Gerardo Campos: How a student walkout changed my life

For Latinx Heritage Month we’re featuring members of our Berkeley Haas community. Our first profile is of Gerardo Campos, facilities manager for the Haas faculty and student services buildings. Campos, who is Mexican, discusses early activism that significantly impacted his life.

Gerardo Campos with his family
Gerardo Campos (second from left) celebrates his birthday with daughter, Celeste, son, Marcelino, and wife, Michelle.

In December 1993, Gerardo Campos helped organize a walkout with hundreds of Latinx students at San Francisco’s Mission High School to pressure the school board to change the curriculum.

“We marched, demanding that they add ethnic studies, demanding a review of materials and the curriculum, because we weren’t hearing our story in class,” said Campos, who was student body president at the time.

The walkout, which led to the addition of new ethnic studies courses and expanded college prep and job readiness courses, not only politicized Campos, it changed his life, laying the groundwork for Campos to receive a scholarship to UC Santa Cruz, where he was the first in his family to attend college.

Creating change

Mission High then housed 1,415 students, 37% who were Latinx and 26% who were Chinese. Many of the students were newly arrived immigrants from around the world.

Coverage of the walkout in local paper El Tecolote
Coverage of the walkout by the English/Spanish paper El Tecolote. Campos, who helped organize the walkout, saved the news clip.

Campos recalled that some students in the high school’s newly formed Latino Club had started talking about diversity issues. The San Francisco Independent weekly newspaper reported that the students believed that “many of the high school’s staff members were insensitive to minorities” and that the curriculum didn’t align with their diverse histories.

The walkout led to a new ethnic studies alliance between Mission High and San Francisco State University, where Campos thought he would end up going to college. However his activism and leadership as student body president led him down a different path. A high school counselor nominated Campos for a citywide $5,000 SF Rotary Club scholarship that enabled him to afford tuition at UC Santa Cruz, where he graduated with a degree in psychology.

“Huge pride and a sense of accomplishment”

After graduation, Campos, who is 45, worked as a substance abuse counselor, slowly moving toward a career in facilities management at Kaiser Permanente, and then as an administrator at a nanotech startup in Emeryville. In 2004, Campos arrived at Haas, where he’s worked as a facilities manager, one of few people who comes to campus daily to manage the buildings during the pandemic.

While Campos’ activism has taken a back seat to his demanding job and raising two children, he was active over the years in the UC Berkeley campus staff Chicanx/Latinx community Alianza.

Campos and his wife, Michelle, have two children: a son, Marcelino, who is a college sophomore, and a daughter, Celeste, a Berkeley High School junior. His family is close, including five brothers and 60 cousins. Of his family members, he’s the only one who made it to college, he said, adding, “I always feel huge pride and a sense of accomplishment that I did it.”

Campos said he tries to return to Mezcala, a small town in Mexico about an hour from Guadalajara, every year to visit his family.

In recent months, Campos said he’s followed the Black Lives Matter protests and kept informed on what Haas is doing to support diversity and equity for people of color. The Trump administration’s immigration policies toward his community anger him, and he challenges the idea that people are “legal” or “illegal.” “It’s not right that if I was born over here and somebody else is born over there that we should be treated differently,” he said. “I am against it to my core.”

Reflecting on his past, Campos said he’s grateful for his experiences, including the walkout that he believes awoke him to fight for justice as a teenager, a story he recently shared with his daughter. “I’ve had a lovely life,” he said.

Berkeley Haas welcomes largest-ever undergraduate class

A record-sized Berkeley Haas undergraduate class came together online this week, attending orientation sessions on everything from the keys to succeeding in the rigorous program to creating a climate of inclusion and belonging to navigating internship recruiting.

Juniors Devin Yuan, BS 22, and Ashlee Chung, BS 22, (Biology+Business), take a break from online orientation. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Students logged on Monday morning from housing on or off campus, where they were greeted by Erika Walker, assistant dean of the undergraduate program.

Dean Ann Harrison, who attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, studying economics and history, welcomed the group to Haas, and congratulated them for getting into the program. Not only is the program one of the most academically rigorous, she said, it’s also defined by its culture, anchored by the four Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself.

“The culture at Haas lets us develop the kinds of business leaders that we want to see more of in the business world,” she said, pointing to entrepreneur Kevin Chou, BS 02, as an example of Beyond Yourself. Chou’s $15 million pledge to Haas, the largest ever by an alum under age 40, helped build Chou Hall on the Haas campus.

Of the incoming 440 undergraduate students, 236 are continuing UC Berkeley students and 99 transferred into the program as juniors. Continuing students held an average GPA of 3.76 and transfer students’ GPA averages 3.91.

Todd Fitch, a member of the professional faculty who teaches economic analysis and policy, offered students advice for continuing their academic success in the competitive program, touching on in-class Zoom etiquette, the importance of helping fellow students and working collaboratively, and the need to ask for help when needed and accept feedback when it’s given.

“We’re going to push you very hard, we’re going to push you to your limits,” said Fitch, who wore his trademark bow tie.  “It’s extremely rigorous so be prepared for a lot of hard work. You are at the best business school in the world and we’re trying to prepare you for the future when things are constantly changing.”

Expanding programs

The undergraduate program has expanded in recent years, adding three multidisciplinary programs outside of the core program.

Emma Caress
Emma Caress is among the first undergrad Bio+Biz students.

The newly-launched Biology+Business program, a joint venture between the Department of Molecular Cell Biology and Haas, enrolled 13 juniors in its inaugural class. The program allows students to earn a bachelor of science degree in business administration and a bachelor of arts degree in molecular and cell biology in the emphasis of their choice.

Students who enter UC Berkeley as freshmen apply to the program, and complete all prerequisite requirements for Haas and molecular cellular biology before entering as juniors. Saloni Patel, who is among the school’s 13 BioBiz students, said the program combined the two majors she’s always wanted. “It was the perfect combo,” she said. “We’ve had great access to Program Director Sarah (Maslov), who’s an amazing advisor…and it’s a nurturing cohort that’s very specialized. We’re developing as a group and it’s a smaller community of people with specialized interests.”

A love of the mathematics behind medical imaging led Emma Caress to the program. “Medical imaging is used for practically everything in the field of medicine and makes up a vast majority of the information coming out of the healthcare system,” she said.  “Today’s hospitals store hundreds of millions of digital images, with their numbers only increasing as MRIs and CTs become better at capturing thinner and thinner slices of the body. After talking to every person I could find involved in healthcare start-ups and the medical device and pharma industries, I realized my real passion lies at the intersection between business and biology.”

(Left to right) Angie Llei, BS 23, Jaden Bryan, BS 24, and Ruby Gao, BS 23, walk through a quiet campus. All three students are in the Global Management Program, which launched in 2018.

Meantime, the Global Management Program, a four-year international Berkeley Haas program that launched in 2018,  enrolled 31 new students. On top of an already demanding undergraduate curriculum, students in the GMP program must fulfill a language requirement, study abroad their first semester, and take specialized global business courses.

The Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology (M.E.T.) program, welcomed 59 new students. The program, a collaboration between the Haas School of Business and the UC Berkeley College of Engineering, grants graduates two degrees—in business and in engineering—in four years, with the goal of providing deep leadership and technology skills.

A diverse new class

The incoming class includes includes artists and world travelers, budding entrepreneurs and financiers, and a group of outstanding student athletes, including a few “future Olympians,” said Steve Etter, who teaches finance in the undergraduate program and mentors student athletes. There’s Cal swimmer Alicia Wilson, from the UK, who the gold medal at the 2019 University Games in Naples in the 200 the individual medley. Reece Whitley swims breast stroke for Cal and was named 2019 Pac-12 Men’s Swimming Freshman of the Year. The group also includes Cal gymnast Maya Bordas and Cal Football offensive lineman Matthew Cindric.

Whitley said the mindset necessary for success in sports and business is quite similar. “I’ve always believed that Haas would guide me to successfully translate the team working skills I’ve developed from the swim team into work life,” he said.

Students said they’ve enjoyed meeting their cohort members and beginning to get to know them online, during a school year that has been like no other and has included the staples of masks and social distancing.

Kevin Truong
Kevin Truong, BS 22, came to Berkeley with a plan to study business,

Kevin Truong, BS 22, who said he’s wearing a mask in the common areas of his Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house, said it’s been a goal to study business at Haas since he entered Berkeley as a freshman.

“I thought I might be a computer science major but my econ class in high school opened me to the business world and the stock market,” he said. “I chose Berkeley because I knew how great Haas was.”

Truong said he found the creating a climate of inclusion and belonging session led by Élida Bautista, Haas’ director of inclusion & diversity, particularly useful during orientation. A breakout session allowed the students to role play, giving people a chance to interact, Truong said.

Unlike Troung, Donna Kharrazi, BS 22, said she had no idea what she wanted to major in when she arrived at Berkeley. She said she was drawn to apply to study business for the different career directions that seemed possible, including marketing and advertising.

Kharrazi, who is considering minoring in data science because she loves to code, said she’s excited to be enrolled in smaller classes at Haas this year, where there are opportunities to connect with teachers. So far, she’s enjoying the breakout rooms during orientation with her cohort. “There was a little awkwardness in the beginning, but the level of conversation was great,” she said.

Donna Kharrazi
Donna Kharrazi, BS 22, was drawn to business while taking undergraduate courses in math and data science. (Photo provided by Kharrazi)

For the love of math: Bandile Mbele’s journey from South Africa to the Berkeley MFE Program

Bandile Mbele, a student in the master of financial engineering program at Haas, was the top math student in his undergraduate program at the University of Cape Town. He’d never traveled outside of South Africa before he arrived at Berkeley in March. Photo (in Berkeley): Brittany Hosea-Small.

Bandile Mbele landed at San Francisco Airport from South Africa in early March, just before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a pandemic.

“Everything was just weird,” said Mbele, who had traveled outside of South Africa for the first time in order to join 95 students in the 2021 Master of Financial Engineering Program class at Berkeley Haas. “I just sat for an hour at the airport and took it all in.”

For the 25-year-old, who had grown up in a township in Newcastle, South Africa, coronavirus was just another challenge. When the pandemic continued longer than he ever expected, Mbele relied on the same resilience that led him to the top-ranked Berkeley MFE program.

It’s not been easy for Mbele (pronounced “M-bay-lay”). For the first three weeks he struggled to catch up with online coursework and prepare for internship interviews. “I was learning the material but it wasn’t sticking in my head,” he said. But by April 15—he remembers the exact date—there was a shift. “I woke up and everything started clicking. Things were much more calm.” More relief came when he landed a coveted 12-week internship with Morgan Stanley, which starts in October.

The journey to Berkeley Haas

Mbele attended the University of Cape Town, where he earned both an undergraduate degree in actuarial science and a master’s degree in mathematical finance. Yet he might not have continued his studies at Haas if not for his former undergraduate classmate, Gary Finkelstein, MFE 20.

Chatting one day, Finkelstein told MFE program Executive Director Linda Kreitzman about Mbele, whom he considered a perfect MFE applicant. “I asked him, ‘Is he as good as you?’” Kreitzman said. “Gary said, ‘He’s even better than me at math.’”

Always searching for students who can meet the program’s rigorous quantitative requirements, Kreitzman made it her mission to bring Mbele to Haas. She asked Finkelstein, now an energy trader in London, to help.

One June night, Finkelstein called Mbele, who was playing PlayStation after a day of work at his job at insurance company Old Mutual. The two chatted, and then the conversation got more serious. Would he be interested in applying to the MFE?  Finkelstein mentioned the possibility of a scholarship that Kreitzman had established through the family of Kyle Carlston, MFE 06.

Suddenly, the idea of coming to Berkeley became real.

“Numbers since the day I was born”

Bandile "has great humility and depth of character that I haven’t often seen in my life," says the MFE executive director Linda Kreitzman.
Bandile “has great humility and depth of character that I haven’t often seen in my life,” says the MFE executive director Linda Kreitzman, who worked with South African MFE alum Gary Finkelstein to bring Mbele to Haas.

Before Mbele could accept a place in the MFE program, he had to convince his mother, Patricia, a teacher in a juvenile detention center in Durban, South Africa, that he’d be okay in America. From the start, his mother had played a role in nurturing his love of math, hanging the numbers 1 to 100 in different colors in his room when he was a baby, Mbele said adding “All of my toys had numbers on them.”

His mother helped him move from Newcastle, where he lived alone for a time with his older brother, to Durban, where he could attend good public schools.

In 7th grade, math became a more serious pursuit for Mbele, who was honored as the class’ top-ranked math student, “a game changer that made me realize I had potential,” he said. Later, at Westville Boys’ High School in Durban, he continued to excel academically, which led him to the University of Cape Town. There, he became the top undergraduate math student in a class of 400. “I’m just so passionate about math,” said Mbele, who has tutored students in math for years. “I think I love abstract thinking and the power that comes with that level of thought. I feel like I can understand almost anything.”

I’m just so passionate about math. I think I love abstract thinking and the power that comes with that level of thought.

Mbele finally convinced his mother that the MFE opportunity was too good to pass up—with the help of Kreitzman, who told him that she planned to meet his mom at Mbele’s graduation, if she’s able to attend.

“I was lucky to work with him.”

In the MFE program, Mbele joins students from around the world who are just as passionate about financial skills as he is, coming together for an intense year-long program of quantitative finance and data science coursework and industry projects that will lead many of them to top quant jobs at Wall Street banks and investment firms. (Impressively, about a third of the class, including Mbele, already earned a master’s degree before arriving at Haas.)

Aside from academics, making friends in the program has proven challenging for some of the students without the usual in-person parties and study groups. “The most difficult part was getting to know people over Zoom, especially on a deeper level,” said Mbele’s classmate Renee Reynolds, who added that one-on-one meetings that the students do on the Donut Slack app are helping.

The most difficult part was getting to know people over Zoom, especially on a deeper level. — Mbele’s classmate Renee Reynolds, MFE 21

Mbele and classmate Shamai Zhang got to know each other through lengthy study sessions during the summer semester, typically the MFE’s most difficult due to the daunting Derivatives: Quantitative Methods course. “I was lucky to work with him on that course because he was responsible and effective,” she said. “When I took a look at his work it was so nice, the format, the code, the solutions, and interpretations.”

“A humility and depth of character”

Linda Kreitzman, executive director of the MFE program, is “like my mom who has a lot of kids that she takes care of,” Mbele said.

While it’s sad that students can’t all be together in person, Kreitzman said she tries to unite them with riddles, puns, and games for prizes, and phone calls to check on how they are coping. The students planned weekly online poker games during spring semester, which fell off as the course load got heavier in summer.

Kreitzman said she has no regrets about bringing Mbele to Haas, noting the doors that will open for him with his MFE degree.

“Bandile is a very special young man,” Kreitzman said. “He has great humility and depth of character that I haven’t often seen in my life. He is pure kindness and truly embodies our four Haas Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself.”

Mbele said he’s always been grateful for what he has—adding Kreitzman to that list now. “She’s like my mom who has a lot of kids that she takes care of,” he said.

After graduating, Mbele said he’s hoping to stay in the U.S., depending on his visa situation, to work for a few years, meet people, and embrace different cultures.

“I’m open to anything,” he said.

 

Berkeley Haas welcomes largest-ever evening and weekend MBA class

Students from the EWMBA Class of 2023
EWMBA students from the Gold Cohort have a little fun on Zoom.

The largest-ever Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA class came together for an unprecedented virtual orientation this month, as students met their cohort members online, explored their academic and career goals, hosted a talent show, and heard from Dean Ann Harrison.

Students in the EWMBA program, 318 strong compared to 279 last year, balance their coursework while working full time. During WE Launch, the program’s orientation held from July 13-26, students participated in workshops on case-study methods, inclusive leadership, leadership communications, partnering with the Career Management Group, and an intro to Teams@Haas, a curriculum designed to build stronger team outcomes.

Orientation culminated with Saturday’s welcome from Dean Ann Harrison and a talk by Alumni Speaker Greg Greeley, MBA 98 and outgoing President of Homes for Airbnb.

In her welcome, Harrison called the current economy “nothing like I’ve experienced in my lifetime,” but added that the pandemic is accelerating and digitally transforming the fields of education tech, fintech, and healthcare. “It presents an incredible opportunity for all of us,” she said. “That’s why I really believe that this is the best time to go to business school—and our applications reflected it. “I can’t imagine a better time to take on the challenges of this pandemic than at Berkeley, which has always been at the forefront of change.”

Greeley told students that they will emerge from the MBA program stronger on the other side of this. “Bond with each other, lean on each other,” said Greeley, who called out each of the four Haas Defining Leadership Principles, which articulate the Haas culture, and discussed how important culture has been throughout his career at Amazon and Airbnb, companies that “have disrupted and defined their industries.”

company logos from where students work

Students in the class of 2023 have a collective average of eight years work experience, and work at a total of 243 companies. The majority hail from industries including technology, finance, computer-related services, and consulting. About half the class works in roles in engineering, marketing/sales, consulting, and finance. Google is the class’ biggest employer, followed by Apple and Genentech, Intel, LinkedIn, EY, and PG&E.

The class is comprised of 36% women, a record high. It’s also quite international. Almost a third of the students were born outside of the U.S., and speak 20 different languages.

“There is such an enormous amount of diversity and knowledge and creativity in this group of people,” said Jamie Breen, assistant dean of the MBA Programs for Working Professionals at Haas. “Take it, embrace it, enjoy it. Take advantage of everything.”

“Orientation was a taste of what’s in store for us,” said Tiffany Shumate, executive director for Hack the Hood in Oakland, Ca., which works to increase access to living-wage technology jobs for early career workers. “I’m already a proud Blue Cohort (students are split into four cohorts: Blue, Gold, Oski, and Axe) member. I’m excited to start classes.”

Why an MBA, why Haas?

Many EWMBA students are seeking the skill set required to change roles at their company or be better managers. Divya Pillai, a software engineer at Google, holds a master’s degree in engineering from MIT.

She said an MBA will give her business skills, and that she’s looking forward to studying microeconomics and leadership. “I thought I was happy as a software engineer but I realized that what we needed was more product direction, and bringing stakeholders together,” she said. “I thought I needed an MBA to contribute there.

Rajat Verma, a data insights manager at Autodesk, said he aims to strengthen his leadership skills as a new manager of a virtual, global team. “A new learning journey just began for me,” he said. “There are a lot of things I want to leverage from Haas: the faculty, the caliber of students, and the breadth of electives. There’s a huge opportunity for me to strengthen my leadership skills and to eventually become an inspiring and holistic leader.” Verma added that he’s excited that in an EWMBA program “you get to apply what you learn in class the following Monday.”
Students from the EWMBA Class of 2023
The Axe cohort shows some spirit.

Diversity at Haas was critical to Adam Ward, a native of the UK who works as a senior manager in partner product marketing at MuleSoft. Ward said he attended the Berkeley Haas Diversity Symposium, an event held last October, and became convinced that Haas was the right school for him.

“It was amazing to see the work they are putting into equality,” said Ward, who recently pivoted from account development into marketing at his company. “That was really important to me.”

Portrait: Adam Ward, EWMBA 23
Diversity in an MBA program was critical for Adam Ward, EWMBA 23

The social link

In addition to academics, social life moved online for the EWMBA class, too, with happy hours for the entire class, a happy hour for Black and Latinx students, as well as an LGBTQ mixer.

In recent weeks, an EWMBA 2023 Slack channel brought the class together with daily challenges posted by members, such as: post a photo of yourself wearing Berkeley gear, share a photo of a recent book you read during quarantine, or post a photo related to your pandemic hobby. “There was a really active poster, Dan Bernstein, who direct-messaged a bunch of people—and once he got people on board we were trying to get 100% participation,” Pillai said. “The whole process just made everyone feel they were part of something.”

So did a talent show, which brought out the class musicians, singers, and dancers. Pillai, who played the ukulele while singing Lady Gaga’s “Shallow,” with tongue-in-cheek lyrics adapted for the COVID-19 pandemic, took first place.

Second place was a tie between Jack Woodruff (singing/guitar) and Joni Chan (Chopin on piano).

Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, MBA 90: Transitioning—a private decision with public consequences

Portrait: Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, MBA 90
Portrait: Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, MBA 90

Celebrating Pride Month on the OneHaas Podcast, host Sean Li spoke with Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, MBA 90, an African-American transgender artist-activist, about how being an over-achiever helped him land senior positions in the corporate and nonprofit world. (Élida Bautista, the director of inclusion and diversity at the Haas School of Business, joins Li for this interview.)

Jackson served on various community boards including mayoral appointee of the San Francisco Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, the UCSF Chancellor’s GLBT Advisory Committee, San Francisco LGBT Community Center Project, and former board president of Fresh Meat Productions, a leading transgender and queer performing arts nonprofit.

Stacy has since retired and is now focused on being an author, artist, and activist.

Michelle Kim, BS 11, on social justice and “talking about the hard stuff”

Michelle Kim, BS 11, is co-founder and CEO of Awaken, which leads interactive diversity, inclusion, and leadership workshops. We spoke with Kim about her political activism at UC Berkeley, why she studied business, and how she’s making honest conversations about social justice happen in corporations. A lifelong social justice activist, Kim has served at organizations including the LGBTQ Speakers Bureau, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and the LYRIC board of directors.

Hear Michelle Kim discuss how to create systemic change.

Can  you talk a little bit about where you grew up and what that was like for you.

I grew up in South Korea and immigrated to San Diego when I was 13. It was a tumultuous time as a teenager, navigating a world that is so drastically different, while also coming to terms with who I was as an Asian person, and as a woman. Right around the age of 16 I started grappling with my sexual orientation. I had my first crush on a girl, and that was very confusing, with a lot of internalized homophobia coming out. When I was growing up in South Korea, there weren’t conversations around LGBTQ issues, at least not when I was in school, where it was a foreign thing. Being in so many different spaces geographically, mentally and emotionally, has a lot to do with why I’m doing the work that I do today.

Were there many Asian students where you went to school?

There were but I grew up in a predominantly white suburb. It was weird because my family was low income, but the school district that I was a part of was not. It was a very stark mix of very affluent families and also folks living on financial  assistance. I was in the midst of navigating what that meant for me and how that was affecting the way that I was showing up in school. My dad was undocumented for 10 years and he was not making a lot of money when we came to the States to live with him.

How did you come out? 

I came out to my friends first. It wasn’t like, “Hey, everyone, I am gay,” because I was not sure. I first started talking to my high school biology teacher, who was an out lesbian woman, and she was probably one of the first people I admired who was a lesbian. She was one of the first people I told. She pointed me to the underground support group that I didn’t know about, where during one period every week, LGBTQ identified or questioning students could meet with an advisor. That group, quite frankly, saved my life when I was in a very confused state of mind. They welcomed me and created space for me to explore without shame and blame. After questioning for awhile, I decided that the term that I’d like to describe myself is queer.

You became politically active at a pretty young age and that continued at Berkeley, right?

Berkeley is where my identity as an activist solidified and where my philosophy, my principles, and orientation toward social justice became defined much more clearly. I chose Berkeley because of its legacy and history with the social justice movement, and it was exciting when I got accepted.

I had envisioned Berkeley to be this very progressive, radical agent of change in the social movement. There was a little bit of a surprise when I got here and saw that you really needed to seek out those groups. I started a student organization that’s still in existence called the Queer Student Union.  It was called Queer Straight Alliance when I started it, and it was a space predominantly for people of color and a variety of identities. I wanted to create a space where we could all come together and talk about intersectionality and coalition building. So we carved out the space for us to be able to really engage in that dialogue. And that’s really what propelled me to be more involved in social justice movements.

How did you end up studying business?

I studied business because this one white boy told me, “You’ll never get in.” That’s what lit the fire under me to do it. But as I began studying, I thought business was fascinating. I wanted to understand how these big corporations really operated, which is a big reason why I decided to go into consulting right after school, aside from the fact that I actually needed to make money. The business degree gave me the language and access to the world that I never knew about before. Neither of my parents had worked in a corporate setting, where they could have helped me to navigate getting a job in a big company.

Where did you work after graduation?

My first job was in consulting. I learned a ton and I also witnessed and experienced a lot of harm. I chose the company based on its external marketing and statements around how they cared about diversity and inclusion. I had my own idea of what that meant, but I had no idea what it really translated into in a corporate setting. I decided to join an employee resource group and figured out quickly that the group was all about happy hours and social networking and not about the movement and social justice work that was needed, so I was so disillusioned. I think in my young, activist mindset, I was angry, upset, and cynical.

So did you leave that job?

I left that environment to go into tech because I’d heard that the tech environment was a lot less rigid, more innovative, younger, and therefore that it must be more radical, which also wasn’t the case. I worked for a couple of different tech companies, building customer success teams, and also trying to push diversity, equity, and inclusion forward. I think time after time what I felt and what I found was diversity and inclusion being diluted to a point where it wasn’t recognizable as a social justice movement.  To this day, I tell people that diversity, equity, and inclusion work is actually just an extension of the social justice work that’s happening in the streets. It has to be founded and grounded in social justice principles.

Do you see attitudes changing now? Does this time feel different?

I will say that I have never seen this level of appetite to actually say and name the things that we need to talk about, so that has been very reassuring for me. I have a healthy dose of cynicism and skepticism toward the surge of statements that are coming out of corporations, because I do feel like people are rushing to make statements before taking a deeper look at how their organization operates and what commitments are being made behind these statements. It’s questionable. But I will say that this is the first time in a very long time where I feel like there is space for us to actually go in and talk about the hard stuff, and actually use words like white supremacy and anti-black racism in a corporate setting. We’ve been doing it over the last few weeks and it feels different, and I feel hopeful because of that.

A mission to make business school cases more diverse

EGAL leaders
L-R: EGAL Research Assistant Diana Chavez-Varela, BA 19 (political economy); Associate Director Genevieve Smith, and Program Director Jennifer Wells. Photo: Jim Block

As a student in the MBA for executives program, Adam Rosenzweig found that most of the cases used to teach real-world business problems in his classes often featured the same sort of leader: a white male.

“Our experience was definitely that case protagonists were overwhelmingly not diverse,” said Rosenzweig, EMBA 19, now a Haas lecturer teaching Introduction to the Case Method in both the EMBA and Full-time MBA programs.

Feedback from MBA students like Rosenzweig—who co-wrote a case with a female protagonist last year with senior Lecturer Drew Isaacs—and faculty members inspired the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership (EGAL) to dig into the problem. That digging led to a catalog of diverse business cases called the EGAL Case Compendium. The compendium, a spreadsheet shared with the Berkeley Haas faculty this month, includes 215 cases with diverse protagonists and 215 cases specific to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) topics.

“A general lack of diversity”

The project, led by Genevieve Smith, associate director of EGAL, was partly funded by a $5,000 Haas Culture grant that the center’s Program Director Jennifer Wells applied for last year.

Smith argues that the limited range of protagonists in typical business cases is a longstanding problem that leaves students with gaps in understanding the connection between classroom learning and future workplace environments.

“This lack of diversity perpetuates a status quo in which traditional business leaders are primarily both male and white,” she said. “We see this as a big problem in business schools globally, and if we’re going to address the gaps around diversity in business, we need to address it in business schools.”

It’s a problem that impacts all business schools who use published cases, Smith said. Harvard Business School publishes the vast majority—some 19,000 cases—which represent roughly 80% of the cases used in business schools globally. Just over 1% of those Harvard Business Review cases include an African-American/Black person as a protagonist, and 9% include a female protagonist, the team estimates based on its analysis.

“That the majority of cases taught in business schools center on white men in 2020 is unacceptable,” said Kellie McElhaney, founding director of EGAL and a Haas faculty member. “If we hope to educate students who are equity fluent leaders, it will require a sweeping effort on the part of business schools and their faculties to make changes.”

That the majority of cases taught in business schools center on white men in 2020 is unacceptable.

Including people of different races, ethnicities, genders, ability, sexual orientation, and religions will help on multiple fronts—from increasing awareness of different life experiences, to fostering sensitivity among students, to helping with recruitment of students who “need to see themselves represented as leaders,” Smith said.

Cases that perpetuate stereotypes

To build the Case Compendium, EGAL hired research assistant Diana Chavez-Varela, BA 19, (now a summer legal investigator at Berkeley Law’s Human Rights Center), who began by searching existing cases under many keywords related to diversity, cataloguing the cases by author, topic, discipline, target segment, identities of focus, and industry sector.

EGAL's report on DEI in business cases
An executive summary of EGAL’s research on the state of DEI in business school cases.

She also flagged discriminatory language against any group, noting a few standout cases that perpetuate stereotypes including “Director’s Dilemma: Balancing Between Quality and Diversity,” a headline that infers that companies that hire for diversity sacrifice quality. Another case study summary: “How do you manage talented people who are different from the typical corporate profile — like women, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and others?” presents white men as “typical” and other people as “atypical.”

Most of the non-white-male protagonists that Chavez-Varela found in the 215 cases were women (84%)—primarily white females working in the human resources management or organizational behavior areas. Cases with female protagonists also largely touched on topics like culture and workforce representation, but failed to address other issues such as labor rights, government policies, workplace harassment, or challenges for dual-career couples.

The researchers, who also wrote a report based on their findings, found that more than half of the cases that centered on topics related to DEI in the business world focused on advancing DEI among entry- and mid-level employees, with just 15% focused on more-senior leaders. And among DEI cases, the most common focus was advancing women in the workplace—with fewer focused on race, ethnicity, or other identities.

“There is much room to grow in terms of new DEI case studies,” Smith said. In particular, the EGAL team is interested in supporting the faculty and writing new cases with protagonists representing intersectional identities and in industries/disciplines outside of HR and organizational management, and on DEI-related topics that are relevant to core courses.

There is much room to grow in terms of new DEI case studies.

Prof. Catherine Wolfram, associate dean for academic affairs & chair of the faculty, who shared the EGAL Case Compendium with the faculty, said she’s receiving positive feedback so far.

“There have definitely been discussions about addressing diversity topics in the classroom in faculty meetings and we’ve had people describe the issues that have come up around the lack of diversity and the topics that students want to talk about,” Wolfram said.

What makes a good case?

While the Haas curriculum isn’t as case-driven as many other business schools, such as Harvard Business School, faculty members still consider cases integral to teaching.

Some of those cases are homegrown, written by Haas faculty and published as the Berkeley Haas Case Series (BHCS).

Five Berkeley Haas cases included in EGAL’s Case Compendium include—Promoting a Culture of Equity in the #MeToo Era: Moving Beyond Responding to Gender-Related Workplace Issues to Tackling Root Causes (written by McElhaney and Smith); Zendesk: Building Female Leaders Through Mentorship (co-written by McElhaney); Eliminating the Gender Pay Gap: Gap Inc. Leads the Way (written by McElhaney and Genevieve Smith); The Berkeley-Haas School of Business: Codifying, Embedding, and Sustaining Culture (written by Prof. Jennifer Chatman with former Dean Rich Lyons); and People Operations at Mozilla Corporation: Scaling a Peer-to-Peer Global Community (written by Senior Lecturer Homa Bahrami).

Prof. Jennifer Chatman, who teaches organizational behavior, writes some of her own cases.

Chatman, an expert on culture who teaches organizational behavior, said EGAL is helping to raise awareness of the diversity problem in business school cases by both cataloguing and providing an easily searchable clearing house. Chatman, who writes a case every four or five years, has long been a leader in featuring diverse protagonists, such as leaders at Genentech and Walmart.

Yet she acknowledged the challenges with overhauling business school curricula, adding that many professors try to avoid switching cases too frequently due to the difficulty in finding well-aligned cases. “The case needs to be timely, relevant, and it needs to be about an organization or industry that students will find interesting,” she said. “A good case is also easy to read, not too long, and will preferably include video—and the professor should be able to extend the story by easily adding material related to, but not included in, the case. So the list is long!”

“No magical solution”

Assoc. Prof. Dana Carney, who researches racial bias, power, and nonverbal behavior, says she’s always on the hunt for new cases that are relevant to her courses. She agrees that cases with diverse protagonists—particularly race/ethnicity— are hard to find.

Carney currently uses five cases, two with a total of 4 female protagonists, one with predominantly male protagonists (although ethnic/racial identities are ambiguous), one with no protagonist, and two more with ambiguous race/ethnicity and names that could be either female or male because only last names are used.

“I’m always looking, always thinking of cases I could and should write, always trying to be inclusive and evolve,” Carney said.

For example, Carney, along with Economics Prof. Paul Gertler, developed a negotiation case with Ugandan protagonists to be used in Uganda. But the case is so culturally bound to the Ugandan context it wouldn’t be usable in a U.S.-based undergraduate or MBA business context, she said. The bottom line? “We need more cases,” she said.

While there’s no magical solution to the case dilemma, Prof. Don Moore came up with one idea that might help: a spreadsheet Berkeley Haas faculty are using to list cases taught in their own core classes. Faculty interested in finding a diverse case may now cross-check on the EGAL list to see if there’s a match between a case that’s included on both lists, he said.

(Read EGAL’s full report, The State of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Business School Case Studies, here, or the executive summary here.)

 

EMBA’s Emeric L. Kennard: Pride in art and identity

In honor of Pride Month, we’re highlighting members of the LGBTQ community at Haas. 

Emeric Kennard
Emeric L. Kennard, experiential learning project coordinator for the Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives Program at Berkeley Haas. Photo: Jim Block

(Note: Emeric L. Kennard, who identifies as a queer, nonbinary, transgender person, uses the preferred pronoun “they.”)

Growing up, Emeric L. Kennard’s sleep-deprived father would hand them crayons and a pile of paper and they’d draw for hours.

That passion to make art never stopped for Kennard, who is also the experiential learning project coordinator for the Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives Program.

An award-winning visual artist and illustrator, Kennard’s art is informed by a love of reading—science fiction in particular—and their work contains magical elements like woodland creatures, horned demons, and moon-soaked ceremonies.

“The privilege of growing up surrounded by so much nature affected me profoundly,”  said Kennard, who is from the Clackamas, Chinook, Atfalati, and Kalapuya territory, also known as Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

The privilege of growing up surrounded by so much nature affected me profoundly.

But for Kennard, a mixed race, third-generation Korean American, a youth spent in a white suburb was also alienating. “I grew up being called exotic,” they said. “Older white ladies told me I looked like an Indian princess.”

Arriving in the Bay Area seven years ago, Kennard said, “I had a radical reorientation with race in this culture of organizing and resistance to white supremacy.”

Kennard’s art explores sexuality and race in their illustrations, paintings, comics and zines, with subjects that intersect gender, bodily identity, science, environment, and cultural survival. Their work has exhibited locally and nationally, hung in Congressional halls, and been recognized by the Society of Illustrators. “There’s always a story being told,” Kennard said. “That’s what drew me to art school.”

Here Kennard describes a few of the stories behind some favorites.

Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories illustration
Ghost Stories

“This illustration for Mother Jones accompanied an article called Ghost Stories by Delilah Friedler, which was about hooking up while trans. There’s a beautiful end note in this article in which Delilah speaks to the potential for beauty that exists between trans women and cis men in relationships when men are capable and willing to engage with their own vulnerability and to engage with unlearning toxic masculinity, and embrace the love, the sexuality, whatever the relationship offers them that shame and homophobia and transphobia would otherwise block. And while the bulk of the article speaks more to the impact and the violence of that shame, which is very important to discuss, so many of the stories about trans people, they’re not authored by us and they’re about our deaths. Most of the time when you hear about a trans person in major news it’s because one of us has been harmed or killed, and disproportionately it’s Black trans women and trans women of color. It was really important to me to create an image that didn’t erase the reality of the pain that we experience, but also helped visualize this beautiful open door that Delilah points to at the end of her article, the potential that exists if we could collectively move past the shame. And so that is where the idea for the sense of reveal and removal, taking off a mask, came from.”

Willpower

Willpower by Emeric Kennard
Willpower

“This mixed media piece was inspired by an article from the science magazine Nautilus. The original title of that article was Against Willpower. The article critiques the modern concept of willpower against the modern knowledge of psychology and how the human brain works, and makes a case that willpower as we have come to culturally understand it today is really repressive, and creates false and unobtainable goals of self control that are not actually healthy. While the article doesn’t explicitly address queer experience, there’s obviously a lot of connections that could be made. I thought about the experience of being closeted and the really harmful ideas that many people still hold that sexuality or gender can be fixed or need fixing, and the abuse that is conversion therapy. That was an immediate personal connection I made to the article, and I wanted to make an image that captured that sense of holding it down, keeping it in, trying to keep something that really wants and needs to be released repressed.”

Mephistopheles

Mephistopheles
Mephistopheles

“This is an illustrated demon’s monologue about rebelling against tyranny and embracing one’s own power. It takes and remixes lines and words originally spoken by Mephistopheles and other demonic figures in Christopher Marlowe’s 16th century play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus.

There’s this one scene where Faustus summons Mephistopheles from hell. Faustus is trying to argue with Mephistopheles that hell isn’t real, which is absurd in the context of this play and this scene. And Mephistopheles is baffled and insulted. And while I don’t remember the exact lines, his response to Faustus in essence is, ‘I know hell is real because I have suffered through it and how dare you.’ And I had a really powerful moment of recognition that I didn’t expect in that scene where I saw in that exchange myself and I saw all of these interactions that I, and many of the trans people in my life, had had in real time with cisgender people who are trying to convince us as we’re standing in front of them that we’re not real.

It’s also true that part of the hurt of being unacknowledged as real is that often we are put through a great deal of suffering for being who we are. Regardless of our own relationship to our bodies, regardless of how we feel about our own lived experience, suffering is imposed upon us externally, and I really felt Mephistopheles in that scene. I had this deep sense of understanding and connection with his character.”

Burial

Burial by Emeric Kennard
Burial

“This was a canvas painting, and I made it for this wonderful art show that I was invited into by friend and mentor Channing Joseph, a Black educator, journalist, advocate, member of the queer community, and just a phenomenal person.

The concept of the show, called Octavia’s Attic, was that Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novels were actually documentary accounts, because she could time travel, and she could visit alternative timelines and universes. What if this was recently discovered and made known to the public and her attic was opened up for public visit? What would it contain? I love this concept.

Around that time I’d learned a little bit more about gender expressions and identities in pre-colonized Korea that today we might consider queer—practices by what in English we call shamans; the Korean term is mudang. Often these roles were embodied by women, but not always, and there was this sacred femininity in these spiritual roles.

I was also learning more about queer relations in Korean royalty among men and women, and I had this idea of a queer funeral and a literal replanting. So much of my own access to this history is really limited. I didn’t learn Korean growing up, and even my halmeoni, my Korean grandmother, doesn’t know a lot of this. And so I was really compelled by this idea of planting a literal piece of someone and having them, through some spiritual process, grow and transform into a tree and be present as an ancestor as a living tree.”

Dan Kihanya, MBA 96: Do you see me in this American crisis?

In response to the violence against Black and African-American people and the wave of protests and unrest across the country, we’re sharing some of the perspectives of our Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni.

I am sad, frustrated, angry, and exhausted. I’ve wanted to write this for several days. I stopped, started, revised, and rewrote it a dozen times. In the meantime, I’ve been watching, listening, discussing, reading…and reflecting. As is my nature, contemplation overruled instant reaction. As an entrepreneur, I’m already in solution mode. But that is for another blog post. This one is about processing and being authentic. Now is the time.

Dan Kihanya, MBA 96, an entrepreneur and creator of Founders Unfound, a website that celebrates black entrepreneurs
Dan Kihanya. MBA 96

Do you see me?

The death of George Floyd is devastating beyond words. It’s been pointed out so, so many times. This is yet another example of systemic racism that perpetuates within the dynamics of our American society. It’s heart-wrenching to know that his family and friends must forever be tortured by a video capturing his last moments while being murdered…by the police. And just as horrifying to me is the senseless repetition of these events, over and over — filmed or not. It is a gut punch, leaving me breathless. I pride myself on resilience. Getting back on the horse when I fall. Looking for the silver lining and moving forward. For the first time in a long time, however, I’ve been stunned and stopped in my tracks. Maybe I’ve been blind or in denial, but this just feels different.

Do you see me?

My parents raised me on the themes of education, religion, and service (If you want more on that, I’d encourage you to read my mom’s book). This foundation has given me so much. And I’m very keenly aware that the environment my family raised me in, and the sacrifices of those who came before me were immensely influential on my good fortunes.

So I ponder…Am I:

An educated BLACK MAN in America?

A successful BLACK MAN in America?

A servant leader BLACK MAN in America?

A Godly BLACK MAN in America?

A BLACK MAN in America who values relationships and community?

A BLACK MAN in America who mentors and listens?

Do you see me?

As an African American, I’ve learned that my blessings don’t come without cost. While frustrating and at times exhausting, I’ve accepted that there is a price. The extra eyes on me in the store. The conspicuousness of being the only person of color in the room. Shouldering the burden of “representing” others who look like me, knowing that one miscue could spoil things for those who come next. Having to pace my walk to create distance between me and a young woman walking ahead of me. Or to present the least possible threatening posture on the elevator, so as to assuage the fears of the only other rider. And knowing that a certain percentage of business interactions where I’m the “seller” will be squashed… simply because the “buyer” holds unspoken bias to my background or skin color.

As an African American, I’ve learned that my blessings don’t come without cost.

I’ve come to terms with these disadvantages. I do hope to see these hurdles erode away for my kids and their generation. And so I work away at that cause, bit by bit, relationship by relationship, person by person.

These are realities, however, I’ve learned to live with for myself.

But then…Ahmaud Arbery. And Christian Cooper. And Breonna Taylor. And George Floyd. All in alarmingly rapid succession.

This reveals something different.

Do you see me?

I can be simply bird watching in the park, following the rules as society requests. But I’ll be shown that any polite request for equal adherence, can result in a life-threatening outcome.

Know your place.

Jogging alone in my own upper-middle-class neighborhood could result in a life-threatening outcome.

You don’t belong here.

If the police are busting down my door, justified or not, there may be nothing I can do to avoid a life-threatening outcome.

You fit the profile.

Unintentional circumstances or coincidences like passing a bad $20 bill could result in a life-threatening outcome.

You are assumed guilty until proven otherwise.

So is it simply that I am A BLACK MAN IN AMERICA…no adjectives visible, no enhancing qualities need apply?

Do you see me?

I say all this not looking for personal sympathy. I recognize that I am blessed beyond measure. We are all unique. But I am not special. I am not an exception. EVERY black American is worthy of being viewed with full humanity and for the beauty and richness of the gifts endowed within him or her. My hope is rather that you recognize ALL, as you would me, with dignity and respect. I speak out now for my children, and their children, and for all those in the black community who have fewer opportunities and resources than I.

As African Americans, we are citizens with ALL the rights entitled thereto. And we represent the full breadth of culture, professions, and society that is the American tapestry. And yet, I don’t wear my resume when I walk out the door. I can’t adorn my character like a shiny coat. I do wear my brown skin. When you are black in America, you wear your skin…always.

I and all my black brothers…we are George Floyd. We are all Ahmaud Arbery. And all my black sisters are Breonna Taylor. They are all Sandra Bland.

I am proud to be a black American. I am happy to have BLACK in all caps. But I know that I am not just that, nor are any of my African American brothers and sisters. Maybe we can move towards having EVERY INDIVIDUAL’S qualities, achievements, and gifts CAPITALIZED too…

Now…which me do you really see?

Dan Kihanya, MBA 96, is an entrepreneur and the founder of Founders Unfound, an online platform to showcase underrepresented minority founders whose startups are ready for seed funding. 

Bree Jenkins, MBA 19: Being Black at Berkeley Haas

In response to the violence against Black and African-American people and the wave of protests and unrest across the country, we’re sharing some of the perspectives of our Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Bree Jenkins, MBA 19, who now works at Pixar, wrote this perspective for the Berkeley Haas magazine Summer 2019 issue.

Bree Jenkins

I toe the line between compassion and anger.

Or maybe it’s sadness or amusement. Probably all of the above. One of my professors, he’s smart and I like him, has called me by the other black girls’ name. She’s a close friend of mine, but she is not me. I know he doesn’t notice because when I nervously approach him after class and explain to him what happened, he looks distressed. I briefly wonder if I shouldn’t have said anything, if I’m being too sensitive or overreacting or putting a “racial lens” on something when it doesn’t need to have one.

Sometimes all you want to be is just another student, but if you don’t speak, your voice won’t be heard. And your voice is representative.

Under different circumstances, I may have just brushed it off. People mix up names all the time. But I feel the need to say something because we have just had a deep Haas-wide discussion on this very topic. It happened with another student whom I care deeply about, and he was brave enough to speak up. It’s not the action as much as it is the feeling of discomfort that has to be addressed lest it become resentment or hate or worse. My professor is apologetic and upset, embarrassed and empathetic. He is considerate of what I’m feeling but doesn’t say, I understand. I know. I appreciate that he doesn’t put words in my mouth. Later that night, he writes me an email. It is kind, thoughtful.

Most of the people that I know at Haas are just that—kind and thoughtful. Being black at Berkeley Haas meant that I was surrounded by many students and faculty who were aware or wanted to become more aware. They took classes and even created classes; classes like Dialogues on Race. They were and are true allies, and I hoped to earn my title as ally from them and have their backs. What a beautiful community I found, starting with the Consortium and my incredible co-liaisons. I also built strong friendships and relationships from being a leadership communications graduate student instructor, a rep for my cohort, and participating in the International Business Development program with a fantastic team. But sometimes, even that didn’t feel like enough.

One day in class, we watch a video about the civil rights movement. There is, of course, violence: hoses, beatings, lynching, death. Lives are changed and lineages destroyed. I soon realize that I’m the only one crying. The only one. Perhaps coincidentally I’m also the only black person in the class. Others are considerate and caring. My friends hug me and classmates and my professor check in on me after class. It could just be that they don’t cry easily, but it seemed like my classmates were observing something far away and long ago, that they weren’t connected to. Which made me feel like maybe they weren’t connected to me.

Haas is diverse. We have 40% international students and many members of the LGBTQ+ community, veterans, women, men. We have diversity of thought and of experience. We openly celebrate this and our cultural backgrounds and gender fluidity. And yet there were only three black women in my class. Two in the class of 2020. I’ve heard people argue that, “Black people don’t understand the value of a graduate degree” or “It’s the pipeline problem.” Pipeline problems exist, but did we check to see where our pipes were connected to? If the line is faulty perhaps it’s connected to the wrong source. Where was our strong representation in Atlanta? In D.C.? In our own staff? How can we expect to attract this demographic without being intentional?

This feeling isn’t new or limited to Berkeley, however. I felt the same in my undergraduate institution where I was one of the few black engineers in diverse Atlanta. Or in my first job after college, where for three years I was the only black person on a team of 70. It’s just getting old at this point.

I was asked what it’s like to be black at Berkeley Haas. What is it like to be black anywhere in America? To be reminded that despite being integral to this country, you don’t exactly belong. To be the first in your household, your generation, maybe even your extended family to attend a place like this and be heaped with praise by how much you’re able to “overcome” and how you must be special and smart. All the while, you know at least 10 other people just as smart as you and even more hardworking who just couldn’t afford your undergraduate institution or the test prep or to take time off of work to come to a place like Berkeley. You don’t feel special—you feel lucky, considering that if your mom had not moved to a city with better schools, perhaps you would be another person with “lost potential.”

Being black means being surrounded by people who don’t think about race every day and marveling at that. Marveling that they don’t talk about the injustices of a society that has already nearly forgotten its past and keeps repeating it with a fresh set of faces. It’s sitting on a panel, leading a small group discussion, or even writing an article— about being black at Berkeley Haas. Sometimes all you want to be is just another student, but if you don’t speak, your voice won’t be heard. And your voice is representative. You have to keep reminding people that you do not carry the perspective of everyone who happens to have your same skin color. You are an individual; sometimes you want to be treated that way.

Then, when you write the article, you decide to tone it down so that readers will take you seriously and not dismiss you as an angry black woman when you decided to try vulnerability. And still you fear the reaction.

Marco T. Lindsey: Thoughts from your Black colleague

In response to the violence against Black and African-American people and the wave of protests and unrest across the country, we’re sharing some of the perspectives of our Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni.

Marco Lindsey, Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Berkeley Haas, shared this letter with colleagues.

Colleagues,

I’m writing this now, but to be honest, I really don’t want to be bothered. I don’t want to write, I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to work, I don’t want to socialize.

Many of you have reached out to me personally, and I appreciate it. I do. I just feel like shit right now. I find myself crying often, and I haven’t cried outside of a funeral in many years.

Because I am a community activist, I am receiving numerous requests to speak to our community and our youth in Oakland on what we should do next or how we should move forward. But I’m at a loss. I have no fucking idea on where we go from here. Voting seems like the most productive choice, but we’ve voted for a long time, and this problem has never subsided. And me casting a ballot in November does not make my son any safer today (or in November for that matter). Within the last week, even Black politicians have been assaulted and arrested while PEACEFULLY protesting…

There’s social unrest happening in our country. And whatever side you are on regarding looting and/or protests, what’s happening is that people are fed up, disgusted, tired, hurt, afraid, angry, and in mourning.

If you read no further, understand this. Black Lives Matter = if anyone kills a Black person, their punishment should be the same as if they killed someone from any other race. 

No matter if they are White, Black, or Blue. If anyone kills a Black person, they should be arrested, tried and convicted of murder. We don’t hold the false belief that murders amongst humans will stop. If you read the bible, when there were only 4 people on earth (Adam, Even, Cain and Abel), a murder occurred. We live in a cruel world. The request is that when someone Black is killed, the murderer gets treated the same no matter their job, race, gender or nationality.

This is what people are protesting. This is what people are upset about. A quarterback attempted to peacefully protest this by taking a knee, and he was black listed (it’s unfortunate that so many negative connotations are associated with the word “black), called an SOB by the president, and called disrespectful to our flag/nation by many of our fellow Americans. People… Black people are at our wits end because we have no idea what to do to fix this.

There was a time when I was afraid for my life as a Black man. But that fear subsided when I became a father. Because now, for the rest of my life, I live with the fear of my children being murdered by someone from an over-represented group, without consequence. I live with this burden daily. Daily.

The true problem with the recent videos of Black people being slayed is that there are thousands of others who experience the same fate, but because they aren’t recorded, you’ll hear nothing about it. Even George Floyd’s “official” report from the police says that heart disease and “potential intoxicants” in his system played a part in his death. So many people who look like me are dying REGULARLY by those who are sworn to serve and protect us, and it goes unnoticed except by the fatherless children and broken families left behind.

I don’t have faith that we will see a change in my lifetime. I was alive to see Rodney King viciously beaten and have the officers deemed not guilty. That was almost 30 years ago and we are still watching Black men and women be assaulted and killed on camera by the people meant to protect them.

I am sending this to you because I think of you as a friend, but feel free to share (if you didn’t receive this directly from me, please charge it to my mind and not my heart, as I am not remembering or thinking straight much these days). But many times it’s easier to deal with these tragedies because the Black man killed is a stranger. But you know me. As hard as it may be to do, imagine me on the ground, handcuffed, begging for my mother (her name is Dorothy Louise) while an officer has his knee on my neck until I stopped breathing. Until I was dead. I need this to hit home because it not hitting home for so many people is the reason it continues. I need you to think of me lying there dead. Because when I saw this video (like too many others), I see my sons. I see my sons…

In my current state, I won’t and can’t ask much of you. But I do have simple requests.

Talk to your children about anti-Blackness. As a father I know that we want to keep them innocent and naive for as long as we can. But unfortunately they are bombarded with anti-blackness in cartoons, the media, at school, at the park, while shopping and online. Whether you notice it or not, it is embedded in our society. This is why so often you will hear of someone who committed heinous acts, and their parent’s saying that they didn’t raise them like that, or that they don’t know where they got that from. The world is teaching our children lessons that we may not condone. And You have the power to combat this but you have to be intentional. Because while I have very little hope that a change will come in my lifetime, I do pray that future generations get it right. But it starts with us doing something now.

My second request is that if you see a Black person being treated unjustly, speak up. Whether it is by a store clerk, a fellow citizen, a peace officer, or any public official, please say something. Your silence is your approval of negative actions. I get it. Not everyone is an extrovert, and many times we want to just mind our business. But we all would want someone to speak up on our behalf (or our family’s behalf) if we were on the receiving end of mistreatment. Be that someone.

Lastly, I’ll say get involved. I can’t dictate to you what that looks like, but it can be anything from writing an email to public officials, sharing a social media post, learning more about anti-Blackness, being an active ally at a rally, donating, or just sharing this message. But do something. Please don’t sit idly by while I am being murdered.  Make no mistake about it. I am dying.

Marco

Student speaker Joe Sutkowski, MBA 20, on graduating in Zoom time

Joe Sutkowski with Dawn Bickett is on the left and Cici Saekow
Joe Sutkowski with Dawn Bickett (left) and Cici Saekow. Photo: Benny Johnson

This grad photo just might best sum up the quirky humor of Joe Sutkowski, who was chosen as graduation speaker for the 2020 Full-time MBA class.

On this graduation celebration day, we asked Sutkowski a few questions about where he’s heading post-Haas and what he loved best about his MBA program.

What’s the hardest part about graduating online and do you like Zoom?

Not being able to hug all of my classmates, especially those who are going abroad.

I love Zoom. Students have gotten SO creative with their Zoom backgrounds. Shoutout to my classmate who photoshopped themselves as Elon (Musk’s) baby! My plan is to drink champagne and furiously text puns to friends. Also, the students have made graduation week amazing with Family Feud, Ted Talks, and Olympics, all of course done in Haas style. They have made this experience nothing short of beautiful.

Joe Sutkowski with his family
Joe with his family during a visit.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Haas?

So many come to mind here: Fieri Fest, hiding inside a cooler at Haas Boats, Drageoke, tug-of-war, Haasemite, getting Thank Yous from my students from my teaching/advising appointments, having my mom and sister come visit, probably all the soccer shenanigans, and many more.

Your favorite professor or class?

Power and Politics. It’s an expert blend of cases, in-class discussions, lectures, and role-play scenarios served with a side of humor and authority by Haas’ own Cam Anderson. It challenged me to think hard about who I could become.

Joe Sutkowski with his study team
Joe with his study team at Haas.

Where are you heading after graduation?

Google. I would love to travel a little bit before, but obviously that is super limited. I will most likely stay in California. The San Diego beaches may pull me down south though.

“The courage of Haasies:” Full-time MBA grads celebrated as leaders

The Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Class of 2020 has shown “real grit and resilience” with leaders who embody the Defining Leadership Principles, Dean Ann Harrison said today in a video made for grads.

“I want to thank you for staying engaged and for your positive spirit,” Harrison said. “Many of you went above and beyond. From student startups that quickly pivoted to provide much-needed supplies for COVID-19 to classmates who kept you sane with yoga and mindfulness classes or entertainment, baking, and movie tips.”

Joe Sutkowski, MBA 20
Student speaker Joe Sutkowski (middle, with Dawn Bickett (left) and Cici Saekow) praised “the courage of Haasies” over the past few months.

Student speaker Joe Sutkowski praised the”courage of Haasies”  in his speech. (Read an interview with Sutkowski here)

“Over the past months of shelter in place I’ve witnessed an online community emerge that’s every bit as vibrant as the community I fell in love with many months ago,” he said. “I’ve seen the courage of Haasies donating their time to the less fortunate…I’ve seen resilience in our professors and our faculty. I’ve heard humor through Zoom and Slack channels.”

Individual Haas alumni then took turns congratulating the class, offering advice, and wished them well.

Berkeley Haas mural congrats grads
A beautiful mural, designed by Berkeley Haas grads, including Alex D’Agostino.

Full-time MBA award winners

Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching: Kimberly MacPherson, who taught three courses this academic year. Unlocking Digital Innovation in Healthcare, Commercializing Biotech and Pharma, and Healthcare in the 21st Century.

GSI award: PhD student Livia Alfonsi, who was the GSI for Aaron Bodoh-Creed’s Microeconomics class.

Adam Burgess, MBA 20, was also named the best GSI in the EWMBA program.

Academic Achievement Award: Brian Shain, the MBA student with the highest GPA.

Defining Leadership Principles (DLP) award winners:

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

Maryam Rezapoor on Berkeley campus
Maryam Rezapoor, MBA 20

Also celebrating this month were 11 Berkeley Haas PhD students who are slated to graduate this year. Nine of the PhD grads are heading to jobs in academia and two landed positions in industry both in the U.S. and abroad. Read more here.

Undergraduate Class of 2020: “Off to great places”

Shun Lei Sin, BS20
HBSA President Shun Lei Sin

With a nod to Dr. Seuss, Haas Business Student Association (HBSA) President Shun Lei Sin told the undergraduate Class of 2020 that they’re off to great places.

“Today is your day,” she said in a video prepared to celebrate the day. “So take pride in how you’ve far come and have faith in how far you can go—and of course keep in mind our four core (Defining Leadership Principles) that define the Berkeley Haas culture.”

Dean Ann Harrison noted their remarkable journey. “You have achieved so much,” she said. “However you’ve applied yourselves, you’ve learned important lessons about collaboration, about failing and trying again, and about making an impact. In short, about leadership.”

However you’ve applied yourselves, you’ve learned important lessons about collaboration, about failing and trying again, and about making an impact.

Kiara Taylor, BS 20
Kiara Taylor, BS 20, DLP winner for Beyond Yourself

Undergraduate Defining Leadership Principles Award Winners

Robert Paylor
Robert Paylor, BS 20, a winner for Question the Status Quo, was told he would never walk again after his rugby injury. He’s now walking with the aid of a walker.

Beyond Yourself:  Kiara Taylor (Read about Taylor’s adventures at the 2019 Diversity Case Competition.)

Confidence Without Attitude: Jordyn Elliott (Read about Elliot’s experience as a Cal athlete here.)

Students Always: Mia Character (Read more about Character in this Q&A.)

Question the Status Quo: Robert Paylor (Read about Paylor’s journey back from a critical rugby injury.) Paylor is also winner of the Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award, one of just five recipients across all three NCAA divisions.

Other Award Winners

Departmental Citation for Outstanding Achievement: Cubbie Kile  (Read about Kile here).

Graduate Student Instructor of the Year: Rohi Rana, the GSI for Financial Accounting and Managerial Accounting.

Mia Character

Mia Character, BS 20, DLP winner for Students Always

A team of HBSA members interviewed Haas faculty and staff, who offered advice and well wishes to grads in this video.

The undergraduate class of 2020 has been through a lot together over the past four years: a controversial presidential election, political protests that rocked campus, wildfires that led to canceled classes, and the outbreak of COVID-19, which made final days at Cal “quite a whirlwind,” said graduation speaker Diane Dwyer, BS 87.

“You’ve been tested not just once but many times,” said Dwyer, a Haas professional faculty member and a former broadcast journalist. “Part of what college is supposed to do is prepare you for the rest of your life and I can’t imagine a group that’s more prepared than you.”

For more photos of Berkeley Haas graduates, check out our grad gallery on Flickr.

Adam Forest, BS 20, with his parents. Photo: Adam Forest.

Alex Severin, MBA 20, honored for design thinking research

Two years ago, Alex Severin, MBA 20, worked on a team that had been called on to build an innovation lab for a professional services firm operating in aviation and commercial energy markets.

With no corporate manual outlining an approach for building it, Severin, a management consultant, worked around the clock to help found Spark Labs. The lab, which now has 15 employees, helps clients tackle the “hairiest, cross-disciplinary challenges,” while teaching their employees and leaders about the “innovation mindset,”—which for many is hard to define, he said.

“Innovation is the most overused word in the English language,” he said. “You have all these large organizations saying, ‘This is the time we need to start investing in innovation,’ but nothing ever comes of it except giving Wall Street this impression that they’re investing. It amounts to little more than innovation theater.”

Photo of Alex Severin
Alex Severin was drawn to study design thinking after founding an innovation lab as a consultant.

That experience hooked Severin on innovation, leading him to Haas, where he’s studying design thinking—a human-centered process for creative problem solving. Getting to the bottom of how to get the design thinking process right in companies is his mission and the subject of his new research, which will be presented at a Design Management Institute’s Academic Design Management Conference August 3-7.

Haas was an early pioneer in integrating design thinking into the MBA curriculum, with a course called Design as a Strategic Business Issue debuting in 1993. Teaching Professor Sara Beckman launched the Problem Framing, Problem Solving (PFPS) course in Fall 2010, a core course that evolved into Fundamentals of Design Thinking, organized by Professional Faculty members Clark Kellogg and Dave Rochlin through the Institute for Creativity and Design Practice. The class gives students an appreciation for how to frame and solve problems, leveraging tools and methods from design and systems thinking.

To go deeper into innovation, Severin launched an independent study last year with another Haas design thinking expert, lecturer Vivek Rao, exploring how large organizations use both design-based innovation activities and labs. For the project, Severin conducted interviews, mostly by video, with 19 high-level innovation executives from 14 companies in sectors including energy, education, healthcare, consumer electronics, and professional services.

A commitment to deep, critical thinking

The study resulted in a research paper, which Severin wrote with Rao.

“I think it’s remarkable that a full-time MBA candidate like Alex is producing publishable research,” Rao said, noting that research is usually the domain of PhD students. “The rigorous curriculum and extracurricular demands at Haas often leave little time for scholarly research. That Alex was able to do this is evidence of his commitment to deep, critical thinking.”

That Alex was able to do this is evidence of his commitment to deep, critical thinking.

The innovation community is small, which helped Severin convince leaders of the importance and broad applicability of his research. “Once people knew that they would get a copy of this report, they were more than happy to speak candidly,” he said. “People were willing to talk in a way I haven’t experienced in other research projects. They understand that this is a very hard thing to do right, so that creates a willingness to chat.”

The deep interviews led to five best design thinking practices:

Set the right expectations through strategic pilot projects immediately following launch. “Quick wins help get people on board,” Severin said. Make sure that the pilot outcome is easy for everyone at the company to understand so you can say, “Hey, we piloted this and look at the change,’” he said.

Establish a shared set of metrics with the business units to build buy-in and quickly create trust.

Seek deep company experience in innovation team leaders; seek external perspectives in all other roles. Every successful innovation team had a person in charge with deep company experience, he said. “Trust is so important,” he said. “If you come in as a hotshot off the street there’s no trust that exists from the start.”

Don’t fall in love with your framework. The most successful design and innovation teams sell tangible outcomes, not branded frameworks. “The sad truth is that few really care about the intricacies of your framework,” he says. “All they care about is what it means for them, and what the expected outcomes are. Speak their language, don’t expect them to learn yours.”

Stand up separate centralized and embedded teams with distinct missions to fulfill the mandate of corporate innovation teams. “The most effective application of a centralized team is an ‘A Team’ attached to the meatiest, most complex opportunities,” Severin said. Conversely, embedding a few people within the organization’s different business units promotes more precise work, better relationships, and a straighter path to successful democratization of innovation, he said.

 

 

Startup Diaries: SuperPetFoods places second at LAUNCH, BumpR retools

Note: Berkeley Haas News followed two of this year’s 25 teams participating in LAUNCH, an accelerator for UC startup founders that has helped create more than 200 companies since 2015. At last Friday’s Demo Day finals, 10 UC teams remotely pitched VCs and angel investors, competing for $70,000 in funding. Startup SuperPetFoods made the finals; BumpR did not.

Superpetfoods team slide
Mar introducing her team members at Demo Day.

María (Mar) del Mar Londoño, MBA 21 and CEO of SuperPetFoods, headed into last week’s LAUNCH Demo Day finals determined. After failing to place in the top three at last month’s Hult Prize Global Regional Competition in Bogotá and the 2020 Rabobank-MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize finals, she’d buffed up the startup’s presentation, polished answers to potential questions, and emerged ready to win.

Her team’s efforts paid off, as SuperPetFoods took second place (and was voted audience choice) at LAUNCH Demo Day May 1, netting $20,000 to move into the summer phase of developing her eco-friendly dehydrated pet food, made from black soldier fly larvae. Digiventures, a Berkeley Haas MBA led team that built a platform enabling Latin American customers to be evaluated for credit, took the top prize.

Missing from Demo Day, however, was BumpR, an undergraduate team aiming to produce an inexpensive Internet of Things (IoT) device that drivers mount on their cars to easily collect data over geographic areas. The startup, founded by Armaan Goel, Aishwarya (Ash) Mahesh, Shreya Shekhar, all M.E.T. 23 students, and Justin Quan, BS 23 (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science), didn’t make it to the finals, mainly because the team pivoted right before the semifinals and ran out of time to do the necessary customer interviews to vet their new idea.

BumpR will continue to work on the idea at UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck this fall, as a SkyDeck Hot Desk team. Rhonda Shrader, the executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP), which sponsors LAUNCH, also helped the team apply for a $25,000 VentureWell grant to prototype and test their product. “The lessons we learned along the way under the guidance of all the LAUNCH faculty will stick with us whether it’s with this product idea or another,” Ash said.

“The lessons we learned along the way under the guidance of all the LAUNCH faculty will stick with us whether it’s with this product idea or another.”

Mar presenting at LAUNCH Demo Day
Mar makes the case that dogs love SuperPetFoods’ product at LAUNCH Demo Day.

We spoke to Mar, who founded the company with Thais Esteves, MBA 21, and Gina Myers, MS 20 (bioengineering), about LAUNCH and what’s next for SuperPetFoods.

What was the biggest challenge participating in LAUNCH during the coronavirus crisis?

There were many challenges. The first was managing the emotional stress that coronavirus brought to this— worrying about your family and evaluating your priorities. As a team leader my biggest challenge was being able to give my team the space they needed while seeing this project as something that could make them feel excited about the future. That’s a difficult balance. You want to give them their space but you also want people to be engaged.

Another challenge was the operational part. Literally, we had to start cooking the food in Washington state, where Gina is staying in her family’s cabin. All the people we contacted to do pet food trials are in Berkeley or the Bay Area.

So Gina is cooking the food you plan to send out for trials this summer?

Gina preparing the food
Gina preparing the food that’s made with the high-protein black soldier fly. Her dog Qora is chief taster.

Yes. Dogs are lucky to have a trained chef from the Culinary Institute of America cooking for them. At this point, Gina has everything she needs to start cooking: a recipe that offers complete nutrition that was formulated with a board-certified pet nutritionist, and the required machinery: a dehydrator and a bag sealer. Our target for the summer is to give 100 free samples to friends, family, and people who have shown interest through Facebook ads.

Depending on feedback we get from people, we’ll be able to go on to a bigger scale and go to local pet food stores. We are at a stage where we are literally testing how people feel about a pet food that is highly disruptive. It’s not only that it’s made of insects. It’s also dehydrated, so people need to add water, stir and serve. This format is more nutritious and tasty for dogs, so we have the hypothesis that pet parents will like it and prefer it to kibble. But that’s for us to test.

You plan is to eventually produce the food in your native Colombia. What’s the timeline this summer?

Producing in Colombia will give us a cost advantage and that is a crucial element of our operational model. However, we are focusing our efforts on two fronts this summer: testing product market fit and building the brand identity.  First, we need to collect feedback on our product. All of our work so far was gathering consumer insights and understanding their sentiment around feeding their pets insects. Now we will get their feedback with an actual product. Second, we need to develop the brand identity and translate that into a website, package, and logo. We already conducted an A/B test that proved that  the sustainability angle has more appeal than the nutritional one. Next step is to define which tone to convey around sustainability. We need to identify which is more effective: the loving, caring, tree-hugger kind of tone, or the more vigorous approach targeting changemakers who are empowered to make a change in the world.

What was most valuable about the LAUNCH experience?

Belonging to a cohort of collaborative teams. The collective brainstorming when you present progress and roadblocks, and having the other teams there. They help you think  and you can identify elements from listening to them that might be useful for you—like what platform you’re using to set up your website. It’s a good place to get help. The second thing is you see how the teams are progressing and that allows you to have accountability for what you are doing.

 

Eleven graduating PhD students celebrate “insanely huge accomplishments”

2020 Phd graduates
PhD students slated to graduate in the Class of 2020 gathered remotely last Friday for a celebration with Dean Ann Harrison and Prof. Ulrike Malmendier. Photo: Maria Kurakina

Eleven Berkeley Haas PhD students congratulated for “insanely huge accomplishments” were urged to take a moment to reflect before moving to the next stage of their careers.

“Please take that time to think about your accomplishments—even if it’s not with the usual commencement music in the background,” said Finance Prof. Ulrike Malmendier, faculty head of the doctoral program, who dressed in full regalia for last Friday’s remote celebratory call. “You made it through, you showed your resilience, and found a starting point for the next part of your life.”

Melissa Hacker, the executive director of the PhD program, welcomed the students, many of whom thanked her personally for her help and emotional support.

Praising the class for its resilience, Dean Ann Harrison, who earned a PhD in economics from Princeton University, noted the students’ “insanely huge accomplishments.”

Harrison recalled working tirelessly during the third year of her doctoral program, after finally coming up with a dissertation topic. “I spent an entire summer in the basement of the computer center typing in numbers into a spreadsheet so I could have a database,” she said. “I’m getting tears in my eyes just thinking about what you’ve been through. You are all going on to do amazing things and I’m just so proud of you.”

You are all going on to do amazing things and I’m just so proud of you.

The PhD students slated to graduate include Christopher Lako, Dayin Zhang, Jieyin (Jean) Zeng, Luc Kien Hang, Margaret (Maggie) Fong, Maria Kurakina, Marius Guenzel, Michael Rosenblum, Oren Reshef, Troup Howard, and Xin Chen. Their areas of specialization include real estate, accounting, finance, business and public policy, marketing and management of organizations.

The graduates selected Prof. Ernesto Dal Bó, the Phillips Girgich Professor of Business, to receive the Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching. Faculty are selected to receive the award—which is the top teaching honor at Berkeley Haas—by students in each program.

“We all made it.”

Nine of the grads are heading to jobs in academia and two landed in industry both in the U.S. and abroad. Guenzel, whose dissertation was on behavioral and corporate finance, accepted a job as assistant professor at Wharton, while Hang, who researched asset pricing, will work as a data and applied scientist at Microsoft. Zeng, who welcomed a baby boy with her husband during the program, is headed to the National University of Singapore as an assistant professor.

Students shared stories of late-night poker games, intense study groups, testing research questions on each other, and forging lifelong friendships along the way. The program was about experiencing something together with your friends, Zeng said. “The third year was hard but it was less hard because my cohort was experiencing the same thing and we all made it,”  she said. “I’m really happy with that.”

Howard, who will be an assistant professor at David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, recalled many “incredible, wonderful moments” during the program “and some tough ones as well.” He recounted heading into Hacker’s office three weeks into his first semester worried that he would lose his funding if he failed all of his classes, and that he wouldn’t be able to pay rent. “I wouldn’t have made it without a ton of support and friendship of the folks on here,” Howard said.

I wouldn’t have made it without a ton of support and friendship of the folks on here.

Hacker, who held back tears several times, responded that she remembered thinking that day, “He’s going to be just fine.”

Influential couples in economics

Zhang, whose wife is graduating with a PhD in economics from the University of Michigan, expressed his admiration for the “best couples in economics” at UC Berkeley, including husband and wife economics professors Christina Romer and David Romer, and Malmendier and her husband, Prof. Stefano DellaVigna. “This gives me a goal to achieve,” he said, of becoming another successful economics couple.

Reshef and his wife had two babies, a girl and a boy, while he was in the program, both of whom made an appearance during the call. Reshef, like other students, regretted that they couldn’t be together to celebrate in person, but vowed to reunite after the coronavirus crisis passes.

“It’s great to see everybody,” he said. “I hope we get to see each other again under different circumstances.”

 

Full-time MBA team wins 2020 Tech Challenge

An MBA student team’s roadmap for how a tech CEO should best lead employees during the challenges of the next year won first prize at the Berkeley Haas Spring 2020 Tech Challenge.

Members of the winning team included Maryam Rezapoor, MBA 20, and Asif Mohammad, Cynthia Sobral, and Vera Xiao, all MBA 21. The Haas team, one of 25 teams representing 10 universities, won $5,000.

Photos of the winning Haas team in 2020 tech challenge
Clockwise from top left: Maryam Rezapoor, Vera Xiao, Cynthia Sobral, and Asif Mohammad.

The Technology Club at Haas has held the tech-focused MBA case competition at the school since 2011. The challenge, which moved online between March 30-April 3, brings together MBA students from top programs around the country, providing an opportunity to solve real-world business challenges.

Teams this year were asked to write a three-page response to the question, “How should businesses or organizations think about resiliency, recovery, and hope in the face of unforeseen global crisis?” Teams could choose to write from the point of view of a CEO sharing thoughts with employees on how to brace for the next 12 months, or as a reporter working for a major news publisher “who will write an article read by millions.”

The Haas team opted to write from the perspective of a CEO, who emphasized the value of individual vulnerability and created a corporate culture of shared empathy to reassure employees during a major crisis.

We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level.

“We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level,” Mohammad said.

The team wanted to stress the notion of “experiencing grief both individually and collectively,” Sobral said. “We need to be honest about that. We need to consider how we find meaning in this crisis.”

The pitch also suggested encouraging employees to volunteer time to help a struggling small business and that the firm establish an impact investment fund and an accelerator to support startups. “We need to be preparing for the next crisis, so we sought to empower new companies for the future,” Rezapoor said.

Ultimately, the pitch encouraged employees to consider the bigger picture of helping a tech firm facilitate “more collaboration and innovation and to be able to think beyond themselves,” Xiao said.

After submitting their entries, teams participated in an April 3 round-table discussion with the judges—executives from cloud software company Nutanix, the competition sponsor, as well as Haas Lecturer Gregory La Blanc and Gauthier Vasseur, executive director of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics.

Even in the midst of a global crisis, participating in the Tech Challenge “gave me a sense of optimism,” Sobral said. “I shifted from thinking about the here and now to thinking about the future path for business and society.”

The eight teams in the event’s final round represented Haas, UC Berkeley’s School of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Dartmouth, Northwestern, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Washington. Mary Yao, Corrine Marquardt, Dunja Panic and Brad Deal, all MBA 21, organized this year’s competition.

Read the latest campus information on coronavirus (COVID-19) here →