When Mike Smith, MBA 98, was 16 years old he mapped out a plan that would help achieve his career goal of becoming a CEO of a public company by age 42. But after working for a dot-com startup that would later go bust shortly after its launch, Smith learned quickly that the best laid plan doesn’t always work out.
“These [career] journeys are super windy, they’re rarely up and to the right,” said Smith. “My advice is to embrace the zig zags.”
Smith said he’s grateful for those who helped him build his career as previous COO of Walmart.com and Stitch Fix, and now as general partner and co-founder of venture capital firm Footwork. He spoke with MBA students and the Haas community about his career successes and failures, talent management, and cultivating a workplace culture at a recent Dean’s Speaker Series talk held on Nov. 1. The event was co-sponsored by the Berkeley Culture Center.
In his current role, Smith, along with business partner, Nikhil Basu Trivedi, backs early-stage startups focused on consumer technology, many of which are founded by BIPOC entrepreneurs and women. Their portfolio includes Table 22, an online tool that helps restaurants build subscription models, and Cradlewise, a smart crib that helps babies and their parents get better sleep.
The former Stitch Fix COO also talked about his experience with leading diverse teams, hiring employees who have forced him to be an excellent leader, and the value of mentorship.
A Berkeley Haas MBA student team took first place at the 2022 Net Impact Case Competition for crafting innovative ways that a leading outdoor retail company could invest $50 million to make a sustainable impact.
The March 5 competition, hosted by University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, virtually brought together 50 MBA teams from U.S. business schools, including Daniels College of Business (University of Denver), Robert H. Smith School of Business (University of Maryland), and Darden School of Business (University of Virginia).
The winning team, Too Haas to Handle, won $10,000 in prize money. Team members included Tomoe Wang, Adriana Rueda, Liz Kanovsky, and Tomas Stegmann, all MBA 23.
This year, teams were asked to consult a leading outdoor retail company on how to allocate $50 million to address three priorities for the company: narrowing the racial wealth gap, reducing climate emissions, and strengthening democratic institutions.
The Haas team proposed creating a sustainable impact fund that would support initiatives including offering down payment loans to 7,000 employees to narrow the existing racial wealth gap; distributing grants to nonprofits focused on redistributing political and economic power; and providing loans to all stakeholders–from employees to suppliers–who initiated projects that raised sustainability standards and reduced climate emissions. Those projects included installing solar panels at the company’s warehouses.
“What set us apart from other teams was the diversity of our team,” Stegmann said. “Each of us came from different backgrounds, grew up in different countries, and experienced different cultures. However, despite being so different, we complemented each other very well and we were able to leverage each other’s strengths to get the most out of the team.”
Haas Voices is a series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community.
Janki Patel, MBA 22, is a recent Haas graduate who identifies as a first-generation, queer, Indian-American woman. In this Pride Month perspective, she shares her story of discovering and embracing her queer identity at Haas.
Growing up as a first generation Indian-American woman, I didn’t know anyone in my community who was queer. And as a cis-woman who is attracted to cis-men, I just thought any attraction I had to a woman was a “girl crush”. But when I started applying to business school, I realized some of my girl crushes were a bit more serious than the average girl crush. While I sometimes regret the fact that it took me so long to realize that I was queer, I am thankful that I am now closer to knowing myself fully. Every queer journey looks different and I’m sharing mine in case it helps anyone learn more about themselves, queer or not.
Business school was the first place where I felt I could be openly queer. It was also the first time I was part of a queer community. It was beautiful to belong to a community that understood a part of my identity that others did not. Though the queer community at Haas still has work to do to center the experiences of BIPOC, trans, and non-binary students, I am thankful I was welcomed into it at a time when I had more questions than answers. During my first year, three classmates shared their coming out journeys with other students for a special Story Salon. I was struck by how each coming out story differed from the next: from the moment my classmates realized they were queer to how they came out, to their loved ones’ reactions. I saw a bit of myself in all of these stories. After that event, I knew that I was getting closer to being ready to come out, but I wasn’t quite there yet.
My classes both at Haas and across the UC Berkeley campus taught me about what it means to be a kind, humane, leader and what queerness means to me. Courses such as Sustainable Capitalism in The Nordics and Managing Human Rights in Business equipped me with the tools I needed to pursue a career at the intersection of business and justice. And an African American Studies class on the novels of Toni Morrison exposed me to language I could use to speak about my queerness in a way that felt authentic to myself and that eventually gave me the confidence to come out to my immigrant parents.
My professor Daerick Scott helped me understand what I loved so much about Morrison’s novels, especially “Sula.” Sulaquestions society’s expectations of women throughout the novel, and her relationship with her best friend, Nel, though not explicitly sexual, is one of equal partnership and deep understanding. It’s a queer relationship. Not simply because it is between two women, but because it questions the norms of how love exists. Re-reading Sula helped me articulate to myself and to others that I am queer. Not only because I like women, but also because my attraction to people and my views on my role in a relationship do not fit into the mainstream. With that new language and the help of my closest friends at Haas, I was able to write a letter sharing how being queer has shaped my world view and share it with my parents. Although my parents have been struggling to accept what I have shared with them, they are trying. I am thankful that I am no longer hiding a core part of myself from them and luckily, I have been able to lean on my siblings and friends who have been endlessly supportive.
I came across a quote that in typical Toni Morrison fashion is incredibly eloquent:
I still write about the same thing, which is how people relate to one another and miss it or hang on to it… or are tenacious about love. About love and how to survive—not to make a living—but how to survive whole in a world where we are all of us, in some measure, victims of something. Each one of us is in some way at some moment a victim and in no position to do a thing about it. Some child is always left unpicked up at some moment. In a world like that, how does one remain whole—is it just impossible to do that?
Morrison’s distinction between surviving and making a living is one that I think about frequently, especially as I decide on next steps after Haas. Although I’m not sure where my post-Haas journey will take me (I’m hoping it’ll be somewhere at the intersection between climate and DEI), I plan to keep questioning if I am surviving or making a living. I’ll also question if I am helping others survive and remain as whole as possible. As for my queerness, I’m happily dating a cis-man and feel as queer as ever.I met my partner at a time when I wasn’t planning to date cis-men. But he helps me with my tennis serve (it’s still not great but way better!), bakes delicious lemon bars, and somehow genuinely enjoys doing dishes. All of this was a very unexpected bonus of my Haas journey.
Graduates of the Berkeley Haas Executive MBA Class of 2022 were urged to have confidence in their degrees, to make a difference in the world, and to live life with no regrets during a joyous commencement last Saturday.
It was a celebratory moment for families and friends, too, many of whom–including tots–crossed the stage alongside graduates.
In her welcome address at UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall, Dean Harrison congratulated the 64 graduates for making the decision to invest in themselves and persevering through one of the toughest MBA programs during a global pandemic.
“We do not give out capes today,” Harrison said. “But maybe we should because what you showed was nothing less than a heroic commitment to your families, to the future, to going beyond yourself.”
Harrison encouraged graduates to look to the Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles as guide posts throughout their career and to stay connected to the school’s 40,000-strong alumni network, which she called one of “the greatest gifts of their degree.”
Commencement speaker Laura Adint, EMBA 14, praised the class for successfully completing the program amid a pandemic. “The EMBA program is always hard,” she said. “It’s demanding, it’s challenging, it’s frustrating, it’s consuming, and to do it all in the backdrop of the most global event happening in our lifetime. I say ‘well done and congratulations.’”
Adint, an operations and strategy executive, noted the many challenges faced by graduates in the last two years, including adjusting to remote instruction during fall semester and postponing a few immersion trips. But she urged graduates to not regret a single moment of their program as “regret gives you nothing in return” and that their experiences positioned them to make a difference in the world.
Chosen by her peers as the student speaker, Seo Yeon Yoon reflected on the strong support she received from the class when she made the tough decision to drop her American name and change it back to her Korean birth name.
“When I struggled, you made me believe that if I acted on bravery that resided in me, all will be well,” Yoon said. “You actively embraced my [Korean name]. You cheered me on…You amplified my voice.”
“The legacy that you’re leaving behind today is of resilience and love. Proving that you can take the risk, acting on that resilience by moving forward in spite of the fear of the unknown. Believing that if you work and be kind, that success is guaranteed.”
Valedictorian Will Tuhacek thanked his classmates for helping him receive the highest academic honor.
“I would not be here today if it weren’t for the 64 amazing EMBAs that we have,” Tuhacek said. “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” he added, quoting Sir Issac Newton.
Tuhacek reminded the class that they’re now in the privileged position to be changemakers in their companies, communities, and the world. “Chance favors the prepared mind. Have confidence in yourself and in your degree. You are prepared and you can do anything.”
Those honored at commencement included Distinguished Teaching Fellow Veselina Dinova receiving her second Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching, and Jon Wong, EMBA 18, a former student of Dinova’s, who received the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award.
Valedictorian: Will Tuhacek
Question the Status Quo: Jeremy Johnson
Confidence without Attitude: Tomás Klausing
Students Always: Kunal Cholera and Seo Yeon Yoon
Beyond Yourself: Lokesh Mandava
Berkeley Leader Award: Lokesh Mandava and Martha Ivanovas
Haas Voices is a first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we spoke with Angelo Ignacio, EMBA 22, an email marketing manager at 23andMe, who’s committed to mission-driven work. He shares his story below.
Social impact work and storytelling have been at the heart of everything that I do. As a marketing major at Loyola Marymount University, a Jesuit private college in Los Angeles, I envisioned working at a big advertising agency after college. But the 2008 recession forced me to shift gears and be open to other possibilities. It was a sobering moment for me because I learned that life doesn’t always go the way you plan, but if you approach life with a half-glass full mentality—something that I inherited from my parents—you can overcome anything. The recession, in my view, was a shortcut to finding my purpose and pursuing a mission-driven career.
After college I joined Invisible Children, a nonprofit humanitarian organization whose mission is to stop the use of child soldiers and reunite children with their families. That work opened my eyes to the impact of storytelling and marketing to get people to rally for a good cause.
One of the projects that I worked on was building a marketing campaign to raise funds that were then used to charter helicopters. The helicopters would fly over Kiliwa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nzako in Central African Republic, drop compostable flyers with directions to safe zones, and use loudspeakers to play recorded messages from parents whose children had been abducted. To see this project come to life and help children flee their captors was incredible. Seeing actual cell phone footage of reunited families from our partners on the ground was one of the proudest moments of my life. I went on to work at other nonprofits including World Vision, and Seattle Children’s Hospital.
While I found working in the nonprofit sector incredibly rewarding, I realized that the nonprofit world could benefit from having more leaders with business backgrounds—leaders who push for operational efficiency and consumer-driven segment marketing campaigns. These are big stretches for even large companies like World Vision, but they are necessary steps for growth and sustainability. I felt like if I was going to continue on in this career field, I needed to bring a business skillset to the nonprofit world.
While I found working in the nonprofit sector incredibly rewarding, I realized that the nonprofit world could benefit from having more leaders with business backgrounds.
Just like in 2008, I found myself grappling with a world filled with uncertainty in 2020. Despite the challenges brought on by the global pandemic, I decided to enroll at Haas because I believed that there was no better time to go to business school. The world was changing rapidly and I figured if I waited any longer, I wouldn’t be able to learn in an environment where things were happening in real time.
Since coming to Haas, I’ve taken classes that have shaped me into the business leader that I want to become. One class that has left the biggest impact on me is Executive Leadership taught by Harris Sondack. At the heart of this class is figuring out who you want to be and the kind of leader you want to be. Lecturer Sondak asks ethical and philosophical questions that truly make your brain hurt, but in a good way.
Since coming to Haas, I’ve taken classes that have shaped me into the business leader that I want to become.
Another invaluable class that has left a profound impact is Leadership Communications taught by Lecturer Mark Rittenberg. This course focuses on how to effectively tell your personal story, how to show up and be present for others, and how to lead teams and organizations. The biggest takeaway from that course was learning and proudly accepting that I’m also a storyteller. I don’t have to choose between being a business leader and a storyteller, I can be both at the same time.
I now have a new outlook on my career path. I’ve realized that I don’t need to remain in the nonprofit world to positively create change, but I do know that whatever I decide to do, it has to connect back to impact and mission-driven work.
Laura Adint, EMBA 14, an operations and strategy executive has been chosen as the 2022 Berkeley Haas Executive MBA commencement speaker.
The ceremony will take place at UC Berkeley’s Hertz Hall on June 4, 2022.
Adint, valedictorian of the 2014 EMBA class of 68 graduates, has focused in recent years on developing strategies for scaling organizations. Passionate about leading high performing teams, she said she’s applying many of the lessons from her Berkeley Haas program classes and classmates. (Read Poets & Quants profile of Adint.)
Adint has held several executive leadership roles at prominent tech companies as vice president of sales operations & sales development at Drift; vice president of sales strategy and operations at Adaptive Insights, and vice president of sales operations at SugarCRM. She’s also held senior roles at Kelly OCG, Xilinx, Ford Motor Company, and Accenture.
She holds a B.A.S. in mathematics and economics with highest honors from the University of California, Davis. She also received the 2010 YWCA Silicon Valley Tribute to Women Award.
With graduation ahead Monday, we interviewed Haas Business School Association President Anna Shim, BS 22, about her experiences at Berkeley Haas and where she plans to go next.
Best memory from your time as an undergrad at Haas?
One of my best memories as a Haas undergrad was not related to recruiting, coffee chats, or classes, but a social event: 2018 Haas Winter Formal. I was extremely eager to meet fellow Haasies and attend this formal dance organized by Haas Business School Association (HBSA) at the SF Conservatory of Flowers. There was food, a dance floor, a photo booth, and more. My team and I organized a similar Haas spring formal this year, which was a fun way to celebrate the end of the semester!
Favorite place to get food around campus?
I’ve grown fond of many restaurants here during the past four years so it’s hard to choose. Some classics are Mezzo, Sliver, and Gypsy’s. Healthier options include Freshroll, Poke Parlor, and Berkeley Thai House. My favorites that are closer to downtown Berkeley are Imm Thai, Berkeley Social Club, and Marugame Udon.
What are you most proud of during your time here?
I am most proud of the myriad of experiences I had during my time at Berkeley and Haas. Whether it was studying abroad in London through the Global Management Program during fall semester of my freshman year, representing Haas in the National Diversity Case Competition at Indiana University, or serving as president of the Haas Business School Association, Haas has offered me many unique opportunities that I would not have otherwise.
What was the hardest challenge you had to overcome?
The most difficult challenge that I had to overcome and am still coping with is the sudden loss of my only brother (also a Cal alum) three months ago. I urgently went home in the middle of the semester to support my parents and am fortunately still graduating on time. Experiencing grief at a relatively young age has undoubtedly taught me many invaluable lessons, including gratitude, humility, and resilience.
Where will you live and work next?
I will be living in SoCal with my family and working as an M&A management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Los Angeles.
Graduates of the Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA classes of 2020 and 2021 reunited at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre last Friday for in-person commencement.
The graduates crossed the stage and celebrated with classmates, family, and friends in downtown Oakland and on campus. (The ceremony coincided with Haas’ MBA Conference and Reunion.) The in-person events followed separate virtual commencement ceremonies held in May 2020 & 2021.
Here are some highlights from Friday’s ceremony:
Graduates from the MBA classes of 2020 and 2021 gathered at Oakland's Paramount Theatre for their belated in-person commencement. The ceremony was held on April 29, 2022. Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
Evan Wright, MBA 20, hugs a fellow classmate. COVID-19 restrictions prevented graduates from having in-person commencements for two years. Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
Members of the class of 2021 take photos outside of Oakland's Paramount Theatre. Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
Graduates take a few photos before commencement begins. Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
"If you ever doubted whether you could lead through a crisis, overcome impossible odds, break through barriers, you have your answer," said Dean Ann Harrison who praised both MBA classes for completing one of the most rigorous MBA programs in the US during a pandemic. Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
Laura Clayton McDonnell, MBA/JD 85, gave this year's commencement speech. Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
"Haas taught me to show up as my most authentic self and to tear down my own walls and invite people in," said commencement speaker Joe Sutkowski, MBA 20. "Let's all continue to invite people into our lives and make this world a little bit smaller." Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
Student speaker Fede Pacheco, MBA 21, urged classmates to remember the joyous moments of their MBA program and to reach out to one another whenever life gets tough. Pacheco also received the Confidence without Attitude award. Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
David Brown-Dawson, MBA 21. Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
Graduates of the MBA class of 2020. Photo: Katelyn Tucker Photography.
Award winners for the full-time MBA class of 2020:
Academic Achievement Award: Brian Shain, the MBA student with the highest GPA.
Question the Status Quo: Evan Wright
Confidence without Attitude: Celeste Fa’ai’uaso
Students Always: Nina Ho
Beyond Yourself: Benny Johnson
Berkeley Leaders: Molly Zeins & Ezgi Karaagac
Haas Legacy Award: Santiago Freyria and Francesco Dipierro
Award winners for the full-time MBA class of 2021:
Achievement Award: Devan Courtois
Student always: José Ramón Avellana
Beyond yourself: Kendall Bills
Question the status quo: Fayzan Gowani
Confidence without attitude: Fede Pacheco
Cheit award for Graduate Student Instructor: Devan Courtois
“Classified” is an occasional series spotlighting some of the more powerful lessons being taught in classrooms around Haas.
On a recent Monday evening Berkeley Haas Lecturer Kellie McElhaney opened her class with a challenge, asking her students how others have defined them. “Too bossy” and “too sensitive” were among the responses that McElhaney quickly urged them to dismiss or proudly own as they began a journey of how to describe themselves.
“What do you want your brand to be?” she asked the class of 48 students, most of them Cal athletes—a group that’s at the heart of her new class, Equity Fluent Leadership & Personal Brand. It’s designed to teach primarily Cal student athletes and undergraduates how to create personal brands.
This class comes after California and eight other states passed laws in 2019 that allowed college athletes to benefit from their names, images, or likenesses (NIL). In July 2021, the NCAA followed suit and adopted its own NIL policy for all college athletes. Similar to professional athletes, college athletes can now engage in sponsorships and receive cash payments and gifts. However, the policy continues to preclude students from entering pay-for-play contracts with colleges and universities.
“The NIL policy is in its infancy right now and many college athletes haven’t fully grasped the policy in its entirety,” said McElhaney, who’s also the founding executive director of the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership. “My hope is that I can give students the tools to discover who they are and what they stand for, regardless of whether or not they enter contracts.”
Focused on core values
The Equity Fluent Leadership & Personal Brand class has drawn the interest of many athletes, including Cal football players, swimmers, and gymnasts, five of whom are Haas students. Non-Haas students are also enrolled in the course.
“This class has really re-energized me,” McElhaney said. “It’s bringing my three passions together: Equity Fluent Leadership, Cal athletics, and the love for my dad, my role model.” (McElhaney’s father, Harold “Hal” McElhaney, played football for the Philadelphia Eagles, coached at Duke, and went on to become the athletic director for Allegheny College and Ohio University.)
In addition to crafting their personal brands, students explore their core values based on their social identities, learn about the power of allyship, and discover their own brand of leadership. Throughout the semester, students have been tasked with giving presentations about leaders whom they admire, finding songs to represent the soundtrack of their lives, and designing social media accounts that reflect their brands.
Cal women’s basketball player Jazlen Green, BA 22, (sociology) has already benefited from the NIL policy, serving as a brand ambassador for compression legging companyStoko. In exchange for using Green’s name and image, Stoko gives the Cal basketball player free products. But her primary motivation for taking McElhaney’s class was to be the best version of herself.
The personal brand hero assignment, which required students to write about a leader who reflects their brand, has been the most impactful exercise, she said.
“I had a hard time narrowing my decision to one person, which highlighted the fact that I’m multifaceted,” Green said. “I am an athlete, a student, a Black female, and a creator.”
Cal baseball player Garret Nielsen, BS 22, said he took the class to learn more about himself and to become more empathetic.
“This class asks the hard questions,” Nielsen said. “The most important lesson that this class has taught me is you have to establish a foundation of who you are before success comes.”
Conversely, Nielsen said he’s not interested in benefiting from the NIL policy. He’d rather use his status and expertise to help children become great baseball players.
“I would have been ecstatic if a college player had helped me with my game when I was a kid,” Nielsen said. “I now have the opportunity to do just that. I think that’s the true gift of being a Cal athlete.”
Over time, McElhaney hopes to expand the class to include topics such as how to read contracts, money management, and investing. She wants to bring in lawyers and more professional athletes as guest speakers. Earlier in the semester, she invited former NFL player Lorenzo Alexander to talk about the value of having a board of directors. She’s also tapped the wisdom of her graduate student instructor André Chapman, Jr., a former UCLA 400-meter hurdler who was bound for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“At its heart, this is a leadership class,” McElhaney said. “Whether or not students, specifically my student athletes, enter sponsorships, this course sets them up for life.”
MBA teams competed for top prizes at the 5th annual Investing in Inclusion Pitch Competition last Friday, pitching ideas to address issues of exclusion, marginalization, and belonging at the workplace and beyond.
The Berkeley Haas team, Firstly, pitched a virtual mentorship program that aims to help first-generation college students with on-campus recruitment and internship placement. The team tied for second place and won $5,000 in prize money.
Team members included Kevin Hu, Divya Vijapurapu, Elle Wisnicki, all MBA 22; Austin Long, MBA 23; Stacey Li, BA 15, and Leanne Do, BA 19 (both from UC Irvine).
Other winning teams included:
First place: Innerlytic Innerlytic offers an online assessment tool that helps people detect their inner-biases. The team included Jordan Rose, MBA 22, (Yale School of Management) and Vernae Rahman-Smith, MSW 20, (Howard University). The team won $8,000.
Second place: Firstly and Paraventures Paraventures provides outdoor excursions for people with disabilities. Team members included Yosuke Ochiai, Cassandra Christian, and Vincenzo Morla, all MBA 22, from IE Business School in Madrid, Spain. Firstly and Paraventures each won $5,000 in prize money.
Third place: Nema Nema is an AI and natural language processing (NLP) tool that aims to help businesses better understand and reach multicultural audiences. Team members included Mbere Monjok, Keyaira Lock Adewunmi, Braylong Gurnell, Carmen Del Valle, all MBA 23, from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. The team won $2,000 in prize money.
The competition truly embodies the Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles, said Genevieve Smith, associate director of EGAL. “Our hope is that this competition will help move the needle forward in creating a more equitable society for all,” she said.
“Competitions like these are changing the way people are valued at work and how they show up at work,” said Ulili Onovakpuri, who served as one of the judges and is a partner at venture capital firm Kapor Capital. “Companies are beginning to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion issues and are changing organizational structures.”