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.”

What’s age got to do with it? 76-year-old MBA student “having the time of my life”

MBA student holding microphone
Neurologist Peter Fung came to Haas for an MBA to gain new leadership skills and financial expertise.

At a time of life when many of his peers are well into retirement, Peter C. Fung is having “the time of his life” as a student in the Berkeley Haas Executive MBA Program

But for Fung, 76, a retired neurologist and self-proclaimed lifelong learner, retirement was never an option. It’s the reason he wanted to earn an MBA and why he connected immediately to Students Always, one of the four Haas Defining Leadership Principles (DLP).

“Age is not important,” said Fung, EMBA 24, who sits on the El Camino Health District Board of Directors and for a decade led the hospital’s stroke program, which is named after him. “When we’re using our brains in thinking or learning new information, neuronal pathways from neuron to neuron are formed. This is the best anti-aging therapy. Just like an old car, you have to keep it running to keep it from rusting.”

Developing leadership skills

As a physician, Fung, an advocate for health, wellness, and disease prevention, has spent more than 35 years improving health care quality and access. Now, he’s running for an open seat on the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors, where he hopes to tap what he’s learned at Haas on the journey.

In the EMBA program, Fung said he’s developed leadership skills that he believes will help him stand out as a political candidate. He’s also gained new expertise in economics and data analysis—and a deeper understanding of organizational finance that he hopes to apply to overseeing the county’s budget and tackling the deficit.

group of MBA students in a classroom
Peter C. Fung (middle) said he is impressed that his classmates—busy with careers and young families—are all still learning new skills, pivoting to new jobs, starting companies, and helping each other.

He said he is impressed that his classmates—busy with careers and young families—are all committed to learning new skills, pivoting to new jobs, starting companies, and helping each other. 

“The cohort has been treating me as one of their own,” he said. “I was terrible with the computer, especially with Excel, when I started the program. But I was finally able to master this very powerful tool. I actually did quite well on my finals. I have enjoyed the challenge. It was a thrill.” 

Fung believes he brings something unique to the program. His classmates agree.

Abdus Sattar, EMBA 24, collaborated with Fung during a recent business policy immersion trip the cohort took to Washington D.C.  Their paper on “Medicare Drug Price Negotiation, “offered me an opportunity to delve into crucial healthcare topics,” said Sattar, who holds a PhD in electrical engineering. 

Saya Honda, EMBA 24, said that Fung “pushes us and encourages us to challenge ourselves.” She said Fung embodies all four of the Haas Defining Leadership Principles: He questions the status quo by being unafraid to ask questions; he shows confidence without attitude by using humor in public speaking; he’s a student always as the oldest person in the cohort and as someone who believes in the importance of education; and he’s questioning the status quo by running for county supervisor. 

A passion for learning

Originally from China and having grown up in Hong Kong, Fung came to the United States to study at the University of Michigan Medical School, where he became board-certified in internal medicine and neurology and also earned a master’s degree in neurochemistry and neuropharmacology. 

doctor at the hospital standing in lobby
Dr. Fung sits on on the El Camino Health District Board of Directors and for a decade led the hospital’s stroke program, which is named after him.

“His passion for learning is not only impressive but also infectious,” said Elizabeth Stanners, executive director of the Haas Executive MBA program.

When a professor recommended a PhD program, Fung’s wife, who missed living in Asia and warmer weather, balked. “She said, ‘We’re going to move to California.’ he said. “That pretty much was an ultimatum. So we came to San Jose, where I was the only neurologist in my area of the city.” 

For Fung, 1996 proved a turning point in life after his mother had a devastating stroke that left her paralyzed on one side and unable to speak. Fung managed to consult with the chief of the stroke program at Stanford about a new drug called tPA, which his mother received. “The next day, she asked, ‘Why am I here?’ Her arm was no longer paralyzed, and she was speaking fluently,” Fung recalled.

Running for supervisor

After that experience, Fung decided to study strokes, immersing himself in articles and at conferences for a decade. Along the way, he became the first physician in the Bay Area to be board-certified in stroke neurology. “I thought I would work as a stroke and vascular neurologist for the rest of my life,” he said. “But then, I started thinking about what else I could do.” 

Running for office was part of that plan, to expand his commitment to improving access to care for everyone. Earlier in his career, Fung served as co-director of the El Camino Health Chinese Health Initiative, to provide education and access to the Asian community. The initiative is now the largest nonprofit organization catering to Chinese patients in California. 

In 2014, he ran for the El Camino Healthcare District, which manages the budget for the district’s hospitals. The Santa Clara Board of Supervisors is the next step, where his work would have impact on a larger population.

If elected, he said he’d tap into the DLPs to help with decision making in critical areas that are top of mind for constituents: crime, safety, healthcare, inflation, education, and housing. “After thorough research and analysis, I would delve deeply into the issues at hand, engaging with fellow political leaders to gain diverse perspectives, and to develop well-informed and practical solutions,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fung is looking forward to adding an MBA to a long list of accomplishments.

“If I’m the oldest student to graduate successfully from Haas, and I go on to make a meaningful life after graduation, that will be something to write about,” he said. “That’s my goal.”

Berkeley Haas to offer new master’s degree in business and climate solutions

many students sitting in a classroom wiht professor at the front of the room
Senior Lecturer Andrew Isaacs teaches the Climate Change and Business Strategy class at Haas, which just launched a concurrent MBA/Master in Climate Solutions degree. Photo: Jim Block

The Haas School of Business and the Rausser College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley have launched a concurrent MBA/Master of Climate Solutions (MCS) degree program to prepare the next generation of sustainability and climate leaders.

The new program, enrolling for fall 2024, will allow full-time MBA students to earn both a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Climate Solutions degree in five semesters, or two-and-a-half years. The application deadlines for the first MBA/MCS cohorts are January 4, 2024, and March 28, 2024.

The MBA/MCS degree is designed for early-career professionals who plan to take their careers to a higher level of business leadership, grounded in understanding of sustainability and climate change challenges and opportunities. 

Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison said the new program will draw from the strength of both schools, allowing students to learn from some of the world’s top minds in climate change, sustainability, and business. 

“Future business leaders will require a depth of training in both business and climate change to work across disciplines and execute competitive strategies,” Harrison said. “This new program will provide a breadth of skill sets, equipping our grads to lead in building a sustainable, low-carbon future.” 

“Future business leaders will require a depth of training in both business and climate change to work across disciplines and execute competitive strategies.” — Haas Dean Ann Harrison.

The program aims to develop critical skills and knowledge in climate data science, carbon accounting, and lifecycle analysis, as well as technological and nature-based solutions.

Students in the MBA/MCS cohort will spend the first year completing MBA core coursework at Haas before moving to classes at Rausser.  The rigorous MBA curriculum includes courses in leadership, marketing, management, finance, data analysis, ethics, and macroeconomics, along with sustainability courses. 

Doubling down on sustainability

Under Harrison’s leadership, Haas has doubled down on sustainability through the creation of the Office of Sustainability and Climate Change and by revamping all of the MBA core courses to incorporate thinking about climate change and other sustainability challenges.

The new MBA/MCS degree program follows Rausser’s launch of its new Master of Climate Solutions degree. MCS courses will translate the fundamental science and groundbreaking discoveries of UC Berkeley experts, enabling professionals to learn how to evaluate technologies, develop just climate strategies, and remove barriers to implementing practical climate solutions. The MCS core curriculum includes teaching in the climate and environmental sciences, climate economics and policies, technological, business and nature-based solutions, training in analytical and quantitative skills, and applied exercises and engagements that emphasize adaptive thinking and problem-solving.

“The Master of Climate Solutions represents a critical step forward in expanding the interdisciplinary and highly interconnected community of practitioners needed to solve the climate crisis,” said David Ackerly, dean of UC Berkeley’s Rausser College of Natural Resources. “Students in the concurrent program will be able to leverage the critical climate knowledge and tools taught in the MCS, as well as the leadership and business skills that are core to Haas.”

“Haas and Rausser both have such impressive track records in climate research,”  added Michele de Nevers, managing director of the Office of Sustainability and Climate Change at Haas. “This program combines our offerings at the master’s level, with a keen focus on professional students, who are clearly positioned to make an immediate impact, and who serve a critical role as translators of academic insights and enacting these insights in the world.”

Addressing the Climate Challenge

All MBA/MCS students will participate in a semester-long capstone program that gives students the opportunity to partner with organizations operating across the business, government, and non-profit sectors. A unique leadership course on organizational, political, and societal change for climate solutions will prepare students to be change agents and leaders in businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. 

“New research on climate solutions is still critical, but we already know many of the things we need to do to address the climate challenge,” said James Sallee, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and faculty director of the MCS program. “What we really need are people spread throughout society and the economy who are in a position to take action on climate, and who are equipped with the tools to make the right choices. Educating those students is the vision of the MCS program.”

Summer internships are also crucial to the MBA/MCS program. Students will complete two summer internships, which will allow for deep immersion in different disciplines and more time to build relationships.

Haas now has four dual degree programs, including the MBA/MPH (public health), the MBA/MEng (engineering), and the MBA/JD (law).

Cutting-edge climate tech takes the stage at 2023 C2M Climate Tech Summit

The C2M summit, held at Spieker Forum in Chou Hall on Dec. 1, brought together eight UC Berkeley graduate student teams (including many Berkeley Haas MBA students). All photos: Jim Block

Promising climate technologies that address everything from water desalination to Earth element extraction to lightening-fast battery charging took center stage at the 2023 Cleantech to Market (C2M) Climate Tech Summit.

The summit, held at Spieker Forum in Chou Hall on Dec. 1, brought together eight UC Berkeley graduate student teams who presented their findings from a year’s work on entrepreneurial projects for C2M company founders. Each team spent nearly 1,000 hours working with founders, assessing new technologies, and investigating paths to commercialization. 

Brian Steel, co-director of the C2M program, which is part of the Energy Institute at Haas, called this year’s summit the most successful to date and reflected on C2M’s growth since its 2008 founding. 

“One of the things that’s so energizing for us as faculty is that the students come to us now with such wonderful depth and breadth of knowledge because cleantech has been around for so long. We feel so fortunate that the world has caught up with the sustainability work we have been doing for 15 years.”

One of the things that’s so energizing for us as faculty is that the students come to us now with such wonderful depth and breadth of knowledge because cleantech has been around for so long. — C2M co-director Brian Steel.

A total of $70,000 in MetLife Climate Solution Awards was awarded to three startups, who were supported by three C2M teams. The three teams honored during the summit were:

  • ChemFinity Technologies, which produces high-performing, highly modular porous polymer materials, won $40,000. The team included Chris Burke, MBA 24; Ethan Pezoulas, PhD 26 (chemistry); Kosuke “Taka” Takaishi, MBA 24; Matt Witkin, MBA 24; Mingxin Jia, PhD 24 (mechanical engineering); and Peter Pang, MBA 24. (The team also received the annual Hasler Cleantech to Market Award, given to the audience favorite.)

    Left to right: Kosuke “Taka” Takaishi, MBA 24, explains the catalytic converter recycling process alongside PhD student Ethan Pezoulas and Matt Witkin, MBA 24.

    The students worked with Brooklyn-based ChemFinity co-founders CEO Adam Uliana and CTO Ever Velasquez, both PhD 22 (chemical engineering). Uliana described the membrane filters the company built as “atomic catchers mitts that are designed to capture just one type of molecule and can be used to tackle water desalination or mineral recovery.”

    Witkin, who worked in economic consulting on decarbonization projects before coming to Haas, said that he mentioned Cleantech to Market in his application essay, as “the perfect course where I could help these innovative climate companies find and scale their impact.”

    “It was an honor working alongside Adam from ChemFinity and my C2M classmates as we considered how ChemFinity could apply and grow its impressive separation technology,” Witkin said.

    six haas students wearing suits in front of a large check
    The first-place ChemFinity team: (left to right) Chris Burke, MBA 24, Kosuke “Taka” Takaishi, MBA 24, Mingxin Jia, PhD 24 (mechanical engineering), Peter Pang, MBA 24, Matt Witkin, MBA 24, Ethan Pezoulas, PhD 26 (chemistry).
  • REEgen, which works to reduce the environmental impact of rare Earth element production, which won $20,000. The team included Carlos Vial, MBA 24; Francisco Aguilar Cisneros, MPP 24; Jeffrey Harris, MBA 24; Kelly McGonigle, MBA 24; Orion Cohen, PhD 24 (physical chemistry); and Sho Tatsuno, MBA 24 (MBA Exchange Program, Columbia Business School). The United States now imports more than 80% of its rare earth needs from China, said Alexa Schmitz, CEO of Ithaca, NY-based REEgen. REEgen is creating a new kind of rare Earth element production using bacteria to leach, recover, and purify rare Earth elements domestically.

    six students wearing business suits holding a large check
    Team REEgen: (left to right) Francisco Aguilar, MPP24, Sho Tatsuno, MBA 24, Orion Cohen,  PhD 24, Kelly McGonigle, MBA 24, Jeffrey Harris, MBA 24, and Carlos Vial, MBA 24.
  • Tyfast, a battery technology startup, which won $10,000. The team included Ankita Singh, EWMBA 24; Erik Better, MBA 24; Nicholas Landgraf, EWMBA 24; and Sterling Root, EWMBA 25. Tyfast builds high-performance lithium ion batteries “to make diesel engines obsolete in construction equipment,” said Tyfast CEO GJ la O’, BS 01, (materials science & engineering). San Mateo-based Tyfast uses a raw material that enables a new class of rechargeable battery, promising to deliver 10 times the power and cycle life with energy density exceeding commercial lithium iron phosphate (LFP) technology.
four students wearing business suits holding a large check
Team Tyfast: (left to right) Erik Better, MBA 24, Nick Landgraf, EWMBA 24, Ankita Singh, EWMBA 24, Sterling Root, EWMBA 25.

Steel said he’s grateful to all of those who support the program, in particular the C2M alumni who return to Haas to serve as coaches, mentors, judges, or speakers—or just to enjoy being a part of the audience.

This year’s event kicked off with speaker Ryan Hanley, C2M 10 and MBA 11, the founder and CEO of Equilibrium Energy, a 100-employee climate technology startup. Barbara Burger, MBA 94, energy director, advisor, and innovator, and former president of Chevron Technology Ventures, also joined a fireside chat with Harshita Mira Venkatesh, MBA 11, who participated in C2M in 2020 and is one of the first business fellows at Breakthrough Energy, founded by Bill Gates in 2015.

“It’s always gratifying to have alumni who were on stage last year come back to support this year’s teams,” Steel said. “People who have been coming to the summit for years appreciate that we keep raising the bar: that our students’ presentations keep getting better and better. It’s very rewarding to have that acknowledgement and appreciation.”

Ginny Whitelow, a director at MetLife, worked with the C2M program as a mentor. “These UC Berkeley students have been so amazing to partner with and have given me an added sense of purpose in my work at MetLife that goes beyond my day to day job,” she said. 

Salaries jump to record levels for 2023 FTMBA grads

Salaries for FTMBA grads continued to increase this year.

Setting a record, annual base salaries for the Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Class of 2023 increased to an average of $162,831. That’s about $10,000 more than last year, with nearly 70% of the class nabbing signing bonuses averaging $36,777 as well. Notably, 39% received stock options or grants, adding significantly to total compensation. 

“We’re thrilled that starting salaries and compensation packages have continued to grow, reinforcing the strong return on investment on a Berkeley Haas MBA,” said Abby Scott, assistant dean of MBA Career Management & Corporate Partnerships.  “These outcomes are a testament to the high caliber of our students. Our alumni and career management team also play an instrumental role in helping them navigate paths to reach their goals.”

View the 2023 employment report.

Of the total class of 294 graduates, roughly 90% received job offers within three months of graduation, and even more secured opportunities within six months of graduation. Similar to previous years, more than half of the students accepted roles in the technology industry and consulting. A few more highlights from the Career Management Group (CMG):

  • Technology remained the largest industry employer, with about 30% of the class taking positions in the sector. Amazon was the top tech employer.
  • Nearly 28% of the class accepted consulting jobs; the largest number of graduates went to McKinsey (26 hires), followed by Bain (14 hires), this year’s two top employers overall.
  • Financial services hiring increased from 13.7% to about 14.5% of graduates; health care and biotech jumped from 5.1% to 7.5%. Energy-industry roles among grads jumped to 6.6% of graduates from 2% last year, reflecting the increase in climate tech. 
  • About 22% of graduates embarked on “impact careers,” defined as jobs in sustainability, climate tech, healthcare, edtech, and some areas of finance and real estate.
  • A growing number of students (4.4% of the class) accepted positions in real estate, typically in development and investment roles.

McKinsey, Bain top employers

This year’s top employers for Haas—companies that hired three or more graduates—included Amazon, Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company, Deloitte, Bain & Company, EY Parthenon, PayPal, Apple, Evercore, Microsoft, TikTok, and Tesla.

Matt Solowan, MBA 23, is now a consultant at Bain & Co., after interning there while at Haas, finding the people at Bain similar to the people at Haas: “very down to earth, very kind, very warm, very supportive.”

Portrait of MBA grad Matt Solowan
Matt Solowan, MBA 23,  is a consultant at Bain.

While at Haas, Solowan said they worked closely with Julia Rosof, a career coach in the Career Management Group, to prepare for early recruiting opportunities scheduled during ROMBA, the annual LGBTQ+ MBA conference. “After that, I really leaned on the second-year peer advisors who provided me with on-the-job insights and helped to improve my casing and behavioral interview skill,” Solowan said.

In addition to consulting, the tech sector remained a top area of interest for FTMBA graduates, “so we were particularly pleased to see so many land roles this year, given all the churn in the field,” Scott said. 

Highlighting the power of the alumni network, Henry Gordon, MBA 23, landed a position as strategy and planning manager at drone startup Skydio, after chatting with classmate Harrison Zhu, MBA 23. Zhu, a product manager at Skydio, had interned there while at Haas. “I knew he really liked the company and when I was looking for roles this one popped up in my LinkedIn,” Gordon said. “I texted Harrison to ask about it, and three weeks later, I had a job.” 

man wearing a collared shirt in front of a tree
Henry Gordon, MBA 23, is a strategy and planning manager at Skydio.

Since joining Skydio, Gordon said he’s helped guide the company’s strategy as it pivoted from its consumer drone business to the enterprise market. “I was attracted to Skydio because of the enormity of the problems that they are trying to solve”—by providing drones to utilities, fire departments, and other industry customers. “About 30% of my job now is familiar, and the other 70% is totally new.”

Grads land in multiple regions

Lecturer Abigail Franklin, managing director of a program for careers in real estate who works with the Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics, said alumni working in real estate are particularly critical to her students’ success in finding roles. “Our 2023 graduates did so well in many geographic locations with the best compensation that I’ve seen in my 12 years here,” Franklin said. “It’s really a testament to the real estate alumni we have.”

One example, she noted, are the Haas alumni at privately owned real estate firm Hines, which hired two 2023 Haas MBA graduates this year—one in Chicago and another in Seattle, she said.

A number of 2023 graduates held out until the fall for the right opportunity, based on their specific career criteria—and the Career Management Group continues to support graduates until they find the right role, often reconnecting during future job transitions.

Before coming to Haas, Megan Nelson, MBA 23, worked for Uber in Australia. When she started in 2015, she was one of 20 employees in Sydney, a number that swelled to 400 people by the time she left as senior regional operations manager in 2021.

photo of a woman with long blonde hair
Megan Nelson, MBA 23, is chief of staff at JOLT.

Nelson decided to take a few months off after graduating from Haas before beginning her search for strategy and operations roles last August. With a goal to move back to Australia and work at a startup or scale-up, she jumped to apply for a position as chief of staff at Sydney-based startup JOLT, a company working to support the transition to electric by providing free, fast, and clean EV charging. 

Her new role at JOLT aligns with her love for working for a company at an early stage. “I am focused on a bit of everything, including expanding our CEO’s capacity so he can steer the ship. I’m supporting both Australia and our international markets, and helping build the internal operating structures to enable our teams to sprint.”

Classes at Haas provided a professional lens that Nelson said she applies in the workplace. 

“Haas built my confidence,” she said. “I realized that my background was really valuable. Hearing the perspectives of my peers in the classroom, the courtyard, and over drinks—the people were the best part of Haas. It’s having those rich experiences and interactions, and being able to share my own…it’s these types of learnings that have helped me the most.”

Berkeley Haas ranks #7 on LinkedIn’s inaugural “Best Business Schools” list

Photos Copyright Noah Berger / 2019

The Berkeley Haas full-time MBA program ranked No. 7 on LinkedIn’s inaugural list of the 50 best business schools in the country.

The list is built on exclusive LinkedIn data that examines career outcomes of MBA alumni, including job placement rates, advancement to senior-level positions, and network strength.

“As LinkedIn notes, MBA graduates benefit from the “career-boosting power of the MBA,” said Abby Scott, assistant dean of the Haas Career Management Group. “This ranking captures the depth of our network, recruiter interest, and notably both the C-suite track and entrepreneurial experience.”  

“Going to the Haas School of Business was a transformative experience for me,” Daniel Feldman, MBA 10, said in the LinkedIn article. “Yes, it is possible to acquire the knowledge in other ways. What cannot be replaced is the collaboration experience with some very smart people.”

The ranking is based on the following five pillars, including: 

  • Hiring and demand, which tracks job placement rates and labor market demand, focusing on recent graduate cohorts from 2018 to 2022. This assessment is based on LinkedIn hiring data and recruiter InMail outreach data.
  • Ability to advance, which tracks promotions among recent cohorts. It also traces how quickly all past alumni have reached director or vp-level leadership roles. This assessment is based on standardized job titles.
  • Network strength, which tracks network depth, or how connected alumni of the same program are to each other; network quality of the recent cohorts (2018-2022), measured by average connections alumni have with individuals in director-level positions or above; and the network growth rate of the recent cohort—before and after graduation. This assessment is based on member connection data.
  • Leadership potential, which tracks the percentage of alumni with post-MBA entrepreneurship or C-suite experience.
  • Gender diversity, which measures gender parity within recent graduate cohorts.


Startup Spotlight: Xepelin’s rise in fintech services

Xepelin, co-founded by Sebastian Kreis, MBA 18, rocketed to No. 3 on Poets & Quants’ 2023 Top 100 MBA startups list this year. The company, based in Mexico City, has raised $567 million so far and will use the funds to invest in new markets in Latin America.

headshot of a man

Haas News asked Kreis a few questions about his startup’s success.

Tell us about Xepelin. Xepelin was founded in 2019, the year after I graduated from Haas. Our aim is to be the “digital CFO” for small- to mid-size companies, offering an online platform that helps businesses organize their accounts and automate payments to suppliers and payment advances from customers.  

You’ve had quite a lot of success getting the company funded over the past year. Tell me a little about that.

Last year, the company secured $150 million in equity and a $140 million credit line from Goldman Sachs that we are using to expand software, payment, and working capital services in Mexico. We are headquartered in Mexico City and now have 400 employees. 

How big is the market for your services and what’s your expansion plan?

The companies we are targeting account for over 60% of Latin America’s GDP. These companies present an enormous opportunity for us, with more than $10 trillion in unmet needs. High acquisition and servicing costs have kept them underserved. Xepelin is committed to equipping these companies with efficient access to software tools, payments, and working capital.

The companies we are targeting account for over 60% of Latin America’s GDP.

What resources at Haas helped you become an entrepreneur?

There were two resources I tapped at Haas: learning from entrepreneurs and investors in the Bay Area who had already built successful startups, and working on fintech projects with Lecturer Greg La Blanc. I traveled to Mexico several times while I was at Berkeley because of the size of the market. I studied the metrics, such as credit and software market penetration, before committing to building a regional company, starting in Mexico and Chile. 

Ann Harrison named ‘Dean of the Year’ by Poets & Quants 

dean Ann Harrison in pink jacket standing outside
Dean Ann Harrison was named 2023 Dean of the Year by Poets and Quants. Photo: Brittany Hosea-Small.

Berkeley Haas Dean Ann Harrison, a renowned economist lauded for keeping Berkeley Haas’ six business programs ranked among the world’s best and significantly expanding the breadth and depth of the faculty, has been named Dean of the Year by Poets & Quants.

Poets & Quants Editor-in-Chief John Byrne announced the news to a global audience at a Thinkers50 virtual conference today. Byrne engaged in a sweeping conversation with Harrison that covered the impact of globalization on workers, the responsibilities of government and business in fighting climate change, the critical role of diversity on campus, and the enduring importance of the MBA.

“The MBA is a wonderful degree,” Harrison said. “It combines the rigor of statistics, data analysis, hard-core quant skills with skills like how to work with people, marketing, and how to sell,” she said. “What’s wonderful about an MBA is that it allows you to combine these different skills. Other degrees don’t offer that combination.” Haas MBA students care about making an impact, she added, “not just a great paycheck.”

Harrison has amassed an unimaginable and nearly breathtaking record of achievement. —John Byrne, Poets & Quants

In his Poets & Quants article, published today, Byrne wrote that Harrison has amassed an “unimaginable and nearly breathtaking record of achievement” during her four-and-a-half years as dean. Harrison, who has led Haas since January 2019 and was reappointed to a second term last February, said she was “deeply humbled” by the honor.

“I am so lucky to be surrounded by a tremendous community at Haas—students, staff, faculty, and alumni who are always going beyond themselves,” she said. “It’s only together that we can seek solutions to climate change, build a more inclusive society, and fuel innovation in all its forms. This is a business school that embodies excellence. I feel great pride in our past and am thrilled to have the opportunity to create impact for the future.”

Harrison is the second woman to lead Haas; Professor Laura Tyson served previously. As the former director of development policy at the World Bank and a longtime professor, Harrison has focused her research on international trade and global labor markets.

Big Changes

Since joining Haas from Wharton, Harrison has made big changes, Byrne noted. She has led a major diversity, equity, inclusion, justice & belonging (DEIJB) effort, broadening the profile of the Haas faculty, school board, and the student body. The school’s entering full-time MBA class this year is 41% women, 47% U.S. minorities, and 13% U.S. underrepresented minorities overall. 

Harrison has woven sustainability content deep into the curriculum while maintaining the school’s historical focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. 

“The challenges of climate change permeate all aspects of business: supply chain, economics, management, and finance,” she said. “In the latter field, we have pioneered new ways of investing. We need to hire in all these dimensions. It is a big agenda and we are making a lot of progress in a lot of different ways.”

Harrison also oversaw the launch of the first Flex online MBA cohort at any top business school. Applying learnings from the pandemic, Haas used new technology to make the MBA available to expanded groups of international students and working parents who require flexible schedules.

Under Harrison’s leadership, Haas also stepped up fundraising, raising a record total of $227 million, including $56.1 million during the last fiscal year. The school also secured the largest single gift in the school’s history—$30 million from alumnus Ned Spieker, BS 66, and his wife, Carol, BS 66—to turn the undergraduate program into a four-year program.

Figuring it out together

In the Poets & Quants article, Courtney Chandler, Chief Strategy & Operating Officer and Senior Assistant Dean at Haas, noted that Harrison “hasn’t stayed in one lane as dean.”

“She’s ambitious, and she sees the full potential of Haas within UC Berkeley and is driven to realize that potential,” she said. “She has not been that one-dimensional dean and that is incredibly impressive.”

“She’s ambitious, and she sees the full potential of Haas within UC Berkeley and is driven to realize that potential.” —Senior Assistant Dean Courtney Chandler

Harrison’s record as a highly cited scholar has also helped her lead the school’s professors, Byrne said. 

“It’s hard to get faculty to buy-in to a dean’s vision, but she has been able to do that effectively,” Erika Walker, senior assistant dean for instruction, who has been at Haas for nearly 20 years, told Byrne. “She relates so well to them…. Ann is very thoughtful about where we should be going. A lot of her success stems from her ability to get the buy-in and then enlist others to figure it out together.”

Professor Catherine Wolfram (left) talks with Dean Ann Harrison (center) and Professor Ulrike Malmendier (right) at a Dean’s Speaker Series event.

During her second term, Harrison said she will continue to work with her team to build upon the school’s academic excellence as well as the student experience at Haas. One important goal is to ensure that the school’s degree programs remain the best in the world, she said.

In its 2023 b-school ranking, the Financial Times named the Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Program #7 worldwide and among the top four U.S. programs, a record high. The Evening & Weekend MBA Program ranked #1 among part-time MBA programs in U.S. News & World Report, and the highly-selective Haas Undergraduate Program ranked #2. The Financial Engineer ranked the Master’s in Financial Engineering (MFE) Program #1 in the world. 

Harrison earned her BA from UC Berkeley in economics and history, and her PhD from Princeton University. She held previous professorships in UC Berkeley’s College of Agricultural and Resource Economics, as well as at Columbia University and the Wharton School, where she was the William H. Wurster Professor of Management.  

An avid hiker, Harrison told Poets & Quants that returning to UC Berkeley and California has allowed her to use time off to explore the state’s cliff-lined beaches, redwood forest, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, “a paradise for those who love the outdoors.”

Harrison is the 13th dean and the third woman to be named Dean of the Year by Poets & Quants, which covers business school education.