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What Happens When a Successful Entrepreneur Rediscovers the Humanities?

As an MLA student at the University of Chicago, Murad Sabzali advances his leadership and strategic thinking abilities.

Murad Sazbali

As 2022 approached, Murad Sabzali was already well established in his professional life.

A seasoned entrepreneur, Sabzali had launched a craft beer company, a private club for recreational musicians, an investment firm for small businesses, and a pair of marketing agencies, including CG Life, a now 20-year-old company specializing in the life sciences and healthcare fields. A previous member of the heralded 40 Under 40 list from Crain’s Chicago Business, Sabzali brokered massive deals, cultivated impact-driving partnerships, and constructed a client list of international enterprises that included Dow Chemical Co., AbbVie, and Bio-Rad Laboratories.

But with CG Life humming along under day-to-day leadership and Sabzali having divested of his other business entities, the Chicago area resident found himself with time and mental space. For a man with a self-confessed aversion to statis, it was an awkward, unfamiliar place.

Though Sabzali considered leaping back into entrepreneurial waters, a friend suggested he check out the University of Chicago’s Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) to keep his thinking, writing, and leadership skills sharp as he contemplated his life’s next professional turn. As Sabzali explored the MLA curriculum, one course immediately captured his attention: Matter, Energy, Space, and Time: The Rules that Govern the Physical World with Michael Turner, the renowned cosmologist who has called UChicago home since 1980.

“I was shocked I could take a class by the expert who coined the term ‘Dark Energy,’” says Sabzali, an innately curious soul long charmed by the energizing world of astrophysics.

Here was an opportunity for Sabzali to dive deep into intriguing subject matter and with expertise only available to him previously through the Discovery Channel.

Sabzali applied to the MLA and was accepted.

Since January 2022, Sabzali has been immersed in MLA studies at UChicago. Taking classes on history, art, literature, and religion, he’s gained a more holistic appreciation of everyday life and a deeper, broader understanding of the world.

“The classes in the MLA have kept me curious, interested, and motivated,” Sabzali says, describing his UChicago experience as an “enlightening and enriching” respite from his past two decades as an entrepreneur.

During undergraduate years in which he primarily focused on marketing, biology, and finance, Sabzali says he took humanities courses for granted. They were time-sucking electives. Boxes to check on the path to graduation.

At UChicago, however, Sabzali has been humbled to realize how much he doesn’t know and fascinated to discover how the humanities, from ancient texts to Gilded Age artists, can inform contemporary thought and action.

Today, Sabzali reads with a more thorough, close, and critical eye. He feels more cultured and relevant, incorporating new knowledge into everyday conversations as well as his professional life, where he is approaching business challenges as a CG Life board member from new perspectives and with greater thoughtfulness and intent.

“Over the years, I developed blinders, inadvertently looking at things quickly from the same perspective,” Sabzali says. “The MLA program has taught me to slow-down, take a step back, and come at a challenge from different angles. There’s no rush. I feel I’m much more deliberate now as opposed to being automatic.”

And there has been another benefit to Sabzali’s return to the classroom, one he admittedly overlooked: it has shown his children – 12-year-old Alex and 10-year-old Evelyn – the importance of continuous learning and unrestrained curiosity.

“By taking classes, I am reinforcing that we always have something new to learn,” says Sabzali, who’s on pace to complete his MLA studies in 2024. “Knowledge helps us grow and enriches our lives. And through the University of Chicago, I can be an example of that.”  

If you are interested in taking part in an educational journey similar to Murad Sabzali, contact us to learn more.

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Daniel P. Smith

Freelance Writer

Daniel P. Smith is a freelance writer at the Graham School.

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