Embracing the Entrepreneurial Spirit: Laura Kohl (MBA ’94), Global CIO of Morningstar

College of Business alum Laura Kohl (MBA ’94), far right, with DePaul students visiting the CIO at Morningstar.

College of Business alumna Laura Kohl (MBA ’94), far right, with visiting DePaul students who won the Driehaus Cup winter quarter 2023 business pitch competition sponsored by Morningstar.

Laura Kohl (MBA ’94) remembers when she started to think like an entrepreneur, and it involves Airfone, a pioneering company at the time.

She was working toward her MBA in management information systems at DePaul in the early 1990s and had an assignment to bring in a business leader to talk about starting their company. Kohl had recently met Sandra Goeken, who was president of Airfone — the country’s first air-to-ground telephone system, founded by her father, John Goeken — and she mustered the courage to invite her to be a guest speaker.

As Sandra talked about her family’s business, and how it changed the way people communicate by putting phones in airplanes, Kohl felt her world expand. “The experience made me think about technology in an entrepreneurial way. It made me think a little bit differently about the art of the possible and what we could do differently.”

After that experience at DePaul, Kohl felt inspired to dream and knew she wanted to work with a company that had the same effect.

Kohl spent three decades harboring that entrepreneurial spirit in technology roles at McDonald’s, WW Grainger, United Airlines, Ulta and ultimately Morningstar, where she’s global chief information officer. The Chicago-based investment company, founded by Joe Mansueto, has grown from seven employees in 1984 to nearly 10,000 employees in 29 countries today, and Kohl says an agile mindset has helped it adapt and expand.

“Because we’re entrepreneurial, and we’ve grown organically and through acquisition, my job is to build a foundation off which to quickly continue to grow,” she says. “And so that’s looking at how we leverage the right tools, how we support our fellow colleagues with technology and how we get some financial benefits from things like automation.”

In 2021, around the same time Kohl started working at Morningstar, she reconnected with DePaul. She’d reached a nexus in her life: her three daughters were in college or preparing to go to college, and she was eager to focus on something inherently hers.

So at the invitation of Dean Sulin Ba, Kohl joined the executive committee of the Driehaus College of Business Advisory Council. She soon learned that the Driehaus Cup — a new student business pitch competition that’s part of the newly refreshed core undergraduate business degree curriculum — needed corporate sponsors. She approached one of the presidents at Morningstar, who jumped at the idea. “He was like, ‘Go do it. Yes!,’” says Kohl. “It was almost too easy.”

Kohl, who was recently named one of the Top 100 Women in Tech Leaders to Watch in 2023 by WomenTech Network, is thrilled for the new opportunities to make an impact at her alma mater.

Kohl says the opportunities at DePaul align perfectly with the advice she dispenses to young people: First, be a sponge and learn everything you can, and second, do something that scares you. “Don’t be afraid to do a stretch project or do something that might not be in your comfort zone,” she says. That, in turn, could reveal new dreams.

Follow Laura Kohl on LinkedIn.

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