WOMEN@BOOTH SERIES: Cass Gunderson

WOMEN@BOOTH SERIES: Cass Gunderson

The Booth Experience’s Women@Booth series aims to highlight the experiences of exemplary women leaders at the school. Over the months of March and April, we will speak to women across Chicago Booth to uncover their past experiences, understand what brought them to Booth, and get a sneak peek into what lies ahead for them. We hope these stories bring to the fore the people who make Chicago Booth a great community to be part of and inspire women around the world.

The next person to be featured in this series is Cass Gunderson, who has career ambitions in private equity as a operating principal with a focus in finance, reporting, and sales.

Cass grew up as a White Sox fan in the southwest suburbs of Chicago and has not quite been able to leave Illinois ever since. She studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and a minor in English and learned to care deeply about Big Ten sports. She interned at Prairie Capital, a middle market PE firm in Chicago, through the Illinois Venture Capital Association’s internship program in 2011. After graduation, she earned her CPA while working for KPMG with a focus in financial due diligence and corporate finance. Prior to her time at Booth, she was a private equity deal team associate working alongside technology companies with a niche market focus and unique software products at a middle-market firm in Chicago called ParkerGale (she reluctantly admits to being on the PE Funcast podcast twice). 

Cass is currently a second-year Booth student. During her time at Booth, she has interned at PSP Capital and Shore Capital, participated in the New Venture Challenge, hiked and camped in Patagonia with 20 other Boothies over spring break, and got married to her ever-entertaining husband this past November. She is a glutton for extra work, so she serves as a teaching assistant for Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (“ETA”), PE Lab, and a new course on Women in PE, VC, and as entrepreneurs. She also occasionally writes for a Chicago-based fitness blog, ASweatLife.com.

After school, she is planning to return to ParkerGale as an Operating Principal with a focus on finance, reporting and sales. Before officially returning to the working world, she is planning to get her money’s worth from joining Wine Club, working on her tennis game, going on a marvelous honeymoon after graduation (suggestions welcome), isolating herself like a responsible human being, and getting through this global pandemic with (read: mentally not physically with) the rest of her Booth class.

Why did you decide to come to Booth?
Honestly and most importantly: I got in. I clearly also have an affinity for Chicago and knew I wanted to stay in this city after school, so getting a degree at a top-notch MBA program down the street in Hyde Park made a lot of sense. Admittedly, I did not want to go to business school at first; ultimately, I’m glad to be here.

How have you found the women support network at the school?
I’ve found Booth women to be especially supportive of each other. As a woman coming from a PE firm focused on technology (a double-whammy of male-dominated industries), I was nervous that I would not “fit in” the Booth technology and PE groups and classes. Not only did I find other great women in these groups and classes, but I also found very supportive men and classmates of all different backgrounds. It is refreshing to see more diversity in classes and groups related to these topics and industries – and I think it makes everyone feel more welcome, included, and heard.

Are there any instances that stand out for you with respect to the support women leaders get at Booth?
I’m actually really excited about the new course that is coming out this spring that I’ll be TA for: Women as CEOs, Entrepreneurs, Investors, Executives & Directors with Alyssa Rapp. I know having a course like that may seem silly to some, but especially in fields and industries the class plans to cover, having the opportunity to hear from women speakers who have “been there and done that” matters. Representation matters; having women idols in these industries matters; mentorship matters. As a TA of a first-time course, I’ll be in the unique position of learning alongside everyone else. Though the format of the class will continue to evolve as we learn more about what going virtual will entail, I believe the course will still have a lot to offer and will be a fun class to experience during my last quarter at Booth.

What are the responsibilities you manage in your life? How do you strike a balance between school and personal life?
As a full-time student, my day-to-day responsibilities feel much more manageable now than when working a year ago – and they will undoubtedly look different when I go back to work full-time in August. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a partner who is willing to split up the housework with you to make the “balance” work. My husband Tyler is generally our master chef at home and does his fair share of vacuuming. It might sound frivolous to say, but the time spent on these “admin duties” at home add up, and having a partner that is committed to figuring out a way to make the split equitable will make a huge difference in my ability to balance.

What are you most passionate about?
At this very moment: convincing my 95-year-old grandma that washing her hands is, indeed, a good idea.

What are your personal and/or professional aspirations going forward? How has Booth helped in you achieving these aspirations?
Going to Booth has meant meeting impressive students from all sorts of backgrounds who are great at all kinds of subjects that I am terrible at (here’s to looking at you, statistics). In PE, the professional aspiration in going to get an MBA is very straightforward: work as an associate, get an MBA, come back as a VP. While meeting other Booth students in PE and taking certain classes has certainly helped with professional aspirations, I have been happily surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know other subjects through the lens of fellow students who excel (pun intended?) in them: from hard-core economics to marketing to entrepreneurship and behavioral science, having a well-rounded experience has undoubtedly shaped and changed how I view my career now. I also had the personal goal of coming out of this experience (a) convincing some fellow students to stay in Chicago after school and (b) making a handful of new friends who are vastly different from me. I’m happy to say I *think* I’ve met my personal goals.

What are you excited about in the coming year?
Going outside again! 😉

What classes at Booth have effectively brought a gender-lens into the discussion?
I took Diversity in Organizations this past quarter – admittedly, I first decided to take it mainly because it fit well with the rest of my Winter Quarter schedule, but I was skeptical. The class promised no answers to solve these complicated problems around diversity, equity, and inclusion, but I think it did leave me with a sense of empowerment in how I can help create better and more equitable places to work in the future (and finally answer the inevitable, “how do we get more women in PE?” question in a way that is research-based and actionable).

What advice would you give other women considering an MBA?
This might be an unpopular response, but I’m going to say it anyways. Getting an MBA is not cheap. I’m glad I waited until I was a little further along in my career before finally applying – by 28 (my age when I applied), I had more of a general sense of what I wanted my career to look like, the path I was on, and how an MBA would impact that trajectory. I was also with a partner (now my husband) who was open to the idea of a dual-income household and making it work for both of our future careers if I decided to go back to school. It is an expensive choice and it should not be taken lightly. I mean, really, this thinking applies to all genders, but I think it’s especially important for women to have a strong “why” going into school. And, of course, I want more and more women to have a “why”, apply, and come join the party!

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