In early 2014, we made the call to seek our MBAs – together. Deciding to go to business school is already a gamble for most people. For us, it was doubly so – twice the expense, and twice the life and career disruption. We also got twice the level of familial disapproval, though we can’t really blame them. On the surface, our decision seemed crazy – why go from two salaries to negative earnings?
Still, we believed that B-School was a good bet. Sruti had hit a learning and advancement wall at her nonprofit, and she missed the fast pace of the private sector. Nick, despite being a successful engineer, still worried that he wasn’t finding his “best use” in life, and saw business school as a good way to challenge himself and accelerate his career. What’s more, we both felt strongly that it wouldn’t be fair for one person to prioritize their career over the other. We’d entered our marriage as partners, and we were going to stay that way. Our decision made, we applied to five schools in major metropolitan areas, hoping that this would make us more likely to have options in the same city. We then crossed our fingers and hoped like crazy. Somehow, it worked out!
Getting into Booth was incredibly exciting for both of us. That said, while Sruti was a 100% Booth from the beginning, Nick had originally thought about going to Kellogg (heresy, we know). As it happened, all it took was a spectacular First Day to change his tune completely. At the end of that weekend, we both knew that Booth was clearly the choice for both of us.
Attending the same school brought its own set of anxieties, however. Both of us (and Sruti in particular) were worried about being seen as “Nick & Sruti” – a single unit, rather than separate people. While it helped that Sruti had kept her maiden name, we also decided on some ground rules: during our first year, we would never take the same classes, join largely separate student groups, and in general try to keep our student lives as separate as possible.
After all that planning, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the Booth community was a LOT bigger than we had initially thought -there was more than enough space for both of us. Sruti’s had a chance to be involved in BoothEd, LEAD, DStAR, and other clubs full of the best people ever (that’s Sruti blatantly editorializing, by the way, not the opinion of ChiBus). Meanwhile, Nick had the chance to live his econ nerd dream by leading Adam Smith and Chicagonomics. Even more, we didn’t realize that there would be such a huge community of couples. Sruti’s Random Walk alone included half of three different Booth couples! [Shout-out to our illustrious GBC president, Elizabeth Gosselin – S.] It’s been so inspiring to see such a variety of talented people supporting each other throughout their Booth careers. These realities eventually helped us to feel comfortable enough to take down some of those firewalls we had set up – for instance, we started taking some classes together in 2nd year, and Nick roped Sruti into becoming an Adam Smith Society co-chair as well. Even so, we continued to feel that we had the opportunity to learn and succeed at Booth as individuals, not just as “that couple.”
As it happens, we’ve become convinced that there are actually lots of benefits to being a couple at Booth. For one, we both intuitively understand the MBA lifestyle, and don’t mind when it gets in the way of the occasional date night. More fundamentally, we’ve become better equipped to help each other succeed. For instance, Sruti was able to support Nick actively during his consulting recruiting, and vice versa when Sruti was recruiting for tech. This also let us shape the next stage in our careers simultaneously (e.g. choosing a new location together), rather than forcing one person to entirely subordinate their career decisions to the other. As luck would have it, that process led us to join the same company for full-time, McKinsey. [Sruti is a bit annoyed by this, but is comforted by the fact that they’ll never actually be on the same projects. Nick thinks it’s hilarious.]
As Nick would say, Booth has been a rebirth; a place for him to be a practical empiricist, and to discover what might be his “best use” – effective management of moral organizations. As Sruti would say, Booth turned out pretty well. [She has a talent for understatement – N.] We are both thankful to Booth for giving us the opportunity to grow together as professionals.
We are excited for the next step in our journey. We will continue to challenge each other (sometimes too much). We will continue to get better. Most of all, we will remain a team: at home, and in the world. Hopefully, we’ll leave it a better place!
Sruti Balakrishnan and Nick Lilovich are both members of the graduating Full Time MBA Class of 2017.