#HerBoothExperience with Professor Laura Born

#HerBoothExperience with Professor Laura Born

I grew up in a suburb of Chicago. My dad was the first in his family to go to college and my grandparents were all European immigrants—they worked in the factories of Chicago and I feel that my work ethic comes from them. I am a “die hard” Chicago woman as my roots are expansive here. I went to public schools through high school and took classes like economics and accounting…as I was interested in business early in my life. I used to joke with my parents and their friends that I was going to be the CEO of United Airlines (a Chicago hometown company) and drive a BMW!

Against the paths of my peers and what my parents were thinking for my future, I chose to go to college away from the Midwest. I believed a change in region would be interesting and enriching, which is how I ended up at Duke for my undergrad. Once there I immediately declared my major as economics, double majored in political science, and focused my electives on art history and a couple of business classes.

I was always interested in art and used to visit the Art Institute of Chicago with my dad where we would play “I Spy”. They had programming for kids where we would go on a treasure hunt for famous paintings. This generated my interest in art history in college, which I parlayed into a semester of study abroad in Florence, Italy, where the Renaissance started!

After graduating and working a couple of years in sales at Bear Stearns (no longer around!), I went to Booth to earn my MBA. Booth was my first-choice business school as I was attracted to the analytic rigor, first rate reputation and genuine student and faculty culture.  Growing up in Chicago, I set my sites on an MBA from Booth early in my high school career.  I loved my years at Booth where I was part of the very first class to go through LEAD and then became a LEAD facilitator. The culture at Booth was changing so much with this program and many other initiatives that CNN came to campus to interview the school and I was chosen to represent the school in an interview (still have the video tape!). Booth is also where I met my husband and we married two years later.

Following my MBA, I ventured out to NYC where I joined JP Morgan and started in investment banking. NYC was a big transition for me coming from the Midwestern United States, but, after a year or so, I grew to appreciate and love it. I still really enjoy my visits to NYC today. In non-COVID times, I try to go three to four times a year to take in the culture, food, and visit with my friends on Wall Street to try to stay current on market developments and conditions.

I spent 17 years at JP Morgan and had three kids in the process. Being a full-time working mother on Wall Street was not easy. The industry demands a lot from you and I also wanted to be a “present” mom. So, I pushed all social obligations off our calendar and my husband and I managed by hiring great people to support us, focusing the priorities on our kids, and spending much of their first 10 years of life hanging out with them each weekend.

As my oldest started to enter “tween/teen” years, my husband and I felt one of us needed to be home more. Having two financial services-oriented parents working was no way to raise kids at those ages and that it was a point in our kids’ lives where we needed to be much more involved in the day-to-day of their lives.

So…I left JPM and explored all sorts of things. I created a framework for myself with three legs: (1) flexible work, (2) not-for-profit service, and (3) spending more time around my kids’ schools. I ticked them off one by one. I was hired as an Adjunct Professor at Booth and given the chance to “give teaching a try” with one class that was designed for undergraduates. And, 13 years later, here I am.  Secondly, I joined a community based not-for-profit board and third, I ran a review of my kids’ school district’s strategy for 20th Century learning that was presented and mostly adopted by the Board of Education.

I think it’s important for everyone to realize that what you decide to do out of business school is step one and you will evolve as a professional and a person. It’s important to keep an open mind, learn everything you can from every experience, and check in with yourself if your career is working with your life. I would not have left investment banking had I not been able to have or adopt children – but since I did, I needed to pivot once they were older in age. These choices are personal, and no one should be judged for which way any person decides to go. I feel strongly that “life is a volunteer army”, and it’s your job, as an individual, to navigate what works for you. It’s nobody’s “fault” if your work-life balance is out of balance—change it!  Just be sure, along the way, that you live within your means so you always have options!

In terms of the nitty-gritty of managing a busy work life and family life, here are my pointers:

  • Pick the right partner. You need to be aligned in what you want to do and what they want to do. My husband is amazing! He’s supported me in my career but also has been a constructive sounding board on what is best for me and for our family.
  • If feasible, hire the right people to support you. Do not short change yourself – get the best. This is different for each individual depending on the particular situation, for me, that looked like interviewing and finding the perfect nanny.  I interviewed 25 nanny candidates before I chose a nanny we had for the first nine years. Then I hired a bunch more to find one that was a good fit for the older ages of my kids. Get help where you need it and pay top dollar – you get what you pay for!  Treat them like gold – they are part of your family!
  • Let go of the little stuff. Who cares if my house is dirty? I don’t. You may not see your friends as much as you want and have the latest hairstyle, but who cares? If you can’t learn to let go, you will drive yourself nuts – focus on what’s important! For me it is:  husband, kids, job – that’s it – and they all have to work together!
  • Force yourself to think about your balance once a year. Don’t obsess about it every day and on the other hand, don’t forget to “check in” with your own goals, happiness level, and mental health!
  • Know that you’re not perfect. Some things will be done well and some won’t. When things don’t go right, don’t be too harsh to yourself and recognize you’re doing the best you can and you’re living a rich life – that’s what matters!