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Local news producer Courtney Smith, EWMBA 25, on taking leaps of faith and pushing boundaries

Courtney Smith
Courtney Smith, EWMBA 25, on campus.

Haas Voices is a series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community. 

Determined to break into TV news, Courtney Smith, EWMBA 25, took a leap of faith in her 20s that led to a career in broadcast journalism.

Now a local news producer for KTVU Fox 2,  Smith aims to push the boundaries of entertainment media, opening it to new technologies and most importantly to her, more diverse voices. Before coming to Haas, Smith was a member of the Forté MBALaunch 2021 cohort, a development program that provides a road map for applying to business school. Here’s our recent interview with Smith. 

How did you get your start in TV news?

I was still a bit fresh out of college living in Houston, and applying for jobs but not really getting the response that I was looking for. One day I got dressed up, as if I had an interview, and printed out a bunch of resumes. I just said, ‘You know what? I’m going to take a leap of faith.’

I went to one of the local television stations, where I planned to drop off a resume. I met with the security guard in the lobby to drop off a resume and she told me I could probably chat with the news director. So I picked up the lobby phone and dialed. When someone answered, I got so nervous that I hung up! But then I called back, and told him I was interested in a position. He asked me curiously, “Are you in the lobby?” I laughed and said yes, and he told me to stay right there, he would come get me. It was the moment that opened doors for me.

What brought you to the Bay Area?

Around 2018, a news director from KRON-TV reached out. I initially turned down the opportunity because my mother had just had surgery and was recovering after battling kidney cancer. I thought awhile about the decision, prayed about it, and reached back out to the news director and said if the position was still available that I would love to take it. It was an opportunity that I just couldn’t refuse: to move to the Bay Area and work in this market.

Why did you decide to apply to Haas?

When I first visited the campus it felt like home, and I knew right away that this was the place that would change me for the better.  I wanted to pursue an MBA to develop my leadership skills and hone my business skills. I had given it some thought before the pandemic, but once 2020 rolled around, I knew that it was time. With the racial reckoning that our country was going through, and the host of issues that the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on, I felt a deep desire as a Black woman in media to do something that would have a lasting impact.

You are developing and assigning multiple story ideas daily with a team of 10 reporters, writers, and photographers. How are you juggling your job with your MBA program?

The life of a journalist and an MBA student is hard-work. I do keep a beautifully color-coordinated Google calendar that I swear by with alerts attached to almost every event. Notion and Goodnotes on my iPad are great, too. I also keep a written to-do list, where I jot down my top three priorities for the day, to-dos, and my wild ideas. I also write down things that went great in my day, followed by things that could have gone better. As a journalist, some of us work before most people are awake, or late into the night while others are enjoying dinner, or putting kids to bed. It’s a daily grind filled with deadlines you can’t miss. I have so much respect for the people working in my industry, as most people have no idea the sacrifices we make. I also think it’s so important in whatever your role is to give yourself grace. Life will always have its obstacle course days, so it’s important to be kind to yourself, especially as an MBA student so you can appreciate this journey and thrive.     

Life will always have its obstacle course days, so it’s important to be kind to yourself, especially as an MBA student so you can appreciate this journey and thrive.    

What is the most impactful or memorable story you have produced?

I was producing a live newscast in Beaumont, Texas, during the worst of Hurricane Harvey. I grew up in Houston so I’m very used to hurricanes, but this hurricane was devastating to so many smaller communities.  I’ll never forget the voices of viewers on air that night. I worked to have local public figures speak to my news team on-air to get critical messages out, positioned reporters in hot spots where homes and buildings were hit the hardest, and dispelled myths that were beginning to surface throughout the evening in an effort to calm the community. Even when I wasn’t producing, I took the time to answer viewer phone calls. So many were in need of being rescued from their homes due to severe flooding. I did my very best that night to connect local rescue teams with those who needed immediate help.

What are your goals after graduating?

I have many goals, but one of them is to work for a TV network or streaming service as a CEO, president, or vice president. I also have a passion for entrepreneurship. I feel like the sky’s the limit and I’m open to all that life brings.

I would love to create more lanes of opportunity for diverse voices in TV & film. While there has been progress, there’s still a long way to go. I just want to be a strong voice and to make it easier for others to enter this industry, because there aren’t many women and men in positions of leadership who look like me. Increasing diverse leadership in any workforce improves it overall.

You’re clearly all about persistence, having started your career as an intern at Radio One and KPRC-TV in Houston before rising to producer in a top market. Where do you think that comes from?

I think it comes from being comfortable hearing the word no. If I have a goal that I just can’t stop working on, it’s one of those things that keeps me up at night. I’m going to keep trying and trying until I get a yes. I‘m open to criticism and I’m okay with putting myself out there as you can probably see from my crazy idea to walk into a building dressed as if I had an interview. I was truly walking by faith that day and said if it goes well then that’s great, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. 

If I have a goal that I just can’t stop working on, it’s one of those things that keeps me up at night. I’m going to keep trying and trying until I get a yes.

What are some impactful classes so far at Berkeley Haas?

Data and Decisions with Professor Frederico Finan and Marketing with Professor Zsolt Katona are truly amazing classes that gave me ah-ha moments, confirming answers to questions I’ve had for many years. From day one in Data and Decisions I  became a better journalist just by learning how to identify poor quality data that many people see on a daily basis in morning headlines. In my marketing course I enjoy learning about how customers value brands/products and services along with the amount of storytelling that goes on in marketing. Leading People and Microeconomics classes are also wonderful. Leading People with Professor Ambar La Forgia  takes you on a journey of what it is like to be a corporate leader and how to handle the challenges that come along the way. I learned so much about myself from this course and the type of leader I want to be. In Professor Ricardo Perez-Truglia’s microeconomics course I gained a better understanding of why companies made certain business decisions and how to think like an economist.

What are you most passionate about in your industry?

I’m so inspired by our youth today, and I just want to be in a position to support them so they can have an outlet to showcase their creativity and grow into leaders in this space. It’s work that I’m very passionate about doing.

I’m also very excited about where media and entertainment and this whole new world of streaming is going. I just want to be a part of it, and become a leader in that industry, so that I can continue to develop storytelling for diverse voices and open more doors of opportunity for others, like how others did for me.

‘Magic’ disruption in the transportation industry lures MBA grads to jobs

Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23
Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23, co-president of the Haas Mobility Club, interned at Zoox.

As a strategy manager at self-driving car startup Zoox last summer, Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23, spent a lot of time thinking about the challenges of rolling out robotaxi fleets in cities. 

“Watching self-driving cars navigate the complex streets of San Francisco is pure magic,” Vakis said. “But to commercialize at scale, the industry has big strategic questions to work on that no one has fully solved so far.”

Vakis, co-president of the Berkeley Haas Transportation and Mobility Club, is among a growing number of students drawn to the rapidly-changing and fast-growing transportation/mobility industry. At Berkeley Haas, interest in the sector reflects that growth, with eight students in the Class of 2022 taking full-time jobs in the industry, (up from previous years), and 15 students in the 2023 class accepting internships. One lure, aside from the fun of being immersed in new technology, is the impressive pay. Mean base salaries for the 2022 FTMBA grads reached the higher end of the school’s employment report, coming in at $152,000 with a mean $23,000 bonus.

The Haas Mobility Club is hosting its annual Haas Mobility Summit 2022 Saturday, Nov. 5, at Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum.

Doug Massa, a relationship manager in the transportation and mobility sector for the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group, said the rise in interest comes at a time when companies that spent years on the technical aspects of building their products and services are looking to scale.

Doug Massa
Doug Massa, a relationship manager in the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group.

 “That’s why these companies are recruiting strong MBA talent,” Massa said. “MBA roles like corporate strategy, product management, and operations are what get our students excited and these are the types of roles that they’re landing.”

Many current students are meeting and networking through the Haas Mobility Club, which is hosting its annual Haas Mobility Summit 2022 Saturday, Nov. 5, at Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum. The summit, UC Berkeley’s largest transportation-focused conference, focuses this year on “reimagining sustainable and accessible mobility,” with senior executives from Zoox, Rivian, General Motors, Spin, Autotech Ventures, and others joining. The student-run Haas Mobility Club, now more than 175 members strong, welcomes graduate students from beyond Haas—in the Engineering, Data Science, and Urban Planning programs. 

Disrupting industries

As the market has heated up, Massa said he’s fielding about 20 calls a week from first and second-year students who want to talk about job opportunities in transportation. In addition to Uber and Lyft, Massa helps students recruit for roles at upstarts as well as big automakers like GM and Ford, electric auto leaders like Tesla and electric adventure vehicle maker Rivian, and autonomous vehicles like Cruise.

Minjee Kang portrait
Minjee Kang, MBA 23, interned at Rivian.

Haas Mobility Club member Minjee Kang, MBA 23, landed an internship in strategic operations at Rivian. Kang, who worked in operations at Air Korea before coming to Haas, said her goal and her reason for getting an MBA is to be part of sweeping industry-wide change.

“I believe the airline industry is going to be disrupted soon, just like Uber and ride sharing disrupted the traditional auto industry,” she said. “I think the transportation and mobility industry is facing a variety of opportunities as a whole, and I want to be a part of it.”

Sarah Thorson
Sarah Thorson, MBA/MEng 23 and co-president of the Haas Mobility Club, interned at Nvidia.

Sarah Thorson, MBA/MEng 23, who studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate, landed an internship in product management at Nvidia, where she worked on autonomous vehicle development tools.

Thorson said she’s always been pulled to the technical side of the auto industry and knew she could study both business and engineering in her dual degree program. “I wanted to come to Haas to explore a product role in tech and to learn about the impact of technology innovations on transportation and mobility,” said Thorson, co-president of the Haas Mobility Club.

Investment opportunities in transportation also lures MBA students. Logan Szidik, MBA 23, pivoted toward early stage venture capital investment at Haas, working as an intern at Menlo Park-based Autotech Ventures.

Logan Szidik, MBA 23
Logan Szidik, MBA 23

 “With companies staying private longer than ever before, private capital has an outsized impact on the future of the automotive industry,” he said. “As someone with a deep interest in technologies addressing the climate crisis, I wanted to better understand how investors approach start-ups focused on emerging spaces like vehicle-to-grid and fleet electrification.”

Alumni ecosystem

As more Haas grads move into transportation, the alumni community has expanded, with about 180 members of the Haas Mobility Network’s WhatsApp group.

That community includes transportation industry entrepreneurs like Ludwig Schoenack, MBA 19, co-founder of Kyte, a cars-on-demand service, and Arcady Sosinov, MBA 15, CEO of FreeWire, which makes fast electric vehicle chargers and battery generators. Both Bay Area companies have found success in raising $239 million and $230 million respectively, to expand their businesses.

This rich alumni network will continue to serve students well, Massa said. (Carlin Dacey, MBA 22, for example, recently joined Kyte as a market manager)

“The network has led to internships and full-time jobs,” he said. “It’s become a really nice ecosystem.”

Afraz Khan, MBA 23, blends business strategy and social activism

Afraz Khan, MBA 23, has led a life driven by faith, community engagement, and social activism. Prior to business school, Khan served as an outreach coordinator for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and wed interracial and interfaith couples within the Muslim-American community as owner of Muslim Wedding Service. In this interview, Khan, an LA native, discusses his journey to memorize the Quran, his activism and social enterprise work, and why he decided to study business.

What brought you to Haas?

I joined Muslim Wedding Service in 2017 as an officiant. Our focus is providing qualified officiants who work alongside interracial and interfaith couples to craft culturally inclusive wedding experiences for all those in attendance. In 2018, I took over the enterprise and have built it out to a team of about 25 officiants. We conducted 120 weddings last year across the U.S. and, given our business is a social enterprise, we successfully donated $50,000 to nonprofits and social services over the past three years.  My thinking was, “Let me come to business school to get a better sense of how business strategy and revenue models are used to build sustainable funding streams.” The hope is to incorporate that type of approach into social enterprise work, where we can sustainably fund the types of initiatives that would help tackle some of our current social issues.

My thinking was, “Let me come to business school to get a better sense of how business strategy and revenue models are used to build sustainable funding streams.”

Tell us about your family background.

My parents immigrated from North India in the 1980s to Los Angeles, where I was born and raised with an older sister. Growing up, we were pretty attached to the local Muslim community, which was primarily immigrant and South Asian. My parents prioritized faith and building connections with immigrants from that same background.

Afraz Khan weds couples with interfaith backgrounds as owner of Muslim Wedding Service.

How did you connect to America and LA from that space?

Until Kobe and the Lakers, my family had little attachment to American culture. However, we really started getting into basketball in the early 2000s when the Lakers were winning championships. I have a lot of memories of watching games with my family and listening to them on the radio. It helped me feel more connected to the broader American culture claiming the Lakers as a piece of our own. Also pivotal was 9/11, when I was in second grade. After 9/11, there was a push for us to demonstrate more of our patriotism. It was understood that you had to have an American flag in front of your house. I remember people in our community not sending their kids to high school because there were instances of racial targeting and Islamophobia.

How did 9/11 change your life?

One moment comes back from eighth grade. I was sitting in class and the clock struck noon and the teacher was in the middle of his lecture. My watch started beeping and this student yelled from across the room, “Watch out! He’s [Afraz] got a bomb.” Most of the kids were laughing. The teacher didn’t really say much, and I was frozen, not knowing how to react. But there wasn’t much addressing of the comment or an acknowledgement that it wasn’t appropriate. In high school, I was one of maybe five or six Muslims in a school of over a thousand kids. It was hard to understand how I, as a Muslim American, was supposed to integrate into this larger society. Islam felt foreign to the American experience, and there was not really a place for my faith identity to exist. This othering continues to persist.

It was hard to understand how I, as a Muslim American, was supposed to integrate into this larger society. Islam felt foreign to the American experience, and there was not really a place for my faith identity to exist.

You began memorizing the Quran in fifth grade and have continued religious work as a teacher and advisor. What drove that commitment?

A big part was this general desire to build a closeness with my faith and take ownership over my relationship with the divine. I spent eight years memorizing the Quran, which also included taking a gap year before college. As an undergraduate student at NYU, I found for the first time a large community of native Muslim Americans also trying to understand their journey with faith. I started delivering sermons and facilitating classes at our Islamic center on campus and unexpectedly fell into a role in providing the community with something I hadn’t had while growing up: a person who possessed the lived experience of growing up Muslim in America and could draw upon deeper sources of knowledge of the faith in demonstrating how Islam can actually serve as a source of empowerment. 

I found for the first time a large community of native Muslim Americans also trying to understand their journey with faith. 

Where did you work after your undergrad program?

I spent a year in New York City government conducting community affairs work, and then the next three years at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, focusing on advocacy and outreach. I was doing some organizing work around changing the disorderly conduct statutes in the South. These were policies designed to provide law enforcement broad discretion in criminalizing students of color for typical youth behavior—like when a kid purposely burps in class or doesn’t sit in an assigned seat. Law enforcement was charging these kids with disorderly conduct. We were working to help dismantle that policy, starting a lawsuit and organizing. But we had to shift our priorities at a certain point based on the desires of our funders to focus on a different issue within criminal justice. It’s tough when you know the on-the-ground realities, but the folks providing the funding have a different view. So, there was that lack of agency plus the reactionary way in which a lot of nonprofits understandably need to behave that pushed me to think more about business as a potential force for good. 

What relationship does your faith have with your activism work?

In 2016, our country bore witness to the continued murder of unarmed Black bodies at the hands of the police as well as a spike in xenophobic and anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks. In organizing several university-wide rallies alongside various allied minority groups, I started to learn how the same white supremacist institutions that govern this country uniformly and uniquely impact different marginalized communities. In learning from organizers and advocates who have dedicated their lives to social change, I sought to utilize my own lived experience of being Muslim in America to focus on dismantling broader systems of oppression. As activist Lilla Watson says, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

What’s a principle of your faith you seek to incorporate in your day-to-day work?

In 4:135, the Creator commands me “to uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly—if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.”

This verse pushes me to reflect on justice as a universal principle that exists outside of ourselves. A commitment to justice actually starts with a willingness to interrogate our own unjust behavior. This requires a strong development of humility and self-awareness which I believe is key to any movement work. 

How have you continued your activism work at Haas?

I’m focused on leveraging the clout and influence of Haas to bring light to issues that otherwise aren’t discussed within elite institutions and circles. Through Haas Hearts, a student-led non-profit consulting program, I got to work with and now currently serve on the board of Urban Compassion Project, an Oakland-based grassroots organization dedicated to empowering unhoused populations. Over the past few months, we’ve organized volunteer events for Haasies to attend as well as hosted an on-campus discussion on the current housing crisis in the Bay Area and what our role as MBA students is in supporting those fighting for change. 

Additionally, I’m working to expand Haas’ engagement with the broader UC’s union organizing efforts. Currently, a few of us student workers here at Haas are phone banking, tabling, and canvassing to build people power within our program to support the 48,000 UC student employees across the state who are fighting for a more fair and equitable contract. 

Afraz Khan began rapping his student government speeches in grade school.

You recently performed a rap at Haas that highlighted the disconnect between how history is taught in the U.S. and the realities that shaped your heritage under British colonial rule. When did you start rapping?

 In third grade I wanted to run for student government vice president. I wrote a first draft of my speech and my teacher told me that the presentation was boring and that I should rewrite it. My sister suggested rapping the speech and came up with a very simple rhyme and I was like, “What the heck?” and performed it. I was so nervous that I didn’t look away from my paper. I ended up winning. I ran for VP twice more and for president and just kept rapping all my speeches throughout middle and high school. At the end of high school, I started getting more into spoken word and slam poetry, using rap not just as a tool to have a fun experience but to also share more about my own narrative and experience.

For those who are curious, here’s my original rap:

Vote for me for VP/ — I’ll be the best, you can put me to the test/ — Yyou won’t regret and that’s a bet, it’s a promise that will be kept/ — Iif I win, I’ll put a spin to the school year that’s bright and clear/ – Sso don’t forget and put a check, next to the best… Afraz!

Watch Afraz Khan performing “Colonization of the Mind” last month at UC Berkeley’s Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL)’s annual EGALapalooza event.

 

New book explores pandemic’s effect on innovation

Jerry Engel
Jerry Engel

When Jerome Engel and colleagues presented a framework to describe innovation communities in 2014, the world was a different place. That book, Global Clusters of Innovation: Entrepreneurial Engines of Economic Growth around the World, explored the explosion and global trendsetting impact of Silicon Valley new venture development business practices. Now Engel has refined and extended that framework with Clusters of Innovation in the Age of Disruption (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2022), a collection of essays from business leaders and teachers worldwide. Berkeley Haas asked Engel, the founding executive director emeritus of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship (now the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program), about his new findings.

What made you want to revisit your study of clusters of innovation?

In my first book, we outlined and demonstrated how innovative technology companies tend to emerge in clusters in certain regions—and we questioned what drives that process. The world has since entered a period of severe economic, cultural, and environmental disruption due to an ongoing series shocks. We wanted to investigate what was happening in these innovative communities and whether they demonstrate enhanced resilience. We found that the answer was a profound “yes”. Clusters of Innovation demonstrate an entrepreneurial agility that enhances their resilience to external shocks, contributing significant social and economic value to society.

How do they do this? 

Through innovation, which I define as the positive response to change. Trends are obvious, especially technology trends which tend to be of relatively long duration. While a tech trend is not in itself innovation, its adoption into a valuable good or service is. Commercialization of such tech trends is often pursued by venture-capital backed entrepreneurial firms. Their initial market entry strategy is often to approach niche markets that provide a beachhead opportunity because incumbent firms are not serving their needs exactly. So smaller firms gain traction by providing these niche markets with products and services that provide a tight product market fit. Many entrepreneurial firms that blossomed in the midst of the pandemic were prepared for years before the pandemic. Their work in refining their technology and products put them in a position to provide solutions of huge impact quickly when the pandemic hit. This agility enhanced the resiliency, as they were already in the market with a limited but proven track record—so their businesses were positioned to explode into an “overnight success” when the shock occurred.

Can you provide examples of this?

Two clear, and very different, examples are Zoom in telecommunications and mRNA vaccine development in health care. Zoom had an innovative business model and mRNA developers embraced deep technology innovation. Zoom displaced slower- moving Cisco (WebEx), Microsoft (Skype/Teams), and other incumbents in revolutionizing business, personal, and education communication. Zoom became a verb, a place, a way of conducting much of our daily life. Zoom’s quick mass adoption revolved around a subtle business model innovation: Product-Led-Growth [PLG]. PLG is an evolution of the freemium model, where ease of user adoption is emphasized (just click the link, no log-ins, no hassle) and is often free. Traditional marketing is initially de-emphasized and that investment pored back into product development and viral marketing. Revenue evolves eventually from upselling to universities and larger businesses with value-added full-featured SaaS subscriptions. This ease of adoption drove the rapid behavior change that enabled a greater collective agility and a greater resilience.

A different type of innovation-driven agility is demonstrated in mRNA technology, which enabled the creation of vaccines in months rather than many years. Startups commercialized the novel mRNA vaccine technology, based on university research, before the pandemic. While the fundamental technology was revolutionary, its impact on the health of the general population was minimal. But during the pandemic, the benefits of this novel approach and the urgent need for a vaccine made its advantages clear, gaining the full attention major pharmaceutical firms. The rapid development and deployment of the various Covid-19 vaccines often depended on partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies, providing a perfect combination of speed and scale. The smaller firms’ product development speed combined with the larger firms’ capacity to scale trials, manufacture, and distribute.

What’s the takeaway from the book?

Economic regions such as Silicon Valley and other Clusters of Innovation around the world have proven to have enhanced resiliency to economic and environmental shocks. At the heart of such Clusters of Innovation are entrepreneurs, collaborating with venture investors and major corporations. Their constructive interactions build the resiliency required to quickly adapt and rebound from shocks. The process is helped by supportive government, universities, service firms, and other supporting actors in the community.

Salaries, employment rates jump for FTMBA 2022 Class

Employment rates and average base salaries jumped for the full-time Berkeley Haas MBA Class of 2022, with the consulting, technology, and financial services industries again drawing about 75% of the graduates.

“What made this year so exciting is the extraordinary demand for our MBA graduates and the appetite for their skills, including an ability to lead and innovate in a changing, diverse world,” said Abby Scott, assistant dean of MBA Career Management and Corporate Partnerships. 

photo of Abby Scott
Assistant Dean Abby Scott

Some highlights from this year’s employment report:

  • Salaries reached new heights, hitting an average base salary of $152,831, nearly $10,000 more than $143,696 in 2021. About 74% of the class received an average signing bonus of $33,418 and 43% of our graduates received stock grants or options as part of their compensation packages. Consulting pays the highest average salary at $166,637. 
  • Within three months of graduation, 93% of the class of 320 students accepted job offers. With these results, Haas returned to some of our highest pre-pandemic levels of job acceptances. 
  • Amazon, Bain Consulting, and McKinsey & Co. were the top three hiring firms, followed closely by Adobe, BCG, Deloitte, and Google. 15% of the graduates joined startups and 16 students (or 5% of the graduating class) started their own company at graduation. And 18% of the graduates who accepted jobs reported that their position had a “social impact component,” commonly in industries including healthcare, cleantech, sustainable real estate and investing.

“As our graduates enter the workforce, we look forward to seeing what they do next,” Dean Ann Harrison said.  “We know they are well equipped to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. We see our graduates innovating to create inclusive and sustainable businesses.”

Finding the right fit

There were small shifts in industries where students accepted jobs this year. Thirty three percent of the class joined the tech industry; 28% accepted jobs in the consulting industry, and 13.7% went into financial services. There were also small increases in the number of students taking jobs in real estate and the transportation/mobility sectors.

Chase Thompson, MBA 22, a global strategist with Samsung, said he came to Haas knowing that he wanted to work in the tech industry, but unsure about what role would best suit him. 

After interning at Adobe, he discovered an interest in global business, which led him to recruit with Samsung. “Fortunately, Samsung’s global strategy group fit squarely in the criteria I was targeting, so it made logical sense as the best next step for me post-MBA,” he said. 

Thompson said his job provides incredible exposure to high-level Samsung management, travel opportunities for company research at subsidiaries in Korea, Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America, and a clear leadership pipeline. 

Portrait of Tess Krasne
Tess Krasne, MBA 22, is a senior associate at Alante Capital.

“I am working directly with EVPs on projects, and the output of our work is leveraged for long-term decision making within the organization, oftentimes informing multi-billion dollar decisions,” he said.

Tess Krasne, MBA 22, said an interest in the intersection of business and climate brought her to Haas, and ultimately to become a senior associate at Alante Capital, a women-led firm that invests in technologies that enable a resilient, sustainable future for apparel production and retail.

Krasne interned at Alante after she was introduced to its founder through Haas’ Strategic and Sustainable Business Solutions class. After completing multiple internships with different companies during her MBA program, she accepted a full-time position after graduation with Alante,

“I came to Haas wanting to be part of a new wave of change,” she said. “I love that I get to work with such great co-workers and mentors and that I get to meet with 10 entrepreneurs a week to see what they’re building as I think about what the future might look like in the apparel space.”

Read the full 2022 employment report here.

Dean’s Speaker Series: Influential environmental regulator Mary Nichols on enforcing policy and uncovering ‘Dieselgate’

Ann Harrison and Mary Nichols
Dean Ann Harrison interviewing Mary Nichols in Spieker Forum.

Mary Nichols, former chair of the California Air Resources Board, has been described as “the most influential environmental regulator in history.” Nichols, who currently serves with Jim Farley, CEO of Ford Motor Company, as co-chair of the Coalition for Reimagined Mobility, and is vice chair of the California-China Climate Institute with California’s former Governor Jerry Brown, joined us for a recent Dean’s Speaker Series talk.

Speaking with Dean Ann Harrison, Nichols gave a first-person account of “Dieselgate,” the 2015 Volkswagen emissions scandal, and her role working with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold Volkswagen accountable for violating the Clean Air Act. (Volkswagen had equipped 590,000 vehicles with “defeat devices” or computer software designed to cheat on federal emissions tests.)

Nichols said the problem was first uncovered in Europe, where regulators measuring air quality weren’t seeing the benefits from Volkswagen’s new clean vehicles.

“California started testing….then we actually went and bought cars and put them on dynamometers with equipment, and saw how they were operating during the test, and figured out what was going on.”

Then, she said, a mid-level engineer working on the government affairs team at Volkswagen confessed to one of Nichols’ staff members about what was happening with the vehicles.

Enforcement action followed, after they brought the information to the federal government. “This one was ours to begin with, but then they took it up, and together we pursued the court actions, which eventually resulted in a settlement.” Watch the complete DSS talk here:

 

Haas MBA student featured on new season of hit Netflix dating show ‘Love is Blind’

Sikiru (“SK”) Alagbada, MBA 22, in front of Chou Hall on campus
Hoping to meet the love of his life, Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, MBA 22, joined the Season 3 cast of “Love is Blind.” Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Hoping to meet the love of his life, Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, MBA 23, joined the Season 3 cast of “Love is Blind,” the hit Netflix dating show.

The show asks 30 single people to spend 10 days inside “pods,” where they interview potential love matches from behind a wall that separates them. Couples who agree to get engaged during the experiment exit the pods to see each other for the first time. 

In this interview, Alagbada, who plans to work in early-stage venture capital investing after graduating, discusses his Netflix adventure, life before Haas, and juggling the demands of the show with the MBA program. The first episodes of the new season—which features Alagbada—airs October 19.

Haas News: The Season 3 “Love is Blind” cast promo came out yesterday. How do you feel? 

SK Alagbada: It’s a mixture of excitement and feeling anxious because this remains the craziest, most out-of-place thing I’ve ever done—crazier than moving to Poland from Nigeria by myself when I was 19. I’m a little worried about how the show will be edited. We filmed so many hours and you don’t know what will make it to the final cut. 

Do your classmates know yet?
I kept this secret from my classmates even though so many of them watch the show. I haven’t stepped into a class since the announcement so I am just preparing myself for the 21 questions. I kept this from them because of the confidentiality agreement, and also to try to have as normal a first-year MBA experience as possible.

Watch the “Love is Blind”  cast announcement.

 

Had you watched “Love is Blind” before you were on the show?

No, but my mom had. She loves the show.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I left Nigeria as an international exchange student to study in Poland. I still speak some Polish and three other languages. I lived all over Europe for a few years before moving to the U.S. 13 years ago by myself, and settled in Texas, attending Baylor University as an undergraduate. My brothers and mom are in the U.S. now. I am from the Yoruba tribe in southwest Nigeria, so I take my African culture, food, and Afrobeat music with me everywhere. 

So how did Netflix find you?

Every season is scouted in a certain city. This one was in Dallas, where I lived. Someone reached out after they saw my Instagram account. I initially thought it was a scam and didn’t respond for several weeks. One day, I responded. From Instagram we did FaceTime auditions and interviews during COVID. They’re looking for responsible, emotionally stable people in their 20s to mid-30s. They look at your interests, your career, your lifestyle, and whether you are an eligible bachelor.

Why did the reality show idea of finding a wife appeal to you?

I was at the point in my life when I wanted to settle down. I didn’t want to hear my mom’s constant reminder anymore about getting married. Also, in the past couple of years I’ve lived in different places where I haven’t had stability in my life. I tried the conventional ways of finding partners, through friends and family introductions and dating apps, but nothing seemed to stick. But a lot of things in my life happen in unusual ways, most unexpected ways, so this was not foreign to me. It’s the story of my life.

I was at the point in my life when I wanted to settle down. I didn’t want to hear my mom’s constant reminder anymore about getting married.

How did you juggle filming “Love is Blind” with your MBA program schedule? 

We finished filming the season before I started my first year of class, but I was still working at JP Morgan as a senior data engineer during my first year to cover the higher Bay Area costs and occasionally support my family back in Nigeria. Juggling that first year was tough. I’m so grateful for my classmates at Haas. They’re very gracious and were especially understanding when I had so much going on, willingly volunteering their time to help me understand unclear concepts in class. As a community, we are always there for each other.

I’m so grateful for my classmates at Haas. They’re very gracious and were especially understanding when I had so much going on, willingly volunteering their time to help me understand unclear concepts in class. As a community, we’re always there for each other.

 

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Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, MBA 22, is co-chair of the LAUNCH startup accelerator program at Haas and president of the student-run Africa Business Club. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

In the show promo they asked about your most annoying habit and you said “snacking.” Snacking doesn’t seem so bad! 

I work from home and study a lot and I always have a snack with me. My favorite snacks right now are Smartfood popcorn and Walkers shortbread cookies. My girlfriends in the past learned to accommodate it—or they picked up snacks for me when they went shopping.

You are very involved with the LAUNCH accelerator program. How does the student-led startup accelerator program align with your career goals in venture capital?

Prior to Berkeley, I worked at large companies like General Motors and JP Morgan, but I wanted an immersive startup experience and to learn the business of technology, grow my network, and boost my startup pipeline. Serving as LAUNCH co-chair of strategy and partnerships helps me to achieve this goal. I’m responsible for shaping the vision by managing and growing our relationships with investors, raising funds for our startups, and developing initiatives to strengthen our program experience. To date, LAUNCH startups have raised over $700 million and LAUNCH remains completely student run.

You are also president of the Africa Business Club. Can you talk a bit about investing in African startups?

This is very personal. I left Nigeria at the onset of a tech revolution that’s led to one of the fastest growing ecosystems in the world. I’ve stayed connected to home, but still have major FOMO from leaving the country at such a pivotal time. That’s why I’ve been dedicated to helping connect startups on the continent to capital, mentorship, and resources in Silicon Valley. In April, my team and I hosted the first in-person Africa Business Forum at Haas since COVID. This event laid groundwork for new connections and startup investment in Nigeria. 

What’s your favorite thing about Haas? 

Haas does a very good job of assembling a class of genuinely good people. In addition to being so accomplished and having done such interesting things in their lives and careers, they are genuinely good people.

What do you like to do outside of school? 

I love soccer, tennis, and Scrabble. I also like to cook. There is a dearth of African food in the Bay Area, so I usually find myself cooking a lot. My mom also ships me food sometimes. 

Have you picked up anything new since moving to California?
Recycling! I came from Texas. It’s a huge shift for me.

Celebrating 50 years of the evening & weekend MBA program

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The new class of Evening & Weekend MBA students cheer at the 2022 WE launch orientation. Photo: Jim Block

As globalization began to give American businesses a run for their money in the early 1970s, international business expert and then-Dean Richard Holton began working with faculty on ideas for how to train new leaders to compete.

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Former Berkeley business school Dean Richard Holton, who was an expert in international business.

“Strong competition from Japanese companies started to wake people up,” said Jay Stowsky, senior assistant dean of instruction at Haas from 2008 to 2021. “American business leaders and business school leaders understood the need to take a different approach to training people coming into American companies.”

That realization led to the creation of a new kind of MBA program that would provide the flexibility business leaders needed to earn the degree outside of their daily work schedules. In 1972, the business school launched its first part-time program called the San Francisco Evening Program (SFMBA) at the Wells Fargo Training Center in downtown San Francisco. 

The program, now called the Evening & Weekend MBA Program, is celebrating its 50th year. 

“We’re so proud of what we’ve accomplished over the decades,” said Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA programs at Berkeley Haas. “The part-time program has changed so many lives by opening doors for working professionals who couldn’t afford to take two years off to go back to school. It has truly fulfilled a mission to increase access to an MBA.”

A pioneering program

The part-time MBA program, one of the first of its kind in the country and the first within the University of California system, was aimed at students in their mid-20s to late 30s who had been in the workforce for an average of five years.

“The part-time program has changed so many lives by opening doors for working professionals,” Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA programs.

The first-ever cohort of 88 students hailed from local companies like Wells Fargo and Levi Strauss & Co, many of them commuting from Silicon Valley. By fall 1975, the program swelled to 229 students taking 17 courses. And by the early 1980s, the program’s success ensured that it would remain a core offering, with courses modernized and aligned tightly with the full-time MBA program to address corporate needs, Stowsky said.

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Jay Stowsky

“The MBA by then had shifted from a more academic degree to what was called management science, a kind of mathematical approach to decision making focused on finance and the bottom line, in addition to marketing and other key things students learn today in business school,” he said.

Boosting career success

The program, consistently ranked in the top two in the U.S. News ranking of part-time MBA programs, has trained business leaders worldwide. Among the more than 6,000 living graduates of the program are Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, MBA 93; Apple’s Managing Director of Greater China, Isabel Mahe, MBA 08; Poshmark CEO Manish Chandra, MBA 95;  Sega Sammy CEO Haruki Satomi, MBA 12; Meituan Dianping founder and CFO Shuhong Ye, MBA 05; and Dilbert creator Scott Adams, MBA 86.

Constance Moore, who graduated from the SF MBA evening program in 1980, recalled attending classes in downtown San Francisco, near her office at BRE Properties.  “I wanted to go to the evening program because I had recently started at BRE as an asset manager and knew I would likely learn as much at work as I would in school,” she said.  “I could apply what I learned at work to my school work, and what I learned at Haas I could apply to my work. It was perfect.”    

Attending class on Monday and Thursday evenings allowed her to travel for work in between and then study all weekend, she said. “It didn’t leave much time for anything else but it was so worth it,” said Moore, who became CEO of BRE after getting an MBA. “Haas made me fearless.”

While relatively few women enrolled during the part-time MBA program’s earliest days, that changed over the years as women were recruited or encouraged by their employers and each other.

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Lesley Keffer Russell’s boss encouraged her to enroll in the part-time MBA program in 1999. Photo: Christina Gandolfo

Lesley Keffer Russell enrolled in the program in 1999, at the encouragement of her boss at St. Supéry Winery, Michaela Rodeno, who graduated from the part-time program in 1980.

“She became a great mentor for me. She asked me one day during lunch, after I had done a three-month work stint in France for St. Supéry, ‘So, when are you going to go to biz school?'” she said. “I had mentioned that it was on my mind for a while and there was nobody else who was going to push me to apply, so she did. I got right on it.”

Russell said classes she took that help her today in her job as general manager of Saint Helena Winery include microeconomics, negotiations, and real estate development, for which she completed a final group project on assessing two Napa Valley vineyard purchases. “This led to understanding about aspects of the wine industry that have been critical to my career advancement,” she said.

A name change, and even more flexibility

While San Francisco served as the part-time program’s hub for years, student demand to be closer to UC Berkeley led the school to move the program to campus in 1995.  In 2002, then-Dean Laura Tyson added a weekend option for students. 

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Associate Professor Juliana Schroeder (middle) teaches a class during EWMBA orientation this year. The entering class of 2022 is 38% women. Photo: Jim Block.

The expanded program, renamed the evening & weekend program, split students into evening or weekend cohorts, depending on their schedules. It now attracts a wide breadth of students from around the world— engineers, general managers, sales and marketing managers working in high tech, computer services, banking, fintech, and biotechnology, among other industries.

This year, about 36% of the entering class is from outside the Bay Area, and 59% of them were born outside of the U.S. Nearly 40% of the students are women.

 “We’ve always had a fairly rich body of applicants to draw upon given our geography, Berkeley’s name, and the Haas reputation,” Breen said. “Those factors have served us well.”

The flexibility of the program has also increased. Spurred by the success of virtual learning, Haas developed the Flex option, a hybrid online/in-person MBA, which was in the works for three years. Flex is popular with working professionals who can take core courses online and opt to come to Haas for electives. The first cohort of 69 students began in August.

“With the launch of Flex, we’re looking forward to what the next 50 years will bring for the program and our students,” Breen said. “It’s an exciting time to be offering innovative business program options to working professionals.”

Just in: Three new books by Berkeley Haas professional faculty members

Three new books written by Haas professional faculty members share one thing in common: deep learning from the successes of people making innovative change in business today. Here’s more on each new book:

Clusters of Innovation in the Age of Disruption

Edward Elgar Publishing, published August 2022

By Jerome Engel, founding executive director emeritus of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship (now the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program)

Much has changed since Engel’s 2014 publication of Global Clusters of Innovation: Entrepreneurial Engines of Economic Growth around the World, a book that explored the explosion of entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems globally, a movement that spread Silicon Valley business practices around the world. By 2022, economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic, global warming, and environmental degradation led Engel to ask how innovation ecosystems can support the evolution of more robust, agile, and sustainable societies. Those questions led to this book about innovation ecosystems, clusters of innovation, and the global networks of clusters of innovation that naturally form. He argues that entrepreneurs, collaborating with venture investors and major corporations, can create clusters of innovation that help build the resiliency required to quickly adapt and rebound from economic shocks. The process is helped along by supportive government, universities, and other elements of the ecosystem. 

 

Global Class: How the world’s fastest-growing companies scale globally by focusing locally

Matt Holt (BenBella Books), published August 2022

By Aaron McDaniel, BS 04, lecturer with the Berkeley Haas professional faculty, and Klaus Wehage

Aaron McDaniel, who teaches entrepreneurship to undergraduates at Berkeley Haas, and Klaus Wehage are co-founders of 10X Innovation Lab, which helps build innovation ecosystems worldwide. During the pandemic, the authors said they realized there was no book published on innovation in international business expansion that matched the success of Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup. So over 1 1/2 years, they interviewed more than 300 executives from the world’s fastest-growing companies across 50 countries to understand what made them successful in reaching global scale. The list included CEOs and founders of Apple, Zoom, Slack, and Airbnb. The authors suggest that applying agile principles will enables global-class companies to more easily pivot their business and successfully localize in overseas markets with different cultural contexts. McDaniel said he hopes that Global Class will provide a tool kit and framework for companies of all sizes and stages to help build global, distributed teams; manage a diverse footprint; and balance cultural differences.

 

Becoming a Changemaker: An actionable, inclusive guide to leading positive change at any level

Balance (Grand Central Publishing), published September 2022

By Alex Budak, Haas lecturer and creator of the Changemaker course

Stepping into a leadership role doesn’t require people to be at the top of a group or organization. Anyone—regardless of title, personality, race, gender, age, or class—can be a changemaker and effect powerful, positive change from where they sit in a workplace or community, Haas Lecturer Alex Budak argues in his new book. Based on Budak’s popular Berkeley Haas course of the same name, the book is anchored by the Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles Question the Status QuoConfidence Without AttitudeStudents Always, and Beyond Yourself.  Budak introduces concepts and tools aimed at helping readers develop the confidence, courage, and commitment to lead change from wherever they are—and includes examples across industries, age levels, and abilities. The book includes a longitudinal study of how people develop key changemaker skills over time and provides access to some of the same exercises he uses in his class.

Startup Spotlight: Bird plans to make banking easier for African immigrants

Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.

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Joe Obeto, MBA 21, co-founded Bird to make opening bank accounts and sending money easier for African immigrants.

Joe Obeto, MBA 21, co-founded startup Bird to help solve a vexing roadblock he and other African immigrants face when they arrive in the U.S.: trying to open a bank account. We recently interviewed Obeto about what led him to become an entrepreneur and his big plans for Bird.

Describe your startup in 30 words or less.

We’re building a platform to enable non-US residents to open a bank account, a checking account, and do easy and frictionless cross-border transfers. 

What was your background before coming to Haas?

My undergrad degree was in computer information science. When I graduated, I had several options: to pursue the traditional technology route as a software developer or maybe go into finance. What really shifted for me was during a summer that I went to Wall Street to intern for Credit Suisse. My experience that year was very incredible, and that really pushed me toward finance. I came to realize that not only do I like finance, I really wanted to become an entrepreneur.

What was the problem that you are solving with Bird?

When I first came to the U.S., I learned that I had to be a resident of the country for about six months minimum before I could open a bank account. With most major banks, this is the policy. In addition, sending money back to Nigeria is very expensive or it takes several days for the money to get to the final destination because there are so many intermediaries. It also costs 10 times more to send $100 to Nigeria than what it would cost you to send to a place like the U.K. or Poland because they have stable currencies.

So you decided to address these challenges as an entrepreneur?

I thought we could build a solution to solve this. So we decided to build a platform to do two things: enable non-U.S. residents to open a checking account and also enable a frictionless, low-cost way for you to be able to transfer money cross-border. There are some regulatory processes that we need to complete before we can actually go live with the banking solution, but the cross-border solution is going to be ready soon.

How does a Bird service work?

We don’t have a banking charter, so we cannot actually hold your funds. What we’ll do is partner with a local bank so when you open an account on the Bird platform and deposit money, it will be held at the bank, so it’s FDIC insured, meaning your money is going to be safe. You can do a wire transfer and have a debit card from the Visa network or the Mastercard network. You can use the card globally, anywhere that Visa or Mastercard is accepted. In addition to that, you can also transfer money.

How will transferring money work?

Right now, we’re establishing a payment corridor between Nigeria and the U.S. We want to test this corridor out. Eventually, we’re going to expand to other corridors in Africa. We’re looking into Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya, as well as Rwanda.

Right now, we’re establishing a payment corridor between Nigeria and the U.S. We want to test this corridor out.

Will transferring money using Bird be cheaper than other methods?

Yes, it is cheaper because rather than having multiple intermediaries moving money from one end to the other, we will use a stablecoin on the blockchain to move money cross-border. Essentially, we convert dollars to USDC stablecoins (a cryptocurrency). When it gets to Nigeria, that USDC stablecoin is on-ramped to Nigerian currency. The same thing will happen when somebody’s trying to send money to the US. We’re able to cut out a lot of middlemen and drastically reduce the cost of sending money internationally, especially to Africa.

Have any Haas courses helped you build the company?

New Venture Finance with Professor Maura O’Neill.  She’s incredible. I learned a lot from that course, and even today when I’m talking to investors or negotiating a term sheet, the learnings from that course have been helpful; the entrepreneurship course taught by Kurt Beyer was helpful as well, and an operations course taught by Professor Terry Taylor showed me how to run operations of any firm. We went through lots of cases, analyzing different companies and what led to their successes, what led to their failures. As somebody building a company, you need to be able to learn from failures so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.

You also placed second last spring at UC Berkeley LAUNCH after going through the accelerator program. How did that help? 

LAUNCH gives you a framework for you to validate your idea. It uses the lean startup methodology to develop a very strong value proposition. You go out to talk to customers to challenge your initial hypothesis, test it, validate it. Ultimately, when you come out of LAUNCH, you realize that you have a stronger position for your customers and that you are building something that people actually want and need.

Did you always plan to get an MBA?

That has always been part of my strategy. An MBA is not going to necessarily make you a successful person or a successful entrepreneur. But it does reduce your chance of failure and increases the odds of your success. Building on that knowledge of having a structured approach to entrepreneurship, to starting a business, is what the MBA equips you with. Besides that, I think the network that I’ve been able to build here in the Bay Area has afforded me the opportunity to build something that I think will be a success.

Welcome Bears! New Berkeley Haas students begin classes

Undergraduate students in the Haas courtyard
New undergraduate students gathered in the Haas courtyard. Photo: Noah Berger

The Berkeley Haas courtyard has sprung back to life. Over the past week, new undergraduate, full-time MBA, and PhD students arrived for orientations, getting a first glimpse of life in the classroom. Students in the Berkeley Haas Executive MBA and the evening & weekend MBA program, including the first Flex MBA class, came to campus for orientation last month.

Full-time MBA Program 

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(Photos by Jim Block)

Spirits were high among the entering full-time MBA students who gathered for the traditional Week Zero orientation Aug. 15-17. School and student leaders (including Week Zero Co-Chair Dingmi Gong, MBA 23) and Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA Programs, welcomed the group, who throughout the two days participated in sessions on diversity, equity and inclusion at Haas, productivity and time management, and an introduction to the case study method.  They also met their study groups for Teams@Haas, a program that’s celebrating its 10th year in the MBA curriculum with lessons on collaborative leadership.

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International MBA students had a separate orientation session to learn about careers, financial aid, and housing— and just ask questions. Photo: Jim Block

MBA Association (MBAA) President Jude Watson, a former chef and community organizer from Seattle, introduced Dean Ann Harrison, who emphasized how important it is for students to lead on critical issues such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as climate change. She noted that both innovation and collaboration that will be required to solve the world’s toughest problems.

“The issue of climate change has become visibly real, and despite the important climate bill that Joe Biden has put in place, we have a very long way to go. It’s just a down payment on the change we need,” she said. “I believe that you, as business leaders, will lead the change.”

“I believe that you, as business leaders, will lead the change.” Dean Ann Harrison.

Orientation speaker Lo Toney, MBA 97, urged students to explore, celebrate, and focus during their journeys. Toney, founding managing partner of Plexo Capital, told students that they will learn the most from their peers–not just about the diversity of where people are from, but what they have done. “Look around you,” he said. “These are people who are going to be in extremely senior positions,” who will help you along your journey. 

Undergraduate Program

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Berkeley Haas undergraduate students participated in ice breakers throughout orientation day in Spieker Forum. Photo: Noah Berger

In welcoming the new class, Dean Ann Harrison noted the sweeping changes coming for the undergraduate program, anchored by the recent $30 million gift from alumnus Warren “Ned” Spieker, BS 66, and his wife, Carol, BA 66, (political science), that will be used to create the new four-year Spieker Undergraduate Program

In her welcome message, Emma Hayes Daftary, the new assistant dean of undergraduate admissions, expanded on the changes and the importance of enhancing collaboration among the students in the competitive program. “This program and our Defining Leadership Principles will challenge you to shift from what you, as an individual, can achieve, to what we, as a community, can accomplish,’ she said. “It’s for this reason that we’re focusing on culture this year, and we’re working to create a more collaborative, inclusive, and equitable culture in the undergraduate program.”

Hayes Daftary said the first order of business is to  eliminate the “Haas Curve” grading policy—which drew cheers from the students.

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Students cheered the news of a plan to eliminate the “Haas Curve” grading policy for undergraduates. Photo: Noah Berger

She said the policy of grading on a curve was adopted in 2011 across the MBA and undergraduate programs for ease and consistency. But in May 2021, the Undergraduate Program Committee voted to recommend that the policy be eliminated. Policies such as grade caps and grading on a curve are often criticized because they lead students to compete against each other, but in this case it was also deemed to be ineffective, she said.

 “I’m not a competitive person, so I think it’s good…It will definitely help.” said Gloria Gonzalez-Serrano, a continuing undergraduate student who plans to pursue a career in digital marketing.

Other program changes include the hiring of more staff to focus on the academic and student experience, funding the Haas Business Student Association (HBSA) at historic levels, renovating the undergraduate program lounge, and upgrading the Cheit Hall classrooms. 

Browse more highlights (photos by Noah Berger):

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Evening & Weekend MBA

The new class of evening & weekend MBA students arrived on campus in July for a jam-packed “WE Launch” orientation weekend of work sessions, team-building exercises, and an introduction to the Haas Defining Leadership Principles.

A few details about the Class of 2025: More than 40% of the new students have at least one advanced degree, including 21 PhDs. More than 40% of the class was born outside of the U.S. Nearly half—47%— are married or partnered, with 22% raising kids (altogether they have 80 children.)

Browse highlights from EWMBA orientation here. (Photos by Jim Block)

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Also, some fun facts:

  • The class includes a violinist who performed at Carnegie Hall, a former professional ballet dancer, and three published authors, including the author of the “Silicon Valley Dictionary.”
  • Among the students is a professional water polo player, a Formula One race car driver, and the general manager of a minor league baseball team
  • The class boasts the youngest elected city council member of a Bay Area City, the lead singer in a band that raises money for domestic violence victims, and a volunteer for the Yellowstone Wolf Project who helps with tracking wolves. There’s also a flight controller for NASA Mission Control, a pilot instructor for the Air Force, and a paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.

PhD

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Top row (left to right): Ockemia Bean, Amol Singh Raswan, Simoni Jain, Karin Li, Edgar Sanchez-Cuevas, Jacob Moore, Analexis Glaude, and Rui Sun. Bottom row (left to right): Sylvia Chin, Bernardo Lembi Ramalho Maciel, Patrik Räty, Silvia Farina, Minghao Yang, Dingzhe Leng. Photo: Jim Block

A total of 14 students joined the PhD program this fall, with an equal split between men and women. The group hails from around the world, including the U.S., Brazil, China, Colombia, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, and Singapore.

The students’ area of study is equally diverse, including accounting, business and public policy, finance, marketing science, management of organizations, and real estate.

Class of 2021 first to honor MBA experience with special NFT

Adam Joseph, Mary Yao, Fede Pacheco, all MBA 21
Fede Pacheco (right) with Adam Joseph and Mary Yao, all MBA 21. Pacheco designed a unique NFT as a gift to the class.

Fede Pacheco, MBA 21, woke up one day with an idea for a fun way to connect his classmates for a lifetime.  He decided to design a non-fungible token (NFT), which would be as unique as the class’ pandemic experience—and the first of its kind to be given as an MBA class graduation gift.

The Haas 2021 NFT, a short GIF featuring a young and older bear reflecting at sunset, is a nod to the students’ journey, which Pacheco said was full of MBA traditions that went virtual during the pandemic. (An NFT is a digital asset connected to unique physical or digital items, such as art, video, or music.)

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A peak at the Class of 2021’s NFT.

So far, 102 alumni have signed up to claim the NFT, which Pacheco worked on with another 2021 classmate, who did the coding.

Pacheco, who is now living in Seattle and working for Microsoft, was chosen as student speaker at 2021 commencement. He urged students, virtually, to savor the good times and reflect on the moments when they found creative ways to lean on each other, in spite of the unprecedented year they all endured. 

He said the Haas 2021 NFT, a short GIF that runs on a Gameboy-style screen, is available to everyone in the class and will last forever. “You will have ownership of it and it’s something we will all share through the community it creates. I want the Berkeley and Haas community to see that we’re doing this, that we’re celebrating the digital experience.”

The Class of 2021 NFT opens with two bears watching the sunset.

“The bigger bear is the graduating you,” Pacheco said, narrating the YouTube video that introduces the NFT collection. “You are hugging your younger self before you started that journey. There are so many things that you wish that you could tell yourself but there’s nothing like actually living it.” 

Together, the bears let go of a celebratory balloon.

As the balloon approaches the horizon, one of four Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles, Question the Status Quo, Confidence without Attitude, Students Always, or Beyond Yourself, (a different one for each NFT) slowly appears. Then a “press start” button appears,  representing the beginning of the next chapter of your life.

Caitrin Hall, MBA 21, said the NFT represents the innovation, creativity and generosity of their class: “Innovation, since we’re likely the only MBA class to own an NFT from our school; creativity, as it is a cutting edge art form; and the generosity of Fede Pacheco to gift it to us all.”

“I’d learned about blockchain in school, but this brings it alive—and into my wallet—in a whole new way,” she said.

To learn more about the NFT watch the video.

 

A record-breaking 2022 for fundraising at Berkeley Haas

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Berkeley Haas raised $69 million from more than 4,300 donors in fiscal 2022. Campus photo: Noah Berger

The Haas School of Business announced its best fundraising year in the school’s history, raising $69 million from more than 4,300 donors in fiscal year 2022. 

The banner year was anchored by a $30 million gift to transform the Berkeley Haas Undergraduate Program.

This year’s efforts bring the total raised for the past two fiscal years to a record $116 million, the most ever raised in two consecutive years.

“So many alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends went beyond themselves this year, providing unbelievable support for Haas,” Dean Ann Harrison said. “Their generous gifts will be used to do important work within our community, work that will help Haas build the next generation of Berkeley leaders, stay connected to and support our alumni community, and remain a top business school. We are truly grateful.”

Fundraising highlights from the past year:

  • $69 million raised from donations by 4,339 alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends.
  • A $30 million gift, the largest single donation in the school’s history, from Ned Spieker, BS 66, and his wife, Carol, BS 66 (political science). Their gift will be used to launch the four-year Spieker Undergraduate Program in Fall of 2024.
  • The addition of seven new Builders of Berkeley—donors who given at least $1 million to Berkeley—including Haruki, MBA 12, and Mikiko Satomi, Kevin, BS 82 JD/MBA 85 and Eileen Shields, John Hokom, BS 59, MBA 60, Steve Etter, BS 83, MBA 89, Roshni and Jagdeep Singh, MBA 90, Joanne and Jon Goldstein, BS 82; and the Liang-Kuo Family.
  • The 2022 one-day Big Give campaign, which raised $2.475 million from a record 911 gifts.
  • A record number of gifts of $2,500, the new gift level for the Haas Leadership Society.
  • A record $4.86 million raised for the Haas Fund, the most raised in one year. Gifts to the Haas Fund are used for scholarships and program enhancements, as well as our Alumni Network podcasts, lifelong learning, and alumni programming.

Alumni engagement highlights from the past year:  

Alumni engagement also thrived in 2022, with a record-breaking group of nearly 1,700 alumni returning to campus for their makeup and in-person MBA reunion weekend celebrations. Together, the MBA reunion classes of 2020 and 2021 donated $2.2 million and gave 11 lead gifts. At the annual Alumni Conference, the combined virtual and in-person events allowed alumni from all over the world to tap into Haas thought leadership. In-person events fostered community-building and connections.  

More alumni engagement highlights:

  • Alumni affinity groups increased programming for women graduates as well as programming in real estate and growth industries like cryptocurrency and blockchain.  
  • Alumni sourced and shared 474 jobs with the school as part of the Hire Haas campaign.  
  • More than 3,700 alumni accepted a call to action, volunteering for Haas by assisting with admissions, meeting with students for career conversations, serving as guest speakers or panelists, or leading and arranging events and programs for fellow alumni.  
  • The OneHaas Alumni Podcast produced 42 podcasts featuring alumni in conversation about their Haas experience and career trajectories.
  • Three new mentoring programs were launched to support student career planning and help build greater alumni connections.
  • A self-paced alumni lifelong-learning management platform was launched which provides video content curated for intellectual curiosity. The first two courses focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion resources for alumni. 

For more information about investing in the schools priorities and/or becoming a volunteer please contact Howie Avery, assistant dean for Development & Alumni Relations, or the Development and Alumni Relations office.

Q&A: Yue Chen, BS 20, MFE 23, pioneering Division 1 women’s basketball player, aims to be a Triple Bear

photo of Yue Chen
Undergraduate alum Yue Chen, BS 20, is currently studying in the Berkeley Haas MFE program and plans to enter the MBA program in 2025.

Yue Chen, BS 20, MFE 23, is the first-ever Chinese national to play on a NCAA Division 1 Women’s basketball team. At 6’6” and the daughter of professional basketball players, Chen played center for the women’s team at Cal for five years before returning to China to play professionally for 18 months.

Now, the pioneering athlete is back at Berkeley with sights on becoming a Triple Bear. Chen is studying in the Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) program, among a record 32% women in the Class of 2022, along with a diverse group of students from 17 different countries. This fall, Chen will intern as an associate at

After Chen finishes the MFE degree, she plans to begin the full-time MBA program in 2025, accepted under Accelerated Access, which allows students to apply as seniors and defer for several years. We talked to Chen recently about her basketball career and why she chose to do three degrees at Haas.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?

Yue Chen: I was born in Beijing and spent my first 18 years there. Both my parents met in college. They used to be professional basketball players in China so I was born into a basketball family. I started playing basketball when I was a little kid and it was a big part of my life. During high school, I was facing the decision of either going to play pro or going to college. It was always a dream for me to come to the States and to play ball and also pursue academics simultaneously.

When was the first time that you visited the U.S. ?

I was fortunate to attend a Junior NBA camp when I was 12. Three teams played each other from Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. The winning team got the opportunity to come to the States and watch the All Star Games. I played for Beijing, the winning team, and we came to the States to watch the All Star Games in Dallas. That was my first time in the US. Kobe Bryant was there and people were truly enjoying basketball with others and celebrating. That was really a culture shock, and I was like, “Oh, I want to stand on this course one day, and also play here.” So that’s always been a dream, a goal, from then on.

How did that experience lead you to Cal?

In high school, I needed to choose a college. I looked at places like Berkeley, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and did official visits as an athlete. Of these three schools, Berkeley was my first choice. While the others are definitely great universities, I felt like the culture, the people here are just awesome. The coaches and players were warm and welcoming. I said, “Oh, I’m coming here.” I still keep in touch with a lot of the staff and coaches.

Yue Chen playing center for Cal Women's basketball
Yue Chen played center for the Cal Women’s Basketball team for five years as an undergraduate before playing professionally in China.

You were among the first group of students to apply for the Accelerated Access Program at Haas in 2020. Then you decided to do an MFE degree before the MBA. What led to that decision?

Berkeley has one of the top MFE programs in the world. As an undergrad, I was a double major in statistics and business administration and those subjects have been a passion for me. I’ve loved math since middle school and I’m really good at it.  The MFE is a really interesting intersection of mathematics, statistics, and finance. So that’s how I came to the program. It’s a perfect combination of my interests.

Yue Chen with Cal Basketball teammates
Yue Chen (right) with Cal Women’s Basketball teammates at senior night.

How are you finding the MFE program so far?

The class material is really hard. The professors are great and you are surrounded by talented, smart students. So it’s just awesome to be with them, to learn with them, and to learn from them. Every day I’m improving at something and that feels really great.  This semester, I am taking a class on Fixed Income with Professor Richard Stanton, who has won Haas’ Cheit Outstanding Teaching award three times. He is enthusiastic and engaging, sharing not only his knowledge about knowledge but his experience in the financial industry. 

Yue Chen with Alibaba's CEO
Yue Chen meeting a role model, Alibaba CEO Joseph Tsai. “He’s someone I really look up to when I envision my future.”

A great mentor for me at Haas is Stephen Etter, a finance lecturer for 10 years. He respects the potential of all students from diverse backgrounds.I met him when I was 17 when I first visited Cal and he’s been a great support both on and off the court—with my professional career, my Haas application, and career development.

Why did you choose to combine the MFE with the MBA degree?

It’s really hard for undergrad students to say what they want to do in the future. We’re really young. So the deferred MBA program gives us time to try out different things, and to gain different experiences to be sure about what I really want to do for the future. This gives an option to come back to Haas and make more connections and improve my skills and see how business is run from a leader’s perspective.

What kind of career are you thinking about?

After just finishing my basketball career, I’m trying different things right now and the MFE is preparing me to enter the finance career path. I’m looking forward to gaining more experience in the finance world and eventually, maybe, doing some business involving sports. Someone I really look up to is Joe Tsai, co-founder of Alibaba, who owns the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Liberty basketball teams. He was a student athlete at Yale and played lacrosse, and he’s a really successful businessman. So he’s someone I really look up to when I envision my future.

Do you still play basketball?

Although I’m not playing sports anymore I am still close to Cal Athletics. I hope I can help out and offer support to young student athletes. I want to use what I’ve learned on my journey, and what I’ve gained here at Berkeley, to help young people who are facing challenges—so that they will be able to celebrate their journey at Cal long after they graduate.

Faculty, Graduate Student Instructors honored with 2022 Cheit Awards

Collage of the Cheit Award winners from 2022 commencement
Clockwise from top left: Cheit Award winners Ricardo Perez-Truglia, Panos Patatoukas, Veselina Dinova, Richard Huntsinger, Eric Reiner, Ned Augenblick, Max Auffhammer

Seven faculty members and five Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) were honored at 2022 commencements for excellence in teaching.

Students in each degree program choose faculty each year to receive the Cheit Award, named after Dean Emeritus Earl F. Cheit, who made teaching excellence one of his top priorities.

This year’s winners include:

  • Evening & Weekend MBA program: Max Auffhammer (evening cohort), for Data and Decisions, and Ricardo Perez-Truglia (weekend cohort), for Macroeconomics
  • Full-time MBA program: Associate Professor Ned Augenblick, for Strategic Leadership
  • Undergraduate program: Distinguished Teaching Fellow Richard Huntsinger 
  • PhD program: Accounting Professor Panos Patatoukas 
  • Master of Financial Engineering (MFE): Finance Lecturer Eric Reiner
  • Executive MBA program: Distinguished Teaching Fellow Veselina Dinova
  • Graduate student instructors (GSIs): Paige Wahoff (undergraduate)  Griffin Grail-Binghman (FTMBA), Kimberlyn George (EWMBA), Nicolas Corthorn (MFE), Jonathan Wong (EMBA)

Solve the world’s seemingly insurmountable problems, Berkeley Haas MBA grads told at 2022 commencement

MBA grads at the Greek Theatre
MBA students gather behind stage at the Greek Saturday before commencement. (Photo: Natasha Payes)

Exuberant grads tossed beach balls and danced salsa in the aisles of the Greek Theatre at Saturday’s commencement ceremony for the Berkeley Haas Full-time and Evening and Weekend MBA Class of 2022.

It was a moment of unfettered joy, as speakers rallied the graduates for the challenges ahead.

“The world right now has lots of  huge unsolved problems—from political polarization to climate change to artificial general intelligence to augmented humanity to disease to inequality—so you have lots of big problems to choose from,” commencement speaker Jagdeep Singh, EWMBA 90, told about 600 graduates, who gathered under blue skies and sunshine. “Pick one that you have passion for, that you can’t help but want to spend all your time day and night on even if others think it’s too idealistic, too big, or too unsolvable. You’re Berkeley MBAs now. You don’t need to settle.”

Jagdeep Singh, MBA 90, speaks at MBA commencement at podium
Jagdeep Singh, EWMBA 90, speaks at MBA commencement. Photo: Jim Block

Dean Ann Harrison welcomed Singh, an entrepreneur who in 2010 co-founded battery technology company QuantumScape. She acknowledged how special it was to be together for the first in-person MBA commencement in two years. 

“This felt like the best closure for a two-year process that has been life changing,” said Ignacio Solis, MBA 22, an international student from Chile.

Harrison praised the students for their resilience during their program, noting that those experiences will serve them well throughout their careers. “Because of who you are—your fierce intelligence and your deep understanding of the forces that drive business– you will have power,” she said. “Power is not always about how many people report to you or whether you have the CEO’s ear or whether you are the CEO. Power is the ability to make a difference—one day at a time; one project at a time; one function at a time.”

Evening & Weekend grads: “Pause and savor”

Noting how many life events happened for the EWMBA class during the program, Harrison said that 32% of the class was promoted, 41% of the students changed jobs, 13% got married, and 30 babies were born.  

MBA students behind stage in cap and gowns at the Greek Theatre
MBA students at the Greek Theatre. Photo: Natasha Payes

Evening & Weekend program student speaker Paulina Lee, a marketing director at Procter & Gamble, told graduates to stop and consider how much they’ve changed at Haas.

“What Haas has afforded us is the opportunity to redefine ourselves, to explore the edges of our comfort zone, and that’s why as we end this chapter and start our new paths to our own definitions of success we are faced with so many different emotions,” she said. “Joy, anxiety relief, excitement to move on to the next thing, get on with it, but perhaps we shouldn’t. At least not right away.”

Lee asked students to pause for a moment and savor, after spending the last three years on a sprint. “The first ask (from me) is to pause, really pause, and see the space that school used to take up and protect it,” she said. “Now that you have become the person you are today, reevaluate, sit down with yourself and honestly seek to understand who you have become.”

Full-time MBA: The opportunity to “fail and learn”

The 2022 full-time MBA class is the most diverse ever,  Harrison told the graduates, including 39% women, 50% U.S. minorities,  8% veterans, and 10% first-generation college students. 

Kokei Otosi, MBA 22, student speaker at MBA commencement speaks
“For two years we had the opportunity to try and fail and learn and try,” Kokei Otosi, MBA 22. Photo: Jim Block

Full-time MBA student speaker Kokei Otosi, who will join IBM as a senior consultant in August, opened her speech by thanking her classmates. She also expressed thanks for the time that the MBA program gave her to explore. 

“What I know now is that the MBA is a sandbox,” said Otosi, a Bay Area native-turned-New Yorker whose parents are Nigerian immigrants. “When you leave you may still not know what you want to do, but for two years we had the opportunity to try and fail and learn and try. We may not get that kind of freedom again.”

Throughout the ceremony, speakers paid tribute to classmate Nadeem Farooqi, who died in fall 2020.

Otosi said the shock and grief the class experienced over his death was palpable. “Nadeem, we cannot believe you aren’t here with us celebrating today, but we haven’t forgotten you,” she said. “We miss you.”

Honors for both MBA programs

Dean Ann Harrison hands a student an MBA diploma
Dean Ann Harrison congratulates an MBA student. Photo: Jim Block

Harrison asked all students with GPAs in the top 10% of their classes to stand and be honored for their achievements. 

Here are the EWMBA program honors:

Outstanding Academic Achievement Award: Laura Jacobson

Defining Leadership Principles awards:

Question the Status Quo: Eleanor Boli   

Confidence Without Attitude: Cheick Diarra   

Students Always: Steve Odell

Beyond Yourself: Nana Lei 

The Berkeley Leader Award: Nana Lei  and Frances Ho

Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching, weekend MBA program: Ricardo Perez-Truglia, for macroeconomics

Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching, evening MBA program: Professor Max Aufhammer, for data and decisions

Cheit Award for Graduate Student Instructor: Kimberlyn George

MBA grads sitting in the Greek Theatre during commencement
Photo: Jim Block

FTMBA program honors:

Outstanding Academic Achievement Award: Jon Christopher Thompson

Question the Status Quo: Aliza Gazek  

Confidence Without Attitude: Casey Dunajick-DeKnight  

Students Always: Mathilde De La Calle  

Beyond Yourself: Kevin Hu

Cheit Award for Graduate Student Instructor: Griffin Grail-Binghman

Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching: Associate Professor Ned Augenblick for Strategic Leadership

PhD commencement

Earlier this month, seven Phd candidates participated in a hooding ceremony. 

2022 Berkeley Haas PhD graduates
PhD graduates, left to right: Alexey Sinyashin, Daniel Stein, Shoshana Jarvis, Kristin Donnelly, Łukasz Langer, Young Yoon, Petr Martynov

The PhD program at Haas stands out among all six academic programs, Harrison told the graduates. “It is our smallest, but it’s also the program nearest and dearest to the hearts of our faculty, all of whom are PhDs and are deeply committed to training the researchers and professors of the future,” she said. “This is a core part of my mission, and of all of our faculty’s mission.” 

Graduating students included Kristin Donnelly, Shoshana Jarvis, Łukasz Langer, Petr Martynov, Alexey Sinyashin, Daniel Stein, and Young Yoon. The Cheit award for excellence in teaching in the PhD program went to Professor Panos Patatoukas of the Haas Accounting Group. 

Watch the MBA commencement video here: