All in: Berkeley Haas MBA club expands support for students with disabilities

Living with Lyme disease made Barbara Rion, MBA 25, aware of the toll that a chronic health condition can take. A military analyst with the CIA before she came to Berkeley Haas, Rion spent a lot of time after she contracted the infection figuring out how to relieve her symptoms through diet and lifestyle changes and physical therapy.

headshot of a woman with long hair smiling
Barbara Rion, MBA 25

Although Rion is well today, that intense journey is partly what drove her to help restart HaasAbilities, a student club for MBA students with disabilities, and their allies. 

But in reviving HaasAbilities, she and co-chair Cynthia Brzezinski, MBA 25, wanted to expand the definition of disability beyond those that are typically discussed to include less visible, but equally impactful, conditions such as infectious disease, dietary allergies, or ADHD.  

“I wanted the club to be a place for everyone and to offer resources for everyone,” Rion said. “Haas has a lot of the right resources. The challenge is getting students informed about what’s available.”

The pair developed three goals when they took over last spring: to foster a community for students with disabilities, to invite allies in to promote understanding of disabilities, and to advocate for new MBA students with disabilities. The club now has 55 members and a nine-person board, comprising students with disabilities and allies. 

UC Berkeley was one of the first college campuses in the United States to begin accommodating students with disabilities, a response to student activism in the 1960s. Despite Berkeley’s role as a leader in the disability rights movement, both Rion and Brzezinski say entering MBA students often don’t know where to go when they need help. That’s why one of the club’s priorities is to raise awareness about the UC Berkeley Disabled Students’ Program (DSP), which includes information about campus resources and support services. 

woman standing outdoors wearing a jacket
Cynthia Brzezinski, MBA 25

Brzezinski’s former roommate, for example, suffered a concussion after a car crash at the beginning of the school year and struggled to navigate classes after the accident. Recognizing the need to get centralized information out about available support, a HaasAbilties board member put together a list of resources for the Haas community. Rion also pointed to the number of students battling COVID-19 or the flu who wanted accommodations for taking their exams but were unaware of the campus’s program. “We talked to the program office about this and they started putting the DSP link into communications so that people can access it a lot easier,” she said. 

Lupe Alonzo-Diaz, EWMBA 26, BA 97 (political economy), said that serving as a vice president on the HaasAbilities board “is near and dear to my heart,” providing support to her as both an ally to her 9-year-old son, who is autistic, and an MBA student navigating her own disability.  

Alonzo-Diaz, who suffered a concussion several years ago, said she now processes information differently than before the accident, making studying and time management much more challenging than when she earned a separate master’s degree in her 20s. But as president and CEO of Physicians for a Healthy California, she said she’s encouraged by how open the younger generation is about discussing challenges with neurodivergence.

“I applaud their bravery in disclosing,” Alonzo-Diaz said. “I applaud that folks who are neurodivergent are embracing their identity and that they are actively looking to be part of organizations that embrace this and all parts of themselves.”

woman wearing a green jacket
Lupe Alonzo-Diaz

Brzezinski said her interest in allyship is rooted in watching her mother struggle with psoriatic arthritis, a chronic inflammatory condition that causes pain in joints, tendons, and ligaments. 

While at Haas, she is working at two healthcare startups and is particularly interested in caring for seniors, an often socially invisible population, with many suffering from chronic conditions. “This was an opportunity to improve my immediate environment with my friend, Barbara,” she said. 

Last spring, the club hosted a story share, which left some students in tears. “That was honestly the best and most impactful event that I went to at Haas last year,” Brzezinski said. 

Gearing up for the new school year, the club is planning to host a second story share, along with workshops that teach students how to advocate in the workplace and how to be supportive managers for people with disabilities. 

“Managers shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Rion said. “That’s why we are trying to get the future leaders at Haas educated on that before they leave.”

“The world needs more leaders like you,” 2024 Berkeley Haas EMBA grads told

two women in cap and gown hugging
A joyful EMBA class graduated June 1. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small

During a joyful commencement ceremony, 72 students in the newly minted class of Berkeley Haas Executive MBAs were urged to continue to draw on the great people in their circles and pursue their true life passions.

Dean Ann Harrison welcomed students, their families, and friends to 2024 commencement on June 1 at Hertz Hall.

“You have conquered one of the world’s top EMBA programs,” she said. “You did it! In your student lives, your work lives, and your personal lives, you have learned and led with authenticity, collaboration, and inclusiveness.”

Harrison noted more than half of the class came to Haas having already earned an advanced degree, eight are U.S. service members, and more than half are parents, altogether with 79 children. “Having juggled spreadsheets and sleep training, you deserve your own category of MBA: master of balancing acts,” Harrison said.

man carrying child on commencement stage
More than half of the EMBA class are parents. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small

She added that Haas will now always be a part of students’ journeys.

“Your classmates, your professors, and, of course, your alumni network. …They will be some of your biggest champions throughout your professional life,” she said.

Student Speaker Lee Helms, director of Innovation Programs at the the San Francisco Opera, told the class that when he first thought about what an MBA experience would be like, imposter syndrome set in.

“Imposter syndrome, in fact, is not uncommon,” he said. “Many of us have talked about it. But what I learned at Haas is the things about me that I thought made me an imposter are the very same things that give me strength as a leader.”

Commencement Speaker Richard Wilson, EMBA 15, senior vice president at Astellas Pharma, noted that an MBA, at its core, is a leadership credential.  “We are in a moment where the world needs more leaders like you who can lead with empathy, clarity, and tolerance, with a focus on others over self and the ability to never take oneself too seriously,” he said. “If you do this right, your job becomes to not just become a singular leader, but to create other leaders in turn and get out of their way.”

five people wearing regalia in front of the Campanile
Dean Ann Harrison (middle) before EMBA commencement. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Elizabeth Stanners, executive director of the EMBA Program, announced the Earl F. Cheit Award winners and student awards, including:

  • Steven Huff, the faculty Cheit Award winner. Huff has taught graduate courses on marketing strategy, digital marketing, and creativity and problem-solving for more than 14 years across four universities, comprising more than 50 courses and reaching more than 2,000 students.
  • Lokesh Mandava, the graduate student instructor Cheit Award winner.

Afsheen Iftikhar was the EMBA 2024 valedictorian, having earned the highest GPA during the program.

Defining Leadership Principles award winners included:

  • Michelle KofflerQuestion the Status Quo Award.
  • Dennis Worden, Confidence Without Attitude Award.
  • Peter Fung, Students Always Award.
  • Eric Koo, Beyond Yourself Award.
  • Audrey McGrath and Dennis Worden, Berkeley Leader Award, given to students who represent all four of the DLPs.

Before handing out degrees, Stanners acknowledged the many people “supported our EMBAs throughout this extraordinary and transformative journey.”

“In recognition of this support, every student will be presented with two yellow roses, symbolizing gratitude, to offer those that have aided them along the way,” she said. “These roses, given to students, will be shared with those individuals who supported them, symbolizing the shared journey and gratitude for their unwavering support. that they will give to those that helped support them.”

2024 MBA grads told to never stop questioning the status quo

group of graduates in caps and gowns, one taking a selfie
The Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA classes of 2024 graduated May 17 at the Greek Theatre. All photos: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Under sunny skies, the class of 2024 Berkeley Haas Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA students were urged to never stop learning, to consider the strength of their character throughout their careers, and to stay connected long after they leave Haas.

Dean Ann Harrison welcomed the crowd of 423 graduating MBA students, along with their families and friends, to the Greek Theatre. She urged students to help each other after they graduate, give back, and draw on their resilience and determination.

“You are not just walking away with an MBA,” she told the graduates. “You are walking away with the business version of a superhero cape—power and influence. Not the kind of power that lets you leap tall buildings in a single bound. No, this is a real-world superpower: the power to change the world—one insightful conversation, one strategic hire, and one ethical decision at a time.” 

graduate walking the stage with his diploma in cap and gown
Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small

Harrison introduced Monica Stevens, the 2024 commencement speaker, describing her as “a person of uncommon distinction and a great citizen of Haas.” Stevens urged graduates to dive into difficult conversations, collect “curiosity partners”—people who challenge you and open you up to new ideas—and be open to unlearning the things that we’ve learned in life.

“Please, repeat after me,” Stevens, who is an executive search consultant with Spencer Stuart and recipient of the Raymond Miles Service Award in 2017 for her work in supporting and improving diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at Haas, said. “‘Uncomfortable conversations are not my enemy. They are my secret weapon.’ I hope you take that to heart because, in today’s world, I know it is hard to have uncomfortable conversations about race, politics, gender, religion, identity, or what is the best business school in the world. It is a must-have skill, and guess what? You have that skill.”

woman standing at the podium on stage at commencement
Commencement Speaker Monica Stevens urged students to dive into difficult conversations. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small

EWMBA student speaker Katherine Zepeda Arreola, a double Bear who immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 7 years old, called the class of 2024 “the best class Haas has ever seen.” Zepeda Arreola, who is heading to work at Apple after graduation, gave a shout out to each of the EWMBA cohorts, including her own—the blue cohort. “Thank you for being an incredible group of people,” she said, before switching to Spanish to thank everyone who supported them during the program. 

Zepeda Arreola emphasized the importance of continuing to build character throughout their careers by showing up on time, doing what you commit to doing, and speaking up when it’s hard. “Not only is our MBA a great accolade; there’s something else that will speak volumes wherever we go: our character…it is what people will remember.”

FTMBA student speaker Xavier Jefferson, a first-generation student who came to Haas to pivot from working as a financial advisor to an investor, told the class to never stop investing in friendships. 

“We’ve laid the foundation for a long-term investment,” he said. “But we must recognize that not every investment will turn out like Nvidia. Some might even crash and burn like FTX. But that doesn’t mean you stop investing, especially after we ascend to those offices with pristine downtown views. Don’t hesitate to text that person you thought about on your morning commute, to press accept on that random FaceTime, to make time when you are in town. I might be cooking.” 

Jefferson’s speech received a standing ovation before all of the students walked the stage, tossed their caps, and headed to the courtyard for a reception. 

Diarra White, MBA 24, who is joining McKinsey after graduation, said the day was bittersweet, but she’s ready for the next chapter. When asked for a phrase to describe her Haas experience, White said, “full of love.”

two women grads in cap and gown smiling
Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

EWMBA commencement award winners:

  • Academic Achievement Award: Rajit Johri
  • Question the Status Quo: Joselyn Baety
  • Confidence Without Attitude: Emeka Ugwu
  • Students Always: Anmol Aggarwal
  • Beyond Yourself: Marissa Maliwanag
  • Berkeley Leader Award, given to the student who embodies all four of Haas’ Defining Leadership Principles: Khoa Dao 
  • Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching (evening program): Park Sinchaisri, who teaches in the Operations and Information Technology Management group.
  • Cheit Award (weekend program): Flavio Feferman, who teaches the Seminar in International Business: Brazil.
  • Cheit Award, Graduate Student Instructor (GSI): Patrick Richard Drown

FTMBA commencement award winners:

  • The Outstanding Academic Achievement Award went to Albert Deng, who will be joining AWS at Amazon after graduating.
  • Question the Status Quo: Emani Holyfield and Lizzie Hoerauf
  • Confidence Without Attitude: Kelsie Smithson
  • Students Always: Whitner Chase
  • Beyond Yourself: Caroline Patricia Jimenez 
  • Berkeley Leader Award for embodying all four Defining Leadership Principles: Anupama Tej

Berkeley Haas 2024 undergraduate class urged to invest in relationships, ‘stay connected to each other’

two men in graduation cap and gowns shaking hands
(L-R) Graduates Yassen Tarig Abdelfatah and Jacob Williams. Photo: Katrina Koski

Seek mentors of all ages, engage with discomfort, and invest in relationships were parting words delivered during the Berkeley Haas Undergraduate Program spring 2024 commencement ceremony.

“Become a master relationship builder,” said Commencement Speaker Jasvinder (Jas) Khaira, BS 04, a senior managing director and founding partner of the Tactical Opportunities Group at Blackstone. “Seek out mentors early in your career, and contribute to the relationships by adding value to them. Be a mentor to others, no matter your age or title. Those relationships will give you context when you hit the inevitable lows in life, and they will remind you of purpose when you are hitting your highs.”

Courtney Chandler, senior assistant dean and chief strategy & operating officer at Haas, welcomed about 500 graduating students in the class of 2024, along with family and friends who gathered at the Greek Theatre.

(Watch commencement video below)

Erika Walker, senior assistant dean for instruction, congratulated students for completing their studies at the No. 2 undergraduate business school in the United States. Forty-three percent of the 2024 graduates are women, 47% earned a dual degree, and 22% are the first in their families to go to college, she noted. 

“We are so proud of you, as are your parents, mentors, and loved ones who supported you along the way,” she said, calling out all of the family members who flew from around the world to attend commencement. “Let’s give them a round of applause.” 

Walker added that no matter where life takes you, a Berkeley Haas degree will open doors.

“Stay connected to each other, help each other succeed,” Walker said. “You are now part of a global network of more than 43,000 and more than half a million Berkeley alumni.” 

three women wearing graduation gowns and caps
2024 graduates walking toward the stage to receive diplomas at the Greek. Photo: Kim Girard

Khaira shared advice, gleaned from his career and personal life, including thoughts on the toll that 9/11 took on his perception of safety as an Indian man “wearing a turban and a beard.” Calling his father after the Twin Towers fell, Khaira said he told him he wanted to run away. His father asked him where he would go.

“I told him, ‘I don’t know. Maybe India?’ And the next moment was a pivotal part of my life that I won’t forget. He responded, ‘There is nowhere to go. Even India, of course, has its own religious discrimination.’”

That’s when Khaira said he realized “this wasn’t going to be an easy fix. There was nowhere to run.”

“As you graduate from Haas and start your career people will disagree with you, you will feel disrespected, you will deal with conflict,” he said. “There is no gain in running away from it. There is no value in responding with rage or ignoring it. Coming to my own terms with discomfort has been one of the most important life skills I’ve had to wrestle with. How do I gain perspective by using empathy? Does this person really want to hurt me, or are they insecure? Can I successfully move forward knowing I control nothing but can still influence everything?”

three people at commencement, one wearing a cap
Left-right: Katrina Koski, director of inclusion & belonging at Haas, Saikat Chaudhuri, faculty director of the M.E.T. Program, and Emma Daftary, assistant dean of undergraduate programs. Photo: Katrina Koski

Emma Daftary, assistant dean of the Berkeley Haas Undergraduate Programs, presented awards to students and faculty, including:

  • Kevin Liao, Departmental Citation, awarded to the student with the most outstanding academic achievement in the field of business. A graduate of the Global Management Program (GMP), Liao is heading to J.P. Morgan.
  • Question the Status Quo, Chen Dai: Dai is an entrepreneur, engineer, and the first international student from China to graduate from the M.E.T. program at Berkeley Haas.
  • Confidence without Attitude, Shivum Berry: Berry built a yo-yo company at age 14 and went on to create a course at Berkeley on building an e-commerce business.
  • Students Always, Sakura Kappel: A transfer and reentry student raised by a single mother in the Philippines, Kappel “exemplifies a student who likes to question established norms and explore diverse perspectives, even if it may ruffle feathers.”
  • Beyond Yourself, Norma Garcia Galvan: A first-generation student, Galvan values community building, mentorship, and uplifting marginalized communities, which stems from her upbringing in an immigrant Mexican household.
  • Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching for the Undergraduate Program: Haas Lecturer Mohammed Nadeem, who teaches marketing.
  • Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor: Kunal Cholera (his second win as a GSI).

Celebrating her 22nd birthday, undergraduate student speaker Julianna De Paula shared the anxiety she felt before leaving her family in Brazil to study at Berkeley. “As soon as I stepped foot on this campus, all of the anxiety went away. After meeting my roommates, classmates, and professors, I finally realized that I’d found a new home very far from my own,” she said.

De Paula, who will join L’Oreal as a marketing management trainee after commencement, said it’s the sense of community and belonging at Haas that she will miss most, including “the friendships forged over group projects, the mentorships of our professors, and the shared triumphs and challenges that have united us as a class.” 

Summer Hua, the Haas Business Student Association (HBSA) president for the 2023-24 school year, and a first-generation international student, thanked her professors and her HBSA team, the “unsung heroes advocating for student voices” and “friends who have turned into family.” 

four women, two wearing commencement cap and gowns
Graduates gathered in the courtyard after the commencement ceremony. Photo: Kim Girard

After students tossed caps, they headed to a post-commencement reception in the courtyard as the sun broke through the morning fog. Asked to describe her time at Haas in one word, graduate Rachel Sanchez said “friends.”


EWMBA students explore business in South Africa

Group of students in South Africa
EWMBA students participating in the Seminar in International Business (SIB) in South Africa, an annual Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA Program course.  

One day last March, I gathered with my fellow EWMBA students inside of a 20-story building overlooking Johannesberg to learn about the world’s seventh largest coal mining company.

Our group also toured Nelson Mandela’s red-brick “matchbox” in the Soweto heat and spent time absorbing city politics, noshing on the local cuisine and markets, and visiting small businesses—all part of the Seminar in International Business (SIB) in South Africa, an annual Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA Program course.  

SIB South Africa builds upon the relationships of professors Mark Rittenburg and Ingrid Gavshon, who have deep connections to South Africa through decades of work around coaching, communication, and media in the country, and Lecturer Janine Lee, EWMBA 14, who previously attended the trip as a student, the SIB faculty team built a curriculum to push students to become more global-aware leaders and communicators.

While labeled as a business class, business was one many windows we were able to peer into while visiting South Africa. 

Part of our class pre-assignment focused on South Africa’s history and politics. We discussed Nelson Mandela’s rise, the years of apartheid, the country’s democratic transition, and its current economy. Learning about its history reminded me that apartheid was not a relic of a forgotten past but indelible in the townships we drove past and part of what drives South Africa’s entrepreneurs toward change. 

Through the network of our professors, we had a unique week, highlighted by the hospitality of their friends and professional colleagues in intimate settings that helped us better understand companies. We visited ABSA, a banking conglomerate based in Johannesburg, and SASOL, one of Africa’s major energy companies, where we had a chance to speak to some of the senior leaders. 

Outside of traditional corporations, we also visited multiple non-profits in South Africa, including iHub, Harambee, and Rise Above Development, learning about the aspirations of South African youth. A highlight was a chance to collaborate on a crisis management role-play exercise with the students at iHub, giving them a glimpse of how things could work in their future careers. Between rounds of Nando’s chicken, a South African classic, we continued many conversations as part of an informal meet and greet, discussing careers, skill development, and passions. It was a lesson in hope, shared humanity, and, once again, perspectives you often won’t find in a standard business school class. 

a group of students sitting in a circle working on a project.
MBA students working on a project in South Africa. Photo: Ingrid Gavshon

Our most unique visit was with the deputy mayor of Cape Town, Alderman Eddie Andrews. A city the size of Boston that prides itself as one of the most beautiful places in the world, we got an inner glimpse into the workings of Cape Town. A former rugby player turned politician, Andrews was kind, patient, and enthusiastically answered more than an hour of questions, touching on everything from structure, sustainability, funding, national politics, and more. His mission to set an example of good governance for South Africa inspired us.

Layering on the many ways we interacted with different sectors of the South African economy, the class also allowed us to experience South Africa as tourists, from the grasslands of Kruger National Park to the iconic mountains of Coastal Cape Town. We took solemn tours of Mandela’s prison on Robben Island and the Apartheid Museum, where we spoke to Mandela’s former jailer. They all contributed to our growing connection and understanding of the country.

It’s hard to talk about SIB without mentioning the people. As with any other Haas class, having diverse experiences added dimension. As EWMBA students, we all come from different backgrounds with different motivations for the trip. Our industries span from technology, healthcare, real estate, and education to jobs in sustainability, sales, and clinical research. This spectrum was foundational to our visits, yielding new questions at every site that drew upon students’ unique curiosities.

We went on excursions and dined together, shared jokes while passing snacks on our bus, and spent time reflecting on the week’s fun, stimulating, and complex experiences. Our celebration dinner included emotional toasts, superlatives, and Polaroid memories. As part of the course, our faculty team prompted us to write a letter about our dreams and aspirations for the trip, which encouraged shared vulnerability that pushed many of us to the edge of our comfort zones.

Toward the end of our trip, many of us agreed that SIB had shifted from a class and transcended into something more abstract—an experience, a journey, an academic version of catharsis. 

Reflecting upon the best parts of SIB, I was reminded of one of the Berkeley Haas core Defining Leadership Principles: Beyond Yourself. In South Africa, we were forced to challenge our privilege consistently. There was nuance in everything there, from starting and investing in a company to advising young people who come from very different upbringings. In all of this, we saw ways to better ourselves, better our perspectives, and grow an inch closer to the ethos of leadership we saw as a symbol of Haas.

For many of us, it was our first time visiting South Africa. Thanks to this experience with Haas, it may not be our last.

UC LAUNCH Demo Day founders pitch innovative startups

large group of students, some holding large checks at a competition.
The 2024 LAUNCH Demo Day participants. Photo: Jim Block

Startup founders at UC LAUNCH Demo Day last week pitched ideas ranging from improving package delivery to crafting better athletic supplements to expediting the building permit process. 

Each year, 20 startups from across the UC system are are chosen from more than 100 applicants. The chosen startups founders are paired with entrepreneurs and mentors, and led through an intense three-month Lean Startup-focused curriculum. 

The program finishes with Demo Day, when teams pitch to judges for cash prizes in front of an audience. This years Demo Day judges included Noah Doyle, managing director of Javelin Venture Partners, Hina Dixit, a partner with M12, Kira Noodleman, a partner at Bee Partners, and David Bloom, a principal at the House Fund.

The top three teams that pitched on Demo Day:

First place: Doorstep AI:  The startup, cofounded by Rishabh Goel, BS/BA 22, (a graduate of the concurrent Robinson Life Science, Business, and Entrepreneurship program/business program), is working to simplify the last 500 feet of package delivery/pickup—particularly deliveries to apartments and multiple tenant dwellings. Doorstep AI,  which offers a visual guidance system to aid in package drop-offs, is kicking off a pilot in New York City.

man standing on stage holding a microphone
Rishabh Goel, BS/BA 22, pitches startup Photo: Jim Block

Second place: OptiGenix: The startup offers biologically tailored supplements for athletes; the two founders—Jai Williams, BS 23, a high jumper, and Gabe Abbes, BS 24, a distance runner—discovered that they were taking the same supplements, though their sports demanded different kinds of strength: Williams needed more power, while Abbes required prolonged energy.  Through genetic and quarterly blood testing, the startup aims to personalize supplement packages to help athletes meet their goals. 

two students holding microphones on stage
Jai Williams, BS 23, a high jumper, and Gabe Abbes, BS 24, a distance runner, presenting at LAUNCH. Photo: Jim Block

Third place: Citmit (UC San Diego & UC Berkeley founders) Citmit is working to expedite the building permitting process by up to six months, using AI tools to evaluate/accelerate documentation checks. The San Diego based startup is initially focused on accessory dwelling units (ADUs) such as mother-in-law units and cottages, as those are the most in-demand/problematic. Driven by its AI component, Citmit operates as a user-friendly chat box.

Dean’s Speaker Series: PG&E CEO Patti Poppe on ‘her hardest job yet’

three women on a panel with large screen behind them
(left to right) Dean Ann Harrison with Madhu Gupta and Paolo Gutierrez, both MBA 24, and Patti Poppe, CEO of PG&E. Photo: Katelyn Tucker

Patti Poppe, current CEO of PG&E and the first female chief executive to have moved from one Fortune 500 company to another, shared her extensive career journey at a recent Dean’s Speaker Series talk. 

Long before she was leading California’s largest energy corporation to reduce its wildfire risk, Poppe got her start in engineering and production planning at General Motors. After 15 years of traveling around the world to learn various manufacturing techniques, she made the transition to energy by taking a job at DTE Energy in Michigan. From there, she went on to work in operations at CMS Energy, where she became the company’s first female CEO in 2016. 

(Watch the DSS interview with Patti Poppe)

Poppe shared that, for a large portion of her career, she never imagined being a CEO. Having taken on challenging roles and working hands-on in the energy field as a front line supervisor, she was originally set on being a plant manager. In fact, it wasn’t until her own supervisor told her that she needed to aim “bigger” that she considered pursuing a career as an executive. 

“I often say there’s two kinds of careers. There’s one that’s like a destination in mind, and there’s one that’s full of interesting assignments,” Poppe said. “Imagine a soccer field, and you have the goals on one end. You’re here at this goal, and you want to get to that goal. If you’re really clear about what that goal is, and if it’s CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the shortest path is a straight line. But it rules out a lot of interesting assignments because, as I was coming up the ranks, I needed to do very important things to prepare me to compete to be the CEO.” 

She noted that this direct experience in the industry has been crucial for her to not only be able to lead successfully but gain credibility and trust among teams. But even with all of her industry and leadership experience, Poppe described PG&E as her hardest job yet.

Taking over as CEO amid PG&E’s 2021 crisis following the Dixie Fire, Poppe was faced with the challenge of rebuilding employee and customer trust in the face of negative press and feedback. By employing her own philosophy of “leading with love,” she emphasized community and invested in the workers who had stayed with the company through its darkest times. 

“The team had been under a tremendous stress…and needed healing, so I knew love was an essential ingredient,” Poppe said. “A utility is a uniquely human kind of company. People often say we’re an engineering company or an energy company. I say we’re a people company, we are people serving people.”

With love as the “essential ingredient,” Poppe adapted a tool she learned while working in the automotive industry: lean manufacturing. She has since made this methodology—which brings visibility to company problems and helps individuals take ownership of their work—to her playbook to improve PG&E’s safety and efficiency. In the face of climate change, she noted that the company’s current goals are to invest in infrastructure that will be able to withstand future conditions, in addition to lowering energy costs for customers. 

Poppe was interviewed by MBA students Paolo Gutierrez and Madhu Gupta, both MBA 24.

Read the full transcript: 

– [Dean Ann Harrison] Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Ann Harrison. I’m the dean at the Haas School of Business. Welcome to this afternoon’s Dean’s Speaker Series. We are so fortunate today to have Patti Poppe join us. She is one of 52 women Fortune 500 CEOs. This is just so incredibly exciting. Patti began her career by using her engineering degree in production planning and engineering roles at General Motors. As she rose through the ranks at General Motors, she adopted her philosophy of lean management influenced by her time on the company’s global task team, where she traveled around the world to learn lean manufacturing techniques. She started working in energy in 2005, starting at DTE Energy in Michigan, and then she became the first female CEO of CMS Energy Corporation, which supplies electricity and gas to nearly 70% of Michigan’s residents. By the way, I had this incredible opportunity to hear her speak yesterday at a rival school called, I think it’s called Stanford. Yeah. And she told us that she feels much more comfortable in a hard hat than she does in a business suit, which is hard to believe. But she was really amazing talking about being out there in the field. So Michigan, 70% of the residents. As I was saying, through all these roles, Patti developed a track record of supporting renewable energy development and implementing a strong safety culture. It should come as no surprise that, after all this foresight and determination, that led to her appointment as CEO of PG&E—after PG&E had had all those incredible crises in 2021, she was brought in. Incredible story. Patti’s current company goals are to strengthen trust in PG&E by improving safety and embracing technology to put the company on a course toward cleaner energy. I was delighted to learn yesterday that Patti has her very own defining leadership principle, leading with love, and I’m sure she’ll talk about that today. Thank you so much, Patti, for taking the time out of your incredibly busy schedule to come and speak with our students today. Some quick housekeeping before we start: You should all have a note card on your seat. If you have a question now or anytime during the event, please write the question on the card. Please be sure to include your name and the program you’re in, and my colleagues will collect them for the Q&A portion of the fireside chat. So I’m now going to turn over today’s Q&A to Paolo Gutierrez and Madhu Gupta, and they will moderate today’s discussion. Thank you so much.

– [Interviewer] Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for being here, and thank you Patti for joining us today. We were just talking to Patti in the back, and she is so much fun. So we’re going to have a great, great hour with her. We want to start the conversation today talking a little bit about your journey, which Dean Ann Harrison just talked about. So you had a fun and fulfilling career in the automotive industry when you were working for GM, and then you decided to go into the energy industry. What prompted you to make that change, and how did you align that with your passion and your interests?

– [Patti Poppe] It’s a great question. I wish I had this really sophisticated answer to give to you, but I would say, and my husband by the way, and my mother-in-law is here. The original Pat Poppe is here. I have the privilege of having the same name as my mother-in-law and my husband, Eric. And just one other introduction, Laurae Campbell is here, who is a Cal grad, so give it up for Cal in my office every day. But my husband and I both worked for GM, and he still does, actually. But at that time, we had been moving around a lot, and we were about to move to Korea, and I had a friend of mine who had left GM and went to DTE Energy, and he just asked me if I would think about DTE, and I didn’t even know what they did. I was like, “What do they do? No, I’m moving to Korea.” Next thing we know, I got a job offer from DTE, and it gave us an opportunity to… We were moving around a lot, and we had young children. We had two daughters who were in, I guess third grade, and we decided to take a decision for the family and moved back to Michigan and plant what we thought were permanent roots there. Life unfolds in different ways. We didn’t know, at the time, that that was going to be such a consequential decision in our lives, but it was truly made for family at the time. And then, it turned out to be a great professional move, and I can’t imagine not having made that decision back then.

– [Interviewer] So many of us here are graduating in about a month, which is really sad. And with that comes big career pivots. So were there moments in your transition where you were questioned, or maybe you were questioning yourself? And how did you navigate those situations and kind of building that credibility in winning over others’ trust?

– [Patti] So many times, so many times. But I do think that, and this is a really important thing as you embark on your careers and continue your careers to really be able to find it in yourself to believe in yourself. And I remember this moment, my first day in an assembly plant. These are big factories. And here I was, this girl with a ponytail and my blue jeans. And walking down the aisle, I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. And these guys pulled up in this golf cart and they said to me, “What are you doing here?” And I was like, now just freeze-frame for a moment. Like, in my mind I’m thinking, “I have no idea. Like how do I get to column number B80?” I had no idea what I was doing, but if I had said that, I mean, I would’ve lost all respect from these people. So instead, out of nowhere, I blame it on my high school math teacher. I feel like she infused me with confidence. And so, I just look at these guys, and I said, “I got a job to do. Don’t you have a job to do? Don’t you think we should get back to work?” And these guys go, “Oh, you want a ride?” I go, “Yes, I do. Can you please take me to B80?” And I just think about, like, don’t count yourself out. You walk in the room, every person in that room is wondering what they’re doing there. I can assure you, all of us have these questions about what’s happening. We don’t know as much as we pretend to do. And you just have to be honest with yourself, and it gives you permission, then, to actually admit when you don’t know and to ask for help and get support from people that you’re working with that do know more than you. No one’s going to expect you. They’re going to know you’re smart. I mean, you went to Cal, you went to Haas, they’re going to know you’re smart. But they’re going to expect you to want to learn more and learn from them. And so, one of the best ways to overcome not knowing is by being curious and learning from those that actually do know more than you do and let them teach you.

– [Interviewer] We were talking in the back how you’re one of two two-time female CEOs, which is amazing. But also, it means we have a lot of work to do. We’re curious to know, you went from a plant manager, you always loved working in the field, which is, it’s a tough place to be in. How did you kind of know that you were going to be in that CEO track, and then, that you wanted to be a CEO?

– [Patti] I was just thinking about this. There was a large part of my career I never would’ve imagined being a CEO. My singular focus was to be a plant manager. That was my dream. I had a great plant manager who I loved dearly, who made my life better because he was such a great leader, and I wanted to do the same for others. And so, all of a sudden, I was awfully close to that goal, and I was with one of our vice presidents, I remember, and he said, “Patti, what are your career goals?” And I said, “I want to be a plant manager.” And he said, “I have bad news for you.” I was like, “Oh, oh no, really?” He’s like, “You gotta think higher.” I was like, “Uh-oh, what do you mean?” I said, “I want to be a plant manager.” He’s like, “No, no, you’re too young. Like you’re going to be plant manager like in a year. You need a bigger goal.” And a blessing, at the time, I was in business school. And so, it gave me a time to reflect and imagine something beyond being a plant manager. And that was the first time I ever said out loud to anyone, like, “Maybe I’d like to be a CEO someday.” And I have to tell you, it’s really important at some juncture to get clear with yourself about what you do want from your career. Being a CEO is the most amazing job, but it comes with a lifestyle that you have to not think that you can skirt. I did really hard jobs to get prepared to do this very hard job. And so, being willing to make those choices, I often say there’s two kinds of careers. There’s one that’s like a destination in mind, and there’s one that’s full of interesting assignments. And I’ll just tell this real quick. When you have a destination in mind, it helps weed out choices. Somebody actually just said this today, and so, I’m going to use his story. Imagine a soccer field, and you have the goals on one end. You’re here at this goal, and you want to get to that goal. If you’re really clear about what that goal is, and if it’s CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the shortest path is a straight line. But it rules out a lot of interesting assignments because I needed to, as I was coming up the ranks, I needed to do very important things to prepare me to compete to be the CEO. Nobody ever promised me a CEO job, but to compete for that, and frankly, it happened sooner than we expected. The person I was succeeding got sick. And so, my HR person came to me and said, “You ready?” I was like, “Shouldn’t Dan do it?” He’s like, “No, you should do it, you do the job.” I wouldn’t say I knew I was ready, but I had prepared, and I had taken the tough assignments to get me prepared. But you can also have a very rewarding and fulfilling career doing interesting assignments. But it’s really important to know which you really want. And so, what I watch a lot of young people do, they make a mistake of choosing their own career paths and choosing these interesting assignments. And they may or not prepare you to compete for the job you really want. And if you all of a sudden find out you just spent the last 10 years doing stuff that isn’t getting you to where you want to go, you’ll be disappointed. So, doing interesting assignments, I had this friend Janet, who always had the most interesting jobs, but she got to this point in her career and she wanted to advance, and she didn’t have the requisite experiences, and she was disappointed. Now, if I might, my husband had no interest in being the big boss and managing a bunch of people. That was never his interest. He wanted to solve the toughest problems. And so, he always chose the roles that had the toughest problems, but that wasn’t necessarily going to lead him to be CEO of General Motors. He didn’t want that. And so, he was never disappointed with that choice. He was fulfilled by his choice of doing really interesting work all the time. I just don’t want you to make the mistake of thinking you’re on a destination path, but you’re actually setting yourself up for these kinds of interesting assignments. So my best advice on that is, study the people who have the job. If you have a destination in mind, first of all, be honest with yourself about that. Don’t apologize. Not everybody wants that job. If you are wired that you want that job, have that in mind. Then, study the people who have that job or similar jobs. and prepare like they did. Take the tough assignments, do those hard jobs that aren’t glamorous and aren’t going to get you on the cover of a magazine. They’re going to prepare you to compete for that top job that you’re really after.

– [Patti] Thank you. That’s really helpful advice for all of us graduating. I want to pivot a little bit to talking about PG&E. So you came to PG&E in 2021, and when you made that decision, you had the big task of fixing the company’s culture and operations. And in one of the interviews or speeches that I watched as I was preparing for this, you said that Larry Culp, the CEO of GE, called you the day after it was announced to say, you’re the only one with a harder job than me in America now. Which is—

– [Patti] That is a true story.

– [Interviewer] Very scary. Part of your strategy in tackling this challenge was bringing in the lean management methodologies and also your philosophy of leading with love. Why did you choose these two, and how did you get the stakeholders you coming in as a new CEO to believe in that and to take that culture and run with it?

– [Patti] Yeah, it’s such a great question. I remember thinking earlier in my career, I would look at these CEOs and wonder, “How do they know what to do?” And then I became one, I’m like, “Oh no, now I do actually need to know what to do.” But when I took the PG&E job, I did have the benefit of experience. And so, when I talk about preparing for these tough jobs, I had been the CEO of another utility. It happened to be a really wonderful utility that was performing very well but had had its own turnaround. And I had been present for it and actually led our customer trust transformation. We were lowest in customer satisfaction. And actually, in my time, we became No. 1, and I knew what that took, and I knew how to rebuild trust, and I had experienced really challenging turnarounds also at General Motors. And so, I actually knew what to do. And it’s a little uncharacteristic for me ’cause I consider myself a more participative leader. I like to engage the team in deciding the path. But we were in a crisis. We had just come out of bankruptcy. We literally had had four CEOs in the matter of a year. The team had been under a tremendous stress and catastrophe and needed healing. So I knew love was an essential ingredient. In business today, I think that’s too often we dehumanize it and turn work into a work-pay transactional relationship, and even companies as transactions, with our customers. A utility is a uniquely human kind of company. People often say we’re an engineering company or an energy company. I say we’re a people company, we are people serving people. The only difference between my utility and every other utility in America is the people who work there. We all have pipes and wires and customers. At PG&E, the only difference is the people who are there. And so, tapping into the human spirit of the people who work at PG&E and regaining their confidence in the face of a lot of negative press, a lot of negative feedback, people who had stayed at this company through our darkest days needed to believe in themselves and believe in what we were up to. So love was essential, but then let’s get some tools. Lean manufacturing is a wonderful system that I had deployed, I learned in automotive, but deployed in the utility for the 15 years or 20 years before I joined PG&E and had developed a playbook that worked to make problems visible, to bring out the best ideas, to help people own their work and their business. And we had a very important body of work to deploy. And that was our wildfire mitigation plan in 2021. We were still reeling from a series of significant fires and our bankruptcy, and an essential ingredient in the legal construct here in California is a wildfire mitigation plan. And so, I knew wildfire mitigation plan is the most important thing. And teaching lean, we can do those two things in the same way. So every time we went to the wildfire mitigation plan review, we were learning lean and doing the plan, doing the work, learning lean every time. In fact, I just had a meeting with my team today reminding us that every meeting we are in has two purposes: Number One, to teach our performance playbook; and Number Two, to do the work so that we can have a sustainable management system that teaches people at all parts of the company from the front to the back what it means to deliver excellence and improve our work every single day. And it’s working, I’m happy to report. We have reduced our wildfire risk by 94%. That is not a make-believe number. That is calculated by the risk exposure that we have. And the remaining 6% we’re improving every day and is backed up by our situational awareness, which includes, I have over 80 former firefighters who work for PG&E who help us mitigate our risk every day and respond when an ignition occurs. Cal Fire and the state of California have dramatically invested in their capabilities. We have 1,500 weather stations across our service area that’s from basically Oregon down to Santa Barbara and Bakersfield. Those weather stations have real-time data that communicates, we’ve divided the entire service area into 2-kilometer blocks. Real time, every minute of every day, we know the temperature, the wind speeds, the moisture levels. If there’s a tree in strike distance to the line, we know what color that tree is, we know how many feet it is from the line. We know the angle to the hill. We know the last time we inspected those. And we have a huge data engine that uses artificial intelligence to prevent the risk in every one of those 2-kilometer blocks. And we take operating measures and actions every single day, every hour of every day to make sure that an ignition, if it occurs, because electric equipment in fact does spark by design, we make sure that it’s not going to cause a catastrophic wildfire. That was delivered through our lean operating system.

– [Interviewer] That’s incredible.

– [Patti] Thank you from the PG&E plants in the audience.

– [Interviewer] So you are facing, day in and day out, the effects of climate change with wildfires, pressure on the grid. And as natural disasters continue to get worse, that’s putting pressure on your operations, which oftentimes means investing in better technology, better operations, safety management, and can lead to rise in prices. I think many of us here are going to be facing similar challenges as we grow in our careers and think about how do we make certain decisions. So how do you think about affordability in the utility sector while maintaining that commitment to investing in safety and sustainability? And how do you get the leaders in your company to follow your lead?

– [Patti] Well, first and foremost, it’s always about our customers, and we have to be willing to put our expertise to work, to make decisions on behalf of the people that we serve. And when we make a decision to make an investment, I’m going to make a pitch for the investor-owned utility model here for a minute. So if any of you have studied it or have questions about it, let me just tell you my perspective about this. The original formation of an investor-owned utility model was when we were building out this electric infrastructure for the first time because we were powering America and the world. And we needed to figure out how to get the most power to the most people at the lowest cost. And so, the investor-owned utility model emerged as a winning model because it spread the costs of the build out of that infrastructure over more people and more years by attracting capital from the capital markets and not expecting all customers to pay upfront for the build out of that infrastructure. And over time, as that investment and use of then, that product grew, the unit price declined. So in the original days we were building out infrastructure, and every year the unit price of electricity was going down. Well, now we’ve reached the stage that we have to replace that infrastructure for two reasons: its age, and two, our changing climate conditions. Our infrastructure was not designed to withstand the extreme drought, wind, floods, this is a worldwide problem. And so we have to, at this juncture in our nation, invest in that infrastructure, and then make it safe under future climate conditions, not today’s climate conditions, and all the while reducing carbon emissions so that we can thwart the speed and pace of climate change. Now, here’s the great news. A lot of people are worried about this. They think it’s just going to be too expensive. Well, one of the best things is the confluence of decarbonizing through electrification. While we are building out this new infrastructure, actually, we’ll grow load just like we did way back when growing load while we’re making these investments, thereby lowering the unit cost of energy as we go forward if we do it right. But annual expenses and maintenance, continuing to only do maintenance, it’s like owning a car. You can’t continue to Band-Aid the problem. There’s a point that you reach where it’s more expensive to continue trying to maintain the car than to invest in a new car payment to spread out the cost of that new car over time. It’s the same idea with our infrastructure of all kinds, bridges, roads, but particularly the electric grid. And the benefit the electric grid has is new demand. Electric vehicles, building electrification, decarbonizing our economy can in fact be done at a way that it lowers household spend on energy. Electricity is a more efficient fuel than gasoline, and we can then transition from natural gas to electrification. We’re going to be proving all this out here in California first. PG&E is at the heartbeat and the forefront of delivering this future and showing that it is possible. And thankfully, California is not going to get weak need about this. It’s going to be a major issue politically across the nation. And fortunately, California will stand our ground. And PG&E is essential to that clean energy transition, decarbonizing our economy at the lowest societal costs. And I could not be more excited to lead the team at PG&E to make that happen.

– [Interviewer] That’s incredibly helpful context, Patti. Thank you. Before we shift gears to talk about the future of energy, let’s discuss some of the challenges that PG&E is facing today. As we all know, decarbonization has been a major goal for PG&E. What is the biggest hurdle you see to achieving your goals, and how do you hope to combat these challenges?

– [Patti] That is a great question, too. I’d say there’s two big hurdles. One is our willingness to believe as a society that it’s possible. And that’s, again, why I’m excited about California. I think there’s a lot of people who want it to be true but don’t know the path. And we get to show the path, we get to show the world that it is in fact possible. And I had dinner just not too long ago with the Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, she and I go way back. It’s a very interesting twist of fate that she was governor of Michigan, and we passed really important energy legislation when she was there and I was at running a utility. And so, we go way back, but she and I were having this conversation that there’s a whole lot of people who talk about this subject, and there’s only a handful who are actually going to do something about it. PG&E gets to do something about it. You need us to do something about this. So my biggest concern is that people will back off, or get afraid, or it’ll become too politicized, and we won’t make the important investments in the infrastructure so that it’s possible. And then two, there’s going to be a lot of behavior change. We’re going to need everybody’s help to make this change. In fact, we’re mapping out our net-zero plans for the state and for when we get real and we’re like, “OK, what are we going to do to meet San Jose’s net-zero 2030 goal?” That’s a million people are going to have to have electric heat. How are we going to do that? That’s a big human behavior, actual challenge. We’re going to have to convince people that it’s in their best interest to switch fuels and to drive an electric car. And 2030, hello. Tik tok, that’s six years from now. So, all that to say, we have a lot of work to do, and so, do we—time is not on our side, but really I think when any great innovation happened and when we built this grid out in the first place, people had to have faith that building this infrastructure was going to be worth it. And I don’t know about you, but saving the planet feels like a pretty darn good reason to make a change. And so, we’re all in.

– [Interviewer] Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Now, like in any industry, utilities too needs to adapt their business model and their strategy to evolving customer preferences. And we are interested in how you are navigating such shifts. Specifically, what is your view on decentralized energy generation and microgrids, and what is the subsequent impact to your business model?

– [Patti] Yeah, well I think we have the benefit of the distributed energy resources that exist in our system, but we today are blind to them. And so, they are not optimized. Our energy system today is not optimized. We’ve got big bulk power and distribution equipment and transmission equipment that is designed for that big bulk model of delivering the highest volume at the lowest cost. It’s like the big Walmart of energy. The grid is just a big centralized system by design. Plugging in all the distributed resources has been done so far very much to the benefit of the individual at that premise. We now need to fully leverage the benefit of those distributed resources. And the only way to do that is by complementing them with storage, both bulk storage and localized storage. And if we can store that energy that’s produced, we have too much energy produced in the middle of the day today in California, it’s way more than we need. And so, adding more generation capacity at noon is a waste of money. We need to add storage resources. If we’re going to invest in something when we look at the system as a whole, invest in the storage resources so you can store that energy at noon and then start to spread out supply and demand and start managing demand for the first time ever. We didn’t have devices until now. The energy grid has been a demand taker just by definition. By definition, the grid that we’ve all lived with all our lives has been built for peak demand plus, say, 15%. We’re now at plus 22%. So peak plus 22. In California, it’s about five days a year that we come close to that peak. Every other day of the year, we have way more power, and the whole system is way bigger than it needs to be. We have the chance with increasing demand to more fully utilize those existing resources, actually optimize demand in the form of EVs. First dynamic load we’ve ever had. Air conditioning comes on when it’s hot, lights come on when it’s dark. There’s not a lot of choice to that. Refrigerators run all the time. Those are the three biggest users of electricity today. And then factories. Run when the factories run. We have the opportunity to charge cars at the right time and then discharge those cars on the peak. Today, on our roads in PG&E service area, we have 6,000 megawatts of capacity in the form of vehicles. That is three of my Diablo Canyon Power Plants of capacity driving around the roads today. If we could only turn that power around to the grid, they’re not designed for that today. But the newest EVs, the Ford Lightning, the Cadillac LYRIQ, some of the other Cadillac products, or the GM products coming out, are bidirectional. That’s going to be both a supply and a demand on the grid, but we’re going to have to optimize all those resources and optimize the grid. And I just think that’s going to take the most innovation that this industry has seen in our lifetimes.

– [Interviewer] Thank you for sharing your perspective on this topic. Now, not so long ago you mentioned that PG&E is in the people business, and I loved that. So just to talk a little bit more about that, I think one of the bigger responsibilities we have today in the transition to clean energy is to make sure we bring everyone along. Now, of course, lower-income communities may not have the same access to programs, incentives, or resources perpetuating maybe energy poverty and environmental injustice. How do you as a leader, and PG&E as an organization, empower vulnerable populations and make sure they’re not left behind in this transition?

– [Patti] This is one of the things that we spend a lot of time on. Another pitch for the investor-owned utility model, our obligation to serve, which is the law is actually a privilege. It’s a privilege to serve and assure that no one is left behind. If we had, whether it’s small local companies that don’t have the scale or profit maximizing companies that are purely motivated for maximizing profits without an obligation and a privilege to serve, you can imagine that people would be left behind. So when we advocate for the right kind of pricing for distributed energy and specifically rooftop solar, when we are advocating for the right price, this is why we are doing that. I think, a lot of times, we get painted with a brush that we’re anti-solar, we are anti-solar, we are anti-no-one-left-behind. We are anti-cost shifts. Today, there’s a $34 a month cost shift from people who don’t have solar to people who do. So people who don’t have solar, most likely apartment dwellers, people who can’t afford the upfront cost to invest in distributed solar. They are getting left behind, and we are fighting hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. And the CPUC made an important proposed decision in the last week to add a flat rate to the bill to more accurately distribute the costs, not new costs, but the existing costs to people equally so that anybody who uses the grid should pay for the maintenance of the grid and pay their full freight. We would’ve argued that might have been more, should have been applied, but it’s a good starting point to try and get the cost allocated properly so that no one is left behind.

– [Interviewer] Thank you. It’s really encouraging to hear PG&E’s efforts toward a more fair and just transition. Looking ahead, of course the world overall is changing at such a rapid pace, and for businesses to tackle climate change effectively, it needs to be a concerted effort that requires collaboration. However, one might argue that the energy ecosystem is not set up for collaboration, starting with the fact that we have such a fragmented power grid. So I’m curious, Patti, how do you see collaboration between public, private, and cross-sector entities evolving as we continue to put pressure on our grid?

– [Patti] It is one of the most important ingredients. You’re completely right about that. When I knew I was coming out to PG&E and started imagining my time at PG&E, I was so excited about the access to the innovation and technology that exists here and the privilege to serve the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. I mean, any utility in America would be proud and excited to serve the customers that we get to serve. And so, I started engaging in the innovation ecosystem here. And I got very resounding feedback. And it was this, “Patti, PG&E is killing us death by pilot.” They would say, “Wait, how many pilots do we have to do?” Like, it’s crazy. We’re a little company, we can’t afford to do all these projects to prove ourselves. We don’t have the funding to do that, so we took a completely fresh look at how innovation can plug into our system. And what we realized is that often people have a solution, and they’re hunting for the problem as opposed to having a problem and finding the right solution. So we came at it to say, my team looked at our 10-year strategy and our clean energy plan, and they came up with 70 problem statements that defined the gap from where we are today to where we want to be in 10 years that we can’t solve by ourselves. And we held an innovation summit last year, and we invited the world to come help us solve these very specific 70 problem statements in a variety of areas. Wildfire was one, but 24/7 decarbonized energy was another one, how to transition the gas system was another area, full utilization of EVs. And so, we put out all these problem statements. Three thousand people joined us that day, which I was so stunned and excited. We limited the in-person to 300, and that filled up in like a day. And Elon Musk spoke at our event, which people really felt like that was the big news that he makes news everywhere he goes, which was fine with me ’cause we wanted to make news that day. But the real news, what actually happened that day that was so important in addition to all of these innovators getting access to PG&E and being able to realize, “Here are the problems that need to be solved” and matching their technologies, their ideas to the problems that we had, we made an announcement with Schneider Electric and Microsoft that we were launching the first distributed energy resource management system on the cloud with these incredible technical partners and would be the first company in the world to be able to optimize all these distributed resources. That was actually the news that mattered that day. And since then, we had 300 submissions and 60 finalists, and we’re narrowing down to 50 to figure out how to partner with each of these technologies that are ready to scale. And we’re not going to invest in the companies, but we’re going to be their No. 1 customer, which every startup needs both. They need seed capital, but then, they need a great customer. And so, it’s a really great role for PG&E to play.

– [Interviewer] Awesome, thank you. And now, as our final question. Given the context in which we’re living in with the shift toward sustainable energy systems, the need for resilience in the face of climate change, and of course, the imperative to address equity along the process. I’m sure you see both innovation and setbacks on a daily basis. So with that, what keeps you up at night? What keeps you going, and what are you most excited about as you think about the future?

– [Patti] Well, there’s no doubt safety is what keeps me up at night, the safety of my workforce, and the safety of the communities that we serve. And so, we put a lot of effort around that. And I think about it all the time, and we have systems that have dramatically improved the safety. But of course, I think about it all the time. What was the second one?

– [Interviewer] What keeps you going?

– [Patti] Oh yeah, what keeps me going? Oh, the people of PG&E that I have the privilege of working with and the customers that we serve. I mean, I just love what we’re doing. We know that we are changing and changing that culture and leading with love has been such a galvanizing force for us. And it’s been just a real challenge, but a lot of fun. And then, I’m excited about being able to deliver on this clean energy transition for the world. I truly believe that we are at ground zero here in the Bay Area in California to show the world that it is possible. And there’s a lot of people who have been working at it for a long time, and maybe they’re getting tired, and there’s a lot of opposition that’s drumming up, and we just can’t lose our faith. And I am thrilled to be able to be at the place where we’re going to do something about the world’s existential challenge.

– [Interviewer] Thank you so much.

– [Ann] Thank you so much, Patti. Thank you so much also for being willing to take questions from the audience. So the first question that I have here is, “What sacrifices have you had to make in your personal life? Do you ever question or wonder if prioritizing your career is worth it?”

– [Patti] So I get this question often in a variety of forms. I’m not going to let my husband answer it, by the way, but I will give you my version of the answer. And we were talking about this in the green room a little bit. I subscribe to a Japanese philosophy called Ikigai, and if you haven’t seen it, study it, because I wish I had studied it in my early days. But yeah, I’ve made choices in my career that have been very demanding on my time. But the four elements of Ikigai is, first, you obviously want to do work that you can sustain your family. So you want to get paid for that work. I think a lot of people, and especially many of you at this juncture in your life and in your career, please don’t stop at the place that pays you the most. You will surely miss by just focusing on getting paid for what you do. You want to get paid for what you do, but it doesn’t matter whether it’s the most, what you want to combine it with are three other elements. So yes, get paid for what you do, but do something that you’re good at. Do something you love, and those two things might not be the same. You can often be really good at something, and maybe you don’t love it, but that will parlay into and open doors for you to do what you love, and then do something that the world needs. And so, for me, I can look at my career in all my years. I was always doing something that I got paid for but that I was good at, and I learned new things and discovered new things. But I had the privilege of loving being in an operating environment, seeing the daily heartbeat, seeing what we could deliver, just really doing something important and knowing at the end of the day that we did it. And then, especially now at this point in my career, to do what the world needs means that my minutes at work and my minutes at home have full value all the time. I’m fulfilled in all my minutes. And what a blessing that is. And I would wish that for each and every one of you that you find your path, and it’s not going to be anybody else’s definition of that path for you, only, and you have to study yourself. What do you love? What do you do in your discretionary time when no one has asked you to do it? What kind of articles are you clipping? Which podcasts are you drawn to? Pay attention to that, know that about yourself, know what you love, bias your career choices to that which you love and that what you can be good at. And then, please promise me you’ll find something that the world needs, and you’ll throw yourself at it. You’re too smart and too talented to not make a difference in this world. And so, I really have high hopes that you, too, can live the blessing of a career that I have had that has not felt like a sacrifice but has felt like a continual opportunity to grow and learn and make a difference.

– [Ann] Thank you so much for that. Absolutely wonderful advice. This question, you mentioned a career of interesting assignments. Can you speak to some of your more interesting or assignments that may not have seemed so at the time?

– [Patti] Oh, that’s really good. Yeah, I can think of one in particular that comes to mind. First line supervisor. It was interesting, that’s for sure. I tell people it was the second-hardest job I’ve ever had. The job I have is the hardest job I’ve ever had. But second-hardest job was first line supervisor. And I had a career choice. I had an opportunity for a promotion, and a company car, and daylight hours, and all these things, get out of my boots and get into a suit, and maybe that would be good. And I had a boss who pulled me aside and said, “Patti, wait, wait, wait. You haven’t been a first line supervisor yet, and if you want to be a plant manager on that soccer field, you’ll have gone around a key experience.” And he said, “And someday you’ll be standing in front of a room full of people that you are leading, and they will know you didn’t do it. And you might get the job somehow, but you won’t be good at it.” Plant manager. I was like, “Oh, dang it.” So I turned down the company car, and I took the second shift trim shop supervisor job. It really sucked. But I learned so much about people, and about leading, and the union tricked me and all these things. I learned so much. And so, yes, it was very interesting, and no, there were moments I did not love that darn job. But I look back now, and it was a key pivot point. And so, don’t take the easy route. Take the tough jobs where you’re going to learn the core business that you’re in. Understand that whatever business you are in there is a core business about it. Building cars at General Motors was core business. And now, in a utility, having operational experience and understanding what it’s like to lead people, I just stood yesterday in front of a group of first line supervisors who had just graduated from a yearlong development program, and I could swap stories with them. Do you think that gives me credibility as their CEO to be able to talk shop with these guys? Yes, it does. And when I say guys, it was men and women, gender neutral there. But I think that, sometimes, you take the tough job on the pathway to a destination because you have to learn the business, and you need to know how it works and why it works on the ground floor, so you can lead it well.

– [Ann] Thank you for that. How do you handle the daily stress, the wildfires, the CPUC, the unions, the shareholders, the employees, the budget?

– [Patti] There is joy in the journey. No, I do have coping mechanisms. One of the things, this did happen, I was probably six months into this role, and the big difference about this role versus all the roles I had had before was truly the life and death aspects of it. And how, in the early days when I had just arrived here, how uncontrolled it felt, and the risk of another catastrophic wildfire was real. And it was scary. And I was about six months in, and I just was trying to come to terms with the, as I called it, the death and destruction of all of it. This isn’t like a normal quarterly earnings update CEO job. And it occurred to me, it was more military, and we have a four-star admiral on our board. And so, I thought, “Why hadn’t I called Mark?” So, I called Admiral Ferguson, and I said, “Mark, what am I supposed to do with this, all this destruction and risk?” And he said this, he said, “Oh, Patti darn it, I should have given you this talk earlier. I give it to all my young commanders.” I’m like, “Good, I’m not young, but please give me the talk.” So he gave me the talk, and the talk went like this. Two key elements. Number one, the standard is not perfection. He said, “do you know it is safer today because you are there. And because we were implementing this lean operating system and creating visibility to the key wildfire mitigation elements, and we were making progress every day and we had brought order.” I knew I had brought order to what felt like disorder. I knew it was better. It didn’t have to be perfect, it just had to be continually improving. That was a big relief. And then, he said, “Every great mission in history,” and he had studied all great military missions, and he had studied them all, he said, “had one key thread. They had a leader who refused to give up. You cannot give up. You will have setbacks, things will go wrong, bad things will happen.” And there are things that have happened on my watch that I would definitely wish had not happened. “But the standard is not perfection. The standard is progress, and you have to be tenacious, as we say, we cannot give up.” And I don’t know what it was about that talk, but it took the weight of the world off my shoulders. And he also said, he said, “In that environment, when you know you’re making a difference, and you don’t give up, that’s when real leaders thrive.” I thought, “OK, this is me thriving. I am thriving.” And I had to remind myself that I was thriving. And some days are harder to thrive than others, but you just have to believe that you matter, and I have to believe that we can do it.

– [Ann] Wow. Thank you so much. That’s great advice. So this question, and I think you already answered it, so you feel free to skip to the next one if you’d like. “How do you prepare PG&E for the massive infrastructure investments in the future while still delivering satisfactory returns to shareholders?”

– [Patti] Oh, I don’t think I’ve answered this. Let me answer this one because I think this is a really commonly misunderstood feature of investor-owned utilities. Our customers deserve better service. And again, like I said, we get to spread the cost of that service out over time by attracting capital from the markets. But one of the things I didn’t mention about our investors, who are the investors? Our investors, and investors in a utility, are not like high-rolling, fat cat profit-driving, maximum return investors. These are pension funds, teachers, firefighters, police. They turn over, they’re nest egg to a fidelity, or a J.P. Morgan, or whomever, American Funds, and they choose us to invest in, and then we shepherd their dollars by investing in this infrastructure and promising a reasonable return, not a maximum return. it’s a regulated return. We have oversight. People decide what is that return here California, we have formulas that determine what that return is. So there’s no shenanigans associated with it. It’s formulaic, and it’s designed on a reasonable return for the risk of investing in this infrastructure and doing the work. And it’s on a very actual small portion of the elements of a customer’s bill. Only about 10% of the bill is actually our profits. And so, that return to that investment community, those moms and pops, I am unapologetic about keeping our promise to those investors. They’ve entrusted to us their life savings. Of course, we’re going to provide a return that we promised, and at the same time, improve the service to our customers by making the right infrastructure investment choices and reducing the cost of doing that, improving our performance with our lean operating system and our performance management playbook. We reduced costs out of our business in a dramatic way. We’re starting to set ourselves apart from other utilities, and our ability to extract cost out of the system and accelerate our investment and make the system safer, faster. And so, there, for me, there’s no land where there’s a conflict between delivering for customers and delivering for investors or shareholders. The system is designed to deliver for both. It’s actually a unique place in the world where you can have win-win. And I find it very fascinating, there’s a lot of people who are trying to make this into a win-lose discussion. It’s not win-lose. I don’t have to pick one or the other. I can pick both every single day and know that we’re doing right by both.

– [Ann] Thank you so much for that. This is the last question. “Do you find that you have leveraged your non-PG&E and field experience as the CEO of PG&E and how have you done that?”

– [Patti] I think so because I love the work that we do, and I love being with our crews who do that work. And so, I love going out to our power plants, and our hydro facilities, our distribution teams, our gas teams, our electric teams. It’s my happy days when I get to go out and be with the team in the field. And I think it does two things. It gives me credibility with our team, so they can, I would say, for the first time in a while, trust the leadership of the company and be willing to adopt a change in their culture because they can trust their leader again. And so, because I think, in fact, my board chair when I took this, or when he was talking to me about joining the company, and I asked him, “Is this like a financial turnaround? The company just went bankrupt, is this like going to be a lot of bankers and spreadsheet turnaround, or is this like a fundamental culture and safety turnaround? Because if it’s a finance turnaround, I’m actually not interested. If it’s an operational turnaround, and if we get to change the way we do our work, and if we need to, and the case is that we need to build a safety culture, then I’m in.” And he assured me it was an operational and cultural turnaround, and he was right. The money follows. When we perform, the money follows. But I just think that the idea that I can do this kind of work, and my team knows that I love the work that we do for the sake of the work and serving our neighbors, our friends, and our families, I think I get a lot of street cred with the team because of my true demonstrated experience and passion for what they do.

– [Ann] Thank you so much for that. So there are going to be refreshments at the back, but first, I just want to thank you so much for coming here to Berkeley Haas.

– [Patti] Thank you for having me at Berkeley Haas.

– [Ann] Yeah, we’re just so impressed.

– [Speaker] Working? Can you hear me? Before you guys go for the refreshments, Patti did want to take a selfie.

– [Patti] Thank you. Thank you.

– [Speaker] Everybody in the back, kind of like…

– [Patti] Come on. Come to the middle. Come to the middle. We’re going to do an aussie. Come to the middle. Get right in here. You stand in front of me. Stand in front of me. I didn’t want you to fall off the stage. OK. Everybody ready? Say Berkeley Haas.

– [All] Berkeley Haas.

– [Patti] Thank you so much. Go there. That’s right.

New program gives undergrads space to develop resilience


class of students with their professor
Tarun Galagali, CEO of startup Mandala, (far right) with his class of undergraduate students in the new Foundations of Resilient Leadership Program.

Julianna De Paula, BS 24, approaches life a little differently since she finished the new undergraduate Foundations of Resilient Leadership program at Berkeley Haas.

First, she pauses to think before having difficult conversations. She also takes time out to breathe—truly pay attention to the inhale and exhale—throughout  the school day. She believes that both changes will help her as she gets ready to move to New York City to launch a career at L’Oreal this fall.

“There’s a lot going on with the war in Gaza and the protests and a lot of my friends are impacted by what’s going on in Palestine,” said De Paula, one of 30 students, largely Haas undergraduates, enrolled in the class. Being a more active listener helps guide her navigate the stress, she said. 

These skills will also make her a more resilient leader, which is the heart of the new six-week certificate program founded by Tarun Galagali, CEO of startup Mandala. The program, also used to train employees at corporations like Microsoft, covers topics that range from having difficult conversations to navigating imposter syndrome to listening mindfully to understanding the meaning of values-based leadership.

Woman standing next to a man on a college campus
Emma Daftary, assistant dean of the Haas Undergraduate Programs, with Tarun Galagali, CEO of startup Mandala.

Galagali worked with Emma Daftary, assistant dean of the undergraduate programs, Lauren Simon, associate director of Student Life & Leadership Development for the undergraduate program, and Katrina Koski, director of inclusion and belonging at Haas, to launch the class at Haas this past spring. (Mandala is an ancient Sanskrit word that means circle—referring to community and connection.) 

Developing “skills to navigate”

The program provides students an open space to discuss their struggles and challenges. In doing so, it normalizes feelings and experiences that can otherwise leave students feeling isolated and alone, Daftary said. 

It is our role as a business school to help shape and inform inclusive, resilient, effective leaders,” Daftary said.We launched the program to provide our students with the skills to navigate situations that are personally and professionally triggering.” One catalyst for the program, among others, she said, was the turmoil on campus following the Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7, and the resulting war in Palestine. “We were meeting with students and they were reporting that they were having a really difficult time processing their grief while balancing the demands of their classes,” Daftary said. “They were feeling alone and disconnected.”

It is our role as a business school to help shape and inform inclusive, resilient, effective leaders,” —Emma Daftary.

man teaching at a podium
Tarun Galagali, CEO of startup Mandala, asks students to share “glacier stories,” and open up to each other about their struggles.

In class, Galagali starts by sharing his own story, beginning with his childhood as the son of Indian immigrants growing up in Cupertino, Ca.  After earning a Harvard MBA, he worked as a product marketing and strategy lead at Google, a management consultant at EY Parthenon, as a director of strategy at online therapy platform Talkspace, and as as a senior political advisor to Congressman Ro Khanna. Under the surface of the names on his resume, he said, there are “glacier stories” of feeling isolated, inadequate, or not belonging at times.

“I share (my story) to show that there’s a story behind each of the resume logos and resilience embedded in them,” he said.  There are positives to these stories, too, he said, as he used what learned about leadership and teamwork at Google and from his experience lobbying for mental health of kids in California to build out the Mandala program. 

Balancing stress and anxiety

Coco Zhang, BA 26, who lives with and supports her single mother by working part-time jobs as a full-time student, said she often feels over-committed and burned out at Berkeley. What helped, she said, was learning that she was not alone. “Before I joined (Mandala) I thought I was one of the few who struggled a lot,” she said. “It helped to hear other students’ experiences and to know what they are doing to balance stress and anxiety. It motivates me to see what they have done to handle imposter syndrome and to learn some invaluable mental well-being concepts that have helped me to ground my true self to go beyond my boundaries and rise above the horizons.” 

Jacob Williams, BS 24, who was part of the founding group that worked with Mandala to launch the program, said the principles explored have provided him with tools he has already deployed in daily life. 

man wearing a suit jacket in front of a building
Jacob Williams

“I think this semester has been revolutionary for me” he said. Through the program, he said he has learned to “jump across domains,” and make new connections, such as connecting the dots between his cancer research and his DEI efforts, which has made his work a lot more meaningful. “On the first day of Mandala, Tarun explored the concept of an underlying glacier,” he said. “Among the many interpretations shared, the concept of a subconscious root to the way we think, behave, feel, and act really resonated with me. Realizing the deeper motivations behind my intuition and the ways I’ve chosen to govern has allowed me to communicate in a way which ultimately generates greater value, meaning, and impact for the people I work with and the public I’m honored to serve.”

A successful outcome

Galagali said the program is particularly relevant at a time when people are “quiet quitting” at work due to burnout. People lack critical things at work, he said, including psychological safety and a sense of belonging and connection.

Galagali said he would like to expand the Berkeley program, based on the success they’ve had so far: 88% of students who finished the program reported an increase in resilience; 94% of students reported reductions in burnout; and 100% felt the program improved their confidence in entering the workplace. 

A lot of this is a personal deep desire to create community,” he said, noting that students who have completed this program have reported that they are better able to show up for hard conversations, that they’ve learned something new to make them better at their job, and that they have more self awareness and awareness of others.

De Paula said she hopes the program will continue. “It was surprising to see so many Haas students opening up to each other,” she said. “Tarun is also very inspirational as a mentor, so I have only good things to say about the program.”

U.S. News ranks Berkeley Haas FTMBA Program #7 in 2024

The Berkeley Haas Full-Time MBA Program claimed the #7 spot among full-time programs in the 2024 U.S. News & World Report Best Business Schools ranking.

The FTMBA program moved up four slots to tie for #7 with the Yale School of Management and NYU’s Stern School of Business. Except for 2021 and 2023, the FTMBA has ranked #7 since 2019.

Meanwhile, the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program ranked #2 this year among part-time MBA programs. The Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives Program placed #7 among EMBA programs and is now the top executive MBA program at a public university in the nation. This ranking is based solely on ratings by business school deans and directors. 

The 2024 FTMBA ranking, released today, reflects positive changes that U.S. News made to its rankings methodology, said Haas Dean Ann Harrison. 

The ranking reflects all of the work Haas is doing to strengthen its programs and reputation, she said. “There are many different ways of evaluating a school, and rankings go up and down for all of us,” she said. “The change in the U.S. News methodology, with less emphasis on starting salary upon graduation, is a positive step.”

A few details on the rankings methodology used this year:

  • Employment rates at graduation – 7% weighted  (previously 10%)
  • Employment rates three months after graduation – 13% (previously 20%)
  • Mean starting salary and bonus – 20%
  • Ranking salaries by profession – 10%
  • Peer assessment score – 12.5%

Haas ranked #5 in salaries, which were ranked this year by profession (tied with Chicago Booth). Harrison noted that alumni accept jobs in a variety of industries, which logically means a variety of pay scales. 

“This is true for Haas, as well, where graduates prioritize where they can make the biggest impact, whether that is in consulting, product management, fintech, or by founding a new company,” she said. “I applaud U.S. News for taking into account the reality of the wealth of opportunities for a b-school graduate and comparing apples to apples across all the schools it surveys.”

Assessment by the school’s FTMBA peers was strong this year, at #7 (tied with Columbia) and the school ranked #9 for its recruiter assessment. Haas also had the highest GMAT score, tied at #1 with Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg, and Columbia.

In specialty rankings, based solely on peer assessments, U.S. News ranked the full-time MBA program:

  • #4 in nonprofit
  • #4 in entrepreneurship
  • #4 in real estate
  • #7 in business analytics
  • #7 in management
  • #8 in finance
  • #10 in marketing

Cal swimmer Destin Lasco, BS 24, on chasing mentor Ryan Murphy’s records and his own Olympic dream

Man wearing goggles and swim cap with arm stretched up in swimming pool during competition
Destin Lasco, BS 24, at the NCAA championships in Indianapolis last month, where he broke the NCAA and American men’s 200 backstroke record. Cal Athletics photo: Justin Casterline.

As a UC Berkeley freshman, Destin Lasco, BS 24, of the Cal Men’s Swimming & Diving team, emerged as one of the nation’s best backstrokers. Now a senior at Haas, he’s just returned from the NCAA championships in Indianapolis, where he broke the NCAA and American men’s 200 backstroke record. (He also swims the individual medley and freestyle.) Fresh off of that victory, Lasco, a three-time USA Swimming National Team member, is training for the 2024 Olympic trials in Paris this summer. 

In this interview, he discussed balancing class at Haas with training, his friendship with fellow backstroker and Olympic gold medal winner Ryan Murphy, BS 17, and how his parents inspired him to study business.

Can you tell us about your background? Where did you grow up?

I’m from New Jersey. I studied at Mainland Regional High School. When I was going through my recruiting process, my second choice was Stanford. But the reason why I wanted to come to Cal was just how real it was and how the education system here sets you up the best for life. When I was hanging out with all of the athletes at Cal, they emulated this energy of, “Nothing is handed to you. You’ve got to earn it.” And that’s how life is. And that was the reason why I came to Cal, to set myself up for life outside the pool. 

That was the reason why I came to Cal, to set myself up for life outside the pool. 

How did you get into swimming?

three boys standing in a swimming pool
Lasco (left) with his brother and a family friend.

I lived near the Jersey Shore. When my brother was 5 years old, he was crabbing with my uncle, and the rope caught around his ankle, and he fell in with the trap. He didn’t know how to swim, so my uncle had to dive in and save him. When that incident happened, my parents said, ‘You guys have to know how to swim.’ So we went to the Atlantic City Aquatic Club 15 minutes from our house. One of the requirements to make the team was to swim a lap, and my brother was able to swim the lap. So they took him. But when it was my turn, I couldn’t do the full lap. After private lessons for six months, I went back and barely swam the lap. Since my brother was already showing promise of being a top athlete, they said, ‘We’ll just take the younger brother, too.” And the rest is history. 

Yes, you went on to swim at Cal and be named the 2021 Pac-12 Freshman Swimmer of the Year. What do you love about swimming? 

What I love about swimming is the grind aspect. You do it because you love it. Swimming taught me so many things about discipline.  I’ve also learned about that from Ryan Murphy, who is a Haas grad.  He showed me a whole different perspective—how you eat, how you sleep, how you do time management, building a routine. The most valuable advice he gave me was about consistency, making sure you’re giving 100% every day. 

The most valuable advice he gave me was about consistency, making sure you’re giving 100% every day. 

How did you meet Ryan? 

I’ve been chasing his national records ever since I was a young kid around 11, 12 years old. I always knew the name. I met him officially in 2017 and got to talk to him a little bit. But he wasn’t at Cal yet. I wasn’t committed or anything. He just knew me as a kid coming up through the ranks. That’s when our relationship started to blossom. And then, he ended up coming here and became my training partner. We practice every single day, and we have lockers next to each other. I just try to be a sponge around him and learn as much as I can and not to bother the man too much. 

I’ve been chasing his national records ever since I was a young kid around 11, 12 years old.

USA Swimming men's 4x100 medley gold medal winners
Ryan Murphy, BS 17 (left), and USA swimming teammates Caeleb Dressel, Zach Apple, and Michael Andrew at the medal ceremony for the men’s 4 x 100 medley in 2021.  Lasco will chase his Olympic dream in Paris. Photo: Oliver Weiken/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

How do you manage your time, balancing school and practice? 

The things I allocate time for are recovery—massage, stretching, sleeping, making sure I’m hydrating well. And then comes studying, making sure I’m  doing my homework and going to office hours when I need it. And then, the third thing is nutrition—not eating out a lot and trying to cook my own meals. I just had lunch with (my roommate and Haas undergraduate) Cal swimmer Björn Seeliger (BS 25). We made a seared steak with a mushroom sauce, and we had kale salad with fruit. It was so good.

Your NCAA race was called a ‘composed, patient swim,’ because you were in fifth at the half before suddenly pulling ahead. How do you feel about breaking the national record in the 200 backstroke

It feels good. But the goodness I feel is because somebody else broke it three weeks before I did, and I was like, “That has to be a Cal record.” I cannot let that record fall into anyone’s hands. So it felt great to do it after I kept missing it and was trying to find ways to get there. To see it finally happen was amazing. 

man standing next to olympic sized pool holding swim cap
NCAA champion Destin Lasco is gearing up for the Olympic trials in Paris this summer. Cal Athletics photo: Justin Casterline.

What did you do to celebrate?

Coach Dave (Durden) gave us two days off. So I got to enjoy Easter, which was nice—just lay down and do nothing. But that’s about it. I’m back in the grind now because of the Olympic trials that are 11 weeks away. I really just want to use the momentum from NCAAs to carry me through the summer. 

What would competing at the Olympics mean to you?

I always say this, but it’s a dream. It’s like that white whale you chase. So it’s the white whale I’ve been chasing, and it would be a dream come true. 

What do you love about the backstroke? 

I love backstroke because you can breathe the whole time. Your face is not in the water and that’s huge. You also start in the water, so you don’t have to worry about your goggles coming off during your race. And also, backstroke is hard. It’s an underrated stroke.You have to be very mentally tough to do it. Backstrokers are the most mentally tough swimmers. You can ask Ryan. He will agree!

Why did you want to study business? 

Seeing my parents open their own business sharpening medical equipment and the sacrifices and dedication it took. My dad and mom were working two jobs, my mom was in the casino industry because that’s really popular where I’m from. I would wake up for practice at 5 in the morning, and my dad would drive me. Just seeing the amount of passion that they had and the hustle it took, that inspired me to study business. My mom always cooked me fresh meals ,and she would sleep maybe five hours and take naps just to make my swimming dream a reality. Now, they have a mobile sharpening service; they pull up to hospitals and sharpen all their instruments.

What’s your favorite class that you’ve taken? 

Corporate Finance and Financial Analysis with Steve Etter for sure. Another class I loved was UGBA 133, Investments, with Sam Olesky. Great professor. 

three students sitting in class with laptops
Destin Lasco, BS 24, (left) is enrolled in Lecturer Steve Etter’s independent study called Financial & Business Literacy for the Professional Athlete. Photo Michaela Vatcheva

Do you want to follow in your parents’ footsteps as an entrepreneur? 

That’s a goal, but I know you have to have experience under your belt. I want to first work at a big company and learn how to work in teams and learn how to think on a macro level, so when I open my own thing, I can start micro and then build.

You are graduating this spring. What have you enjoyed about being at Haas?

Going to Haas and being in classrooms of like 30 to 50 kids, I felt like I was back in high school, where I know the professors and the GSIs on a genuine level. You take one course, and the next semester, you’re in the same course with a kid you took finance with. You get to build those really close relationships. The people here are just passionate about what they do and are passionate to pass down what they’ve learned, so I love that.

Asst. Prof. Kiera Hudson receives prestigious National Science Foundation award

portrait of a woman wearing a white collared shirt and tie
Assistant Professor Kiera Hudson studies schadenfreude and the psychological and biological roots of power hierarchies.

Assistant Professor Sa-kiera “Kiera” Hudson has received a 2024 National Science Foundation CAREER award, the NSF’s most prestigious awards program in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education.

Hudson said she is thrilled to receive the award and will use the $850,000 grant to fund new research on schadenfreude, which is pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune.

Empathy is often hailed as the emotion to target in intergroup conflicts, as it predicts consequential behaviors that can help reduce inequality, said Hudson, who earned a PhD in the (social) psychology department at Harvard University in 2020. “In many social conflicts, people struggle to feel empathy for those not part of their social groups,” she said. But in the study of empathy, behavioral scientists have perhaps overlooked schadenfreude’s relevance to conflict among groups of people, which is why it’s crucial to learn more, she said.

“If we better understand what drives intergroup schadenfreude—and the consequences—we can better understand how to design interventions to decrease the harm it causes, particularly to marginalized groups,” she said.

How schadenfreude harms 

In her new research project, Hudson, a member of the Management of Organizations Group (MORS) at Haas, will investigate how schadenfreude contributes to harm, attempting to understand the cognitive mechanisms that allow it to flourish. The project will put a strong emphasis on research and education, including training minoritized scientists, collaborating with organizations focused on equity and social justice, and disseminating research to interdisciplinary communities.

Hudson said her goal is to bring a broader understanding of people’s more “nasty, harmful behaviors,” at a particular time in history. 

“Across the world, there has been an increase in rigid beliefs of who belongs to ‘us’ versus ‘them’ fueled by perceived threat and competition, leading to intensified intergroup animosity,” she said. “These are the exact conditions under which schadenfreude thrives, suggesting that we are not only in an empathy deficit as a nation, as proposed by Obama in 2006, but perhaps also in a schadenfreude surplus.”

More broadly, Hudson’s research at Haas is focused on two main areas: the psychological and biological roots of power hierarchies, and how these hierarchies intersect to influence experiences and perceptions.

Is it ethical? New undergrad class trains students to think critically about artificial intelligence

two sstudents in a Haas classroom listening intently
Berkeley Haas undergraduate students Hunter Esqueda (left) and Sohan Dhanesh (right) are enrolled in Genevieve Smith’s Responsible AI Innovation & Management class. Photo: Noah Berger


“Classified” is an occasional series spotlighting some of the more powerful lessons being taught in classrooms around Haas.

On a recent Monday afternoon, Sohan Dhanesh, BS 24, joined a team of students to consider whether startup Moneytree is using machine learning ethically to determine credit worthiness among its customers.

After reading the case, Dhanesh, one of 54 undergraduates enrolled in a new Berkeley Haas course called Responsible AI Innovation & Management, said he was concerned by Moneytree’s unlimited access to users’ phone data, and whether customers even know what data the company is tapping to inform its credit scoring algorithm. Accountability is also an issue, since Silicon Valley-based Moneytree’s customers live in India and Africa, he said. 

“Credit is a huge thing, and whether it’s given to a person or not has a huge impact on their life,” Dhanesh said. “If this credit card [algorithm] is biased against me, it will affect my quality of life.”

Dhanesh, who came into the class believing that he didn’t support guardrails for AI companies, says he’s surprised by how his opinions have changed about regulation. That he isn’t playing Devil’s advocate, he said, is due to the eye-opening data, cases, and readings provided by Lecturer Genevieve Smith.

A contentious debate

Smith, who is also the founding co-director of the Responsible & Equitable AI Initiative at the Berkeley AI Research Lab and former associate director of the Berkeley Haas Center for Equity, Gender, & Leadership, created the course with an aim to teach students both sides of the AI debate.

Woman in a purple jacket teaching
Lecturer Genevieve Smith says the goal of her class is to train aspiring leaders to understand, think critically about, and implement strategies for responsible AI innovation and management. Photo: Noah Berger

Her goal is to train aspiring leaders to think critically about artificial intelligence and implement strategies for responsible AI innovation and management. “While AI can carry immense opportunities, it also poses immense risks to both society and business linked to pervasive issues of bias and discrimination, data privacy violations, and more,” Smith said. “Given the current state of the AI landscape and its expected global growth, profit potential, and impact, it is imperative that aspiring business leaders understand responsible AI innovation and management.”

“While AI can carry immense opportunities, it also poses immense risks to both society and business linked to pervasive issues of bias and discrimination, data privacy violations, and more,” – Genevieve Smith.

During the semester, Smith covers the business and economic potential of AI to boost productivity and efficiency. But she also explores the immense potential for harm, such as the risk of embedding inequality or infringing on human rights; amplifying misinformation and a lack of transparency, and impacting the future of work and climate. 

Smith said she expects all of her students will interact with AI as they launch careers, particularly in entrepreneurship and tech. To that end, the class prepares them to articulate what “responsible AI” means and understand and define ethical AI principles, design, and management approaches. 

Learning through mini-cases

Today, Smith kicked off class with a review of the day’s AI headlines, showing an interview with OpenAI’s CTO Mira Murati, who was asked where the company gets its training data for Sora, OpenAI’s new generative AI model that creates realistic video using text. Murati contended that the company used publicly available data to train Sora but didn’t provide any details in the interview. Smith asks the students what they thought about her answer, noting the “huge issue” with a lack of transparency on training data, as well as copyright and consent implications.

Student in class wearing blue and yellow berkeley hoodie
Throughout the semester, students will develop a responsible AI strategy for a real or fictitious company. Photo: Noah Berger

After, Smith introduced the topic of “AI for good” before the students split into groups to act as responsible AI advisors to three startups, described in three mini cases for Moneytree, HealthNow, and MyWeather.  They worked to answer Smith’s questions: “What concerns do you have? What questions would you ask? And what recommendations might you provide?” The teams explored these questions across five core responsible AI principles, including privacy, fairness, and accountability. 

Julianna De Paula, BS 24, whose team was assigned to read about Moneytree, asked if the company had adequately addressed the potential for bias when approving customers for credit (about 60% of loans in East Africa go to men, and 70% of loans in India go to men, the case noted), and whether the app’s users are giving clear consent for their data when they download it. 

Other student teams considered HealthNow, a chatbot that provides health care guidance, but with better performance for men and English speakers; and MyWeather, an app developed for livestock herders by a telecommunications firm in Nairobi, Kenya, that uses weather data from a real-time weather information service provider.

The class found problems with both startups, pointing out the potential for a chatbot to misdiagnose conditions (“Can a doctor be called as a backup?” one student asked), and the possibility that MyWeather’s dependence on a partner vendor could lead to inaccurate climate data.

Preparing future leaders

Throughout the semester, students will go on to develop a responsible AI strategy for a real or fictitious company. They are also encouraged to work with ChatGPT and other generative AI language tools. (One assignment asked them to critique ChatGPT’s own response to a question of bias in generative AI.) Students also get a window into real-world AI use and experiences through guest speakers from Google, Mozilla, Partnership on AI, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and others. 

All of the students participate in at least one debate, taking sides on topics that include whether university students should be able to use ChatGPT or other generative AI language tools for school; if the OpenAI board of directors was right to fire Sam Altman; and if government regulation of AI technologies stifles innovation and should be limited.

Smith, who has done her share of research into gender and AI, also recommended many readings for the class, including “Data Feminism” by MIT Associate Professor Catherine D’Ignazio and Emory University Professor Lauren Klein; “Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What Is Human in a World of Machines” by AI researcher, artist, and advocate Joy Buolamwini; “Weapons of Math Destruction” by algorithmic auditor Cathy O’Neil; and “Your Face Belongs to Us” by New York Times reporter Kashmir Hill.

Smith said she hopes that her course will enable future business leaders to be more responsible stewards and managers of such technologies. “Many people think that making sure AI is ‘responsible’ is a technology task that should be left to data scientists and engineers,” she said. “The reality is, business managers and leaders have a critical role to play as they inform the priorities and values that are embedded into how AI technology is developed and used.”

Berkeley City Council Candidate James Chang, MBA 24, talks People’s Park, campus safety

man wearing a blue suit and tie
James Chang, MBA 24, is running for City Council inn District 7.

James Chang, Chief of Staff for Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, thought he’d return to a private sector job after graduating from the Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA Program this spring.

Turns out that’s not happening just yet.

Chang said his experiences in the MBA program inspired him to double down on his leadership skills and remain in the public sector, running for the open District 7 City Council seat in the April 16 special election. District 7 stretches from the UC Berkeley campus to five blocks south. Chang is running against UC Berkeley senior Cecilia Lunaparra.

Haas News recently talked to Chang, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in political economy from UC Berkeley, about his love of public service, his experiences at Haas, and his desire to serve Berkeley in a district where students make up the majority of the voting population.

You came to Haas planning to return to the private sector. Why did you change your mind and run for office instead?

I wanted to leave politics. But coming here renewed my passion for public service. I was a delegate in the Graduate Assembly, representing all three Haas MBA programs, and president of the EWMBAA (student) association. That is what made me realize that I want to really double down on public service.

As you approach graduation, what are some highlights from your time spent in the MBA program?

Taking core classes with my cohort and the deep friendships that you build. Also, placing second at the HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition. Being able to work with different people from the Real Estate development program, Berkeley Law, and the architecture program at Berkeley… If there’s anything I could recommend that Haasies do, it is case competitions with people from outside of your program. Meeting people from different majors and different walks of life is a beautiful thing. 

What made you decide to run for a seat on the City Council?

I’m running because I have a deep passion for public service and because I have a deep love for Berkeley. Berkeley is a place where I found the love of my life, Richard. But it goes a little deeper than that. I get to be authentically “me” here, whether that’s showing up at work at City Hall, or showing up authentically at Haas—being a leader on campus representing Haas, I have the opportunity to be who I am: fearless, not just in my identity, but also in my values and being able to speak up, even if it’s sometimes unpopular.

man speaking with students in front of Sather Gate.
James Chang, MBA 24, speaks with students on the UC Berkeley campus.

What are the core issues driving your campaign?

Fighting for affordable housing. I am concerned about housing affordability and availability and safety, which I know is a big concern for many of our students. Students deserve a nice place to live and an economically vibrant Telegraph Avenue business district. These are all things that I’m running on. The person who represents you—the job is to really serve you and bring back resources to the community, to make the community better, and I think I’ve shown I’ve been able to do that.

Do you support the UC Berkeley campus decision to build housing at People’s Park?

Yes. I think this is one of the reasons why Haasies should care about this election. The building project at People’s Park, to be clear, includes two-thirds green space. There’ll be housing for 1,100 students, and there will be over 100 housing units for the unhoused. We can either have that as an option, or an open-air drug market as the alternative. I know students overwhelmingly want housing. I think a lot of students are too afraid to speak up because, anytime we do anything to solve a problem that requires some form of public safety measure, it’s often vilified as a right-wing tactic or supporting right-wing policies. And I just really reject those notions.

We can either have that as an option, or an open-air drug market as the alternative. I know students overwhelmingly want housing.

How do you think your classes and community at Haas have helped you to be a better leader?

I think that all of my classes are founded on our Haas Defining Leadership Principles. Whether that’s going beyond ourselves, questioning the status quo, confidence without attitude, or students always, every single one of my classes has really grounded me. I have become a better leader, am open to different perspectives, ask the tough questions, and also just always want to learn and soak up different knowledge. I always say Haas is one of the most supportive communities that I’ve ever belonged in.

What do you love about your current job?

What I do best is I know how to deliver for constituents who are in need, as long as they’re patient with me and give me time. Most of the time, I am able to give them what they want within reason, whether that’s cleaning up a street, making sure that our unhoused people are compassionately served, or getting a traffic circle at the edge of our district, or making sure that their events get fully funded. Also, getting $9 million for the African American Holistic Research Center, and making MLK Way much safer. It’s still messy, but safe. That took seven years, and I am so proud of it. 

Four people standing in a room with banners
James Chang, MBA 24, supports the People’s Park housing project.

How would you make this area of Berkeley safer?

I think we need better lighting on and off campus. The campus “Warn Me” system needs to be a lot better. The city could do more to make sure that simple things like cracked shop windows are fixed, simple things like cleaner streets—this goes a long way. We are also working with merchants to install private cameras that work with the city. I am open to public cameras but I am always concerned with civil liberties, so I’m not ready to say yes or no to that. We should be working with business first. One of my biggest goals is economic growth on Telegraph. We know the No. 1 crime deterrent is more eyes on the streets, so that’s what I’m really hoping for.  

The special election will be held April 16 until 8 p.m. (mail-in ballots have been sent). Registration has ended, but eligible District 7 voters can register at the voting location, the YWCA Berkeley, 2600 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, before and on election day.

Berkeley Haas to host 2025 ClimateCAP Summit

two women with their arms folded. They're smiling
From L-R: Dean Ann Harrison and Executive Director of Sustainability Michele de Nevers.

Berkeley Haas has been chosen to host the prestigious 2025 Global MBA Summit on Climate, Capital and Business, or ClimateCAP, which prepares MBA students and business leaders to understand and respond to the business and investment impacts of climate change.

Haas was named host school during the 2024 ClimateCAP Summit held last month at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. At that event, the largest summit to date, Haas Dean Ann Harrison participated in a virtual Dean’s Roundtable on Climate and Business Education.

Asked by Professor Stuart Hart, a visiting lecturer at Michigan Ross, whether sustainability is “here to stay” or “something that you don’t want to bet the company on,” Harrison said:

“Business has to accelerate the transition to net zero. It has to reckon with the impact of climate change and shift away from fossil fuels. That is not a fad, it is not niche, and it is clearly, in my opinion, going to be a part of the business curriculum now and way into the future.”

“Business has to accelerate the transition to net zero. It has to reckon with the impact of climate change and shift away from fossil fuels. That is not a fad, it is not niche, and it is clearly, in my opinion, going to be a part of the business curriculum now and way into the future.” – Dean Ann Harrison

With more than 41 partner schools across the world, ClimateCAP hosts a summit every year at a different partner school. The event will bring up to 500 MBA students and business leaders from across the world to the campus for one weekend. 

woman standing at podium at conference with a large screen behind her
Haas was named the 2025 ClimateCAP host during the 2024 summit at Michigan Ross.

“We are so pleased that Berkeley Haas has been chosen to host ClimateCAP next spring,” said Michele de Nevers, executive director of the Office of Sustainability and Climate Change at Haas. “The conference will provide a terrific opportunity to bring hundreds of climate leaders to our campus to showcase Haas and California’s leadership on climate change.”

ClimateCAP aims to give students a deeper understanding of markets with the biggest financial and operational risks due to the climate crisis, and introduces them to promising innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities, de Nevers said.

The Office of Sustainability and Climate Change will organize the event alongside a planning committee consisting of faculty, staff, and students.


Financial literacy class prepares Cal athletes for the big business of pro sports

man teaching at white board
With the help of a grant from Robinhood, Professional Faculty Member Steve Etter’s Financial & Business Literacy for the Professional Athlete course will be reclassified as a full-fledged class rather than an independent study, which will allow more student-athletes to take it. Photo: Michaela Vatcheva

Shortly before Layshia Clarendon, BA 13 (American studies), was drafted into the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), the Cal senior attended a pre-draft orientation. Clarendon raised a hand and inquired about matching 401(k)s. The people fielding questions were floored. They weren’t used to college students knowing what a 401(k) was, let alone being savvy enough to ask about matching contributions. 

“I remember going to that meeting and thinking, ‘Oh, wow, I already know some of this,’” Clarendon recalls. When it came to financial literacy, Clarendon was miles ahead of most of their peers—all thanks to an independent study course they’d taken with Haas professional faculty member Stephen Etter, BS 83, MBA 89, called Financial & Business Literacy for the Professional Athlete.

For more than 20 years, Etter has helped scores of UC Berkeley athletes prepare for the financial realities of turning pro. Everyone from football great Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Jared Goff to Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin and golf phenom Collin Morikawa, BS 19, have learned about navigating contracts, choosing advisors, budgeting, investing, and more for their lives post-graduation.

Collin Morikawa holding trophy
Collin Morikawa, BS 19, after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament in 2020 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Now, all of these issues are relevant for students too. In 2019, legislation was passed—first in California, then later throughout the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)—allowing college athletes to earn compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL) via sponsorships. No longer are questions about agents, contracts, and taxes part of a hypothetical future; student-athletes are facing them today, intensifying the need for Etter’s class. 

“I’m working with students who are putting a half to three-quarters of a million dollars in their pocket today,” Etter says. The trouble was that his independent study only reached a small number of students. This coming fall, with the help of a grant from Robinhood Money Drills, Etter is expanding his course and bringing it to many more UC Berkeley student-athletes. 

Mary Elizabeth Taylor, vice president of international government and external affairs for Robinhood Markets, Inc., says one of the company’s top priorities is providing the next generation with access to financial education. “Through the Robinhood Money Drills program, we are proud to give college students and student-athletes a strong foundation to responsibly manage their finances for the future,” she says. UC Berkeley is one of eight schools nationwide benefitting from the initiative. 

It’s how much you keep

The idea for an independent study for athletes first occurred to Etter when one of his students, Nnamdi Asomugha, BA 06 (interdisciplinary studies), approached him for some advice. Asomugha was preparing for the draft (ultimately a first-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders) and was suddenly facing major decisions that would affect his economic future. Etter, one of the founding partners of Greyrock Capital Group, had been teaching corporate finance at Haas for nearly a decade by then. He favored experiential learning with real-world application, and helping athletes navigate the complex waters of a professional career more than fit the bill. 

Athletes turning pro find themselves in an unusual position, entering highly lucrative careers while having no financial training. The eye-popping mega-salaries that generate headlines are not the norm in pro sports, but starting salaries for many athletes are nevertheless substantial. Still, as former National Football League (NFL) player Justin Forsett, BA 14 (interdisciplinary studies), put it, “It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you keep.”

Forsett, who played pro football for nine years and is now an entrepreneur and motivational speaker, says taking Etter’s course gave him a real advantage. “There weren’t a lot of courses on financial literacy when I was a kid, in high school, or even in college,” he says. After gaining a solid foundation with Etter, he entered the NFL with what he calls “a conservative approach.” He explains, “I wasn’t going out getting fancy new cars. I knew it was about how much I could actually keep and save and invest in the right things.”

Keeping your future self in mind

Each year, Etter begins the class by sharing a series of sobering statistics: 78% of retired NFL players suffer financial hardship. Nearly 16% of NFL players have filed for bankruptcy. And 60% of former National Basketball Association (NBA) players are broke. These brief, cautionary tales drive home a crucial point that’s easily overlooked by young student-athletes: While the pros earn big salaries during their careers, those careers are often short and can be wildly unpredictable. 

“Steve tells us the reality,” says Cam Bynum, BA 20 (American studies), who studied with Etter and just finished his third season as a safety with the Minnesota Vikings. “The average lifespan in the NFL is three years,” he says. “If you’re blessed, you’ll make it to 10 years, maybe 12. So that means you’re retiring at 32 years old, maybe 35. That’s just half your life. So then, what are you going to do?” Without Etter to prompt them, many student-athletes might never give that question much thought.

Elijah Hicks, BA 20 (American studies), a safety for the Chicago Bears, says that one of the most valuable aspects of the course was that it forced him to think ahead. “I got to put myself in my future self’s shoes,” he says. “The class puts you in scenarios before you’re actually there, so now, I’m more prepared and I’m not surprised by anything that pops up, like taxes.” High-earning athletes, for instance, not only have to pay taxes in their home state but in nearly every state they play in, a fact that shocked many of Hicks’ first-year teammates—but not him. Etter also helped Hicks start a nonprofit, Intercept Poverty Foundation, to provide emergency grants to low-income UC Berkeley students during the pandemic.

Learning to ask the right questions

Since the course’s inception, athletes from a range of sports have studied with Etter, players heading to the NFL, NBA, WNBA, and Major League Baseball (MLB), along with swimmers, golfers, and water polo players. News of the class has tended to spread by word of mouth among teammates and friends, but Etter says coaches, too, have been instrumental in steering students to his door. “The Cal coaches have had the insight and caring attitude to make sure they prepared their athletes for the financial aspects of their careers,” he says. 

three students sitting with laptops in a classroom
(L-R) Destin Lasco and Tyler Kopp of Cal Men’s Swimming & Diving and Katja Wiersholm of Cal Women’s Tennis attending Steve Etter’s Financial & Business Literacy for the Professional Athlete independent study. Photo: Michaela Vatcheva

Not all professional careers are the same, however. Swimmer and six-time Olympic medalist Ryan Murphy, BS 17, knew he wanted to swim professionally after his success at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but he didn’t know what that entailed. In Etter’s class, Murphy’s fellow students that semester were heading for the NFL, but as a swimmer, Murphy’s professional path was less straightforward. “Our earning power is completely based on marketing,” he says. So Etter tailored the learning, helping him focus on finding a marketing agent.

“He connected me with people on campus and had me sit down for meetings with them,” Murphy recalls. Etter also encouraged him to talk to older swimmers who’d turned professional. “He was kind of a master connector for me.”

Getting out and talking to people is a big part of what Etter teaches. Whether it’s picking an agent, a financial advisor, or an insurance broker, knowing the kinds of questions to ask to make decisions that are in their own best interest is a fundamental skill he wants these athletes to learn. Sometimes, those questions come back to Etter himself. He continues to serve as a mentor to his student-athletes—they all have his number and aren’t shy about texting or calling for advice.

Changing the playing field for college athletes

Similar to professionals, NIL allows college athletes to engage in sponsorships and receive cash payments and gifts. For example, student-athletes may enter contracts to appear for autograph signings, endorse products via social media, conduct camps and clinics, post personalized video greetings, and more. However, the policy precludes students from entering pay-for-play contracts with colleges and universities. 

two men
Professional Faculty Member Steve Etter with UC Berkeley Junior Jaydn Ott, a California Golden Bears running back with a likely future in the NFL. Photo: Michaela Vatcheva.

Some Cal athletes secure deals on their own or through agents, while others are paid through the California Legends Collective, a newly formed organization (not affiliated with UC Berkeley) funded by donors who, together, create income opportunities like those mentioned above for Cal student-athletes. Advisory Board members include Lynch, Clarendon, and Murphy. 

Christian Trigg, MBA 23, director of brand development for the Cal women’s basketball program, says the new NIL rules benefit players and the team as a whole. “This is a huge opportunity for students to start building wealth at an earlier age,” he says. “Especially athletes who might be first-generation college students.” In his newly created position, Trigg will help members of the team build their brands and secure NIL sponsorships, which in turn will help attract talented recruits to Cal. As women’s basketball coach Charmin Smith notes, “Having a strong NIL presence is critical in today’s college athletics environment.” 

Cal football player Jaydn Ott is one of the students who’s benefited from Etter’s class while still at Cal. Ott, a running back with a likely future in the NFL, has begun earning money through NIL contracts, and he’s clear-eyed about the importance of financial literacy. “I want to understand what’s going on with my money when I speak to my financial advisors, so I’m not just giving somebody my money and saying, ‘Here, do whatever,’” he says. “I’m able to sit down and talk with them and understand what’s actually going on.” 

“I want to understand what’s going on with my money when I speak to my financial advisors, so I’m not just giving somebody my money and saying, ‘Here, do whatever.’ ” – Jaydn Ott, Cal running back.

Just like pros, college athletes need to understand the taxes they owe, and Etter makes sure his students do. “A lot of NCAA athletes don’t understand the difference in income and taxes between being a W-2 employee and a 1099 contractor,” he says. NIL compensation is entirely 1099, which means there is no tax withholding; players must pay estimated taxes. Etter suspects that more than a few student-athletes across the country will inadvertently fail to pay sufficient taxes. But Ott won’t be one of them. “After Jaydn got his first paycheck,” Etter says, “he put half away for taxes. And then he was worried, so he put half of the other half away for taxes, too.”

Spreading the wealth

Etter, who has three times won the school’s prestigious Earl F. Cheit Award for Teaching Excellence from his undergraduate students (once as a graduate student instructor), has long wanted to empower more students with the skills he teaches. Now, thanks to the grant from Robinhood, he’s going to. Starting this fall, the course will be reclassified as a full-fledged class rather than an independent study, which will allow more student-athletes to take it. The structure of the course is being retrofitted to accommodate up to 250 students while maintaining the active learning style that’s a hallmark of the class. Etter will be assisted by MBA graduate student instructors who are reflective of the diverse student-athlete population. 

The money is helping Etter fulfill a long-held goal. “My dream,” he says, “was to get this grant and to educate all 1,000 student-athletes at Cal.” From there, he says he’d like to bring the class to all NCAA athletes and ultimately to all 55,000 students on the Berkeley campus. 

Classified: What Uber (and others) teach MBA students about smart online marketplace design

“Classified” is an occasional series spotlighting some of the more powerful lessons being taught in classrooms around Haas.

woman holding a microphone in front of classmates and team
Marissa Maliwanag, MBA 24, pitching Tables Together during the Online Marketplace and Platform Design course. Photo: Jim Block


It’s a recent Tuesday evening at Berkeley Haas, and Marissa Maliwanag, MBA 24, has just five minutes to pitch her team’s idea for Tables Together. It’s an online marketplace that big corporations like Google could use to donate surplus food from their employee kitchens to organizations that feed people in need.

“There are matches that need to be made and we want to create a marketplace and solve the problem,” Maliwanag said, ticking off the amount of food that goes to waste in the United States each year.

After a few quick questions for the team, the rapid-fire pitch slam—part of the MBA class called Online Marketplace and Platform Design—continues. Students pitch ideas, among them a private plane rental marketplace to a community for matching skiers and snowboarders with coaches to a marketplace for tailors of bespoke clothing for events like weddings.

four students standing in front of a classroom pitching an idea
MBA students have just five minutes to pitch JetJunction, a private plane rental marketplace, during the night’s pitch slam. Photo: Jim Block

All of the pitches serve as practice for the students who are working toward final projects, says Assistant Professor David Holtz, who teaches the class, an elective that enrolls 68 students. The group is a split of mostly full-time and evening & weekend MBA students, on a journey that covers all aspects of online platforms—from A/B testing, network effects, and platform monetization, to reputation systems and discrimination in online marketplaces.

The class aligns with Holtz’s career experience as a former Silicon Valley data scientist. Most recently, Holtz worked for Airbnb, where he first became intrigued by online marketplaces. “I was exposed to a lot of interesting problems including reputation-system design, algorithmic pricing, and experiment design,” Holtz, a member of the Management of Organizations (MORS) and Entrepreneurship & Innovation Group at Haas, says. “To this day, these topics form the backbone of my research, because, in addition to being extremely interesting, they’re also extremely difficult to solve.”

Taking apart the case

During the first half of a recent class session, Holtz asked students to split into groups to discuss one of the week’s assignments: Pick a company on the a16z Marketplace 100 list—Andreessen Horowitz’s ranking of the largest and fastest-growing consumer-facing marketplace startups and private companies—and come up with a new market mechanism that the company might trial using A/B testing.  

One MBA student team wrote about the online specialty food marketplace Goldbelly, suggesting that the company might add a feature that prompts site visitors to indicate that they’re trying to buy a gift. Then, Goldbelly could customize searches and provide a more personal message option at checkout.

students sitting in classroom working on laptops
Students share their ideas for a new market mechanism that a company might trial using A/B testing. Photo: Jim Block

Holtz then runs students through a business case called “Innovation at Uber: The Launch of Express POOL, a case directly related to some of his marketplace research that examines experiment design in two-sided markets. Set in March 2018, the case follows Uber through the launch of a new product called Express POOL, which offers carpooling riders a cheaper ride if they agree to walk a short distance to and from pick-up and drop-off points and wait a few minutes before being matched to a driver. 

In this case, Uber had to decide whether to keep rider wait times at two minutes or change the Express POOL wait time to five minutes mid-experiment. The big dilemma? Uber benefited from a cost-per-ride reduction with a five-minute wait time but didn’t want to make a change that could hurt the user experience. “Even if the company did decide that a longer wait time was preferable, what did that mean for the ongoing experiment the company was running?” Holtz says. “Should they change the product mid-experiment or let the experiment continue running as originally intended?”

In this case, Uber had to decide whether to keep rider wait times at two minutes or change the Express POOL wait time to five minutes mid-experiment.

Holtz then shifts to a whiteboard, where he outlines different types of experiments (also called A/B tests) that marketplace companies like Uber use to test new features. 

First is the “bread and butter” user-level test, which Uber could have used to compare the behavior of riders with access to Express POOL to the behavior of those who did not have access to Express POOL. The second kind of test, a switchback experiment, would give all riders and drivers in a given market access to Express POOL for randomly selected 160-minute-long chunks. Over two weeks, Uber would switch Express POOL availability back and forth to compare behaviors.

The third type of experiment Holtz describes, which Uber did use with Express POOL, is a synthetic control experiment. It is the most accurate form of testing, Holtz says, but also the most complicated to run and the “noisiest.” Using the synthetic control experiment, Uber identified two sets of markets that, in aggregate, were as similar to each other as possible. The company then launched Express POOL in one set of cities, but not in the other. By comparing behavior in the two sets of cities, Uber could estimate the impact of both.

man in classroom teaching
The class aligns with Holtz’s career experience as a former Silicon Valley data scientist. Most recently, he worked for Airbnb, where he first became intrigued by online marketplaces. Photo: Jim Block

Holtz’s knowledge of how to apply A/B tests comes from deep research. He has conducted multiple large-scale experiments analyzing the effects of marketplace design choices on Airbnb. One study examined whether coupons would lead more Airbnb bookers to write more reviews—with the eventual aim of facilitating better matches on the platform and increasing revenue. Comparing behaviors of buyers who received coupons to those who didn’t, he found that the coupons led to additional reviews that were more negative, on average, and that the reviews didn’t affect the number of nights sold on the site or total revenue.  

In a separate, widely cited study, he and his co-authors examined the effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers at Microsoft. They scoured anonymized, aggregated data describing emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls, and workweek hours of more than 60,000 U.S.-based Microsoft employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to estimate the causal effects of firm-wide remote work on collaboration and communication. Results showed that under firm-wide remote work, collaboration patterns become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts of an organization. 

Impressive guest speakers

For Lena Corredor, MBA 25, knowledge gained in Holtz’s class is providing an opportunity to explore the challenges of building a successful entrepreneurship marketplace, which is her startup idea.

“This class is really eye-opening for me because it’s not as straightforward as it seems,” she says. “When you think about the different sides of a marketplace, one would think if you build it, they will come, but it’s not the case. The design elements he talks about are very important to business success.”

During most classes, Holtz opens with a guest speaker, and his roster includes an impressive industry bench of leaders including Sudeep Das, head of Machine Learning/AI at DoorDash; Martin Manley, co-founder of Alibris and former U.S. assistant secretary of labor; Ania Smith, CEO of Taskrabbit; and Briana Vecchione, a technical researcher at Data & Society’s Algorithmic Impacts Methods Lab (AIMLab); among others.

man sitting in classroom gesturing as he speaks
Roberto Pérez, MBA/MEng 24, said they were drawn to the class in part because of the impressive guest speaker roster. Photo: Jim Block

Roberto Pérez, MBA/MEng 24, an entrepreneur in Mexico before coming to Haas, said they were drawn to the class for two reasons.  “First, I knew that the professor had a great background and first-hand experience on this topic,” they say. “Second, I knew that the class would have a lot of guest speakers and that was interesting to me as this level of exposure is very valuable.”        

Looking toward the future of online marketplaces, Holtz said he’s excited to see where entrepreneurs will take new technologies, such as generative AI, AR/VR, and blockchain-based tech. To that end, he said he expects the students will hear more from a group of investors and VCs who are guest judges at the last class—Raphael Lee, Vickie Peng, and Lindsay Pettingill.

“They weigh business pitches all the time and will have a better sense than anyone of where we are headed,” he said.

Q&A: Teaching the business of Taylor Swift at Berkeley Haas

young woman with long curly dark hair
Miaad Madeline Bushala, BS 25, co-teaches a DeCal on Taylor Swift.

Miaad Madeline Bushala, BS 25, likes Taylor Swift’s music but doesn’t consider herself a die-hard “Swiftie.” What’s more intriguing to her is Taylor Swift’s evolution as a business leader who continues to top the music industry.

Bushala is now tapping into how the 14-time Grammy winner built her fortune, co-teaching a DeCal at Berkeley Haas called “Artistry & Entrepreneurship: Taylor’s Version” with Sofia Mei Lendahl, a sophomore Data Science and Statistics double major. The pair were in their fourth week of teaching the 13-week class when Bushala talked to Haas News.

You came to this class with both a musical and a business background.

Indeed, I did. I was a vocalist in the Popular Music Conservatory at the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) alongside my brother who is a fantastic drummer and my biggest musical inspiration. I attended Grammy Camp twice for vocal performance, a camp where high school students across the nation learn from and collaborate with music professionals.

My business background comes from watching and helping my parents with their real estate business, and then of course all that I’ve learned since being a student at Haas.

What interested you most about Taylor from a business perspective?

I heard somebody say that “nothing about Taylor Swift is an accident,” and I truly do believe that. Particularly as a business student, Taylor’s story has been so fascinating to me. At the end of the day, her songs, albums, merchandise, tours, etc. are all products, and for a product to have a life of almost 20 years not only says something about Taylor’s brilliance as an artist, but as a  businesswoman. With that, I am interested in unraveling all those pieces about her and seeing what made her the success that she’s become.

I heard somebody say that “nothing about Taylor Swift is an accident,” and I truly do believe that.

How did you meet Crystal Haryanto, BA 23 (Economics, Cognitive Science, & Public Policy), who founded this class?

Crystal and I met through Lizzie Coyle, director of Major Gifts at Haas. Lizzie shared the excitement of the Taylor Swift course in the business school and I was encouraged to consider joining the team as the team was also seeking a business perspective. I was supposed to study abroad this semester in Spain, but this was my sign to stay and do something that I’d never done before.

As a business student, how did you help shape the class syllabus?

Taylor Swift performing
Singer Taylor Swift (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

I asked the hard questions—for every concept in our syllabus, I ensured that there was a viable link to business. We wanted students to view Taylor as an entrepreneur who differentiates herself within a market, manages customer acquisition and sustains customer loyalty, and impacts multiple economies. We wanted them to think about how, as future entrepreneurs and business leaders, to make their customers their biggest fans, like Taylor has done.

Can you give a few examples of how that plays out weekly in the class?

One of my ideas for our marketing unit was a deep dive into Taylor’s style evolution over her self-proclaimed eras, and how that has reinforced her principles of relatability and world building. While style was a more subtle signal that built up over time, I’ve also enjoyed speaking about her direct power moves. Last night, for instance, we discussed how Taylor negotiated her contract with AMC Theatres and took hold of the reins for the Eras Tour film project. She financed the film and received 57% of the movie profits. To me, that was her learning from the mistake she made when she was younger, when she signed over the masters to her music.

In business school, students study the importance of connection in building an authentic brand. How has Taylor become a master at that?

Taylor’s songwriting stands out on two primary levels. The first is that she puts her insecurities and struggles out there, emotionally stripping herself through art. The second is that she vividly weaves those vulnerabilities into stories. Unique structures, sonic devices, and figurative language add layered complexities to these stories that ensure that they are highly talked about among consumers as a hot commodity. These elements of songwriting craft also tailor each product to match the message it is sending, which strengthens its value to consumers. She’s able to create a dynamic, so people continue to feel like they can relate to her. She really knows her audience, and her songs cover every part of her ideal listener’s life.

What does Taylor teach us about how to lead?

Taylor’s grandmother, Marjorie, said it best: “Never be so kind, you forget to be clever / Never be so clever, you forget to be kind.”

Taylor shows us how to balance a good heart with strategic design. We bring it up in class—the bonuses that she gives her team and the ways that she gives back to the community. Philanthropy happens to also be a tax write off for her, but that isn’t a bad thing. I think people know when a brand is doing something that feels inauthentic, and that isn’t the case with Taylor.

I think people know when a brand is doing something that feels inauthentic, and that isn’t the case with Taylor.

Taylor has so much power. How do you see her using it to uplift women’s voices, big and small?

Taylor has spoken extensively on how navigating the industry as a woman is different than as a man, which she writes about in “The Man” and “mad woman.”

She wears clothes from small, women-owned businesses, which have seen huge jumps in customers and traction.

But arguably one of the biggest ways that Taylor has amplified women’s voices is when she was a victim of sexual assault and ended up suing her assaulter for a symbolic one dollar. For many women, especially young fans, hearing a beloved figure speak so openly about that emotional damage not only acknowledges their pain, but also models speaking out against intolerable behavior that has become normalized in our society.

I have to ask about her dating Travis Kelce and what that has done for her brand.

The question should be what dating Taylor Swift has done for Travis Kelce’s brand. We’ll discuss her influence in the NFL in class and perhaps the perceptions that come with being in a high-profile relationship.

How much longer do you think that Taylor will continue reinventing herself as an artist? Do you think she will be like Madonna, touring in her 60s?

A lot of artists, once they feel like they’ve reached a certain point, go off the grid. I don’t quite know, but I know this: Taylor will always be a songwriter. She’s even said that she would consider writing songs for other people at some point. She cites songwriting as her lifeline, passion, and purpose—singing and performing are extensions of that.

Note: Bushala and her team will present at the annual Berkeley Haas Alumni Conference on April 27. Registration is open.  

Former Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh on making a brand iconic

Chip BerghFrom leadership lessons learned while serving in the U.S. Army to creating iconic brand campaigns for big companies, former Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh shared many career stories at last week’s Dean’s Speaker Series, co-sponsored by the Center for Responsible Business.

Bergh, who recently retired, is known as a “brand guy,” starting his career as a brand assistant at Procter & Gamble.

“My career kind of took off from there,” he said.

Bergh discussed his work on brands—including Folgers Coffee’s “Best part is waking up is Folgers in your cup” campaign and JIF Peanut Butter’s  “Choosy moms and dads choose JIF” campaign.

“The challenge of marketing is: How do you get a consumer to fall in love with your brand?” he said.

After becoming president & CEO at Levi’s in 2011, Bergh led the company’s dramatic turnaround, returning the brand to the center of the culture.

Bergh said his plan to revive Levi’s was simple. “I’m a brand guy. I knew nothing about apparel. I didn’t know much about retail either.  But I grew up in Levi’s. I can remember my first date or first kiss, I was wearing Levi’s. My whole thesis was (to make) the brand the way it was when I was a kid. I had to have Levi’s to go to seventh grade. I was not gonna be that kid to show up in middle school not wearing Levi’s.”

Watch the video here:

Read the full transcript:

– Good afternoon, everybody. I’m Ann Harrison. I’m the dean at the Haas School of Business. Welcome to today’s Dean’s Speaker Series. We are so lucky today to have Chip Bergh joining us. So exciting. When we think of Chip, I think personally of brands, big brands: Levi, Swiffer, Gillette, Old Spice. Chip spent his whole career in brand leadership from his first job out of the Army, as a brand assistant at Procter & Gamble, all the way to president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Company. And with a few stops in between, Chip took on the challenge of reinvigorating the Levi’s brand in 2011. Now, Levi’s has a global footprint of 3,200 stores and net revenues way over $6 billion. Chip has consistently questioned the status quo, one of our defining leadership principles, with his values-based leadership, and one of those values is to walk the walk on sustainability. It’s so important for us tonight to be able to learn from someone whose everyday work has focused on sustainability goals, goals related to issues of climate, issues of consumption, and community. Now, we actually have a very special connection to Levi Strauss & Company that many of you in the room may not know about. In 1897, Levi Strauss helped establish UC Berkeley’s very first scholarships. One hundred and twenty-seven years later, the Levi Strauss Scholars Program continues to operate at UC Berkeley, and it provides financial security for students with limited resources and big dreams. But actually, Haas and Levi Strauss have even closer ties than that. Our namesake, the namesake for the Haas School, Walter A. Haas, he started working at the small dry goods firm in 1919, marketed to teens after realizing blue jeans were the ultimate in cool, and he retired as chairman of the company in 1970. So I’m sure that Chip has a lot to say about this history and how it connects to the company’s DNA and the amazing denim legacy that he carried forward and has built on so incredibly successfully. I also should note that Chip just retired this week, and we’re already working hard to recruit him here to becoming a professor at Haas, and that is no joke. Congratulations on a truly meaningful career and all the successes still to come. Thank you, Chip, for joining us today to teach us everything that you have learned along the way. Now, some quick housekeeping. You should all have a note card on your seat. If you have a question right now or anytime during the event, please write it on the card, and be sure to include your name and which program that you’re in. My colleagues over here will be collecting them throughout the event for the Q&A portion after the fireside chat. And since Chip has recently retired, we’re asking that you focus your questions on his career and not the future of Levi’s and now. And now I’m going to—

– About the future is great.

– OK, and now, I’m going to turn it over to Manu Singh and Chris Burke, and they are students, are MBA students and they will moderate today’s discussion. Thank you.

– Thank you, Dean, for the introduction and welcome, Chip to the Dean’s Speaker Series. All of us are really, really excited. Who we have in the audience are MBA folks. We have evening and weekend program folks, also MBA. We have students from the wider UC Berkeley community. We have alumni of Haas as well. And then everybody has their notebooks out, and they’re here to learn from your inspiring journey, so thank you for being here. My first question is to you: You’ve just retired, and how are you feeling?

– Well, first of all, let me say, thank you very much for the warm welcome and for the very, very kind introduction. Yeah, my last official day as president and CEO was on Sunday, and so the 49ers gave me the best gift possible. We’re going to the Super Bowl, right? So yeah, Monday morning was a really weird feeling, waking up and not going into work, and I’m still adjusting to it. Nobody’s sending me emails anymore. But I’ve got a lot of options of different and interesting things that I might do as I go forward. I feel too young. I’m 66, but I feel too young to just hang it up completely. I want to do something where I’m going to have an impact. And as the dean knows, teaching is actually something that is pretty high on my list. So, who knows? Maybe you’ll see me around campus.

– Yes, woo! 

– But from the week after I graduated from undergraduate school, I have gone to work every day. And to wake up that first morning knowing I don’t have to go into the office, it was weird. And it’s going to take some time to adjust to it. I’ve had somebody tell me, you need to give yourself a couple of months to really decompress and detox. The CEO job, it is a high octane 24/7, always on. You never know when you’re going to get the call in the middle of the night or something. And it’s going to take a while, I think, to decompress. And then, with a clearer mind, I will decide where I’m going to go and what I’m going to do next. But it will be something.

– So, as a Lions fan, I can’t express the same amount of optimism you have right now. But just to get us started—

– Sorry about what happened there.

– I don’t want to talk about it. Taking us all the way back, you served in the military, for what? A little over four years? Can you just talk about how that shaped both who you are and your views on leadership moving forward into your career?

– Sure. Yeah, so I’ll take you back to when I went to college. I graduated from high school in 1975, little history lesson. So I graduated in June of 1975. In April of 1975, the Vietnam War ended. So the furthest thing from my mind when I went to college was enrolling in ROTC. But somebody dangled a smart rising sophomore, who was in ROTC, dangled this idea that, if you sign up for ROTC and you stay for a week, you get to keep the boots. So I signed up for ROTC, and it turns out, I loved it. And then, six months in, the commander of the ROTC unit said, “Why don’t you apply for a scholarship?” And I was doing three jobs and trying to bailing wax and string trying to get my way through college. And I was like, he said, “It’ll pay for all your tuition, room and board, plus a monthly stipend of 100 bucks a month,” which back then, was a lot of money. I was like, “I’m in, I’ll apply.” And three months later, I got it. So then, all of a sudden, the military, Uncle Sam was paying for college, and I had this opportunity to go into the Army, and it was life changing for me. One of the life-changing moves, that I looked back on my life and said, “My life would be totally different if I had not done that.” Many people have accused me, it’s still looking like I’m in the Army, but it made me who I am as a leader. So, after I graduated from college, my unit was in West Germany, OK? Outside of Frankfurt, West Germany. When there was still an East Germany. My unit’s mission was to be kind of the first line of defense. I was in an air defense unit, first line of defense. When the Russian hoards came across to fold the gap in World War III, we were going to be the first line of defense. I had a platoon, my first assignment, I was a platoon leader, a second lieutenant, 22 years old, right out of college. My platoon sergeant, 18-year-Army veteran. My four squad leaders who had been in the military anywhere from about four to eight years, all had to salute me and call me sir. And it grew me up really, really fast. I learned everything about leadership in the military, and leadership has changed over the years, but it really made me who I am as a leader. And I learned never to ask a soldier to do anything that you yourself wouldn’t do. I’ve learned really the essence of what now is called servant leadership, taking care of your people. You take care of your people, they’re going to take care of you. But I learned so much. And it all applied to business too, later on. But I had the opportunity to make the military my career. I had a “regular Army commission,” which is the same commission that West Point graduates graduate with, even though I went to a “real school.” Sorry about that if there are any West Pointers in here. But I decided I really wanted to go to a place where it was a meritocracy, where if you performed really well, you moved ahead quicker. And that was not really the military until after about 18 years. And then maybe the better performers start to separate, so. But it was life-changing. Very big.

– Yeah, thank you. Thank you for sharing that. And you then joined P&G after your military experience, right? And then you rose in the rank there from a brand manager?

– Brand assistant.

– Brand assistant. All the way to the group president, right? And so, I’m curious, and then after that, you made the decision to move to Levi’s. As I see, these two sectors are very different. One is consumer goods, the other is apparel, different demand, different supply chain, different everything. So I’m curious, why did you make that kind of move?

– OK, well, so a couple of things. There were probably several questions in that question, but yeah, when I left the military, I graduated undergrad. I went to Lafayette College, relatively small liberal arts school in Easton, Pennsylvania. Any Lafayette grads here? Didn’t think so. Bummed me out. I was an international affairs major, so I didn’t really have any practical business experience or anything like that. But one of the things that four plus years in the military taught me was it taught me a lot about myself. I learned a lot about myself and what kind of environment I would thrive in, what kind of environment where I could be really successful. I knew myself as a leader and how I could make things happen through other people. And so, when I decided to leave the military, I looked at a wide range of different types of career opportunities and different companies. And at the end of the day, I felt that brand management at P&G really felt like the best fit for me. Back in the day, they used to describe brand management as like, mini general manager. I still remember the picture on the recruiting brochure where the brand manager was in the center and then all of the other functions were around it. And it was like a mini general manager role. And that’s the way they pitched it to young aspiring people like me and some of you. And that felt like a really, really good thing. And then, when I interviewed there, I just really liked the people, and I felt like it was an environment where I could be really successful. And it turned out, that’s how it played out. I mean, I spent 28 years at P&G. I actually technically retired from P&G. I went to work the next week when I joined Levi’s, but I had been there long enough that I technically retired. And I had an amazing career. I started as a brand assistant, and over the course of 28 years, I rose through the ranks of brand management. So brand assistant, it was a very linear career path, but brand assistant, assistant brand manager, brand manager. I started in a very obscure division called food service and lodging products, which was kind of the institutional division, if you will, of P&G where we sold big things of oil to restaurants, to deep fry food. We had big things of Tide laundry detergent that we sold actually to laundries and also to clean floors and restaurants. So, our customers were institutional customers. And then, after about six years, I moved over to the consumer side of the business to the retail food business. And my career kind of took off from there. I worked in the food and beverage business. I worked on brands like Folgers. “Best part is waking up is Folgers in your cup.” I worked on JIF Peanut Butter, “Choosy moms and dads choose JIF.” So, I worked at Duncan Hines. I was brand manager on Duncan Hines Baking Mix. And working in the food and beverage business as a marketer was a great place to spend my career. Because, if you think about it, the challenge of marketing is: “How do you get a consumer to fall in love with your brand?” And when you’re selling coffee, for example, the end benefit of coffee, it’s a drug, right? It’s caffeine; it wakes you up in the morning. What’s the difference between Folgers and Maxwell House? Back in the day, it’s “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” And that emotional advertising that kind of sucked the consumer in and created this attachment to the brand. And so, kind of growing up in food and beverage, I really learned the importance of understanding the consumer and kind of unarticulated needs and how to really emotionally connect with the consumer. And I will tell you how that played forward even on Levi’s. OK? Anyway, my career kind of continued. I was marketing director on Folgers, and I was general manager on this tiny crummy little business that we had called Hard Surface Cleaners. That sounds like fun, huh? Brands like Comet, Spic and Span, Mr. Clean, Luster Oil. Have you heard of any of these brands? OK. It was a business in the U.S. It was a $200 million business. It was breakeven, it was declining. Not fun, not strategic at all. And I had just come off of Folgers, which was like a $1.5 billion dollar business. Our marketing budget was bigger than the total size of our hard surface cleaners business. I was doing 30 pieces of advertising a year as a marketing guy. That was great fun. Come to Hard Surface Cleaners, and we’re barely making any money, and it’s not strategic to the company. And turns out, it was probably the best assignment in my career at P&G, or one of the best. The business was really challenged. And when I got there, I said to my team, “The best definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. We need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to turn this business around.” And if you think about it, all of those businesses, Comet, which is sand in a can, right? Mr. Clean, Luster Oil, these were all designed for the 1950s when mom stayed at home and cleaned the house and baked the cake, and dad went to work and came home. Honest to goodness, that was the business. And cleaning had completely changed. This was now in the 1990s, to working families. We didn’t even have hard surfaces in most of our houses. We had carpets for crying out loud, right? So, we went back and went deep on the consumer and discovered that consumers hated to clean. They wanted cleaning to be simple, quick, and fun. Like an impossible dream, right? And out of that came Swiffer.

– Yes!

– Thank you. I knew somebody would say that. And that is today a $2 billion global business. And it was all based on this consumer insight that people don’t want to clean like the 1950s. They have different surfaces, they have different needs in their life. And we built a new business around those needs, and it turned into a $2 billion business. Anyway, I’m taking too much time here. I haven’t even answered your question. OK, then I went, I kind of carried on in my career. I went to Asia for six years. I ran P&G’s business in Southeast Asia, which was amazing. I was based in Singapore. Interestingly enough, my youngest son and his wife are soon moving to Singapore, and he’s going to get to go back there. But it was a small business when I got out there. It was about a billion-dollar business across all these great markets from India, across to the Philippines, everything in between, and then down all the way to Australia, New Zealand. So I had some really high GDP per capita markets like Singapore. I had some really, really low GDP per capita markets like Indonesia and India and a little bit of everything in between. Incredible diversity, incredible young organization, amazing experience. And in six and a half, almost seven years, we went from a billion dollars in sales to $3 billion in sales. We were the fastest-growing business in P&G for three or four years in a row. Phenomenal experience. And then, P&G acquired Gillette. The CEO was telling me I need to go back to Cincinnati. I was like, “Nah, not so much. I’m not sure I want to go back to Cincinnati.” He called me up one day and he said, “We just acquired Gillette, how would Boston be?” And I was like, “Boston? Cincinnati, Boston be great.” And so, I was the first P&Ger dropped into Gillette when we made that acquisition. It was a $57-billion deal, biggest acquisition, still to this day in consumer packaged goods. That was an amazing experience as well, running this big. It was about a $7.5-billion business. I also had responsibility for all the other male grooming brands in the portfolio, the biggest one of which was Old Spice, which was also the troubled business that we managed to turn around the last couple of years that I was there. We used to jokingly say, “Old Spice is that fragrance your grandpa wears. Unfortunately, your grandpa is dying.” And so was the business. And so, we repositioned Old Spice. We went after Axe, and we did a really cool piece of advertising that aired just after the Super Bowl, not on the Super Bowl. Very famous ad that started with, “Hello, ladies.” And you probably know the ad that I’m talking about. It ends with, “I’m on a horse.” And that took the business to completely new heights overnight. Overnight. Then I got the call for Levi’s. And I was mid-50s at this point in time. Young daughter, two grown boys, and starting to think about what would be next. I’ve been working on the Gillette business for about seven years. And the most likely scenario is, I go back to Cincinnati and run Pampers or something else, which is a big brand, and that would’ve been fun, too, but it was kind of like, “Is that it?” You know, “Is that my career?” And it’s not like I had this burning desire. I had to go be a CEO per se, but I wanted to do something where I was going to have a legacy and make a difference. And I had been getting calls while I was at Gillette for other CEO opportunities, most of which weren’t very, very interesting. But when I got the call for Levi’s my ears perked up. The headhunter said to me on the phone, “You know, I think I’ve got something that might be interesting to you. What do you think about Levi’s?” And the words out of my mouth were, “Oh, wow.” And honestly, at that moment, I was actually in Beijing with my leadership team from Gillette at that exact moment. And if you’d asked me right then, and I had just been in a mall the prior day and had walked past a Levi’s store, and if you’d asked me, “How big is Levi’s?”, I would’ve said it was a $10 billion brand easily. ‘Cause everywhere I traveled around the world, I saw Levi’s. And I grew up on Levi’s, and I like to say everybody’s got a Levi’s story. But as I started doing my due diligence on the company, the brand was broken, the company was lost. It had not performed in well over a decade. I mentioned, I’ve got two, they’re now really grown boys. My oldest son is turning 41 this month and lives in Taiwan. My youngest son is 36 and works at Nike up in Portland. And when they were teenagers, they never wore Levi’s. It was not even in their consideration setting. My guess is, if there are some of you who were kind of early 30s, early-30s to mid-30s, it probably wasn’t in your consideration set either as a teenager. And so, the more I dug into it, the more I was like, “This is one of America’s greatest brands, one of America’s oldest companies.” We just celebrated our 171st birthday. We’re going on 171 years now. “One of America’s oldest companies, one of America’s greatest brands, one of America’s oldest brands, a brand that I loved as a kid.” And that represented the opportunity to really make a difference. And so, I decided to do it, and it’s been amazing— 

– Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I think you’ve worked in brands, which you feel inspired about, right? So I guess a quick show of hands in the audience, how many of you have had a pair of Levi’s jeans? OK, OK, wow.

– That’s almost 100%. Or let’s break the other way. Who hasn’t?

– OK, there are a few.

– OK, you’re brave, you’re brave. We’re going to work on you tonight. No, but seriously, I do like to say, “Everybody’s got a Levi’s story,” and I did my due diligence before I took the job. I kind of discovered that people, I asked my friends, “Have you bought Levi’s lately?” And they, “God, I grew up in Levi’s. I can remember like my first date or first kiss, I was wearing Levi’s.” And they would say, this is back before I took the job, “But I can’t even remember the last time I bought a pair of Levi’s.” And so the opportunity to kind of—my going-in thesis was really simple. I’m a brand guy. I knew nothing about apparel. I’m a brand guy. I didn’t know much about retail, either. My whole thesis was if we could make the brand the way it was when I was a kid. I had to have Levi’s to go to seventh grade. I was not going to be that kid to show up in middle school not wearing Levi’s. Those kids got pounded by the cool kids. And so, I asked my mom to drive me about three towns over so that we could buy a pair of Levi’s for when I went to seventh grade, that’s one of my Levi’s stories. First memory. And that was the whole going-in thesis. And that has really been what we’ve done over the last 12 years. We put the brand back at the center of culture, made it cool with the kids again, and have significantly grown the business by about 50% over the last decade or so. I’m freaking these guys out ’cause I’m a storyteller, and they’re like, “Man, we’re so far behind.”

– No, we would never. No, I feel like as a brand guy, being able to hop onto a 170-year-old brand has gotta be an exciting experience. Something you want to just kind of dig your teeth right into. But can you talk a little bit about the listening tour you did about chips and beers? ‘Cause that seems like something that not every CEO is doing these days.

– Yeah, and when I got to the company, I knew there was going to be a ton of skepticism. Did I? It’s blinking. Red and green. OK, when I got to the company, I knew that there was going to be a lot of skepticism. Who is this new CEO? He has never been a CEO before. He doesn’t know anything about apparel. Doesn’t know retail. Who is this bozo? And I also came in with a huge amount of humility because I knew they were right. I didn’t know anything about apparel. I didn’t know anything about retail. And I had to come in with a huge amount of willingness to learn. And so, one of the things I did is, I sent the same six questions to the top 60 people in the company. I’m not going to remember all six off the top of my head, but “What three things do you hope I will do? What three things are you most afraid I might do? What are the three things that you think we have to keep? What three things have to change? What advice do you have for me?” Which was open-ended. And there was one more, and I don’t remember what it was, but I went and I sent it out to the same 60 people and I said I’m going to set up an hour. I’m going to come to your office, sit down, use it as an opportunity to learn a little bit about the person, but then get into a conversation. And I was kind of surprised because after about 15 or 20 of those interviews, there were some really, really clear themes about what was almost sacred about the company. And almost, “Don’t touch these kind of things,” like our values, this notion of profits through principles, this deep sense of pride about the impact that this company has in the world beyond just selling blue jeans. But at the same time, it was also really clear that there was no strategy. The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. The company was very, very siloed. There was a huge amount of pride about the brand and the company but a real lack of understanding of how poorly the company was actually performing and had not really grown or created any shareholder value over more than a decade. And so, that really began the early phases of putting a strategy together is, “What are the things that we absolutely must protect?” And I would say, as I finally got it, it took me about a year or two, but this notion of profits through principles, which is one of the big differentiators of this company. This company punches way above its weight. We’re a $6-plus billion revenue company with a market cap of about $6.5 billion. And we get thrown around because of who we are and how we operate in the world. Our name gets associated with much, much bigger companies. Right? When we stood up to the immigration ban in 2016 that the president enacted unilaterally, the first week he was president in 2016, we immediately took a stand opposing the immigration ban because it was targeting people from Muslim countries, and it was just flat-out wrong. The headline in the newspaper the next day was, “Apple, Google, Facebook, and Levi’s stand up to the immigration policy.” They were all trillion-dollar market cap companies and little old us in the same headline because we have this long-standing tradition and focus as a company of not being afraid to stick our necks out to do the right thing and to make a difference in the world. And that is a big part of who we are. And part of the magic of this turnaround in the last decade is linking this concept of profits through principles to our business results internally with our employees. That the way we make a difference in the world is largely through the Levi Strauss Foundation and the nonprofit organizations that we work with. And we are able to have more impact with those organizations when we are more successful as a company. So the more profit we make, the more money we donate to the foundation, and the more great work that the foundation can do in the world. And that has created this virtual spiral. ‘Cause every employee wants us to make a difference in the world. And that kind of connects delivering strong business results to having an impact.

– Yup. And Chip, I don’t think you need moderators at all. I think you’re amazing at telling stories. So you talk a lot about employees and there, what are they saying? I’m curious in building these multi-generational brands, right? You also need to hear about the customer and what are they saying? So what are some of the strategies you did to listen to the customers more?

– Yeah, I think one of the things that we did pretty early on was, and my successor, Michelle, is doing the same thing, is really making a point of putting the consumer first in everything that we do, in designing our products and thinking about our marketing and how we go to market. Really putting the consumer front and center. And I learned that at P&G, too. I mean, Swiffer came out of great insights from the consumer. And I’ve always believed that you have to really listen and dig deep to understand the consumer. Our selling a great story on this. Actually, in India, it was in Bangalore that this happened. One of the things I love to do when I go to a market is do just real simple qualitative research with consumers. And sometimes, I’ll go shopping with a consumer and just understand how that consumer is shopping, what are they looking at, what do they like, what did they not like? And that’s a lot of fun. But this was early 2013, I think, maybe late 2012. I was in Bangalore, and I did a consumer in-home, and I was with a young woman who was in her 20s. She worked in the IT sector in Bangalore. She came from a wealthy family. They had a big house, air conditioning. And she also went to school in the U.K. So a good family. And she was recruited because she loved denim and she had multiple pairs of jeans. Long story short, did this qualitative research, at the end I said, “Can we see your jeans? Can we take a look at what jeans you’ve got?” And she walked into her bedroom with the moderator and the country manager and she spoke perfect English. So we didn’t need a translator or anything. And she laid out about eight pairs of jeans on her bed. And I said, “Well, tell us about each one of these.” And they weren’t all Levi’s to be clear, right? So the first pair was some premium brand. And she said, “Well these are my date jeans for fancy Saturday night date.” And we kind of went one by one down to the last two pairs of jeans, which were Levi’s, and the second to last pair, “OK, what are these for?” And she said, “These are my go-to jeans. If I’m going to go have coffee with a friend at the mall on Saturday, these are the jeans that I wear to just go out and hang out with my friends.” I was like, “OK, what about this last pair?” Silence. She gets a little wispy, a little tear in the eye and she says, “Well, to be honest with you, those jeans don’t even fit me anymore, but those are the jeans that I wore in college. They have the story of my college, my university years, and I can’t bear it apart with them.” And then she said, “You wear other jeans, but you live in Levi’s.” That is the selling idea in our advertising. If you watch our advertising, it’s live in Levi’s. And remember I said, “Everybody’s got a Levi’s story?” That’s what live in Levi’s is all about. Everybody’s got a Levi’s story. So it’s just a way to bring to life this notion of just really listening to the consumer and being very consumer-focused. And in apparel, you have to do that because trends change so fast. And when I first joined the company, we were missing trends, especially on the women’s business. Now, we’re leading trends, and we have been leading trends on the women’s business for the last five years or so, and we’re big enough that we can really create trends, too.

– So continuing on that listening theme, for someone who led the re-IPO, you talk a lot more about stakeholders than you do shareholders, I feel like. Can you talk a little bit about, A., how Levi’s treats its employees, whether that’s reproductive health care benefits, whether that’s advocating for gun reform in the U.S,, but then also, how you view that as a competitive advantage for hiring, especially being in the Bay Area, which I think a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily assume a company like Levi’s would place their headquarters.

– Well, Levi Strauss himself, the man, was a smart guy to put his company here in San Francisco and in the Bay Area. And I like to say we’re the original Bay Area startup. You know, “Who wants to come join us?” The original Bay Area startup. But no, stakeholder management is something that we’ve taken really, really seriously long before I came along. And I do consider our employees as one of our most important stakeholders. And I was telling you earlier, before we came out here, we got into this, we’ve taken a stand publicly on ending gun violence in this country. And we’ve been on this journey for the last probably seven years now. Seven years, I’m looking at Janna. It started because we have a couple hundred stores here in the United States. And in the United States, there are some states where people can walk around with a gun on their belt. And we have a company policy that employees are not allowed to bring guns to work. And so, we had store managers who were not feeling very safe because people were walking into their stores brandishing a gun, and they don’t know if they’re a good guy or a bad guy. And long story short, we had a customer in our store who went into the dressing room, had a weapon in his pocket, and when he dropped his jeans to try on a new pair of jeans, the weapon discharged, it went off. He literally shot himself in the foot, can’t make that up. And that was it. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back because that bullet, instead of going into his foot, it could have gone into one of my employees, it could have gone into one of the customers in a store. It could have gone into a customer’s child, it could have had a much more tragic ending. And our store managers know that other retailers had asked gun owners to not bring weapons into the store, particularly in open carry states. And so, we went to school and looked at other retailers who had done this. Notably, Target and Starbucks were the two models that we looked at. And we basically did what they did, which was politely, with courtesy, and with respect, to ask gun owners to not bring a weapon into the store. You don’t need a gun to try on a pair of Levi’s. And as you can imagine, there was immediate and massive blowback. And that is what basically got us into this journey. We got in deeper after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Is that OK? I get that right? Stoneman Douglas, after the shooting down in Florida in 2018, I think. And that’s when we talked to the board of directors about really going big and being public about trying to put an end to gun violence in this country. And if you talk to young people, which we do, and we quantitatively research young people as well, it is one of the top two or three things on young people’s mind. Most of you grew up in an environment, if you went to school here in the United States where you’d practice lockdown drills. And, oftentimes, in many schools, you don’t know if it’s a drill or the real thing. Many people have been impacted by gun violence in this country. I think the latest number is close to 60% of people know somebody who has been impacted by gun violence in this country. And it’s a top-three issue among young people here. And so, after that particular shooting, the Parkland shooting, we started working with the young people who were activating to really build a voice against ending gun violence in this country. And we supported them. And we’ve been in it now. In fact, our board of directors made it better. It’s like, “Don’t just use your voice, put your money behind it too.” And so, we have activated with our mouth and our money to try to put an end to gun violence in this country. And a year ago, or two years ago maybe now, U.S. Congress just passed the strictest gun violence legislation in over a decade. And we played a part in getting that done. We had over 500 companies’ CEOs join me in a letter to Congress to encourage them to pass that legislation. It’s the first time in over a decade where any gun legislation has been passed, and it’s one small step. We’re not all the way there, but we believe we’re making a big difference. And it all started because of our employees. Same thing, reproductive rights. I’ll try to be a little bit shorter here, but when Roe v. Wade was overturned, actually, before it was even officially overturned, when the leak happened, we immediately weighed in and said we were going to continue to support our employees with reproductive health care. And we were very public, and that really became the model that many companies followed, and we are still there for our employees even in states where it’s gotten egregious and very, very difficult for a woman to take care of her body as she wishes.

– Yeah, I think we have a lot of questions, but no time.

– I’m sticking around though. I’ll stick around.

– Yeah, I think it’s probably the last question is, I know you mentioned you’re going to teaching, and you’re probably coming to us to be a professor.

– I don’t know, I may not get a job after being so long-winded today.

– Yeah, no pressure though.

– You can make that check out to Manu’s, by the way.

– Yeah, but otherwise, what’s next for you? Apart from teaching that you’re thinking about?

– Well, I don’t know yet. It’s only been a couple of days. I still need to kind of get over the shock and awe of not going into the office and not being a CEO anymore. But I will say one thing. Yes, I was president and CEO of Levi Strauss for 12.5 years, and I’m really proud of everything that the company has accomplished over that period of time. But I think, unlike a lot of CEOs, I never made it who I am. I am first and foremost, a husband, a father, a brother, a friend. And that is still my identity. I also think of myself as an athlete. I’m a terrible athlete by the way, but I do try to take care of myself. I work out almost every day. That’s an important part of who I am, too. And so a lot of CEOs, the day they retire, they have this massive identity crisis. And there’s the funny story where the CEO goes out the front door and sits in the backseat of the car and then wonders why the car isn’t going anywhere. ‘Cause there’s no driver. And that’s not me. It’s not my identity. It never was completely my identity. It was what I had on my business card and what my job was. And I took those responsibilities really, really seriously. But I’m just a regular guy and I’m like a lot of you, and I’ve got hopes and dreams just like all of you. And I’ve got my blind spots and my weak spots as well. And there’s stuff that I’m still working on, too. So I put my pants on—my Levi’s on—one leg at a time just like everybody else. And I know that there’s a future still. So my biggest thing is, I do have a 15-year-old daughter who is a freshman in high school. She goes away, she’s at a boarding school actually on the East Coast. And my biggest thing is, I want to live a long, healthy life. And so that’s why I am really focused on fitness, nutrition, and I have been for a long, long time. You can probably tell it by looking at me, but part of what I want to do next is I want to stay very deeply engaged and do something where I have an impact. And that’s why teaching and being around young people like all of you is something that is really very high on my list.

– Thank you. Thank you for your time. Thank you.

– Thank you. And I’m Robert Strand. I have the privilege to be the executive director of the Center for Responsible Business and the executive director of the Nordic Center here at UC Berkeley. And I will say, first, and Chip, congratulations on your 49ers victory. Chris, you’re a Lions fan. I’m a Packers fan, so I say that congratulations with a little bit of a wince, but I do hope the 49ers win that Super Bowl. Dean Harrison remarked on the long-standing ties with the University of California, Berkeley and Levi Strauss going back to 1897. And of course, in our name here, Haas School of Business, those ties with Levi’s are so strong, and we are so proud at the Center for Responsible Business that Levi Strauss is our longest-standing partner. And Anna Walker here was a longtime board member for the Center for Responsible Business. And we want to say on behalf of the Center for Responsible Business also, thank you so very much. Our partnership means so much. The dean also emphasized that, Chip, you’re known for successful brands, and has come out here as well, as you’re known for purpose and deep-seated purpose. And you exemplify beyond yourself and question the status quo in spades. And I think that there’s such a lesson for our MBAs here in that business leaders can and should be champions of strong public policy that’s in the interest of society. To use your role, your platform, your power to be lobbyists for society first and your company second. And you exemplify that so well, and the work in your leadership in gun violence prevention and democracy is so incredible. Now, Chip, you love students, and Liz, I’m going to ask you to come up here in a moment and ask some questions on behalf of students. And we are so fortunate here at Haas that soon, Chip will also be a professor here at Haas. Who would say, yes indeed?

– I’m excited.

– We’re so excited. We are so excited. So you can have the weekend, and then you come on Monday, the semester just started and away we go. All right, well with that then, some of your future students here have some questions. So Liz, Schasel, who’s our Center for Responsible Business, one of our fellows, we’re so proud to have you, Liz, please on behalf of the students. And, Chip, again, thank you so much. Thank you, Robert.

– Thank you, Chip, for being here and sharing such a great part of your story with us today. We have four very thoughtful questions from the audience, and we’ll start with a hardball. What is the hardest decision you made as the CEO of Levi’s? Why was it hard, and what did you do?

– I think probably the hardest thing, we actually had to do this twice, was a pretty serious round of layoffs. And the first time was shortly after I joined the company, 2013, 2014. When I joined the company, we had about $2 billion of debt. Our profit margins were really low, we weren’t generating a lot of cash. Our balance sheet was an issue, and we were bloated, we were fat. And I made the hard decision to lay off about 15% of the management workforce. We did it the right way, if there is such a thing of letting people go, but people got packages, they were taken care of. But that was really, really hard. And we had to do it again during the pandemic. When the pandemic happened, the pandemic was a really scary moment when you’re running a business because one day everything was fine, and the next day, we were all locked down, and our stores were closed, and most of our customers’ stores were closed, too. And so, that very first quarter, we normally do about $1.5 billion or $1.6 billion a quarter. The first quarter of lockdown, we did less than $500 million in revenue. And that was in the first two and a half weeks of the quarter before everything else shut down. And we had no idea how long we were going to be shut down. You want to talk about scary? It was like, “How much cash do we have, and how long can we last?” That was the question we were asking ourselves. So we immediately went out and got cash. So we got as much cash as we could get our hands on, but we also had to rightsize the organization because we knew that we were not going to be a $6 billion business that year or probably the following year. So we had to do it again in the middle of a pandemic. And that was pretty tough. So that’s the hardest thing about running a business is, when your costs get out of line, you have to go do something about it. And I inherited the first one. The second one was a pandemic, and it was hard. But that by far is the toughest thing. Needing to look somebody that you’re working—these are all good, talented people, and needing to look them in the eye and tell them that they don’t have a job is really brutal.

– Thanks for sharing that. I know many of the future business leaders in this room may face tough decisions, so it’s nice to hear from your experience. Our second question is about mentorship. Who were the biggest contributors or mentors in your career, and what was the most important lesson that they taught you?

– Yeah, I’ve been really lucky. I’m a big believer that mentorship is not something that can be assigned. P&G used to do that. They would assign you a mentee or a mentor. It never works. I think it happens naturally. There has to be that human connection. But I would encourage all of you to work hard to develop a mentor relationship with somebody. It can be your boss or your boss’s boss, or it could be somebody higher up but not in your direct line of command. I was blessed. I mean, I had a number of great mentors and still do. Probably my strongest mentor through the years was, he was my boss for a period of time at P&G. And he’s older than me, he retired ahead of me. But when I was thinking about taking the job at Levi’s, I actually flew to Cincinnati where he lived and took him out to dinner. He was already retired, took him out to dinner, and I laid it out on him. And I actually thought he was going to try to talk me out of it because he was a P&G retiree, worked for P&G his entire career, owned a lot of P&G stock, and I thought he was going to say, “You’d be crazy to leave P&G.” And he actually said the biggest thing I look back on and ask myself is, “Would I have been a good CEO?” And he said, “If you want to really test yourself, you want to set yourself up to do something that makes a big difference, you need to go do this.” And he made a huge difference in my life without one single piece of advice ’cause I was really wrestling with it. When you spend your whole career at one company, you’ve got your own personal brand, and your career is really, really well-established. It’s a huge risk at that stage to go do something completely outside of your industry and everything else. And he was like, “You got this, you can do this.” And it made a huge difference.

– Wow. Well please send our gratitude on behalf of the Levi’s fans in the rooms to your mentor. I would be remiss if we did not talk about sustainability. Sustainability is a big passion of a lot of the folks at Haas. Dean Ann Harrison has done a great job incorporating this into the curriculum. How did your perspective on sustainability in the consumer business change over the course of your career, especially as climate change has become a more urgent topic?

– Yeah, I would say when I was at Procter, sustainability was code language for cost savings, lightweight the package, take water out of the package, lightweight the product, figure out how to do round things in squares so that it ships more efficiently. It was all code language for cost savings really. And a lot of the sustainability things that we did really did generate real cost savings. They were still good to do for the planet, but they generated good cost savings. When I came over to Levi’s though, and I began to really understand the impact that the apparel industry has on planet Earth, it became much more of a wake-up call. And very, very early on, I was introduced to the lifecycle study that we had done on a pair of blue jeans, which was first done back in 2007 by the company to really understand the carbon impact of a pair of jeans from growing the cotton all the way through to consumer use and post-use. And that was an eye-opener. Then, early in my first year, I did a supply chain trip and really began to understand, from a supply chain standpoint, the impact that we have as an industry. Chemicals and water and water use, water reuse. And that had a big impact. And then, when we started doing a little bit of back the envelope math on the amount of garments that go into landfills and the impact that that has on planet Earth, as these things decompose, all began to really paint a pretty bleak picture about the apparel industry. And we’re one of the leading apparel brands in the world. And the good news is, the company was already marching forward on a very big sustainability agenda. And what I did was, I just basically deemed that all of our innovation was going to be through the lens of sustainability. And very early on, we created the Eureka! Innovation Center, which you see the patch, that’s the patch. They made this jean jacket for me, this trucker jacket for me is a going away gift, but it’s right down the street from our headquarters, and we’ve put an enormous amount of energy in sustainability. Eliminating bad chemicals from our supply chain. We’ve led the industry there, we open source all of that, figuring out how to reduce water use in the industry. We’ve open-sourced all of that, so anything that we find that is really good for planet Earth from a sustainability standpoint, we’re all in for sharing it. It doesn’t need to be a secret. And so it is our commitment. From a commercial standpoint, we’ve been working secondhand. I like to say, I have no data to back this up, but I like to say we’re the No. 1 brand in secondhand stores, right? Anybody disagree with that? I think we are. And we know that people love buying vintage jeans, vintage Levi’s, right? So we have now kind of curated our own secondhand website. So we have, which we actually operate with a partner and we encourage and incent consumers to bring in their old jeans, and we work with a third party to patch them up and clean them and then post them on the website, and we sell them at a nice discount. So we’re kind of all in on this and trying to figure out. And sustainability, actually, it’s a huge important thing for young consumers. So we’ve got to be doing it from that standpoint. It’s a consumer need today, but it plays right to our sweet spot as a company, right? A great pair of Levi’s is going to last you for a long, long time. We are all about quality that never goes out of style. And invest in a good pair of jeans, invest in a great trucker jacket, you’re going to be passing it on to your children or your grandchildren. And that is the ultimate of sustainability. Buying fewer things, buying less things, buying higher quality things, buying things that are going to last, and buying things that are versatile. That’s Levi’s. And so, we should be able to win on a sustainability platform, and we think we are.

– That’s fantastic to hear—and I’m sure a big reason why the collaboration between Haas and Levi’s has lasted for so long. Our last question from the audience is, “What are three things that any growing leader should keep in mind while leading a team and helping manage a business?”

– Ooh, OK. Alright, I’m going to give you a couple of the things that I like to say. Number one is: Do the harder right over the easier wrong, OK? And when you lead teams, you need to be aware that they’re looking for how you make your decisions. The harder right over the easier wrong, you will always go right. So that’s one important thing. Second, I’m a big believer in just complete transparency and being straight. And I think a lot of mistakes, or one of the mistakes, that many people make when they begin leading people and leading teams is they want to be liked. It’s OK to be liked. I’m not saying being liked is a bad thing, but I would suggest, don’t strive to be liked, strive to be respected, OK? You won’t be as straight with somebody if you want to be liked. But if you want to be respected, you will give people direct and clear feedback. You will help them grow. You will come from a place where you want them to continue to grow and develop and build and improve. And so, if that’s where you really come from, you can be straight with them. But if you want to be liked, you’re going to be nice to them. And they may not even hear the feedback that they need to hear because you’re going to couch it in a way that it sounds like you’re being nice to them. So strive to be respected, OK? That doesn’t mean you can be a jerk, but just be respected, be honest, be straight, be transparent. Be thoughtful and real with your people. And then, the third thing that I’ve been saying a lot as I’ve been exiting kind of stage right from Levi’s is, nobody’s ever going to remember you for the business results. They’re going to remember you for what you did for them. It’s a paraphrase of a Maya Angelou quote, but they’re going to remember how you made them feel. They’re going to remember how you made them grow. They’re going to remember you for how you made them better. They’re going to remember you for how you picked them up when they were down, or how you saw that they were struggling with something and you helped them out. That’s what they’re going to remember you for. And if you get people to follow you because of that, you will have lots of people wanting to follow you.

– Thank you, Chip, on behalf of the student body and everybody in the room, thank you so much for spending your time with us.

– Thank you very much.

– And that brings our evening to a conclusion. So Chip, thank you so much on behalf of Dean Harrison. This was a Dean’s Speaker Series and a Center for Responsible Business, Peterson Speaker Series. Everyone have a nice evening.

– Thank you.

2023 FTMBA grads land record number of VC jobs

two guys standing in front of a sedan
Will McKelvey, MBA 23, (right) met with 43 founders in five days on a cross-country trip to Berkeley in 2021 with his college roommate. McKelvey was planning on pursuing venture capital at Haas. He now works at VC fund Lerer Hippeau.

Before Will McKelvey arrived to enroll in the full-time MBA program at Berkeley Haas in 2021, he and his college roommate drove cross-country to California. Along the way, McKelvey, who was planning a career in venture capital, met with as many startups as possible—a whopping 43 founders in five days. McKelvey, an Ohio native, even launched a blog sharing his impressions of venture opportunities from Dayton to Detroit to Chicago.

“You can’t dabble in VC,” McKelvey, MBA 23, who became interested in the economic power of startups while working for Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna for four years, said. “If you decide it’s your thing, go all in. It’s not a space for tourists.” 

At Haas, McKelvey didn’t let up, interning at multiple venture firms and serving as co-president of the Haas VC Club. Now an investor at early-stage VC fund Lerer Hippeau, McKelvey is among a record number of 2023 Berkeley Haas MBA graduates working in the field of venture capital.

Will McKelvey is now an investor at early-stage VC fund Lerer Hippeau.

“VC is the second-biggest sector for finance jobs among our MBAs,” said William Rindfuss, a member of the Haas Professional Faculty who leads strategic programs for the finance faculty group and manages financial services recruiting at Haas. “Only investment banking drew more recent grads.”

Fourteen of the 2023 FTMBA graduates accepted employment in venture capital, a record high. Of that group, half work for venture funds, and half have joined venture arms of tech, health care, and financial services companies, Rindfuss said. 

Rindfuss attributes the growth to the support of the Berkeley Haas alumni network, comprehensive courses in venture capital, including New Venture Finance, an increase in campus resources for VC, and the school’s Bay Area location. 

Proximity to venture firms gives students the ability to explore VC through both in-semester internships and summer internships over the course of the two-year MBA program. Such a portfolio of experiences can lead to full-time offers. But as Rindfuss notes, landing a job in venture capital differs widely from investment banking.

Proximity to venture firms gives students the ability to explore VC through both in-semester internships and summer internships over the course of the two-year MBA program.

That’s where the students’ hard work comes in with landing internships and jobs. While big banks recruit on campus through a structured process, VC firms expect students to get their attention and come to them, which might mean writing whitepapers on emerging subsectors or reaching out to firms with project ideas in order to build their networks.

Just as the Haas Finance Club has long been a major source of support for Haas students pursuing investment banking, the VC Club has grown into a similar resource, Rindfuss said. The club leads an annual VC Speaker Series course, drawing senior partners and associates from Bay Area VC funds, who offer both big picture and tactical advice.

A pivot from tech to VC

For Aparna Chaganty, MBA 23, breaking into venture capital meant landing an internship with Bessemer Venture Partners. An engineer from India with a master’s in information systems (MIS) degree from Carnegie Mellon, Chaganty was a data scientist and product manager at Salesforce when she started exploring a career pivot.

Aparna Chaganty, MBA 23, works for Bessemer Venture Partners in India.

“I really enjoyed building new technology, but I also wanted to know what other paths there were out there,” she said.

Venture capital piqued her interest as a perfect way to combine her tech background with entrepreneurship. “I have always found the growth story of startups extremely inspiring,” she said. “In VC, you can be really close to bringing about change and creating new value in the economy.”

Chaganty ended up accepting a full-time role as an investor at Bessemer Venture Partners in India, an opportunity to return to her home country. Though it hadn’t been her plan at the start, she said she was thrilled by the opportunity to join after Bessemer raised its first India fund. “There is so much entrepreneurship coming out of India,” she said. “Being part of that zero-to-one story is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and being a VC at Bessemer gives me a front-row seat to witness and contribute to that change.”

Crafting your own opportunities

Alex Rohrbach, MBA 23, came to Haas after several years working as a consultant at McKinsey and at an on-demand staffing startup. 

portrait of a man in a blue shirt
Alex Rohrbach, MBA 23, is at Thomvest Ventures.

He discovered that both experiences were applicable in VC. “Very quickly, I could add value to busy VCs who needed extra help,” he said. By doing projects with multiple VC firms during the school year in his free time, Rohrbach got exposure to various funds and VCs, helping him learn how they think and structure deals. 

“Many MBAs don’t realize that they have a lot of skills they can apply on day one with a VC firm,” Rohrbach said. “Aspiring VCs can develop a thesis about an industry, source companies on campus, and help organize events. If you figure out what you’re good at, you can craft your own opportunities.”

Rohrbach graduated with a job at Thomvest Ventures, a 25-year-old San Francisco fund. He spent his summer internship with Thomvest but says it was never a direct path to full-time employment. 

“Each fellowship and internship was a stepping stone, but I didn’t know exactly where I would end up,” he said. In his first year at Haas, he got a fellowship at Pear VC, an early-stage venture firm. He also received a Haas Entrepreneurial Finance Fellowship, providing a $5,000 cash award and mentorship with a Haas alum. “Even more valuable than the money was the access to a mentor – in my case, Andrew Krowne at Dolby Family Ventures,” Rohrbach said. 

Rohrbach also consulted during his first year with Union Labs, a VC firm that past Haasies worked for. 

“I started to build a portfolio of work so that by the time I was interviewing for summer internships, I had a lot I could talk about,” he said. 

Rindfuss and others at Haas hope the number of students pursuing venture capital will only continue to grow as Haasies find homes at more VC firms and bring their experience and advice to future students. 

“As more of our graduates succeed in venture capital, we are developing a stronger pool of alumni that will support our students,” Rindfuss said. “It’s an exciting time.”