During the week leading up to the Class of 2020’s unconventional virtual graduation ceremony, the Graduate Business Council planned a series of remote events for us to celebrate our accomplishments and get in a little more bonding before everyone goes their separate ways, to new cities, new jobs, and new adventures. While some of the events were sillier in nature, including the culmination of the Cohort Olympics (go Harper!), others were a bit more serious, such as our last Booth Voices (an ongoing tradition throughout the year in which Boothies share unfiltered stories of their personal journeys). However, one event in particular, titled “Gratitude Power Hour,” left me reflecting long after the Zoom session ended.
Over the course of the hour-long event, attendees were encouraged to think about those both in and outside of the Booth community who have helped shape their experiences these last two years, whether in small or large ways. I thought about small moments, such as running into certain people in Harper Center who never fail to bring a smile to my face, even just in casual chit-chat. Then I thought about bigger influences, including my family and fiancé, whose ceaseless patience and support has kept me grounded, even from thousands of miles away. I also thought about my professors—all twenty-three of them were passionate about their disciplines, excited to disseminate their knowledge, and genuinely eager to get to know their students. But I thought about one professor, in particular, and his impact not only on my academic studies but also on my professional development, leadership style, and confidence, and how thankful I am to have gained him as a lifelong mentor.
I took New Venture Strategy (NVS) with Professor Greg Bunch in Winter Quarter 2019. As someone with a background in investing, I thought taking a class on building new companies would be a useful inside-out approach to more or less reverse engineer what makes for a good investment. I was not wrong, but NVS was so much more than that. I would categorize it as an advanced strategy and applied learning course in which the outcome is an entirely new way of thinking and problem-solving. That may sound like a lofty product of a single class, but it is, in my experience, the truth.
NVS was also unlike any classroom experience I have ever been a part of, in part because Professor Bunch is unlike any professor I have ever had. His teaching style is to some extent through stories—engaging, poignant, and memorable vignettes that are impossible to forget and thus do an impeccable job of driving home critical takeaways.
It is also clear how much he cares about his students; this is never more evident than on Day One of his class, in which he greets every student by name as they walk through the door, having studied the faces and professional backgrounds of his students before the start of the term. That attention to his students allows Professor Bunch to tailor aspects of the class to the individuals who are in front of him (“for the four of you with consulting backgrounds, this lesson is particularly relevant”), as well as solicit specific feedback from students he knows have applicable experience that can enrich certain discussions (such as calling on a classmate who previously worked at Pepsi when doing a case on Pepsi). My friends and I would leave class each week and gush about the course on our ride home.
When Professor Bunch asked me to TA for NVS for Spring Quarter 2019, I was excited, but I had no idea that it would come to be one of the highlights and most important parts of my Booth experience.
Each week after class, he holds an “After Action Review” (AAR) with his TAs, in which we discuss what worked well and what did not work so well in class that day. At first, these sessions made me nervous. I had really loved his class and experiencing it for the second time was no different. And after all, I was just a student; who was I to think I could critique the professor? I quickly realized, however, that he genuinely sought and valued this feedback. To him, TAs were not just students—and students in general were not just students. We were “colleagues,” as he called us, with insightful comments that could make him and his class better. In short order, I had learned to be more perceptive, to pick up on even smaller things that could be improved, and I was empowered to share these thoughts in the AARs.
Last summer, I could clearly see the ramifications of working with Professor Bunch in my internship, when I was less afraid to chime in during meetings, despite being the intern, as well as confident enough to share my candid thoughts on how the firm could improve its internship during my exit interview. When Professor Bunch invited all of his TAs to a barbecue last summer at his house to celebrate the new school year, I was disappointed to miss it, since I was still based in Boston, but I was more excited than ever to work with him as a TA again come fall.
This past quarter was my fourth time TAing for Professor Bunch. As our world was thrust first into a global pandemic and then reminded of the greater plague of systemic racism that still pervades our society, Professor Bunch was his fiercely optimistic, energetic, and caring self. He must have spent the weeks between the announcement that we would go fully remote for Spring Quarter and the actual start of the term working nonstop on adapting NVS for this new learning environment. He wanted to ensure his students gained the same knowledge, despite the less than ideal circumstances. Through calls and video chats, he encouraged us TAs to think of this pandemic as an opportunity to fix what was broken. “The world needs more entrepreneurs!” he would repeat, underscoring the importance of a course that focused on just that—solving problems—as well as his attitude towards continuing to shape that course, which was undeniably entrepreneurial in spirit.
Attending a virtual three-hour class can be exhausting, so I can only imagine what teaching one is like. Despite this, throughout the quarter, Professor Bunch would stay on Zoom during class breaks, forgoing what I am sure would be a welcome few minutes of down time to chat with students, check in, and build rapport with them. He would also shoot texts to us TAs, as well as occasionally call. He wanted to know how we were doing, how our families were doing. Were people safe and healthy? Were we stressed and anxious? How could he help?
On one such check-in call the final week of class, Professor Bunch asked me how he could continue to support me after I graduated. He wanted to know what he could do to help me professionally, as well as to let me know that I should always consider him a resource and someone who would make time for me, regardless of the circumstance. I felt myself begin to choke up on the phone, while managing to stutter out that I would just love to stay in touch, and when I am next in Chicago, and it is safe to get together, it would be great to catch up in person.
As I hung up the phone and began to think about how this is the end of many things—my time at Booth, my life in Chicago—many things are also not ending. The relationships I have built with those in the Booth community have no expiration; in fact, they are only just beginning. With Professor Bunch, I feel strongly this will be the case, because I have seen the product of his genuine relationships. Each term in NVS, student final projects are presented in front of a panel of judges, many of whom are Booth alums, as well as alums of Professor Bunch’s class. These former students are excited to come back to campus (often from thousands of miles away) to catch up with Professor Bunch and help his students, because his care for his work and students is contagious. One day, I hope to be one of those panelists in order to support Professor Bunch in the way that he has supported me.
I have much to be grateful for, including the many wonderful gifts that attending Booth has given me, both directly and indirectly. However, I am especially grateful for Professor Bunch—for creating a class that irrevocably shaped the way I think, for the skills gained from being his TA, and for his endless compassion and support. The world may need more entrepreneurs, but it also needs more people like Professor Bunch.