Kellogg Reunion 2023: A new degree of engagement & excitement
By Louis R. Carlozo
With all the singing, dancing and celebration that filled the Global Hub over the May 5 weekend, you could have easily forgotten that you were in the halls of an elite business school. That is until you realized you’re among some of the most influential business minds today, including Cristina Junqueira ’08 MBA, co-founder of NuBank and the second Brazilian self-made female billionaire; Tony Owen ’03 MBA, whose venture capital firm helped bring about Freshii; and Titi Cole ’98 MBA, CEO of Legacy Franchises for Citi Bank, who was also recently named one of the most powerful women in banking by American Banker.
Kellogg Reunion 2023 was a chance for alumni from the “Half-Century Club” — those who graduated from 1973 to 2022 — to reunite and reignite memories and friendships, and hear the latest business insights from legendary faculty. The event drew 1,900 alumni more attendees than any previous gathering. The attendees showed their purple pride and learned how their alma mater plans to graduate to a new level of student service and academic excellence.
Academic excellence is far from an idle boast. In her keynote address, Dean Francesca Cornelli shared the latest from U.S. News & World Report, which ranked Kellogg number two on its list of Best Business Schools.
With her characteristic humor — she gave a shoutout to an alumni a cappella group, the Bottom Line, that preceded her — Cornelli struck notes of well-founded optimism as she outlined the achievements at Kellogg and its future vision in a talk that began with an enthusiastic, “Isn’t this the best place in the world?”
Cornelli stressed that Kellogg is a place where “we can embrace uncertainty and bring opportunity into this world. We’ve always been recognized, we’ve always been amazing and I’m here to tell you that we are on a strong trajectory.”
She also shared that Kellogg has continued to innovate and evolve its curriculum, growing offerings in areas like sustainability and social impact.
Reunion 2023 also featured presentations by distinguished faculty at Kellogg. Brooke Vuckovic, clinical professor of leadership and executive coach, drew more than 100 attendees for her talk on “Executive Presence: Deconstructing Gravitas.” It wasn’t just something she explained, but also demonstrated — showing how body language, voice tone and the focus of one’s message (meandering versus meaningful) make a huge difference when trying to hold sway with employees, directors and the C-suite.
Stressing a stance of authenticity, Vuckovic, said: “Executive presence — and I want to be super clear on this — is not measured by merit. It is how you communicate to other people.” Her job as an executive coach centers on one question: “How can I help people to make slight adjustments to communicate in a way that's powerful and makes them more easily heard?”
She shared an anecdote of how, in breaking down her own performance by watching a video, she discovered that she had the habit of rubbing a slide ticker on her nose. If that brought laughs, a leadership quote via C.S. Lewis gave pause: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking about yourself less.”
And to introduce his presentation on “Your Habits Have You” — powerfully, it turned out — Andrew Sykes, clinical professor of management and organizations, began by reciting from memory a lengthy poem he penned on the subject.
“All I want this poem to do / is to see who we are and what we do / is born of habits through and through,” he told a standing-room lecture-hall crowd. “We are born of habits through and through / but you do not have your habits — your habits have you.”
By recognizing and rooting out bad habits one at a time, Sykes told Kellogg alumni, we make room for good ones; though the work isn’t easy. He related a story of how he promised his mother, on her deathbed, that he’d give up a years-long smoking habit — only to break it in a gathering that followed her memorial service.
“I smoked three cigarettes, remembered my promise to my mother and that moment I was sick to my stomach,” Sykes said. It eventually led him to a life-changing epiphany: Bad habits are by and large the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
“The work I implore you is to search inside for your habits,” he said. “You can create anyone you want to be, any society you want live in, but you can't do it by wishing it into existence. The thin slice, the only slice that matters, is your voice. It has the power to change everything.”
That message of a greater good, and striving for personal and professional bests, is one Kellogg alumni have embraced for generations. And when those generations assembled at the Global Hub as one proud student body, it was very good indeed.
Alumni reflect at Kellogg Reunion 2023:
When I think back on my two-year journey at Kellogg 25 years ago, the things that stand out the most are the friendships, the openness of the campus and the people, the accessibility of the professors, and just that spirit of collaboration and curiosity. I can feel that here.” — Titi Cole ’98 MBA, CEO of Legacy Franchises at Citigroup
“When I was at Kellogg, I learned a lot more than I thought I would. I think the coursework in some of the classes inspired me to do things from a career perspective that were a little different than what I thought coming in. One, in particular, was a class on family enterprise that Professor John Ward taught. There is a whole family enterprise center here, Kellogg, which is, world-renowned.” — Anthony Owen ’03 MBA, managing partner at Little Joe Ventures
“There is a big sense of belonging because we're all selected into the program for some reason — there was always that culture fit. And that's something, that in a way, also brought us together when we were here.” — Cristina Junquiera ’08 MBA, co-founder at NuBank