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November 9, 2010

NBC gets a dose of U of C as alum competes on The Apprentice

As far as the U of C and its impact on pop culture is concerned, Tucker Max and Phillip Roth are likely to be its top players. But Brandy Kuentzel (J.D. ’06) is catching up with them as she competes in the 10th season of NBC’s The Apprentice. Kuentzel received her B.A. in political science from UCLA and her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. After finishing school, she worked as a corporate attorney for an international law firm before co-founding a mobile cupcake business in the San Francisco Bay area. It was with this work experience that she auditioned for a spot on The Apprentice and then used to her benefit on the show, eventually winning last episode’s competition. She took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk with The Chicago Maroon about her rise to the top.

Chicago Maroon: Before we start talking about your experience on The Apprentice, can you talk a little bit about your experience at the UChicago Law School and how it led to where you are today?

Brandy Kuentzel: I attended the University of Chicago Law School because it is one of the best law schools in the country, and I really had an amazing time. I loved the university. I loved the law school. I loved the community. The professors were very accessible and the classes were small. It was definitely the time in my life in which I grew the most, intellectually.

Before I went to law school, I worked for a U.S. Senator and went to UCLA as an undergrad. The moment I stepped into the U of C Law School was my first time coming to Chicago ... and I just loved it. My opinion of the school couldn’t be higher. [laughs] I just think it’s amazing! I know it’s seen as a more conservative school and it has an interesting reputation. I think it’s a fun place to go to school. I gained a solid understanding of corporate law and it has helped me get to where I am today.

CM: I am hoping to love this school as much as you do, but I’m still learning the ropes as a first year. You talked a great amount about your experience at UChicago. What about your experience in the post-graduate world? Was it an easy transition into the so-called “real world?”

BK: Part of me was a little bit sad. I cannot tell a lie. I had grown used to Chicago and it is always hard to say goodbye to your friends. I was also really excited to move on and the University has an excellent career center and they have wonderful relationships with law firms across the country. I worked for Kirkland and Ellis and my UChicago degree definitely helped get me that job.

CM: During your time here, what did you think about the city as a whole? Did the city help you realize your career goals?

BK: I lived in Hyde Park my first year and then I moved to the city’s North Side. I really liked both experiences in the city. I remember my time in the city quite fondly. I was actually thinking about living in Chicago after graduation, but I ended up choosing San Francisco. Despite my choice, I think that Chicago is a diverse, exciting city. There are great opportunities and maybe I’ll move back some day.

CM: Let’s talk about your recent appearance on The Apprentice. It’s an impressive feat to be competing for a job with Donald Trump. How did you first decide to apply for the show? Was it a calculated decision or more spur-of-the-moment?

BK: You know, it was a bit spur-of-the-moment. I must say, I saw that the show was basically looking for contestants for the new season. At [that] point in my career, I was no longer working in a big law firm. I was running my own cupcake business and I felt that I had the freedom to pursue a spot on the show. It is a great opportunity. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. If anyone ever has the chance to work for Donald Trump, say whatever you want to say about him, he is an amazing individual who has accomplished so much.

My friend and I took a road trip one weekend from San Francisco to Los Angeles to try out for the show. Two weeks later, I found out that I had made it on the show. Soon after, I flew out to New York and met the 15 other contestants. The show filmed this summer, and I had a great time. I had a comfortable life and it was exciting for myself to pursue some things that are not exactly conventional. At this point in my life, I am happy to say that I run a cupcake business and that I was in The Apprentice. I just sort of reached a point in my life in which I can make these choices happily.

CM: When I first read about your cupcake business, I was taken aback. I think that people have this perception that UChicago Law School alumni have to reach a certain level of prestige by working in an important law firm.

BK: Right, right. There is an almost self-imposed stigma. I think that at UChicago and at any other law schools at the level of UChicago, there is a certain level of expectation that you have to go work at a big law firm. This is not to discredit the people doing other amazing work, such as working for the government or other corporations. It is funny to compare myself to some UChicago law school counterparts that are working for the Supreme Court and I own a mobile cupcake shop. I just realized at this point in my life that it is all okay. The cupcake truck has been amazingly successful. I run it with my best friend from my upbringing in Alaska. Our website is sweetridesf.com. I enjoyed my time as a corporate attorney and I may very well return to that life someday. Will I have a cupcake truck forever? No, but it has been a great learning experience. It is hard to start a business from the ground. There are so many questions you have to consider. How are we going to do this? Who is going to buy our items? How are we going to manage employees? These are lessons [that] can’t be learned through the classroom. Even though what I am doing is not exactly seen as prestigious, my friends from law school are extremely supportive. I don’t really worry about the prestige part because I know it has been a successful business. It makes me happy.

CM: I think that’s a good lesson. People get caught up in chasing success for success’s sake rather than pursuing what makes them happy.

BK: I completely agree. I came out of UChicago with the idea, “Absolutely, I am going to work for an important law firm.” At the end of the day, you just have to realize that success is not the pivotal component of life.

CM: Seeing that you have years of schooling behind you, what sort of advice can you give UChicago students about career possibilities, classes, etc?

BK: Obviously, everyone at UChicago is working hard. I think the most important thing to remember is to have fun. Just remember to have fun. It’s kind of silly to tell students at the University of Chicago to work hard. They are all working hard. I think it is just important to take stock. At this point in my life, I think it is important to stop taking yourself seriously all the time. Think about your career, but don’t let it define you.

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