In seven short days I will be graduating with an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Exciting though it may be, it is a moment of reflection as I am not the first of my family to run late to class through Hyde Park. 113 years ago, my great uncle Pavel Miluykov taught political science at The University of Chicago, shortly after his release from jail in Russia.
Just as Chicago Booth expects its professors to be leaders in business, so does the rest of this venerable institution. So, as a teacher of political science, my uncle got some very relevant experience as a rioter and political prisoner. Rebellion continued after his stint with the maroons: when he returned to Russia he took part in the February revolution which toppled Tsar Nicholas II and then served in the provisional government overseeing Russia’s terrible involvement in the First World War. Of course, all that came toppling down in just a few months when the Communists took over and things took a sad turn for him.
Exciting biography aside, as I prepare for graduation and pack my suitcase, I wonder what this intelligent and fearless man would have thought about an MBA graduation. Is business school too commercial and thus low brow for a real intellectual? Should I have been busy standing up for principles rather than learning accounting? Napoleon’s snide description of England as a nation of shopkeepers (as opposed to enlightened intellectual France) comes to mind here.
I admit that I have at times wondered whether deriving an equity beta carries the same higher meaning as getting an understanding of Oedipus. When that thought haunted me during our degree, I reminded myself that in our world economic value (= cash in your bank account) is awarded to finance, not ancient Greek tragedy.
However, as our studies went on and the course came to fit together like a finely crafted puzzle, I began to change my mind. A truly great business school teaches far more than maths tricks and management lingo. As a class, we have become better people as a result of our experience together. I do not know how Chicago Booth does this (especially across three continents) but the people who are graduating with me next week are more humble, thoughtful and open-minded than they were two years ago. This is definitely true of myself too.
As I pack my dress for graduation, I am not just grateful for the business concepts and excellent network that I gained. The strongest feeling of gratitude I have is for the opportunity I got to think about what I want the world to be and for the belief that the class of March 2016 can shape it that way.