You can return after 40 years – perspectives from my U of Chicago Booth School of Business Reunion – Part 2 of 2

On Saturday I returned to the U of Chicago main campus in Hyde Park.

I kicked off part one (link) with sharing about my fortuitous luck of having work in Chicago the week of my 40th MBA class reunion, and how much I enjoyed the various activities and the whole culture of the school. Yes, University of Chicago Booth School of Business was indeed the right place for me – unabashedly analytic and data driven with a heart for making a positive impact on the world.

In part 1, I recounted most of the weekend activities, and in Part 2 I will summarize the three “classes” I took on Friday May 3 and Saturday May 4 with current faculty members. I loved the intellectual stimulation I received participating in these three classes … never too old to learn! And I did select classes that coincided well with my consulting areas of diversity, leadership and corporate culture:
• “Does Culture Eat Strategy for Lunch” with Professor Jim Schrager
• “Bringing Down Barriers: How to Build Relationships Despite Differences” with Professor Jane L. Risen
• “Choosing Leadership” with Professor Linda Ginzel

Two of the books I received during my class reunion.

“Does Culture Eat Strategy for Lunch” with Professor Jim Schrager. In my consulting, I often do discuss corporate culture and how important that is for organizational success. But what is really more important, having a good strategy or a strong corporate culture? Professor Schrager likened this to the nature vs. nurture debate and the oft-talked about study of identical twins separated at birth.

Professor Schrager took the natural experiment approach by sharing a number of case studies that held all variables constant, but then looked at various cultures and strategies. In these case studies across multiple industries, companies that did not have strong strategies focusing on growing in a quickly changing world and market failed irregardless of their corporate culture. Yes, culture is important, and a strong culture where people will exert discretionary effort to help the organization succeed is an important factor in successful execution, but a lackluster or poor strategy will lead to failure no matter how hard everyone works.

“Bringing Down Barriers: How to Build Relationships Despite Differences” with Professor Jane L. Risen. Professor Risen started by introducing us to the term “homophily” which is “love of the same,” the natural human tendency to associate with, build relationships with, and like people similar to ourselves. But how can we deliberately build strong relationships with those different from us, which is increasingly important in our ever accelerating multicultural workplace?

She then introduced a study done over several years with a program called “Seeds of Peace” where teenagers from Israel and Palestine are brought together for a 3-week camping experience in Maine. These are two groups have that tremendous tension on the world scene, where understanding relationships are quite rare.

Extensive data analysis proved the concept of propinquity, that physical or psychological proximity facilitates relationships despite tremendous differences. There was a phenomenal statistically significant increase in close personal relationships between Israeli and Palestinian teens who either bunked together in the same cabin or participated together in long deep discussion groups. The application is that very diverse people who work together in an organization around common goals can even be more effective by building close relationships and having meaningful discussion.

Attending “Choosing Leadership” with Professor Linda Ginzel

“Choosing Leadership” with Professor Linda Ginzel. At this session, we all got a special gift from award-winning leadership professor Linda Ginzel; her workbook “Choosing Leadership” and a green pen. (This session was on May 4th …. so link to this short cute “May the Fourth Be With You” video from Professor Ginzel that includes an explanation of the green pen.)

Professor Ginzel first shared that Leadership is indeed hard, and she has been on a long quest to teach leadership with integrity, resulting in her developing the workbook she gave us. Then some of her additional points during this session:

• Leadership needs a structure and a framework, and we should each develop our own that suits us.
• Quote from John Gardner, “The building of community is one of the highest most essential skills a leader can command.”
• Quote from John F. Kennedy, “Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other.”
• Each of the chapters in Professor Ginzel’s book starts with a verb since leading is active.
• Managing and Leading are both important and go hand in hand.
• Finally, Professor Ginzel’s own wonderful definition of leadership, “Behavioral choices we make in order to create a better future.”

I loved the entire stimulating weekend being at Booth Reconnect getting re-energized, meeting cool people and learning much!

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Stan Kimer, Booth MBA ’79 retired after a 31-year career at IBM and then formed his own diversity and career development consultancy, Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer.

You can return after 40 years – perspectives from my U of Chicago Booth School of Business Reunion – Part 1 of 2

Doing what I love most on my birthday – teaching diversity and inclusion prior to attending my 40th MBA class reunion.

What fortuitous luck! I had been assigned to teach the National Diversity Council’s DiversityFIRST Certification class in Chicago during my 64th birthday and immediately prior to my 40th MBA class reunion. So after having not been back in 35 years (I did go to a 5th year class reunion dinner) I signed up.

Yes – you can “go back home” as the say after four decades; it was a wonderful experience. I actually did not meet anybody from my class who I knew while in school, but I did meet many wonderful new classmates and other people. And a highlight was going back to three special classes taught by current professors for alumni. I loved the intellectual stimulation! Part 2 will focus specifically on the content of those classes.

The first stop was going to the newish Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago on Thursday May 2nd; that building did not exist when I was in school 40 years ago. I loved the energy right away while riding the elevator with two professors who were discussing the importance of having passion for whatever you are doing – such a vital message for all of us.

The University of Chicago downtown Gleacher Center – my first time being there!

That evening was the huge cocktail reception with all the classes. Luckily I was able to run into three alums from my class (and two of their spouses) among the crowded noisy room of hundreds of people. One of the three was from Germany, underscoring the international flavor of the University of Chicago’s program.

Friday May 3rd was the annual Management Conference now normally held in conjunction with the reunion. Booth School of Business Dean Madhav Rajan kicked off the luncheon session (where I sat with some additional 40 year graduates including one from France) with a summary of Booth’s uniqueness and progress. Points included:
• Booth’s analytic data-driven approach to decision making is perhaps unique among business schools.
• The Booth School of Business has 3 Nobel Prize Winners on the faculty, which is 3 times the number of all the other top business schools combined!
• 42% of the current entering class are women (compared to about 15% when I was there.)
• He emphasized that our learning needs to have a positive impact on public life.

This is one thing I love about Chicago Booth – it is not all about greed and getting rich – the theme of having a positive impact on society kept permeating the weekend’s activities, including addressing poverty.

Attending a class at the new Gleacher Center

The Dean’s address was followed by an interview session with investor extraordinaire Howard Marks, 1969 Booth graduate and co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management with over $120 billion in assets. Mr. Marks’ comments were sprinkled with his down to earth style and a great sense of humor. And we all received his latest book, “Mastering the Market Cycle.” Then we went back to various classes (read about the ones I intended in part 2) and that night I enjoyed a wonderful intimate dinner with the 25, 40, 45 and 50 reunion classes and a panel a distinguished Economic Professors.

And the weekend closed with meeting many younger diverse graduates and students later Saturday at the Booth LGBT gathering before heading to the airport for my late night flight home.

Here is Part 2 (link) where I write about the classes I attended Friday afternoon and the return to the Hyde Park main campus on Saturday.

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Stan Kimer, Booth MBA ’79, retired after a 31-year career at IBM and then formed his own diversity and career development consultancy, Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer.