Booth Celebrates 20 Years in Europe

Published on March 02, 2015

In the last 20 years, Europe’s economy has undergone a transformation with the birth of a single currency, the launch of the European Central Bank, and Germany’s emergence as a regional powerhouse.

During these two decades, Chicago Booth’s physical presence in Europe has seen its own share of change, growing from modest beginnings in a converted bank building in Barcelona to its current location in the heart of London’s financial district.

But with the eurozone now seemingly in a state of perpetual crisis, what kind of region will the school be part of two years from now, let alone two decades?

It was one question that nearly 500 guests, including faculty, staff, students, corporate employers, government representatives and nearly 300 alumni considered as they gathered to celebrate Booth’s 20 years of influence in Europe. The four-day event (held in London February 19-22) began with a panel discussion, “A European Identity for the 21st Century.” The Milestone Celebration also included presentations from faculty, alumni reunion class dinners, and networking events.

“There was a lot of excitement—alumni came together who hadn’t seen each other for years,” said John P. Gould, Steven G. Rothmeier Professor and Distinguished Service Professor of Economics who as dean in the early 1990s led Booth’s expansion to Europe. “The community took stock of where the school has been and where it’s going.”

The networking prompted reflection among alumni on the elements that set Booth apart. 

“Booth’s secret is its ability to be at the forefront of the business world, not just part of the crowd,” said Kiran Chidambaram, ’14, senior client partner at Tata Consultancy Services in London. “That comes from the professors. They offer theoretical and practical knowledge that encourages students to think about what’s been but, crucially, ask what’s coming next.”

The opening panel, that included Randall S. Kroszner, Norman R. Bobins Professor of Economics, spurred a lively discussion on European Union governance. “At the moment, Europe is not playing a global game—fiscally, politically, commercially,” Gerard Lyons, chief economic advisor to the Mayor of London, said during the debate on Europe’s identity. “It shouldn’t be Europe versus the world. It should be Europe and the world.”

Helena Morrissey, chief executive officer, Newton Investment Management, a London unit of BNY Mellon, and co-founder of the 30 Percent Club, a non-profit organization that promotes gender balance in the workplace, went a step further.

“The EU is not fit for purpose in the 21st century,” she said. “It needs to realize that one size fits one, not one size fits all,” alluding to the turmoil from the Greece debt crisis. “The EU has to face the fact that there is a big problem, one that can only be solved by decision-making and legislation that delivers the right outcomes locally, not just centrally.”

Sunil Kumar, dean and George Pratt Shultz Professor of Operations Management, led the celebratory toast at the Friday-evening Milestone Reception: “To the next 20 years and more!” The reception was hosted by the Alumni Club of the United Kingdom and moderated by Stephen Barter, co-chair of the Global Advisory Board Europe, Middle East, and Africa Cabinet.

Rolf Friedl, ’96, managing partner, Capvis Equity Partners AG Zurich a Global Advisory Board (GAB) member, and a graduate of the first class in Barcelona, EXP-1, recalled the rewards of being a pioneer.

“Joining the school’s inaugural European program was a bit of a risk, so I thought everyone would be quite adventurous and entrepreneurial,” he said. “What I didn’t expect was the incredible diversity of our class. No two backgrounds were the same, so we learned a lot from each other." Friedl also credited Gould and Harry L. Davis, Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management, and former deputy dean who also was instrumental in Booth’s expansion to Europe, for the classroom diversity. "It gave us a ready-made network that was very special—and still is.”

Saturday’s agenda started with a keynote lecture by Amir Sufi, Chicago Board of Trade Professor of Finance, discussing his book House of Debt. “Back to the Classroom” sessions were led by Nicholas Epley, John Templeton Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and author of the book Mindwise, and by Michael Gibbs, clinical professor of economics and faculty director of the Executive MBA Program.

The weekend was capped by a panel discussion hosted by the Chicago Angels Network (CAN), a London-based Booth network of experts, mentors, and angel investors. The panels underscored the school’s growing influence in the realm of entrepreneurship.

“Where CAN adds real value is in the doors it opens,” said angel investor Shehreyar Hameed, ’05, during Sunday afternoon’s panel presentations that focused on start-ups. “We live in a networked economy where having the right connections is critical. CAN links entrepreneurs with people who can make a positive difference to their business.”

One panel discussion, moderated by Robert H. Gertner, Joel F. Gemunder Professor of Strategy and Finance and deputy dean for the Part-Time MBA Programs, explored how CAN worked with a London packaging start-up, Valueform, to help it refine its strategy and explore new markets. A second panel, moderated by Robert Rosenberg, adjunct associate professor of entrepreneurship, offered a broad exploration of entrepreneurship at Booth.

Participants at the four-day celebration agreed that Europe’s dynamic economy offers myriad opportunities for Booth to further extend its influence.

As Barter of the Global Advisory Board reminded the audience, in the words of Mae West: “I never said it would be easy. I only said it would be worth it.”—Alex Eeles

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