Name: Owen Sperling
Originated From: New York City, NY
Undergrad Institution: University of Virginia
Major: Math & Physics
Job Before Booth: Consultant at McKinsey
To Be Post-Booth Job: Consultant At MCKinsey
okay…now for the good stuff:
Prior To Booth
Let’s take it all the way back to New York City, where I was born. I’m the middle child of 3 boys. My dad worked in finance at Credit Suisse and my mom taught high school English at Sacred Heart. When I was seven my dad had an opportunity to take a 2 year rotation in Tokyo with Credit Suisse, and he seized it. I don’t remember much about my childhood in New York, but I do remember a going away party at Benihana, a going away present of an oxford english dictionary from my elementary school, and a long flight over to Tokyo…
At seven, I didn’t really understand the notion of a different culture. At the same time, I didn’t have a solidified view of social norms so a number of cultural differences seemed equally normal to the American alternative. In hindsight it was a relatively easy transition at that age because I wasn’t set in my ways, and I had the benefit of attending the American School in Japan.
The city of Tokyo was energetic, the people were polite, and the food was incredible. Some of my fondest memories are joining the soccer team at a local elementary school, Sarugaku. Coach Tetsu and the team really made me feel at home in Tokyo, ensuring language barriers never got in the way. Two years turned to three, three years became four, and every year my parents said we’d move back to the US following year. By the time I knew it, we had been there for six and a half years. In 2007 my dad left Credit Suisse and was weighing a couple different options. Ultimately we packed our bags and moved to Singapore.
Once in Singapore, I enrolled at the (you guessed it) Singapore American School. While the school naming convention was much the same, the experience was completely different. Besides tropical weather that comes with living just one degree of latitude north of the equator, Singapore was incredible because it is such a unique blend of British influence with a variety of asian cultures – a true melting pot.
I took a lot away from my time in both Tokyo and Singapore, but more than anything was an appreciation for being welcomed into new cultures and communities rather than viewed as an outsider. I also learned to be open to new ideas and adapt to new environments, which has made subsequent transitions in life far easier.
I moved back to the states to attend the University of Virginia, having been sufficiently brainwashed by my dad (UVA class of ‘81). On the first day of college, in my first class – chemistry 101, I walked into a 500 person lecture hall and looked around the room trying to find someone that looked nice in the hopes of making a new friend. Fortunately I found something far better, I sat down right next to my now fiance, Jess. The next four years were a whirlwind.
I decided to major in math and physics because I liked the subjects, and figured I could parlay these into whatever career path I chose. Initially I thought I would pursue financial trading, drawn to the fast paced environment and the combination of math with current events and markets. I did an internship in sales and training and Citibank and really enjoyed those aspects, but was put off by an environment centered around risk reduction rather than innovation and opportunity. So I started looking for a different path that married dynamic problem solving with the empowerment to grow and evolve, all of which pointed me straight to McKinsey & Company.
I originally had selected Atlanta as my top location choice, but in the heat of the moment changed to San Francisco to be closer to tech firms .Over three years I worked on a variety of projects primarily focused on financial services and technology sectors covering everything from crisis management to designing a best in class customer service strategy. I had an opportunity to lead research quantifying the economic value of digital identification in the McKinsey Global Institute (McKinsey’s think tank). I also volunteered with nonprofits and local government on a range of pro-bono efforts.
I loved what I was doing professionally, but I always wanted to come back to school and felt that I was approaching a point where if I didn’t do it now I’m not sure I could’ve justified the move. Over time my desire to return to the mathematical problem solving I enjoyed so much in school grew, as did my belief that the critical thinking skills applied across careers. So I began looking for joint degree programs.
I originally wanted to pursue the Masters in Computational and Applied Mathematics program, but was pushed (with surprising force) by the Booth administration to instead pursue the formalized dual degree program with computer science. That said, it didn’t take more than a nudge. I found computer science compelling because it is applied in nature and covers such a wide range of topics. The dual degree program would allow me to pick and choose 7-9 classes from the CS program and 14-16 classes from Booth in whatever order I preferred.
So, I moved to Chicago to pursue an MBA and Masters in Computer Science.
If You Didn’t Have To Work What Would You Do:
I would start an impact focused think tank, incubator and investment fund ala Bill Gates and BgC3. I need the challenge and satisfaction of trying to solve big problems, and the excitement of being at the forefront of innovation.
Do You Think That Aliens Exist?
For sure. I am fascinated by Fermi’s paradox and the Drake equation, which estimates a high probability of other life forms existing in the Universe. It’s fun to read hypotheses for why we haven’t observed any other civilizations if they are out there, like the zoo hypothesis (tldr: they’re watching us).
Currently Reading / Listening to:
I just finished “Kochland; The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America”. It was depressing, but I was curious. I also read mysteries and went on a Peter Lovesey tear recently.
What do you think made you unique in the MBA application process?
I guess it had to be a combination of experiences and interests that are each slightly differentiated, but combined make me unique. I’m also interested in learning for the sake of learning and may have been the first Booth applicant to ask about the computational and applied math degree. #nerdalert
Favorite Place To Eat In Chicago:
Piece Brewery & Pizzaria – check it out. As an aside, if deep dish pizza were so good wouldn’t it be all over the country if not the world?
What App Needs To Be Made:
We need a one stop shop that makes access to public benefits as easy as ordering a product off Amazon. The application processes are extremely complicated, and as a result 95 percent of low-income families with children are not taking advantage of the full set of benefits for which they are eligible and $60 billion in government benefits gets left on the table annually.
In the wake of Coronavirus, I have been working with a team of volunteers back in San Francisco to address the front end of this problem – we launched www.AssistHub.org to help individuals navigate the confusing and often conflicting resources to find benefits to apply for.
This is a huge problem, but the potential for impact across society is massive.
Favorite Disney Movie:
Pirates of The Carribean
What’s The Hardest Lesson You’ve Learned Thus Far?
Ignore the fear of missing out.
It’s easy to waste your energy thinking about all of the things you may be missing out on – but that’s life.
Favorite Booth Memory Thus Far:
Just one month into school, I had a 72 hour stretch that showed me what Booth is all about.
On Friday I attended the Chicago Booth Investment Management Conference and competed in the Quantitative Investment Competition. That night I flew out to LA with the Booth Soccer Club for a tournament at UCLA with 22 teams including current students and alumni. I also got to spend time with my brother and his wife and snuck in time to write code for my C programming class, all before catching a flight to make it back to Chicago for Monday class.
What Location Is At The Top Of Your Travel Bucket List?
I’ll settle for anywhere right now! Alaska is very high on my lists are South Africa and Morocco.
Highs & Lows of the Booth Ski Trip
High: Skiing was awesome and spending the week with friends in Breckenridge was a great way to cap off the first quarter of business school. (Morgan: I went on the first run of the day with the crew, wiped out and then the boys proceeded to go to a double black – needless to say I did not join)
Low: I was so pumped about skiing, and on the morning of our 2nd day ended up with a large group of Booth students. We were out having a great time, there was a little misunderstanding, and next thing you know we had our ski passes pulled. For some reason, our classmates felt the need to share stories every day of them doing the same things and not losing their passes…
What Job Would You Be Terrible At :
I am artistically challenged – I would be a terrible singer, songwriter, dancer, painter, musician etc.
What Is Special About The Place You Grew Up?
Japan: Culturally there is a real emphasis on becoming an expert in whatever it is that you do. It’s such a cool thing to be prized in society. The energy of Tokyo is also unmatched anywhere else in the world.
Singapore: the greatest thing about Singapore is how dynamic it is. The fact that it’s developed yet still young enough to be building this shared experience not derived from being born in a certain place or ethnicity makes it an exciting place to be.
What did you do this summer?
What didn’t I do this summer? I got engaged. My fiance, Jess, moved to Chicago and moved in with me, which was unbelievably nice after spending several years long distance. I developed a language learning app with fully adaptive content rather than pre-defined lessons, which I hope to launch soon. In addition to personalized content catered to your learning speed, it also allows us to tailor content to your specific interests – if you want to learn business Spanish we’ll pull from business blogs and articles, same for medical Spanish etc. I collaborated with folks back in San Francisco to launch www.AssistHub.org, connecting California residents affected by Coronavirus with personalized and prioritized checklists of resources available to them.
I started this summer, actually back in March, with an idea for a digital marketplace for partial shares in residential real estate. I think it’s a really interesting asset class because it’s dominated by retail investors. I believe that if you could increase access by lowering the investment amount and increase liquidity through a secondary market then you could generate a really interesting financial product. Not necessarily for the top 1%, but rather for a significant share of individuals who have savings, want to diversify away from the stock market, but can’t afford to drop $70k for an individual investment. With that said, the regulatory environment is such that it would take quite a while to get an MVP in the market to validate the product. So I didn’t pivot, but completely moved away from that to the language learning platform. There is no regulatory barrier keeping us from building the product, and there are a lot of interesting algorithmic questions that I find really fun to work on.
What Age Do You Want To Live Until:
I mean modern medicine is incredible. I feel like a nice round 100 would be a good target.
If you could live anywhere, where would You Live?
I change my mind on this pretty frequently. The flavors of the week are Switzerland and France. Jess speaks French which is a plus. I do not speak French, but if my app is any good I should be able to learn right?
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
Digital identification. Did you know over 1 million people have no form of identification? Digital identification could drive inclusive growth across the globe and unlock economic value equivalent to ~3 to 6% of gdp in developed and developing countries respectively. Check out this research from the McKinsey Global Institute
What Do You Want To Do Before You Die?
Have a family, live overseas, and learn a foreign language.
What Do You Wish You Knew More About:
What Fictional Place Do You Dream Of Going To?
I can’t even think up a better place than Hogwarts as a Wizard.
How Will The World Be Different Post COVID-19?
I mean it’s already different, and we’re certainly not going back. I think my biggest fear of how things will be different is how politicized issues are becoming in the U.S.. At the moment healthcare and science are the hot topics. I am worried about what’s next in that regard.
COVID has exposed a bunch of things society took as a given and how big an impact those things can have. So even at a small level, like seeing how the concentration of taxes on individuals and companies have strained budgets are huge. I’m curious to see if there’s a movement away / out of cities, especially for places like San Fran. Shifting away from cities and changing the geographic landscape is something that can be very easily disrupted.
What Is Worth Splurging On Everytime?
How Will You Make Your Life A “Good Life”?
“Always leave room for dessert” Jess said it but I agree
Most Memorable Gift That You’ve Ever Received?
A photo album that Jess made of all the trips we’ve taken together.
What Lifestyle Changes Are You Trying To Make?
I hate working from home, so I’m trying to spend less time working from my apartment now that places are opening back up. I’ve also started taking calls from a spin bike looking out the window, which will be a game changer when it gets cold.
If Magic Was Real, Which Spell Would You Try First?
What Do You Think Makes A Good Friend – How Much Do You Live Up To Your Standards?
A good friend is someone who is there for you when you need it most, regardless of whether you realized you needed it yourself or how convenient it may be for them. I certainly don’t live up to this all the time, but I aspire to.
What Do You Want To Get Out Of B-School?
- An opportunity to explore and learn things, not because I need to right now, but rather because it’s interesting in the moment. I’m hopeful that 10-20 years from now, the knowledge I gain will surprise me with how useful it is in some way that I cannot foresee. For example learning how to build an iPhone app…
- Meeting a bunch of folks that have genuinely diverse backgrounds. There are very few places where you can do that.
Best Trip Of Your Life Thus Far:
The best trip was 2 years ago when I was able to travel back to Singapore with Jess. We stayed with my parents and I was able to show her around my stomping ground for a few days. Then we went to my colleagues wedding in India for 5 and a half days, which was an absolutely incredible experience. Everyone was so welcoming, and we got to experience a completely different culture and meet hundreds of people along the way.
Who Do You Go Out Of Your Way To Be Nice To?
I try to be nice, generally (he’s a really nice guy). I am particularly nice to service staff, security guards, maintenance staff, the folks who can easily get overlooked.
As an aside, a security guard in San Francisco used to call me superman or Clark Kent every morning and it totally made my day, especially when I was short on sleep. That’s my goal.
What Really Makes You Angry?
I find it frustrating when people aren’t willing to consider there may be a better way or a better option. Don’t knock it till you try it (or consider it at least…).
Favorite Candy / Snack:
Skittles. Recently bought a 3 lbs bag.
What Industry Do You Think Will Be Revolutionized Soon?
I hope that politics and public service delivery will be revolutionized soon, though it make take a while yet. Incentives are fundamentally misaligned in our political system and it skews towards inaction even as the world is rapidly evolving around us. Friction in public service delivery is a symptom of the broader problem.
I also think education will be revolutionized in the wake of coronavirus, at both the local level and University level.
What Would Your Last Meal Be?
A buffet. I want a little bit of a lot of things. Shout out to my favorite restaurant in San Fran – Curry Leaf, and their Chicken Karahi.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY THAT SOMEONE CAN SPEND THEIR TIME?
“Not wishing it away”
How Would You Describe Your Booth Experience:
My Booth experience has been a whirlwind, there’s so much going on all the time that just trying to keep up and keep track of everything has been crazy. I feel like I bounce back and forth between so many things so fast. I never could have predicted all the cool things I would pursue over the last year, so I’m not going to kid myself and pretend I have a clear idea of what’s to come this year.