2017 Best EMBAs: Todd A. Hellman, University of Chicago (Booth)

Todd A. Hellman

University of Chicago Booth School of Business

“Lifelong Learner. Leader. Doer. Influencer. Entrepreneur. Innovator.

Intellectually curious. Thoughtful. Caring. Strategic. Relator. Maximizer.”

Age: 45

Hometown: Floyds Knobs, IN

Family Members:  Dennis Hellman (Father), Tonja Nystedt (Sister), Gunnar and Maddox Nystedt (Nephews)

Fun fact about yourself: My friends, classmates, and family members have taken to calling me “Yoda.” For Christmas, three friends (who don’t know each other) bought me a Yoda ornament, slippers, and cuff links.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Indiana University, B.S. Biology

Where are you currently working? Battelle for Kids, Managing Director, Strategy and Innovation

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: As a social connector and cocktail enthusiast, I started a small, craft cocktail bar to support local artists, up-and-coming service industry professionals, and create a neighborhood gathering place. We have a goal to feature 100 local artists in 10 years giving them free space and a crowd to enjoy their work. All the while, guests enjoy the craftsmanship of our aspiring mixologists who we often grow and nurture through training, industry events, competitions and individualized coaching.

As a longtime LGBT Advocate and Human Rights Campaign Federal Club Member, I advocate for fairness, recognition, and support for those who are less fortunate and lack the support resources to find success in this complex world. Starting in the late 90s, I was an HIV/AIDS supporter, including being a “buddy” to those in their final days. I was fortunate to memorialize much of Columbus’ LGBT history, particularly a local artist and activist’s life work, in the Smithsonian Institute’s national LGBT archives – a relatively new collection. From the response of the archivists, it struck me that what I experienced as ordinary, was actually quite extraordinary.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The Global New Venture Challenge at Booth was a premier capstone event. My team was selected as the professor’s wildcard entry in the finals, and placed runner-up. I advised another team that also made it to the finals. Pulling together the talent necessary to complete a concept and impress our judges was personally, professionally and academically rewarding. Watching my teammates do their part in the pitch, I could not have been more proud.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Through the hard work integrating strategy, technology, data analytics, communications and professional development, I was part of a team that embedded our passion to impact public education into Houston Independent Schools and led their ASPIRE educational improvement campaign to success. When we started in 2007, 15 schools were rated exemplary and 33 were unacceptable. In 2010, 101 schools were exemplary and only 7 were rated unacceptable. It was truly an honor to contribute to the impact that everyone in the system had on student success and future opportunities.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? As I explored MBA programs, Booth immediately stood out. The school’s academic and research history resonated with my calling to leverage intellectual curiosity, challenge conventional thinking, connect with research, and share knowledge to create further impact. Everyone, from the admissions staff to faculty who gave me a personal tour of Booth, made me feel welcomed, respected, challenged and confident Booth was the school for me. The prospective students I met during admissions made me think, “Wow. This is someone I’d love to be in class with.”  All these positives in one package at Booth matched my desire to maximize this very personal journey to enrich me personally, professionally and academically.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? With my love for learning, I was not surprised at all by the excitement and challenge of the curriculum. The quality of my professors and academic support was exactly what I expected of Booth. Early on, I thought this was going to be the greatest benefit.  However, in going through the Booth executive MBA program, with its integration of students across its Chicago, London and Hong Kong campuses, the richness of diversity persistent through the program, not just in week-long international excursions, made for a global network of friends, colleagues, classmates and alumni who have been gracious in inviting me to their countries, their homes, and their businesses. This wasn’t just going to school. This was being part of something bigger than yourself that has enriched me for a lifetime.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? While finishing a tough week of classes in London, my boss asked me to participate in an EdTech incubator mentoring session in New York. I hadn’t packed business attire for classes in London. Between classes, one of my classmates marched me to Hugo Boss, helped select a nice suit, and alterations came through in time for my return to the U.S. My sister and nephews live in New Jersey. Somehow, maybe spiritual intervention by my mother or grandmother, it worked out where I could alter my flight to land in Newark, visit my family, see the boys play indoor Lacrosse and basketball, and go to Zoomba (which I had never done) with my sister. This was the first time I was able to visit since starting school. Talking to my nephews about my school and travel experiences, they were starry-eyed about London and Hong Kong, classmates from other countries, and mostly about foreign currencies I collected from classmates to share with them and inspire their boyish curiosities as we looked up countries on Google Maps. The collision of all things I cared about in such a short time made me highly appreciative and thankful entering the Christmas holiday season.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Is it worth it? The expense of going back to school and the sacrifices in time are great. I always wanted to do this, but faced the same mental barriers weighing the benefit with the costs. Then, in a conversation with my best friends, I reframed the question, “When I am 70, will I look back on my life and regret having done this? Or, will I look back on my life and regret not having done this?” Clearly, the answer to the first was “no regrets.” The answer to the latter I did not want to haunt me. After completing the program, the benefit by far outweighed the cost in time and dollars. Booth prepared me for not just a better future, but for a future I could previously have only imagined.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret was in my elective choices. I selected electives based on what I knew at the time, and seemed relevant to my current job. If I could do it over, I would make decisions based on my future. Business school doesn’t just help you gain knowledge, but changes you – in what you know, in what you are able to do, but also in how you think and interact with others. With Booth’s lifelong learning, I can come back and attend elective classes I didn’t know I wanted to take until uncovering a passion for entrepreneurship that I had overlooked.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Corina Blidar. As a single mother, an executive, a student and a non-native English speaker, Corina represents the strength of a modern woman who must balance traditions of the past, societal norms, demands of the present, and the hope of a future being better for her and her children.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my CEO was facing retirement, and there was no clear upward career path for me.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…employed in ongoing positions managing the work, leading ideas, but not leading the business.”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? My former employer, Resource Ammirati has always been creative, innovative and bold with a relentless commitment to excellence. Their recent acquisition by IBM did not stifle them, but unleashed their creative horsepower with expanded global opportunities they could have never achieved on their own.  While making money, they are also about making an impact. Their founder and CEO is truly an inspiration for me, and the many Resource associates and alumni.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? While the program tries to build in opportunities to learn from alumni, scholars and guest speakers, the demands of a rigorous academic program and being successful in your grades necessitate trade-offs. Time is a commodity and competing priorities as a student do not always allow you to avail yourself of all the resources Booth provides. Building enriching experiences outside the formal curriculum into the time commitment for the program is delicate and challenging, but some experiences may be worth it especially for those traveling in. It’s a marginal cost of time to when the commitment is already made for the week.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Before business school, I thought it was to move up in the ranks of employment. Now, it’s to create employment opportunities for me and others who not only make an income, but also make an impact.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My dear friend Devi Vallabhaneni – she was my confidence booster when I was down, my cheerleader in recognizing accomplishments as successes, my maximizer in understanding what I really need to take away, and my challenger to help me make bettering me, my new best.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Thoughtful – one word which connotes a lot of meaning such as caring, thinking, analytical, scholarly, empathetic and kind.

Favorite book: Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Favorite movie or television show: Steel Magnolias

Favorite musical performer: Fleetwood Mac

Favorite vacation spot: Africa

Hobbies? Racquetball, hiking, traveling, and seeking out new life experiences.

What made Todd such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Todd was not a typical MBA student. His career path did not resemble those of the majority of our students. His focus was on education and how he could make an impact on the lives of students through his work with teachers.

Todd contributed creative ideas to the extracurricular life of his classmates and also served as a helpful sounding board to my team and me. His thoughtful feedback and suggestions were always delivered in a professional manner and took all views into account.

Todd experienced the program in many different ways. He befriended colleagues from all over the world and when completing his program with our London cohort, they asked him to deliver a speech at their closing ceremony. This was an enormous honor for him, and he remarked to me that he often felt like the “Counselor” or “Big Brother” of his classmates. Here is an excerpt from that speech:

“21 months have come and gone so fast.  Not a lifetime at all, but a change for a lifetime.

For each of us, these past 21 months have been a journey of growth:  personal, academic, and professional.

While an amazing journey, for all of us, this journey started well before Booth.  It started in our youth.

There was something in each and every of us that compelled us to be different, to learn, to achieve and ultimately to attend and complete the best business school in the world.”

Todd clearly made an impact on his classmates, his professors, and our staff and is now ready to make an even bigger impact on the world than he did prior to Booth. We miss him here already.”

Patty Keegan
Associate Dean
Executive MBA Program