This has been a question that many people have asked me recently and, while there is no right or wrong answer, I would like to write about my experience at the Kellogg School of Management and how it has impacted my life, personally and professionally.
A bit of context so we are on the same page: I studied Economics at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City in 2002–2005 and started several businesses in the retail and consumer spaces during those years. From January 2005 until July 2008 I ran Vilebrequin Mexico as country manager and CEO. Vilebrequin was sold in July 2008. On that date, I had to decide what to do going forward. Entrepreneurship was the only road I knew, but it was broken in Mexico because there was no capital available for founders in the market. Eduardo Clavé, now my business partner at DILA Capital, had mentioned “venture capital” to me several times, but I was completely ignorant about how the VC industry worked and why it didn’t exist in Mexico. Where could I learn about private equity, venture capital, and finance? Where could I grow my network in the US and Europe, where venture capital had flourished?
After a lot of research, interviews, and meetings, I decided that I had two options: I could either try to land a job at a VC firm in the US or Europe or I could apply to a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) program. For several reasons I decided an MBA was the right road for me: On the one hand, getting a job at a VC firm is very hard to do and I had little to offer firms in Europe and the US; I wanted to come back to Mexico and start a fund here and I had limited experience investing. On the other hand, my background and particular situation seemed great for an MBA: I would graduate at 28 (the average age for an MBA graduate at that time), wanted to get married (starting our new married life with the MBA lifestyle was very attractive), I had operated several startups (which gave me a differentiated experience), I had just sold my business (so I had some liquidity), and wanted to learn about an industry that didn’t exist in my country.
So, while I was turning Vilebrequin Mexico over to the new owners, I started studying for the GMAT and applying to several schools. I was very fortunate to have been admitted to the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management’s Class of 2011. I got married in June 2009, moved to Evanston in August and started the Master's program in September. Kellogg´s program is extremely flexible and allows you to waive core classes and take specialized electives from very early on: I was able to take courses such as Corporate Finance, Entrepreneurial Finance, Advanced Topics in Venture Investing, and Private Equity & Venture Capital. I immediately joined the Entrepreneurship Club and the Venture Capital & Private Equity Club, where I had the amazing opportunity of meeting and learning from those that had been in those industries before. I also had the chance of traveling with the school on VC trecks to New York and San Francisco to meet with top VC firms in both hubs. Through Kellogg, I was invited to venture capital conferences all across the country. In one particular conference in Utah, I met Paul Ahlstrom, a venture capitalist in Salt Lake City who was moving to Monterrey to start a venture fund! Thanks to that trip, I was able to work for Paul over the summer kicking off his fund and organizing Mexico’s first venture capital conference. I also worked for a leading VC firm in Chicago through Kellogg’s Venture Lab, an experiential program that allows students to work for VC firms across the world as part of a credited course.
Graduation was quickly approaching and I had to decide what to do. The Kellogg Career Management Center was extremely helpful in coaching me and giving me direction: I was certain that I wanted to start a VC fund in Mexico City, but I still lacked the experience of managing a fund. So my options were to either look for a job in a venture capital firm in the US or a private equity firm in Mexico. We decided that given the particularities of each country, working in a private equity firm in Mexico would give me a better education. I was extremely lucky to land an interview and then a job at Promecap, one of Mexico’s leading private equity firms led by Fernando Chico Pardo, a Kellogg alumn himself. Fernando hires Kellogg graduates all the time! I was part of an amazing team of Kellogg alumni with whom I have extremely close relationships today.
After two years of learning about the business of managing a fund, the time was right to start my own shop. My first LP commitments came from my Kellogg network and thanks to them, I was able to start DILA Capital.
Fast forward 8 years and my relationship with Kellogg is as close as ever: we have funded two Kellogg alumni start-ups, Professor William Ocasio wrote a Kellogg case about DILA Capital, we have hired 5 summer interns, and have worked with more than 10 students through the Venture Lab program. Every year we host a group of students and professors that want to learn about entrepreneurship and venture capital in our offices and we also host a group of students in the Zell Fellows program (Kellogg’s own accelerator program).
So, looking back at my career, studying an MBA at Kellogg was the best decision of my life. It allowed me to learn about the industry I am passionate about today, it gave me the chance to meet the most prominent minds in the VC world, it gave me the opportunity to take classes from top tier professors experts in those fields, to work for VC firms without going through the tough filters, to land a job in Mexico’s top private equity firm, and it helped me raise my first fund.
From a more personal perspective, it was also an amazing choice. I had the great opportunity of starting my new married life living in a new city, where we knew nobody and had only ourselves in good and bad times. We had to make friends together and start our new life together. We made amazing friendships from all across the world, most of whom we are very close to today. Living in the suburbs of such a complete city as Chicago was an incredible experience: we were very lucky to be able to live the small college town life of Evanston, but be immersed by Chicago’s restaurants, museums, concerts, and cultural events, at the same time. Our first son was born in Evanston weeks before graduation: starting a family as a student was also an amazing experience.
So, while I am obviously subjective and I know that an MBA is not for everyone, pursuing an MBA at a university like Kellogg is a life-changing experience that I strongly recommend.
Alejandro Diez-Barroso is a 2011 graduate of the Kellogg School of Management’s two-year full-time MBA program.