Students Get Straight Talk from CEO Alumni

With graduation approaching, second-year Chicago Booth students Diego Pailles and Jason Wang were staring into the future, excited about their prospects and eager to lead an organization someday.

That’s why Pailles and Wang ventured into the Harper Center on April 15 with about 150 fellow Booth students for the Charles M. Harper Road to CEO series. Hosted by Booth’s student-led Corporate Management and Strategy Group in partnership with Alumni Relations, the event featured Roundy’s CEO and Chairman Bob Mariano, ’87, and the Cara Program’s CEO and President Maria Kim,’12, sharing candid insights on the CEO’s life.

“It’s inspirational and insightful to hear these stories firsthand and to learn how these CEOs moved through their careers, the challenges they faced, and the skills they feel are most critical,” Pailles said.

Two skilled leaders

Mariano’s name has become a popular one in Chicagoland, given the growth of his namesake grocery store chain, Mariano’s Fresh Market, which exists under the Roundy’s banner. In 13 years at the helm of Milwaukee-based Roundy’s, Mariano has transformed the former cooperative into a burgeoning retail player.

Each day, Mariano said he tries to measure the pulse of the business, seeking new understandings about financial performance, customers, and the competitive landscape. Above all, however, he stressed the importance of human capital.

“In any business, people are the most important aspect,” Mariano said.

After 15 years in the insurance industry, Kim joined the Cara Program in 2005 as its director of development, later moving onto roles in programming and operations before becoming the CEO in June 2014. The Chicago-based organization helps adults affected by homelessness and poverty secure quality employment.

“What I love about being CEO is how the position is at the nexus of so many things inside the firm,” said Kim, who later urged students to “be the best quant you can be.”

Compelling CEO insights

Pailles said he was fascinated by the emphasis Mariano and Kim placed on sustaining curiosity.

“There’s often an idea that as people move through an organization they lose their ability to listen and learn from others, but both of these leaders spoke about how critical this was, so that’s something I certainly want to be cognizant of as I move through my career,” Pailles said.

Wang, meanwhile, was intrigued by how Mariano and Kim viewed their respective leadership roles. Mariano spoke of accomplishing more by speaking less and being “a steward of the business,” while Kim defined her role as part cheerleader, part maestro, and part chess player.

“I appreciated how [Kim] broke down her role into three separate spheres, which is a reminder of how important it is to develop a diverse skill set if you want to sit in the CEO’s seat someday,” Wang said.—Daniel P. Smith