Distinguished Alumni Award Winners Pay Tribute to Chicago Booth

Published on November 06, 2009

The 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award winners credited Chicago Booth and its faculty for contributing to their achievements in public service, entrepreneurship, finance, and corporate leadership.

“It was the intellectual honesty of Booth and the different professors I had that shaped my thinking of the great challenges,” said Ron Huberman, MBA ’00, AM ’00, who received the Distinguished Public Service/Public Sector Alumni Award. Among those he praised were Harry Davis, Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management; Marvin Zonis, professor emeritus of business administration; and Pastora San Juan Cafferty, professor emerita from the School of Social Service Administration.

Matthew Li, ’91, won the Distinguished Young Alumni Award; Ronald Packard, ’89, the Distinguished Entrepreneurial Alumni Award; and Paul Purcell, ’71, the Distinguished Corporate Alumni Award. Dean Edward Snyder presented them with the awards in front of more than 1,000 alumni who celebrated at Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom on November 6.

Huberman rose from Chicago beat cop to Mayor Daley-appointed CEO of Chicago Public Schools. Huberman stressed the importance of improving public schools, saying Booth represents “the end of that chain, meaning if all of us in public education do our job right, the ranks of people waiting to get into institutions such as Booth should be very long.”

Packard, too, spoke about public education. “I’d be remiss, speaking to a room of so many talented people, so many successful people, if I didn’t encourage all of you to get involved in public education however you can.”

Inspired by his daughter who was six at the time, Packard founded K12 Inc., a technology-based education company that today is the largest provider of K-12 online education in the United States.

Packard said he “never felt more at home intellectually” than he had at Booth, where he also met his wife. He praised Booth for being a “center of economic freedom” and listed the writing of Milton Friedman as an example.

Purcell, chairman and CEO of employee-owned Robert W. Baird & Co., said he was “extremely honored,” foremost because of “my profound respect for Chicago Booth, its academic prowess, and its history of developing great leaders.”

He called his time at Booth “extremely special,” adding that he was fortunate to have attended in 1971 with Booth’s namesake David Booth, ’71. “Milton Friedman was in his prime teaching his money course,” Purcell said. “George Stigler was an imposing figure in microeconomics and labor theory, Gene Fama [Robert R. McCormick Distinguished Service Professor of Finance] was just coming into his own in finance. Art Lathrop, believe it or not, was a graduate assistant, and there was a marketing wunderkind by the name of Harry Davis. All of those people were holding court each and every day. Our good family friend [former dean] John Jeuck was teaching and mentoring the very best in business policy.

“It was exhilarating, exciting, and extremely important in my evolution as a thinker and as a leader,” Purcell said. “My partners at Baird call me Mr. Process and you can be assured that that came from my training at Chicago Booth.”

A teenage math wizard in China, Li came to Booth under the mentorship of George Tiao, W. Allen Wallis Professor Emeritus of Econometrics and Statistics. Li said he came here with only the $100 bill his mom had sewn into his jacket.

While other hedge funds struggled, Li’s firm, Fore Research & Management, LP, reported fourth quarter 2008 holdings of $3.4 billion.

Li self-deprecatingly accepted his award, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd when he said he’d told his 8-year-old-son that the award was “proof positive that the markets sometimes are not efficient.”

Exploiting market inefficiencies is an important task for hedge fund managers, Li said. “You should not confuse your luck with skills or talents and should still continue to search and try with the Chicago spirit to create a long-term return that can justify your existence,” he said. “The fact that I’m standing here tonight is a demonstration of the power of a Chicago education. With it, even if you start with as little as a hundred dollars, with this great and powerful education from Chicago Booth you can get pretty far.”

                                                                                                                    Mary Sue Penn

Learn more about the Distinguished Alumni Awards »