A Windy City Welcome Weekend at Chicago Booth

by on February 13th, 2013

Earlier on Sunday I flew back into Los Angeles from R1 Welcome Weekend at Chicago Booth. Over the past two weekends, I’ve gotten little sleep, increased my alcohol tolerance by a third and met several hundred of the most interesting and exceptional people that I’ve met all in one place in quite some time. If this is in any way a preview to what b-school will be like, sign me up–just with more sleep. A brother needs his rest.

Visual Overload

Before I get into my admit weekend recap, I must take a moment to comment about the city of Chicago in general. There are many, many things to love about Chicago and I was lucky enough to get to experience some of them this past weekend. First, there is the award-winning architecture.

After over a decade in California, I’d say that I generally have a hard time considering any city “beautiful” without both water AND mountains. Chicago has made me rethink that standard. Its sprawling skyline peppered with one futuristic, architectural masterpiece after the other is more than breathtaking from the right angle. In fact, while driving through downtown LA today through traffic for the Grammy’s I thought to myself “this whole scene would have so much more swag in downtown Chicago”. I also love how navigable and “walkable” much of the city is.

The U of Chicago’s campus is no slouch either. Its Gothic veneer reminds me a lot of Duke’s campus in the research triangle in North Carolina; but definitely not a replica. The place has a character and charm all its own.

It was snowing for the first half of my stay, and I didn’t mind it at all. The past two weekends in Philly and Chicago have definitely solidified that I’ll be able to hack a couple of years in a snowy region; though I heard that Boston had quite the blizzard this past weekend. It’s a good thing MIT has those underground tunnels (which I’ve mentioned before. I think its cool).

A Well-Produced Welcome By a Fantastic Faculty and Staff

So the weekend kicked off with an entertaining and rousing welcome by Dean Kurt Alm, a guy who I discovered new found respect and admiration for over the weekend. There were actually two nice young ladies (the committee chairs) who spoke before him. For selling purposes, though, I would have liked to see him speak first.

Nevertheless, the leadership and organizational abilities of the co-chairs really shone threw in every detail of this event. In fact, I’d say that Booth in general is extremely fine tuned and well choreographed in its communication with and treatment of admits. As an ops guy, I’ve seen a lot of things that I’ve liked in how the Booth admissions team handles business and it has impressed me time and time again. It is evident that there are a LOT of clear and efficient processes that are written out and being executed behind the scenes.

Dean Alm really killed it. He was bright, personable, witty and got more than a few laughs from the crowd.I was also really impressed by the fact that he walked around quite a bit during the first day, speaking with admits one-on-one. I was fortunate enough to get to chop it up with him for a moment.

I also got to meet Eddie Pulliam, one of the admissions directors who was my first and main point of contact at Booth.  Eddie has always been exceptionally nice to me, and was even more warm and welcoming in person; in fact, the entire admissions staff at Booth is that way. I had met few of them here and there between the LA info session and the LA admit cocktail hour that the school hosted about a month ago near Beverly Hills/West Hollywood.

One of the highlights of my weekend was sitting in on an entrepreneurial sales class with professor Craig Wortmann, one of several faculty superstars at Booth who is a successful business owner and exerts major influence within the Chicago venture scene to boot. While I was familiar with many of the concepts in his demo class (based on my sales background and previous business ventures and failures lol), I was on the edge of my seat during every moment. I also got a feel that I would have a lot of great things to learn in progressive sessions of that course if I were to attend Booth.

Some Booth Myths Dispelled

Prior to visiting Booth, there were a couple of myths that I had heard floating around the MBA blogosphere. I won’t even bother to give life to some of them, as much of the more polar comments in this space come from people who don’t attend (and probably won’t be attending) any of the schools that they criticize with so much authority. But alas, I’ll go ahead and dive in here just a bit for the benefit of the thousands of “lurkers” who might read some of these baseless comments in the future lest they be influenced by this tripe.

Myth #1: Booth has no sense of community because its students commute from all over Chicago

My Experience: Booth actually has QUITE a cohesive community. It is a portable community. Rather than living “all over the place”, Booth students tend to live within a relatively small radius of downtown. I was fortunate enough to get to lean on my good friend Cheetarah1980 (Booth ’14) and crash at the 19th floor condo apt (with a view of both the Lake and the Sears Tower) of she and her roommate (also Booth ’14).

Le Chateau de Cheetarah is in the South Loop area, toward the outskirts of the Bootie residential and social radius. Most students live in MPP–I don’t remember what that stands for, but its a popular residential high rise that is referred to as “the dorms” due to the volume of Booth students who live there.

Booth’s community is highly interconnected, taking over entire blocks, bars or even apartments in unified swarms at a moments notice. On my first night in Chicago, I arrived at such a hive. I had just spent 4 hours in O’Hare after the geniuses back in Los Angeles who work for American Airlines loaded my suit bag on the wrong airplane. By the time I got to the diversity cocktail hour hive, I needed that Glenlivet 17 year more than they could ever know.

From there we took a cab to a restaurant and bar that the main hive had taken over by the hundreds for TNDC–Thursday Night Drinking Club, which is similar to Wharton’s Pub, except it moves around downtown Chicago to a different bar each week. Prior to that Cheetarah lasso’d me over to one of her classmates’ sky high apartment close to MPP so that she would not miss their weekly viewing of Scandal. This classmate had great taste in wine, including a nice Robert Mondavi cabernet, so I didn’t complain; I just drank.

Then after being introduced to a fraternity brother of mine at the bar later, more drinks followed. Good times.So if you ever want to witness the community at Booth, just go downtown and look for the 7-10 cabs that are sure to zip by with no less than 8 happy Boothies crammed into the back seat so that their share of the fare will only be $1 each.

Myth #2: Boothies are quant geeks who lack personality and soft skills

My Experience: Also not true. I actually found this to be quite the opposite. I am an introvert. I can chat and socialize for a while, but will eventually need to pull off to myself to recharge. No such luck at Booth. Each time I so much as separated 5-10 feet from the pack, some chipper and personable Boothie was in my face giving me a welcome speech and making sure that I wasn’t some shy guy who felt too awkward to talk to people. I’m not; though, I wish a few of them would have cared a little less lol.

Differences Between Booth and Wharton

Here are a few differences between my experiences during my Booth and Wharton weekends. My experience is not the end all be all; but it is my experience, so here goes.

I definitely saw a cultural difference in the overall presentations during each weekend. While Wharton was more grand, Booth was a bit more intimate. Some of it had to do with the facilities (Wharton’s auditorium vs. Booth’s conference hall) and some of it had to do with presentation style.

Based on my experience, Wharton tended to do more selling while Booth tended to do more telling.  What I mean by that is that I felt like Wharton really did their best to expose the admits to the most tantalizing facts about what it had to offer. Booth on the other hand, had these facts to offer, but didn’t seem too keen on promoting them besides a brief mention of them having more nobel laureates than any other business school and a brief, cursory mention of their #1 ranking streak in BusinessWeek.

Among the Booth community are an array of individuals that range from Olympians to poker champions to special ops veterans; unfortunately, I had no idea that was the case until Cheetarah and a Booth swarm that overtook her apartment one night began to proudly tell me about her their classmates. I hadn’t heard about any of that during the opening presentation. It would have been great to hear in that forum.

The thing is, Booth has plenty to brag about. I really wanted to see them sell it more. If you look at any ranking from law school to med school to b-school to undergrad, the U of Chicago is world-class anyway you cut it. In fact, you’ll see many of the same schools repeating over and over in those rankings; that is not an accident.

On another note, one thing that somewhat eerily presented itself to me was how “American” Booth felt in comparison to Wharton. Yes, there were people from all over the world–including a huge and impressive Latin American contingent; but I felt just a little more part of a global community during Wharton’s weekend. I know that there were also a lot of midwesterners there, and I felt that difference just a tad vs Penn.

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