Building resilience in times of crisis

Building resilience in times of crisis

Following the announcement in mid-March that we would go fully remote for Spring Quarter, the last two months have brought many changes and much uncertainty to the lives of Booth students, just as it has to the entire world. While we can’t know what the future holds, we are lucky to have people in our community who can share their perspectives and learnings from previous downturns.

The school recently hosted a virtual panel with three esteemed alumni, and though each panelist had a vastly different experience at Booth, all three attended the school during what would prove to be very volatile periods—the stock market crash of 1987, 9/11 coupled with the Dot-com Bust, and The Great Recession.

The panel discussion, titled “Booth Alumni Perspectives: Building Resilience in Times of Crisis,” poignantly hit at the crux of what it means to be part of the Booth community, particularly during times of economic instability. It also offered attendees candid advice on how to persevere through such periods—and I wanted to share my three biggest takeaways from the conversation.

Co-hosted by the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, the Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership, and Student Life, the event was moderated by Professor Caroline Grossman (MBA ’03) and featured alumni panelists Luis Miranda, ’89 (Chairman, the Centre for Civil Society and CORO; Founder-Director, the Indian School of Public Policy; Senior Advisor, Morgan Stanley), Dean Rosenblum, ’02 (Entrepreneur), and Katherine Glasser, ’09 (President of IDEX Corporation).

Hearing their experiences left me with three main takeaways that feel crucial to not only moving forward, but also to taking control in these unprecedented times:

Volatility unlocks opportunity

Luis remembers being in Professor Eugene Fama’s class on Black Monday, hours after the stock market unexpectedly crashed. He noted that the event profoundly changed his life and the lives of his peers, as job offers began to disappear literally overnight. While this uncertainty proved disarming, he recalls that Booth used this period to identify opportunities for improvement within the school’s curriculum that could potentially help students better navigate this kind of instability. Luis was asked to be part of a group of students to collaborate with the school on this project, which resulted in the creation of LEAD, the leadership course that now unifies all Booth alums. The experience of working on such a meaningful and innovative internal project, which was a product of such a volatile period, has empowered Luis to identify parallel opportunities and take risks throughout his career, including co-founding HDFC Bank, which today is India’s leading private bank.

Though Dean’s consulting offer was not compromised by the aftermath of 9/11, he talked about how weathering the adversity of this period better prepared him for later setbacks in his career. Sadly, on 9/11, Dean lost his brother, who worked as a trader in one of The World Trade Center towers. Recovering from this loss was an arduous journey, but it taught him how to create new paths when old ones become unavailable, as well as gave him greater perspective, including clarity on his long-term career goals. Years later, while working at Pepsi, Dean’s job was unexpectedly eliminated. The grit he honed from these past experiences gave him the courage to pursue the entrepreneurial path that had long excited him.

In Katherine’s experience, it was not just that jobs were being rescinded, but that banks were collapsing entirely. For many of her peers who sought jobs in the financial industry, this path was no longer available. She noted that this prompted students to think creatively and determine their own sense of direction, which in many cases ended up falling outside of the traditional pie chart of MBA career options, but perhaps proved more rewarding in the long run. Many of her peers decided to pursue entrepreneurial pursuits, like Dean, and they were not alone; all three periods of instability referenced in the panel gave rise to some of the greatest entrepreneurial activity of the last century.

In the face of such macro uncertainty, Luis, Dean, and Katherine were able to cultivate a mentality for creating opportunities out of setbacks, which would equip them for inevitable future ups and downs.

Positive action is key to persevering through instability

While crises can result in the tendency to fold inward, all three speakers emphasized the importance of combatting that inclination by being proactive. Maintaining perspective—remembering that this too shall pass—is key to fighting the anger, sadness, feelings of paralysis, and complex menagerie of emotions that can follow a crisis like the one we are experiencing.

Dean spoke of the importance of self-care; simple acts in our control, like eating well or getting fresh air, can go a long way in warding off negativity. Katherine added that in her current job, they set aside time to connect on a human level, like discussing popular TV shows or chatting about their families, in order to reclaim a sense of connection and normalcy. All three speakers encouraged those seeking job opportunities to beat down every door and overturn every rock. They agreed that taking action, both personally and professionally, will give you purpose that fuels you.

Crises bring people closer together — especially at Booth

Luis, Dean, and Katherine firmly agreed that the chaos of the outside world was countered by the immense stability and support from the Booth community. They shared the belief that such periods foster relationships that transcend social life; the deepest connections and lifelong friendships are born out of these unusual circumstances that unite people.

For Luis, the difficulty of the job search was compounded by his status as an international student, as not all companies had the infrastructure in place to hire students on visas. As a result, he leaned heavily on the Booth network. Serendipitously, while attending the christening for a classmate’s child, Luis met his classmate’s brother, who worked at Citibank and ended up offering him a job.

Dean recalled that the number of hours second-year students entering the consulting field spent coaching first-years with similar aspirations was staggering. As a second-year, it was not out of obligation that he returned the favor, but rather from an intrinsic desire to help those around him succeed—a feeling he believed was universal among his classmates.

Similarly, Katherine noted that the pervasive question among her classmates as the banks collapsed was “how can I help you?” Without ego, students asked for help and received it, both from their peers and overwhelmingly from the school. The whole community stepped up to facilitate connections and unearth new opportunities, and in doing so harnessed many unique job prospects for the graduating class.

Those of us attending the panel departed with the fitting one-liner, “be a net contributor, not a net taker.” In short, it was clear that the pay-it-forward culture has always been alive and well at Booth. I left the panel feeling inspired; the same community that Luis, Dean, and Katherine spoke of I see alive and well today. Students are posting job opportunities on Slack, Career Services is working tirelessly to unearth new opportunities and communicate them with the student body, and throughout the community, there is an unwavering feeling that we are in this together and will help each other get through this—with no one left behind.

As I reflected on the panel, a question gnawed at me: I have heard so much about Booth’s “pay-it-forward” culture, benefited from it, as well as (I hope) contributed to it, but what is its history? I set out on a quest to answer that question…

Check back next week for my post: A History Lesson on Booth’s Pay-it-Forward Culture