The Joint Ventures Club at Northwestern Kellogg is comprised of partners — wives, husbands, fiancés, and fiancées — of current MBA students. The club is among the most active of its type at an elite U.S. business school. Courtesy photos
Getting an MBA is a major, life-changing undertaking — all the more so if it’s a two-year, residential program. And you’re an international student, a full-time MBA involves even more uprooting and overhauling your life — moving across the world to an unfamiliar city without friends and family, adjusting to a new culture, perhaps grappling with visa and employment concerns. The challenges can be overwhelming.
Imagine, then, the life of an MBA student’s significant other. They must be a pillar of support for the student, often while facing the same personal and professional upheaval, but without the motivation of working toward a major life achievement. Who thinks of the husband, wife, fiancé, or fiancée? What accommodation can they expect, what services, what support — and what kind of outlet for their abilities?
No major MBA program in the United States has a better answer to that puzzle than Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, where the Joint Ventures Club offers the MBA-adjacent a way to work alongside and in support of their high-achieving partners — to pitch in and be treated like the vital team members they are.
A LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR BOTH PARTNERS
Dicky Kwok, co-president of the Kellogg Joint Ventures Club for spouses of MBA students: “I’ve learned a lot more than I would have if I had had a full-time job.”
Dicky Kwok, co-president of the Kellogg JV Club, says it’s a place where the SOs of MBAs can contribute their skills and transfer their enthusiasm for the benefit of a program that has welcomed the person they love most in the world.
At Kellogg, Kwok says, MBA partners can have nearly as fulfilling an experience as the students themselves.
“It can be two years where you can learn a lot of stuff, even in career development,” says Kwok, spouse of Delia Lin, who will graduate from Kellogg in 2023. “It doesn’t mean that you have to have a paying job to be able to learn something, to have a CV — you can still make a lot of connections and still learn and still build your leadership skills and communication skills.
“I think, over the past 10 months, I’ve learned a lot more than I would have if I’d had a full-time job.”
EMBRACING THE UNEXPECTED
Kwok was born in Hong Kong and moved to Australia at age 13. Both he and his wife Delia, who was born and raised in China, did their schooling Down Under. When he came to the U.S. with Delia for the start of her MBA, Kwok didn’t know what to expect, having only visited the country briefly for work — and then only the East and West coasts.
Suddenly he was living in the middle of the U.S., in Evanston, Illinois. It was an adjustment.
“America has always been a destination for me, I’ve always loved the culture here,” Kwok tells Poets&Quants. “When Delia was looking at MBA programs, she really wanted to get into consulting and to make the career switch, so obviously it would be wise to target some of the best business schools in the world. She got admitted here and immediately we just threw everything out and went, ‘Okay. Yeah. I’ll move with you.’ When else do you get a chance to say, ‘I can move to America’?”
Having put his career on hold, Kwok joined Delia at the Kellogg School in late summer 2021. He didn’t know what to expect when arrived.
“I kind of heard a little bit about it through Delia and then I didn’t really know anything about it until I came here,” he says. “At the start, I was like, ‘Oh my God, business students, these guys are going to come out making tons of money.’ And then you’re like, ‘Oh, these guys are going to have that business attitude, that high-classness and all that sort of stuff. And is it going to be really hard for me to make friends?” Because at the end of the day, I’ve got zero friends here in Chicago. And so that was very intimidating.
“In Australia, I’d never be able to meet these high-class people and the deans of these great business schools, which is crazy.”
Dicky Kwok was concerned about how he would spend two years in the U.S. while his wife completed her MBA. Then he learned about the Joint Venture Club.
The club, with about 820 active members on Slack and 1,600 on Facebook, is run by the spouses and partners of full-time MBA students at Kellogg, whether in the one- or two-year program or one of Kellogg’s dual-degree programs. With 16 officers organizing everything from club finance to marketing and event planning, the JV Club organizes mixers and other activities big and small. On the big side: a major upcoming trip to Turkey that will include more than 550 students and JV Club members.
More broadly, the club is about participation — keeping partners involved and employing their skills to the benefit of the program.
“I really want to stress the point that JV’s are not only able to have a good time through parties and mixers,” Kwok says, “but practicing leadership skills is also an essential part of a JV life here at Kellogg.”
NOT ALWAYS EASY
It’s not always easy to get MBA partners involved, Kwok says, particularly international students, who are often so overwhelmed that they become insular. He takes particular pride in bringing those spouses and SOs out of their apartments and into the group.
“Many struggle with language barriers, and tend to stay at home,” Kwok says. “That can be tough and that’s something that I’m trying to solve and see if we can get as many people out as possible, and just let them know that it’s actually a friendly environment. With our club, just doing big activities and doing small activities makes a massive difference. Because not everyone is comfortable, especially when you’re from a background that is a little bit more introverted, I’d say. It’s just not as easy to come out.”
Kwok wants to build up the JV Club’s alumni network, using it in the same way the Kellogg School uses its network of MBAs to mentor and otherwise assist prospective and current students.
“If someone who’s coming in to become a JV, there could be some context that they could get in touch with and have a chat about and just ask about life in general here or something like that,” Kwok says. I know that for student alumni even after they graduate, they have alumni leaders within different countries that incoming students who\ just got an offer from Kellogg will be able to reach out to, and speak to a few people from the alumni program. Obviously that’s a big thing. I don’t know if we are going to be able to achieve that from a JV perspective, but that’s something that I want to aim to.
“Because yeah — my experience was great, but it would’ve been even better if I had known more about what to expect before I came here.”
EXPANDING TO OTHER CLUBS
Kwok’s involvement with the JV Club quickly became an exercise in leadership skills, which itself became a springboard to more opportunities. He is now also co-president of the Kellogg Cares Club, which encourages volunteering and community service among Kellogg students. “We aim to raise awareness of community issues and organize service events for the student body and the Kellogg community,” Kwok says. “Our mission is to help Kellogg students make volunteering and community service a fun, memorable, and impactful part of their business school experience.” Kwok is one of a few non-students listed among the club’s officers.
“Slowly this year I’ve encouraged a lot more people, a lot more JVs, to step outside of their comfort zone and really get involved in the other clubs that the students usually run and see if we can run it, since the resources are here and some of us here don’t have work or anything like that,” he says.
“Kellogg is one of those schools that really encourage JVs’ perspective, and even JVs have knowledge from different backgrounds and different industries, which could offer a lot of insights. And I guess that could help with the development of the school system, with the club system — not just within the JV Club, but also within other clubs as well.”
Recently he encouraged five incoming JVs to join the executive board of the Kellogg Cares Day Committee; they have organized a big one-day event, Kellogg Cares Day, that will involve more than 800 students, faculty, and staff doing community service and giving back to Evanston and the Greater Chicago area.
EXPANDING TO OTHER SCHOOLS?
Kellogg’s JV Club is a model for other schools, Kwok says, Though they work and communicate with a handful of other B-schools, notably nearby Chicago Booth School of Business, the Kellogg JV Club is singular in its reach and level of involvement, he says.
Other schools “have nothing close to what we have,” he says. “The business schools on the East Coast are not as inclusive with partner programs. And that’s why it’s something that I think would be really great to get that out there to see — just to showcase, this is something that can happen. That might even be part of the reason why some students might choose Kellogg over other peer programs — over Harvard or Wharton. It does make a difference, I think.”
The bottom line is that the happier your partner is, the happier you as an MBA student will be, Kwok says — and the better you’re going to do in the program.
“If you live in downtown Chicago — and I’ve seen this happen many times — and your partner just hates being involved, it just makes it harder for the students to be involved with extracurricular activities.
“Doing things just to make partners feel a little bit more included, makes them say, ‘Hey, I’m actually part of this society. This is going to be good.’ And that gives the student more opportunity to dive into the Kellogg programming and get much more out of it as well.”