The answer is both. I am used to working in a 24/7 culture, but can honestly say that I have never had as much coffee as I did in my first week of being a Chicago Booth Exec MBA student. The week was exhausting, exhilarating, stimulating, frightening and fun.
252 students met in the Hyatt Regency in Chicago for the first time last Saturday when the Chicago, London and Hong Kong campuses came together for the first session of our programme.
It was the beginning of the beginning. Everybody was on their best behaviour and many people felt guarded given the onslaught of the accomplished international crowd. The difference in relations between people on Saturday 14 and Friday 21 June was startling – by the end, our perfect selves were sent packing, the masks came off and real friendships were born.
Our schedule was gruelling – around nine hours of class time were accompanied by reading and group work. On a particularly long day, I woke up at 6 am to work on an assignment, after having finished my studies around 11:30 pm the previous day. After having your brain in a particle accelerator all day, it’s impossible to just go to sleep, so the Hyatt bar became our decompression chamber. People say that networking is one of the most important parts of the MBA, however I’m not sure if I was able to pull sentences together by midnight. Like Cinderella's carriage, after midnight I turned into a pumpkin.
To stave off the exhaustion, the university overfed us constantly. Even by US standards, this was too much. But I ate everything! So did lots of people. I wonder if we can get Booth bulk discounts for lypo at the end of the course…
Most of our classes were great, and to my surprise, I am becoming quite fond of economics (I am a Politics graduate, so this is unexpected). Perhaps meeting Eugene Fama, the most recent economics Nobel Prize winner and Chicago professor, had something to do with it (for a quick summary of his talk, see here). I only had one criticism of the academic programme: the LEAD class we had on learning to be adaptable to different cultural norms felt like indoctrination of political correctness. Instead, it would have been good to discuss when adapting is impossible and how to know when to cut your losses and leave a foreign posting.
As well as class time, we had intense group sessions as we battled to complete assignments late into the evening. For me, it was a good way to get to know people I would not otherwise and I am glad for the opportunity. However, it was not all roses for everybody. For a leadership course, we had a case on whether to promote an accomplished but difficult woman to partner. While my group had a lengthy discussion, nobody was at each other’s throats, which may not have been the case for everyone.
It must be said that after just one week of classes I am starting to see things differently. I am not yet a world dominating billionaire, but I am definitely approaching my work and my work relationships in a more considered way. I also know a lot of very impressive people.
The quality of my fellow students cannot be overemphasised – I am studying with brilliant, ambitious and successful people who come from all over the world. Hedge fund founders and bankers mix with surgeons, luxury goods entrepreneurs, a modelling agency owner, a vet, and yours truly, the PR person.
Despite the packed schedule and exhaustion, we didn’t say no to a good night out or two. After a few days of intense work, we deserved some fun, and after all – it’s networking! There was some napping happening in class the day after the night before, with some nappers being more subtle than others (you know who you are!).
We ended Kick Off Week with new knowledge, new friends and new waistlines. Our next session starts in less than three weeks’ time. I think none of us know how we are going to manage what is certainly going to be a very intense 21 months. I’ll keep you posted.