool of people who understood research, liked working with students and had managerial talent, she decided to make the shift to administration and came to Booth after having declined once in 2003 for family reasons. Her husband eventually accepted an offer with his old law firm and they moved to Chicago. In the past decade, Dean Kole has seen Booth evolve in multiple dimensions.

Deputy Dean Stacey Kole

Deputy Dean Stacey Kole

“One is we have gone from being very dependent on tuition (to not as much)– from 70 cents on the dollar to closer to 50 cents. As a result we have a lot more flexibility today than we had before. We can battle for the best faculty, invest in alumni and grow our career services team. We have the resources to experiment.”

Another dimension is collaboration with the University. “Today the Polsky Center covers the whole university, we teach undergrad only classes and we take LEAD to the law school and to biological sciences”.

On the other hand, admissions was a tougher slog. “I’m very close to the class of 2007, I picked them. I ran admissions that year after the Dean of Admissions left”, she said.

One of her pivotal moments was during the financial crisis. “22 Booth students had accepted jobs at Lehman Brothers. Julie Morton and I sat down and we didn’t really know what to do but we decided we should just go down there. We called up some social nodes, some of the guys who we knew could gather everyone, and offered to take them to dinner. When we went down all 22 of them were there just thanking us. Even The Wall Street Journal got wind of the dinner and wanted to come attend. When we came back we sent out an email – saying these are the 22 students from your class who are now without jobs or with great uncertainty. Help us find them work. And we were just bombarded with opportunities. GTS exploded. Everyone went to their company websites and found opportunities and said – I don’t know if this is great but this is a fantastic boss and people should take this seriously. The network just came alive. I realized there was huge pride in the institution but also this tremendous sense of appreciating one another’s colleagues.”

“Another story I like is - one of the big negatives about Chicago, perception wise, was that we didn’t have a strong alumni network. One year at orientation the staff had organized a Saturday bowling event with alums – which may have been a terrible idea (laughs) – but they had to cancel it because there were not enough alumni signing up. And that made me nuts because I knew the community was there. So that was the impetus to start 20/20. I was just reading the student feedback and it has become the best part of orientation because it showcases the incredible paths people can take from this degree. So both of these stories start with negatives. With the crisis – I went to the Dean’s office and said we need more money to create opportunities. We created internships in the social sector, even before SEI.”

When I asked what the school’s future challenges are and what students can do – Dean Kole said, “Be proud alumni, wear your Booth gear, tell people you went to Booth”.

“Strategically we have some risks. The financial sector may bypass MBAs and go straight to undergrads. So if you’re in those organizations demonstrate the value of the MBA and advocate, otherwise we don’t have business undergrads.”

“We’re doing a lot on our global footprint, to activate the alumni to do a lot more. But there’s a question of whether we are getting students from parts of the world that are really going to take off in terms of population. Are we getting students from Africa? Are we really making sure that students without resources can see a way to get here? How do we make sure that the most talented people are getting into places like Booth? Our goal is to have impact in the world and if we just have impact on rich people, we are going to limit our impact. And then there’s a question about whether technology is going to disrupt what we do and whether there’s going to be an opportunity for the high quality residential type programs. Or maybe we should consider other degrees like specialty masters or should we ramp up the use of technology in our PhD program. Like John Cochrane’s MOOC. So there’s a lot of challenges but there are disruptors out there. We’re working on them. We had a great strategic retreat recently and we are working on these opportunities. But these are the challenges where if we don’t move we could miss some important waves.”

Paritosh is a second year student, currently trying to make the transition from FOMO to JOMO