Student spotlights: Navigating the MBA program with secured professional paths

Student spotlights: Navigating the MBA program with secured professional paths

Graduate students have a variety of reasons for pursuing an MBA program at Chicago Booth. While most of them have plans for a career shift, there are some students who have a clear path either as firm-sponsored students or decisions to pursue their family business after receiving the relevant skill sets from the program. Learn more from students who had a secured professional path and navigated their MBA program to capitalize on their strengths and focus on their development areas.

Nate Johnson

Where were you working before business school?

I was a management consultant with BCG in Boston and primarily worked in the Private Equity and Energy Practice areas. 

As a firm-sponsored candidate, what were your objectives for getting an MBA at Chicago Booth, and how has your experience been so far? 

One goal was to continue to build sector-specific expertise in energy and climate. I hope to contribute in some way to solving the climate crisis in my career. Thus far, the Booth experience has certainly helped prepare me to achieve these goals. Classes, student groups, and internships have afforded me opportunities to dive deep into climate tech topics and network with exceptional professors, peers, and professionals. 

Functionally, I wanted to establish a stronger foundation in finance, given its importance as an enabler of the energy transition. As an engineering major in undergrad, I had very little exposure to basic finance and accounting concepts. My academic experiences at Booth, in addition to internships at VCs and startups throughout the MBA, have given me the tools to be confident working at the intersection of energy and finance. 

How has the flexibility of being a firm-sponsored candidate allowed you to navigate other career paths for yourself?

Sponsorship has allowed me to take a more “risk-seeking” approach to recruit. I’ve explored climate tech venture capital, working for an early-stage VC firm in Chicago part-time over the past few semesters. Over the summer, I worked for a climate tech startup in Boulder, Colorado. Both these experiences have been incredibly fulfilling and, in many ways, complementary to my background as a consultant. They have helped me understand how to effectively scale nascent technologies and build a well-functioning team. They also relied on many of the same skills I honed in consulting: processing ambiguous information quickly and building perspectives on changing markets. These experiences will prove valuable once I return to BCG. 

John Sobo

What is your family business about?

We manufacture products for wastewater management, treatment, and reuse. Specifically, we manufacture fiberglass lift stations, aerobic treatment systems, and polyethylene storage products. Our mission is to support the modernization of North American water infrastructure (which is aging, decrepit, or non-existent) and preserve our country’s water resources.

Were you working with the family business before Chicago Booth?

Before Booth, I worked in the energy industry but always stayed up to date with the family business and helped in any way I could. I spent most of my high school and college summers working there. It wasn’t a glamorous job, especially for a teenager. I had to be up at 4 am and was at the bottom of the hierarchy doing the worst jobs (like sanding fiberglass and getting dust all over myself)

What made you decide on pursuing your MBA at Chicago Booth?

I am originally from Indiana and spent a lot of time in Chicago growing up — I love this city and the Midwestern work ethic that it is built upon. UChicago’s history has always fascinated me, whether it be the history of freshwater economics or that the dawn of the nuclear age happened right underneath the football field where Enrico Fermi created the first chain reaction. Once I learned more about Booth, the intellectual curiosity that dominates its culture, its reputation in the business community, and the quality of its faculty, I wanted to be nowhere else. 

How have the tools and community at Booth helped you in your journey to return to the family business?

I feel like I have come away with more than a lifetime of tools, resources, and connections! FSA with Abbie Smith gave me financial proficiency and the ability to dissect financial statements, Leadership Capital with Linda Ginzel deepened my understanding of humility and leadership, and Chris McGowan goes above and beyond in the PE Lab to present an inside look at real-world Private Equity strategies, Cases in Financial Management takes foundational Corporation Finance to a new level and Laura Born has unmatched insight in transactional finance and strategy, EFPE with Steve Kaplan is the most comprehensive lesson you will get in valuation and PE value creation, and finally, ETA with Brian O’Connor and Mark Agnew was hands down the best experience I had — their guidance forces you to develop a business acumen that will allow you to analyze industries, companies, and lead people. 

Catalina Meduna Ferre

What is your family business about?

My family has a Media, Consumer Engagement & Real Estate company based in Puerto Rico. It all started with a local newspaper, El Nuevo Día, that over time has evolved into a traditional and digital media company with many brands under its purview. We also built LinkActive, which provides bilingual call-center services. As we looked to diversify, the family started investing in real estate across the United States and Latin America. As the real estate business expanded, we formed Kingbird Investment Management.

Were you working with the family business before Chicago Booth?

I was not working for the family business before Chicago. We are highly encouraged to get outside experience before returning so that we can bring back new ideas. I do participate in certain board meetings and family councils and attend the annual family retreat every year where we do a business overview and discuss future plans for the business. I did an internship at the business for four summers during high school and college.

What made you decide on pursuing your MBA at Chicago Booth?

I previously worked as a fundraiser for Private Equity firms and decided to come to Booth to help me transition into the investing side. I think having a few years of experience in Private Equity will build skills that will be extremely helpful to bring back to the family business. Bringing the outside experience of how other private businesses are being efficiently run is essential. It really was about having different perspectives that I can bring back with me.

How have the tools and community at Booth helped you in your journey to return to the family business?

Winter quarter I took Jaime Shah’s new course: Outperform & Outlast: Operating and Investing in Closely Held Businesses. The course focused on Family Businesses and the unique issues that privately held businesses face. It was great to hear from other students that are also part of Family Business. I’m also co-chairing the Private and Family Business Group. The other co-chairs and I really want to revamp the club and engage more with the students at Booth. We think that getting together with other students involved in family business will be a great forum for discussion and a way to help build a community past our two years here at Booth. 

Takaaki Hayashi

Where were you working before business school?

I was a Manager in the investment division at Japan Post Insurance Co. (a Japanese life insurance company)

What made you want to pursue an MBA?

  • Objective of MBA (for my company): Sponsorship of my MBA is based on my company’s objective of expanding its oversea investments. Japan Post Insurance’s investment has traditionally been based on Japan government bonds, but have been increasing its investments in overseas markets recently.  The company relies on external managers for oversea investment, and although it needs to enhance its ability to make investments internally, it a difficult task as company activities have been generally domestic in the past, and most staff have no overseas working experience. By sending workers to MBA programs and enhancing their leadership skills and financial knowledge, my company is aiming to gain the ability to move forward with overseas operations. 
  • Objective of MBA (for me): My aspirations coincided with my company’s strategy to move forward with overseas operations. My goal is to earn MBA degree, and then earn a managerial role in the company in which I can proactively transform the company to make any internal oversea investment possible, and eventually be in charge of the company’s investment made in the US market worth several trillion yen in assets such as bonds, stocks, private equity and real estate.

How has your MBA program at Chicago Booth been effective?

My view was that the Booth MBA program would be most effective to achieve the objectives – and I was right.  With the flexibility of the curriculum, I was able to take advanced financial class in my first year. Knowledge acquired there helped throughout my summer internship in a US asset management company. The variety of financial classes is exceptional with classes devoted to factor investing, behavioral finance, and derivatives.  The interactions I have with fellow students for various projects have enhanced my leadership and taught me how I should function within a diversified group.

What alternative career paths have you explored during Chicago Booth?

Most companies create an obligation for a sponsored student to return to the workforce after graduation, and recruiting opportunities will be limited if the student was to fully comply with such obligations. However, there are opportunities that such sponsored students can capture, and I was able to participate in a summer internship with consent from my sponsoring company. The summer internship was for a US asset management company and gave me a chance to experience the US working culture and enhance my financial knowledge. The internship also provided me which an opportunity to apply the knowledge acquired in Booth in the real world.