Celebrating Pride Month on the OneHaas Podcast, host Sean Li spoke with Stacy Nathaniel Jackson, MBA 90, an African-American transgender artist-activist, about how being an over-achiever helped him land senior positions in the corporate and nonprofit world. (Élida Bautista, the director of inclusion and diversity at the Haas School of Business, joins Li for this interview.)
Jackson served on various community boards including mayoral appointee of the San Francisco Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force, the UCSF Chancellor’s GLBT Advisory Committee, San Francisco LGBT Community Center Project, and former board president of Fresh Meat Productions, a leading transgender and queer performing arts nonprofit.
Stacy has since retired and is now focused on being an author, artist, and activist.
Michelle Kim, BS 11, is co-founder and CEO of Awaken, which leads interactive diversity, inclusion, and leadership workshops. We spoke with Kim about her political activism at UC Berkeley, why she studied business, and how she’s making honest conversations about social justice happen in corporations. A lifelong social justice activist, Kim has served at organizations including the LGBTQ Speakers Bureau, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and the LYRIC board of directors.
Hear Michelle Kim discuss how to create systemic change.
Can you talk a little bit about where you grew up and what that was like for you.
I grew up in South Korea and immigrated to San Diego when I was 13. It was a tumultuous time as a teenager, navigating a world that is so drastically different, while also coming to terms with who I was as an Asian person, and as a woman. Right around the age of 16 I started grappling with my sexual orientation. I had my first crush on a girl, and that was very confusing, with a lot of internalized homophobia coming out. When I was growing up in South Korea, there weren’t conversations around LGBTQ issues, at least not when I was in school, where it was a foreign thing. Being in so many different spaces geographically, mentally and emotionally, has a lot to do with why I’m doing the work that I do today.
Were there many Asian students where you went to school?
There were but I grew up in a predominantly white suburb. It was weird because my family was low income, but the school district that I was a part of was not. It was a very stark mix of very affluent families and also folks living on financial assistance. I was in the midst of navigating what that meant for me and how that was affecting the way that I was showing up in school. My dad was undocumented for 10 years and he was not making a lot of money when we came to the States to live with him.
How did you come out?
I came out to my friends first. It wasn’t like, “Hey, everyone, I am gay,” because I was not sure. I first started talking to my high school biology teacher, who was an out lesbian woman, and she was probably one of the first people I admired who was a lesbian. She was one of the first people I told. She pointed me to the underground support group that I didn’t know about, where during one period every week, LGBTQ identified or questioning students could meet with an advisor. That group, quite frankly, saved my life when I was in a very confused state of mind. They welcomed me and created space for me to explore without shame and blame. After questioning for awhile, I decided that the term that I’d like to describe myself is queer.
You became politically active at a pretty young age and that continued at Berkeley, right?
Berkeley is where my identity as an activist solidified and where my philosophy, my principles, and orientation toward social justice became defined much more clearly. I chose Berkeley because of its legacy and history with the social justice movement, and it was exciting when I got accepted.
I had envisioned Berkeley to be this very progressive, radical agent of change in the social movement. There was a little bit of a surprise when I got here and saw that you really needed to seek out those groups. I started a student organization that’s still in existence called the Queer Student Union. It was called Queer Straight Alliance when I started it, and it was a space predominantly for people of color and a variety of identities. I wanted to create a space where we could all come together and talk about intersectionality and coalition building. So we carved out the space for us to be able to really engage in that dialogue. And that’s really what propelled me to be more involved in social justice movements.
How did you end up studying business?
I studied business because this one white boy told me, “You’ll never get in.” That’s what lit the fire under me to do it. But as I began studying, I thought business was fascinating. I wanted to understand how these big corporations really operated, which is a big reason why I decided to go into consulting right after school, aside from the fact that I actually needed to make money. The business degree gave me the language and access to the world that I never knew about before. Neither of my parents had worked in a corporate setting, where they could have helped me to navigate getting a job in a big company.
Where did you work after graduation?
My first job was in consulting. I learned a ton and I also witnessed and experienced a lot of harm. I chose the company based on its external marketing and statements around how they cared about diversity and inclusion. I had my own idea of what that meant, but I had no idea what it really translated into in a corporate setting. I decided to join an employee resource group and figured out quickly that the group was all about happy hours and social networking and not about the movement and social justice work that was needed, so I was so disillusioned. I think in my young, activist mindset, I was angry, upset, and cynical.
So did you leave that job?
I left that environment to go into tech because I’d heard that the tech environment was a lot less rigid, more innovative, younger, and therefore that it must be more radical, which also wasn’t the case. I worked for a couple of different tech companies, building customer success teams, and also trying to push diversity, equity, and inclusion forward. I think time after time what I felt and what I found was diversity and inclusion being diluted to a point where it wasn’t recognizable as a social justice movement. To this day, I tell people that diversity, equity, and inclusion work is actually just an extension of the social justice work that’s happening in the streets. It has to be founded and grounded in social justice principles.
Do you see attitudes changing now? Does this time feel different?
I will say that I have never seen this level of appetite to actually say and name the things that we need to talk about, so that has been very reassuring for me. I have a healthy dose of cynicism and skepticism toward the surge of statements that are coming out of corporations, because I do feel like people are rushing to make statements before taking a deeper look at how their organization operates and what commitments are being made behind these statements. It’s questionable. But I will say that this is the first time in a very long time where I feel like there is space for us to actually go in and talk about the hard stuff, and actually use words like white supremacy and anti-black racism in a corporate setting. We’ve been doing it over the last few weeks and it feels different, and I feel hopeful because of that.
As a student in the MBA for executives program, Adam Rosenzweig found that most of the cases used to teach real-world business problems in his classes often featured the same sort of leader: a white male.
“Our experience was definitely that case protagonists were overwhelmingly not diverse,” said Rosenzweig, EMBA 19, now a Haas lecturer teaching Introduction to the Case Method in both the EMBA and Full-time MBA programs.
Feedback from MBA students like Rosenzweig—who co-wrote a case with a female protagonist last year with senior Lecturer Drew Isaacs—and faculty members inspired the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership (EGAL) to dig into the problem. That digging led to a catalog of diverse business cases called the EGAL Case Compendium. The compendium, a spreadsheet shared with the Berkeley Haas faculty this month, includes 215 cases with diverse protagonists and 215 cases specific to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) topics.
“A general lack of diversity”
The project, led by Genevieve Smith, associate director of EGAL, was partly funded by a $5,000 Haas Culture grant that the center’s Program Director Jennifer Wells applied for last year.
Smith argues that the limited range of protagonists in typical business cases is a longstanding problem that leaves students with gaps in understanding the connection between classroom learning and future workplace environments.
“This lack of diversity perpetuates a status quo in which traditional business leaders are primarily both male and white,” she said. “We see this as a big problem in business schools globally, and if we’re going to address the gaps around diversity in business, we need to address it in business schools.”
It’s a problem that impacts all business schools who use published cases, Smith said. Harvard Business School publishes the vast majority—some 19,000 cases—which represent roughly 80% of the cases used in business schools globally. Just over 1% of those Harvard Business Review cases include an African-American/Black person as a protagonist, and 9% include a female protagonist, the team estimates based on its analysis.
“That the majority of cases taught in business schools center on white men in 2020 is unacceptable,” said Kellie McElhaney, founding director of EGAL and a Haas faculty member. “If we hope to educate students who are equity fluent leaders, it will require a sweeping effort on the part of business schools and their faculties to make changes.”
That the majority of cases taught in business schools center on white men in 2020 is unacceptable.
Including people of different races, ethnicities, genders, ability, sexual orientation, and religions will help on multiple fronts—from increasing awareness of different life experiences, to fostering sensitivity among students, to helping with recruitment of students who “need to see themselves represented as leaders,” Smith said.
Cases that perpetuate stereotypes
To build the Case Compendium, EGAL hired research assistant Diana Chavez-Varela, BA 19, (now a summer legal investigator at Berkeley Law’s Human Rights Center), who began by searching existing cases under many keywords related to diversity, cataloguing the cases by author, topic, discipline, target segment, identities of focus, and industry sector.
She also flagged discriminatory language against any group, noting a few standout cases that perpetuate stereotypes including “Director’s Dilemma: Balancing Between Quality and Diversity,” a headline that infers that companies that hire for diversity sacrifice quality. Another case study summary: “How do you manage talented people who are different from the typical corporate profile — like women, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and others?” presents white men as “typical” and other people as “atypical.”
Most of the non-white-male protagonists that Chavez-Varela found in the 215 cases were women (84%)—primarily white females working in the human resources management or organizational behavior areas. Cases with female protagonists also largely touched on topics like culture and workforce representation, but failed to address other issues such as labor rights, government policies, workplace harassment, or challenges for dual-career couples.
The researchers, who also wrote a report based on their findings, found that more than half of the cases that centered on topics related to DEI in the business world focused on advancing DEI among entry- and mid-level employees, with just 15% focused on more-senior leaders. And among DEI cases, the most common focus was advancing women in the workplace—with fewer focused on race, ethnicity, or other identities.
“There is much room to grow in terms of new DEI case studies,” Smith said. In particular, the EGAL team is interested in supporting the faculty and writing new cases with protagonists representing intersectional identities and in industries/disciplines outside of HR and organizational management, and on DEI-related topics that are relevant to core courses.
There is much room to grow in terms of new DEI case studies.
Prof. Catherine Wolfram, associate dean for academic affairs & chair of the faculty, who shared the EGAL Case Compendium with the faculty, said she’s receiving positive feedback so far.
“There have definitely been discussions about addressing diversity topics in the classroom in faculty meetings and we’ve had people describe the issues that have come up around the lack of diversity and the topics that students want to talk about,” Wolfram said.
What makes a good case?
While the Haas curriculum isn’t as case-driven as many other business schools, such as Harvard Business School, faculty members still consider cases integral to teaching.
Chatman, an expert on culture who teaches organizational behavior, said EGAL is helping to raise awareness of the diversity problem in business school cases by both cataloguing and providing an easily searchable clearing house. Chatman, who writes a case every four or five years, has long been a leader in featuring diverse protagonists, such as leaders at Genentech and Walmart.
Yet she acknowledged the challenges with overhauling business school curricula, adding that many professors try to avoid switching cases too frequently due to the difficulty in finding well-aligned cases. “The case needs to be timely, relevant, and it needs to be about an organization or industry that students will find interesting,” she said. “A good case is also easy to read, not too long, and will preferably include video—and the professor should be able to extend the story by easily adding material related to, but not included in, the case. So the list is long!”
“No magical solution”
Assoc. Prof. Dana Carney, who researches racial bias, power, and nonverbal behavior, says she’s always on the hunt for new cases that are relevant to her courses. She agrees that cases with diverse protagonists—particularly race/ethnicity— are hard to find.
Carney currently uses five cases, two with a total of 4 female protagonists, one with predominantly male protagonists (although ethnic/racial identities are ambiguous), one with no protagonist, and two more with ambiguous race/ethnicity and names that could be either female or male because only last names are used.
“I’m always looking, always thinking of cases I could and should write, always trying to be inclusive and evolve,” Carney said.
For example, Carney, along with Economics Prof. Paul Gertler, developed a negotiation case with Ugandan protagonists to be used in Uganda. But the case is so culturally bound to the Ugandan context it wouldn’t be usable in a U.S.-based undergraduate or MBA business context, she said. The bottom line? “We need more cases,” she said.
While there’s no magical solution to the case dilemma, Prof. Don Moore came up with one idea that might help: a spreadsheet Berkeley Haas faculty are using to list cases taught in their own core classes. Faculty interested in finding a diverse case may now cross-check on the EGAL list to see if there’s a match between a case that’s included on both lists, he said.
(Read EGAL’s full report, The State of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Business School Case Studies, here, or the executive summary here.)
“The privilege of growing up surrounded by so much nature affected me profoundly,” said Kennard, who is from the Clackamas, Chinook, Atfalati, and Kalapuya territory, also known as Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
The privilege of growing up surrounded by so much nature affected me profoundly.
But for Kennard, a mixed race, third-generation Korean American, a youth spent in a white suburb was also alienating. “I grew up being called exotic,” they said. “Older white ladies told me I looked like an Indian princess.”
Arriving in the Bay Area seven years ago, Kennard said, “I had a radical reorientation with race in this culture of organizing and resistance to white supremacy.”
Kennard’s art explores sexuality and race in their illustrations, paintings, comics and zines, with subjects that intersect gender, bodily identity, science, environment, and cultural survival. Their work has exhibited locally and nationally, hung in Congressional halls, and been recognized by the Society of Illustrators. “There’s always a story being told,” Kennard said. “That’s what drew me to art school.”
Here Kennard describes a few of the stories behind some favorites.
“This illustration for Mother Jones accompanied an article called Ghost Stories by Delilah Friedler, which was about hooking up while trans. There’s a beautiful end note in this article in which Delilah speaks to the potential for beauty that exists between trans women and cis men in relationships when men are capable and willing to engage with their own vulnerability and to engage with unlearning toxic masculinity, and embrace the love, the sexuality, whatever the relationship offers them that shame and homophobia and transphobia would otherwise block. And while the bulk of the article speaks more to the impact and the violence of that shame, which is very important to discuss, so many of the stories about trans people, they’re not authored by us and they’re about our deaths. Most of the time when you hear about a trans person in major news it’s because one of us has been harmed or killed, and disproportionately it’s Black trans women and trans women of color. It was really important to me to create an image that didn’t erase the reality of the pain that we experience, but also helped visualize this beautiful open door that Delilah points to at the end of her article, the potential that exists if we could collectively move past the shame. And so that is where the idea for the sense of reveal and removal, taking off a mask, came from.”
“This mixed media piece was inspired by an article from the science magazine Nautilus. The original title of that article was Against Willpower. The article critiques the modern concept of willpower against the modern knowledge of psychology and how the human brain works, and makes a case that willpower as we have come to culturally understand it today is really repressive, and creates false and unobtainable goals of self control that are not actually healthy. While the article doesn’t explicitly address queer experience, there’s obviously a lot of connections that could be made. I thought about the experience of being closeted and the really harmful ideas that many people still hold that sexuality or gender can be fixed or need fixing, and the abuse that is conversion therapy. That was an immediate personal connection I made to the article, and I wanted to make an image that captured that sense of holding it down, keeping it in, trying to keep something that really wants and needs to be released repressed.”
“This is an illustrated demon’s monologue about rebelling against tyranny and embracing one’s own power. It takes and remixes lines and words originally spoken by Mephistopheles and other demonic figures in Christopher Marlowe’s 16th century play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus.
There’s this one scene where Faustus summons Mephistopheles from hell. Faustus is trying to argue with Mephistopheles that hell isn’t real, which is absurd in the context of this play and this scene. And Mephistopheles is baffled and insulted. And while I don’t remember the exact lines, his response to Faustus in essence is, ‘I know hell is real because I have suffered through it and how dare you.’ And I had a really powerful moment of recognition that I didn’t expect in that scene where I saw in that exchange myself and I saw all of these interactions that I, and many of the trans people in my life, had had in real time with cisgender people who are trying to convince us as we’re standing in front of them that we’re not real.
It’s also true that part of the hurt of being unacknowledged as real is that often we are put through a great deal of suffering for being who we are. Regardless of our own relationship to our bodies, regardless of how we feel about our own lived experience, suffering is imposed upon us externally, and I really felt Mephistopheles in that scene. I had this deep sense of understanding and connection with his character.”
“This was a canvas painting, and I made it for this wonderful art show that I was invited into by friend and mentor Channing Joseph, a Black educator, journalist, advocate, member of the queer community, and just a phenomenal person.
The concept of the show, called Octavia’s Attic, was that Octavia Butler’s sci-fi novels were actually documentary accounts, because she could time travel, and she could visit alternative timelines and universes. What if this was recently discovered and made known to the public and her attic was opened up for public visit? What would it contain? I love this concept.
Around that time I’d learned a little bit more about gender expressions and identities in pre-colonized Korea that today we might consider queer—practices by what in English we call shamans; the Korean term is mudang. Often these roles were embodied by women, but not always, and there was this sacred femininity in these spiritual roles.
I was also learning more about queer relations in Korean royalty among men and women, and I had this idea of a queer funeral and a literal replanting. So much of my own access to this history is really limited. I didn’t learn Korean growing up, and even my halmeoni, my Korean grandmother, doesn’t know a lot of this. And so I was really compelled by this idea of planting a literal piece of someone and having them, through some spiritual process, grow and transform into a tree and be present as an ancestor as a living tree.”
In response to the violence against Black and African-American people and the wave of protests and unrest across the country, we’re sharing some of the perspectives of our Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni.
I am sad, frustrated, angry, and exhausted. I’ve wanted to write this for several days. I stopped, started, revised, and rewrote it a dozen times. In the meantime, I’ve been watching, listening, discussing, reading…and reflecting. As is my nature, contemplation overruled instant reaction. As an entrepreneur, I’m already in solution mode. But that is for another blog post. This one is about processing and being authentic. Now is the time.
Do you see me?
The death of George Floyd is devastating beyond words. It’s been pointed out so, so many times. This is yet another example of systemic racism that perpetuates within the dynamics of our American society. It’s heart-wrenching to know that his family and friends must forever be tortured by a video capturing his last moments while being murdered…by the police. And just as horrifying to me is the senseless repetition of these events, over and over — filmed or not. It is a gut punch, leaving me breathless. I pride myself on resilience. Getting back on the horse when I fall. Looking for the silver lining and moving forward. For the first time in a long time, however, I’ve been stunned and stopped in my tracks. Maybe I’ve been blind or in denial, but this just feels different.
Do you see me?
My parents raised me on the themes of education, religion, and service (If you want more on that, I’d encourage you to read my mom’s book). This foundation has given me so much. And I’m very keenly aware that the environment my family raised me in, and the sacrifices of those who came before me were immensely influential on my good fortunes.
So I ponder…Am I:
An educated BLACK MAN in America?
A successful BLACK MAN in America?
A servant leader BLACK MAN in America?
A Godly BLACK MAN in America?
A BLACK MAN in America who values relationships and community?
A BLACK MAN in America who mentors and listens?
Do you see me?
As an African American, I’ve learned that my blessings don’t come without cost. While frustrating and at times exhausting, I’ve accepted that there is a price. The extra eyes on me in the store. The conspicuousness of being the only person of color in the room. Shouldering the burden of “representing” others who look like me, knowing that one miscue could spoil things for those who come next. Having to pace my walk to create distance between me and a young woman walking ahead of me. Or to present the least possible threatening posture on the elevator, so as to assuage the fears of the only other rider. And knowing that a certain percentage of business interactions where I’m the “seller” will be squashed… simply because the “buyer” holds unspoken bias to my background or skin color.
As an African American, I’ve learned that my blessings don’t come without cost.
I’ve come to terms with these disadvantages. I do hope to see these hurdles erode away for my kids and their generation. And so I work away at that cause, bit by bit, relationship by relationship, person by person.
These are realities, however, I’ve learned to live with for myself.
But then…Ahmaud Arbery. And Christian Cooper. And Breonna Taylor. And George Floyd. All in alarmingly rapid succession.
This reveals something different.
Do you see me?
I can be simply bird watching in the park, following the rules as society requests. But I’ll be shown that any polite request for equal adherence, can result in a life-threatening outcome.
Know your place.
Jogging alone in my own upper-middle-class neighborhood could result in a life-threatening outcome.
You don’t belong here.
If the police are busting down my door, justified or not, there may be nothing I can do to avoid a life-threatening outcome.
You fit the profile.
Unintentional circumstances or coincidences like passing a bad $20 bill could result in a life-threatening outcome.
You are assumed guilty until proven otherwise.
So is it simply that I am A BLACK MAN IN AMERICA…no adjectives visible, no enhancing qualities need apply?
Do you see me?
I say all this not looking for personal sympathy. I recognize that I am blessed beyond measure. We are all unique. But I am not special. I am not an exception. EVERY black American is worthy of being viewed with full humanity and for the beauty and richness of the gifts endowed within him or her. My hope is rather that you recognize ALL, as you would me, with dignity and respect. I speak out now for my children, and their children, and for all those in the black community who have fewer opportunities and resources than I.
As African Americans, we are citizens with ALL the rights entitled thereto. And we represent the full breadth of culture, professions, and society that is the American tapestry. And yet, I don’t wear my resume when I walk out the door. I can’t adorn my character like a shiny coat. I do wear my brown skin. When you are black in America, you wear your skin…always.
I and all my black brothers…we are George Floyd. We are all Ahmaud Arbery. And all my black sisters are Breonna Taylor. They are all Sandra Bland.
I am proud to be a black American. I am happy to have BLACK in all caps. But I know that I am not just that, nor are any of my African American brothers and sisters. Maybe we can move towards having EVERY INDIVIDUAL’S qualities, achievements, and gifts CAPITALIZED too…
Now…which me do you really see?
Dan Kihanya, MBA 96, is an entrepreneur and the founder of Founders Unfound, an online platform to showcase underrepresented minority founders whose startups are ready for seed funding.
In response to the violence against Black and African-American people and the wave of protests and unrest across the country, we’re sharing some of the perspectives of our Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Bree Jenkins, MBA 19, who now works at Pixar, wrote this perspective for the Berkeley Haas magazine Summer 2019 issue.
I toe the line between compassion and anger.
Or maybe it’s sadness or amusement. Probably all of the above. One of my professors, he’s smart and I like him, has called me by the other black girls’ name. She’s a close friend of mine, but she is not me. I know he doesn’t notice because when I nervously approach him after class and explain to him what happened, he looks distressed. I briefly wonder if I shouldn’t have said anything, if I’m being too sensitive or overreacting or putting a “racial lens” on something when it doesn’t need to have one.
Sometimes all you want to be is just another student, but if you don’t speak, your voice won’t be heard. And your voice is representative.
Under different circumstances, I may have just brushed it off. People mix up names all the time. But I feel the need to say something because we have just had a deep Haas-wide discussion on this very topic. It happened with another student whom I care deeply about, and he was brave enough to speak up. It’s not the action as much as it is the feeling of discomfort that has to be addressed lest it become resentment or hate or worse. My professor is apologetic and upset, embarrassed and empathetic. He is considerate of what I’m feeling but doesn’t say, I understand. I know. I appreciate that he doesn’t put words in my mouth. Later that night, he writes me an email. It is kind, thoughtful.
Most of the people that I know at Haas are just that—kind and thoughtful. Being black at Berkeley Haas meant that I was surrounded by many students and faculty who were aware or wanted to become more aware. They took classes and even created classes; classes like Dialogues on Race. They were and are true allies, and I hoped to earn my title as ally from them and have their backs. What a beautiful community I found, starting with the Consortium and my incredible co-liaisons. I also built strong friendships and relationships from being a leadership communications graduate student instructor, a rep for my cohort, and participating in the International Business Development program with a fantastic team. But sometimes, even that didn’t feel like enough.
One day in class, we watch a video about the civil rights movement. There is, of course, violence: hoses, beatings, lynching, death. Lives are changed and lineages destroyed. I soon realize that I’m the only one crying. The only one. Perhaps coincidentally I’m also the only black person in the class. Others are considerate and caring. My friends hug me and classmates and my professor check in on me after class. It could just be that they don’t cry easily, but it seemed like my classmates were observing something far away and long ago, that they weren’t connected to. Which made me feel like maybe they weren’t connected to me.
Haas is diverse. We have 40% international students and many members of the LGBTQ+ community, veterans, women, men. We have diversity of thought and of experience. We openly celebrate this and our cultural backgrounds and gender fluidity. And yet there were only three black women in my class. Two in the class of 2020. I’ve heard people argue that, “Black people don’t understand the value of a graduate degree” or “It’s the pipeline problem.” Pipeline problems exist, but did we check to see where our pipes were connected to? If the line is faulty perhaps it’s connected to the wrong source. Where was our strong representation in Atlanta? In D.C.? In our own staff? How can we expect to attract this demographic without being intentional?
This feeling isn’t new or limited to Berkeley, however. I felt the same in my undergraduate institution where I was one of the few black engineers in diverse Atlanta. Or in my first job after college, where for three years I was the only black person on a team of 70. It’s just getting old at this point.
I was asked what it’s like to be black at Berkeley Haas. What is it like to be black anywhere in America? To be reminded that despite being integral to this country, you don’t exactly belong. To be the first in your household, your generation, maybe even your extended family to attend a place like this and be heaped with praise by how much you’re able to “overcome” and how you must be special and smart. All the while, you know at least 10 other people just as smart as you and even more hardworking who just couldn’t afford your undergraduate institution or the test prep or to take time off of work to come to a place like Berkeley. You don’t feel special—you feel lucky, considering that if your mom had not moved to a city with better schools, perhaps you would be another person with “lost potential.”
Being black means being surrounded by people who don’t think about race every day and marveling at that. Marveling that they don’t talk about the injustices of a society that has already nearly forgotten its past and keeps repeating it with a fresh set of faces. It’s sitting on a panel, leading a small group discussion, or even writing an article— about being black at Berkeley Haas. Sometimes all you want to be is just another student, but if you don’t speak, your voice won’t be heard. And your voice is representative. You have to keep reminding people that you do not carry the perspective of everyone who happens to have your same skin color. You are an individual; sometimes you want to be treated that way.
Then, when you write the article, you decide to tone it down so that readers will take you seriously and not dismiss you as an angry black woman when you decided to try vulnerability. And still you fear the reaction.
In response to the violence against Black and African-American people and the wave of protests and unrest across the country, we’re sharing some of the perspectives of our Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni.
Marco Lindsey, Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Berkeley Haas, shared this letter with colleagues.
I’m writing this now, but to be honest, I really don’t want to be bothered. I don’t want to write, I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to work, I don’t want to socialize.
Many of you have reached out to me personally, and I appreciate it. I do. I just feel like shit right now. I find myself crying often, and I haven’t cried outside of a funeral in many years.
Because I am a community activist, I am receiving numerous requests to speak to our community and our youth in Oakland on what we should do next or how we should move forward. But I’m at a loss. I have no fucking idea on where we go from here. Voting seems like the most productive choice, but we’ve voted for a long time, and this problem has never subsided. And me casting a ballot in November does not make my son any safer today (or in November for that matter). Within the last week, even Black politicians have been assaulted and arrested while PEACEFULLY protesting…
There’s social unrest happening in our country. And whatever side you are on regarding looting and/or protests, what’s happening is that people are fed up, disgusted, tired, hurt, afraid, angry, and in mourning.
If you read no further, understand this. Black Lives Matter = if anyone kills a Black person, their punishment should be the same as if they killed someone from any other race.
No matter if they are White, Black, or Blue. If anyone kills a Black person, they should be arrested, tried and convicted of murder. We don’t hold the false belief that murders amongst humans will stop. If you read the bible, when there were only 4 people on earth (Adam, Even, Cain and Abel), a murder occurred. We live in a cruel world. The request is that when someone Black is killed, the murderer gets treated the same no matter their job, race, gender or nationality.
This is what people are protesting. This is what people are upset about. A quarterback attempted to peacefully protest this by taking a knee, and he was black listed (it’s unfortunate that so many negative connotations are associated with the word “black), called an SOB by the president, and called disrespectful to our flag/nation by many of our fellow Americans. People… Black people are at our wits end because we have no idea what to do to fix this.
There was a time when I was afraid for my life as a Black man. But that fear subsided when I became a father. Because now, for the rest of my life, I live with the fear of my children being murdered by someone from an over-represented group, without consequence. I live with this burden daily. Daily.
The true problem with the recent videos of Black people being slayed is that there are thousands of others who experience the same fate, but because they aren’t recorded, you’ll hear nothing about it. Even George Floyd’s “official” report from the police says that heart disease and “potential intoxicants” in his system played a part in his death. So many people who look like me are dying REGULARLY by those who are sworn to serve and protect us, and it goes unnoticed except by the fatherless children and broken families left behind.
I don’t have faith that we will see a change in my lifetime. I was alive to see Rodney King viciously beaten and have the officers deemed not guilty. That was almost 30 years ago and we are still watching Black men and women be assaulted and killed on camera by the people meant to protect them.
I am sending this to you because I think of you as a friend, but feel free to share (if you didn’t receive this directly from me, please charge it to my mind and not my heart, as I am not remembering or thinking straight much these days). But many times it’s easier to deal with these tragedies because the Black man killed is a stranger. But you know me. As hard as it may be to do, imagine me on the ground, handcuffed, begging for my mother (her name is Dorothy Louise) while an officer has his knee on my neck until I stopped breathing. Until I was dead. I need this to hit home because it not hitting home for so many people is the reason it continues. I need you to think of me lying there dead. Because when I saw this video (like too many others), I see my sons. I see my sons…
In my current state, I won’t and can’t ask much of you. But I do have simple requests.
Talk to your children about anti-Blackness. As a father I know that we want to keep them innocent and naive for as long as we can. But unfortunately they are bombarded with anti-blackness in cartoons, the media, at school, at the park, while shopping and online. Whether you notice it or not, it is embedded in our society. This is why so often you will hear of someone who committed heinous acts, and their parent’s saying that they didn’t raise them like that, or that they don’t know where they got that from. The world is teaching our children lessons that we may not condone. And You have the power to combat this but you have to be intentional. Because while I have very little hope that a change will come in my lifetime, I do pray that future generations get it right. But it starts with us doing something now.
My second request is that if you see a Black person being treated unjustly, speak up. Whether it is by a store clerk, a fellow citizen, a peace officer, or any public official, please say something. Your silence is your approval of negative actions. I get it. Not everyone is an extrovert, and many times we want to just mind our business. But we all would want someone to speak up on our behalf (or our family’s behalf) if we were on the receiving end of mistreatment. Be that someone.
Lastly, I’ll say get involved. I can’t dictate to you what that looks like, but it can be anything from writing an email to public officials, sharing a social media post, learning more about anti-Blackness, being an active ally at a rally, donating, or just sharing this message. But do something. Please don’t sit idly by while I am being murdered. Make no mistake about it. I am dying.
This grad photo just might best sum up the quirky humor of Joe Sutkowski, who was chosen as graduation speaker for the 2020 Full-time MBA class.
On this graduation celebration day, we asked Sutkowski a few questions about where he’s heading post-Haas and what he loved best about his MBA program.
What’s the hardest part about graduating online and do you like Zoom?
Not being able to hug all of my classmates, especially those who are going abroad.
I love Zoom. Students have gotten SO creative with their Zoom backgrounds. Shoutout to my classmate who photoshopped themselves as Elon (Musk’s) baby! My plan is to drink champagne and furiously text puns to friends. Also, the students have made graduation week amazing with Family Feud, Ted Talks, and Olympics, all of course done in Haas style. They have made this experience nothing short of beautiful.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Haas?
So many come to mind here: Fieri Fest, hiding inside a cooler at Haas Boats, Drageoke, tug-of-war, Haasemite, getting Thank Yous from my students from my teaching/advising appointments, having my mom and sister come visit, probably all the soccer shenanigans, and many more.
Your favorite professor or class?
Power and Politics. It’s an expert blend of cases, in-class discussions, lectures, and role-play scenarios served with a side of humor and authority by Haas’ own Cam Anderson. It challenged me to think hard about who I could become.
Where are you heading after graduation?
Google. I would love to travel a little bit before, but obviously that is super limited. I will most likely stay in California. The San Diego beaches may pull me down south though.
The Berkeley Haas Full-time MBA Class of 2020 has shown “real grit and resilience” with leaders who embody the Defining Leadership Principles, Dean Ann Harrison said today in a video made for grads.
“I want to thank you for staying engaged and for your positive spirit,” Harrison said. “Many of you went above and beyond. From student startups that quickly pivoted to provide much-needed supplies for COVID-19 to classmates who kept you sane with yoga and mindfulness classes or entertainment, baking, and movie tips.”
Student speaker Joe Sutkowski praised the”courage of Haasies” in his speech. (Read an interview with Sutkowski here)
“Over the past months of shelter in place I’ve witnessed an online community emerge that’s every bit as vibrant as the community I fell in love with many months ago,” he said. “I’ve seen the courage of Haasies donating their time to the less fortunate…I’ve seen resilience in our professors and our faculty. I’ve heard humor through Zoom and Slack channels.”
Individual Haas alumni then took turns congratulating the class, offering advice, and wished them well.
Full-time MBA award winners
Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching: Kimberly MacPherson, who taught three courses this academic year. Unlocking Digital Innovation in Healthcare, Commercializing Biotech and Pharma, and Healthcare in the 21st Century.
GSI award: PhD student Livia Alfonsi, who was the GSI for Aaron Bodoh-Creed’s Microeconomics class.
Adam Burgess, MBA 20, was also named the best GSI in the EWMBA program.
Academic Achievement Award: Brian Shain, the MBA student with the highest GPA.
Defining Leadership Principles (DLP) award winners:
Question the Status Quo: Evan Wright
Confidence without Attitude: Celeste Fa’ai’uaso
Students Always: Nina Ho
Beyond Yourself: Benny Johnson
Berkeley Leaders: Molly Zeins & Ezgi Karaagac
Also celebrating this month were 11 Berkeley Haas PhD students who are slated to graduate this year. Nine of the PhD grads are heading to jobs in academia and two landed positions in industry both in the U.S. and abroad. Read more here.
With a nod to Dr. Seuss, Haas Business Student Association (HBSA) President Shun Lei Sin told the undergraduate Class of 2020 that they’re off to great places.
“Today is your day,” she said in a video prepared to celebrate the day. “So take pride in how you’ve far come and have faith in how far you can go—and of course keep in mind our four core (Defining Leadership Principles) that define the Berkeley Haas culture.”
Dean Ann Harrison noted their remarkable journey. “You have achieved so much,” she said. “However you’ve applied yourselves, you’ve learned important lessons about collaboration, about failing and trying again, and about making an impact. In short, about leadership.”
However you’ve applied yourselves, you’ve learned important lessons about collaboration, about failing and trying again, and about making an impact.
Undergraduate Defining Leadership Principles Award Winners
Graduate Student Instructor of the Year: Rohi Rana, the GSI for Financial Accounting and Managerial Accounting.
Mia Character, BS 20, DLP winner for Students Always
A team of HBSA members interviewed Haas faculty and staff, who offered advice and well wishes to grads in this video.
The undergraduate class of 2020 has been through a lot together over the past four years: a controversial presidential election, political protests that rocked campus, wildfires that led to canceled classes, and the outbreak of COVID-19, which made final days at Cal “quite a whirlwind,” said graduation speaker Diane Dwyer, BS 87.
“You’ve been tested not just once but many times,” said Dwyer, a Haas professional faculty member and a former broadcast journalist. “Part of what college is supposed to do is prepare you for the rest of your life and I can’t imagine a group that’s more prepared than you.”
After the coronavirus outbreak shuttered hundreds of small businesses in Oakland in March, Shan Ouyang joined a group of Berkeley Haas MBA students who hit the phones to help owners navigate financial survival.
After failing to connect with the first four owners on her list, Ouyang, MBA 20, reached a hardware store owner and spent an hour mostly listening. “He was just closing the store and he wanted to discuss his difficulties, how much his revenue was down,” said Ouyang, who with 30 MBA students is volunteering through a program launched by the Sustainable and Impact Finance (SAIF) initiative at Berkeley Haas with the City of Oakland.
The program aims to assist hundreds of small business owners who face language, technology, or income barriers to help them access federal relief funds including Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Programs, and unemployment insurance.
The students have split into four teams contacting small business owners working in partnership with District 6 in East Oakland, (the district of Oakland Council member Loren Taylor, MBA 05), the Black Cultural Zone and the Black Economy Rapid Response Network, the Greenlining Institute, and the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.
“Stepping up in a tangible way”
Before starting their work, all of the MBA volunteers participated in an April 11 training with the City of Oakland. Marisa Raya, a senior economic analyst for special projects with the city, who has collected data since the start of the business closings, gave some of the business owners the heads up that the Haas students would be calling.
Students who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, and other languages were matched with business owners in need of language support.
“It’s been inspiring to see the MBAs step up and take the initiative in a tangible way,” said Jessie Tang, MBA 20 and project co-lead, whose mother, an immigrant from China, ran a small business when Tang was younger. “The biggest challenge we’ve had is getting people to pick up (the phone).”
When they do get an owner on the line, Kat Baird, program director for SAIF, said the students are using their business school background coupled with the city’s training to inform and answer questions.
While phone banking may seem old fashioned, Baird said it’s the best way to reach people right now who may not have Internet access or be receiving the most updated information about loans and federal aid in their native language.
“Many of the business owners are confused about the programs available to them and may have given up after they got refused by one program,” said Baird, who is spearheading the program for Haas through SAIF, which is part of the Institute for Business & Social Impact at Haas. “These programs are developing every day and we want the owners to know that these programs exist.”
“A very human conversation”
Tang said the first two businesses she reached were a fortune cookie factory and a funeral home. The funeral home owner surprised her, she said, by asking about her well-being, instead of letting her ask him how he was doing.
“We’re just here to have a very human conversation,” she said. “In training, they talked about empathic listening and to provide resources that they may not know about. The challenge right now is there’s so much uncertainty.”
We’re just here to have a very human conversation.
Ouyang, a native of China who speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin, said she’s called 24 owners so far, mostly restaurants and small grocers in Chinatown. The hardest part for many, she said, is not knowing when they can reopen. “They’re just waiting,” she said. When students get legal questions they can’t answer, they refer business owners to a Berkeley Law program that matches small business owners with Berkeley Law students who will help them navigate the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Tang said it’s perhaps most difficult when there’s little she can do to help an owner, like a kettle corn business owner she spoke with who had no website. She suggested maybe selling the kettle corn online, but he told her that the business isn’t set up for manufacturing and shipping. “There’s nothing you can do right now,” he told her.
Dalton Guthrie, MBA 20, who is making calls to businesses in the Black Cultural Zone, said the volunteering experience led him to apply for a contract job with the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), administering disaster loans.
Guthrie, who enrolled in the student-led Berkeley Haas MBA course Dialogues on Race this semester and researched ways that race influences the distribution of community resources, said despite race-conscious initiatives at the local level, he’s witnessing the negative impact of insufficient federal policies in real time in Oakland.
“A lot of businesses with the social connections, the privilege, and the financial literacy have so much of an edge up,” he said. “When you have a pot of money, the people who are going to get there first aren’t the people who are going to need it the most.”
When you have a pot of money, the people who are going to get there first aren’t the people who are going to need it the most.
Still, Baird said that a meeting this week with community partners brought some hopeful news.
“Despite all the problems with federal programs the businesses we’re working with are starting to get funds, access to loans and to see some support come through,” she said.
Two years ago, Alex Severin, MBA 20, worked on a team that had been called on to build an innovation lab for a professional services firm operating in aviation and commercial energy markets.
With no corporate manual outlining an approach for building it, Severin, a management consultant, worked around the clock to help found Spark Labs. The lab, which now has 15 employees, helps clients tackle the “hairiest, cross-disciplinary challenges,” while teaching their employees and leaders about the “innovation mindset,”—which for many is hard to define, he said.
“Innovation is the most overused word in the English language,” he said. “You have all these large organizations saying, ‘This is the time we need to start investing in innovation,’ but nothing ever comes of it except giving Wall Street this impression that they’re investing. It amounts to little more than innovation theater.”
That experience hooked Severin on innovation, leading him to Haas, where he’s studying design thinking—a human-centered process for creative problem solving. Getting to the bottom of how to get the design thinking process right in companies is his mission and the subject of his new research, which will be presented at a Design Management Institute’s Academic Design Management Conference August 3-7.
To go deeper into innovation, Severin launched an independent study last year with another Haas design thinking expert, lecturer Vivek Rao, exploring how large organizations use both design-based innovation activities and labs. For the project, Severin conducted interviews, mostly by video, with 19 high-level innovation executives from 14 companies in sectors including energy, education, healthcare, consumer electronics, and professional services.
A commitment to deep, critical thinking
The study resulted in a research paper, which Severin wrote with Rao.
“I think it’s remarkable that a full-time MBA candidate like Alex is producing publishable research,” Rao said, noting that research is usually the domain of PhD students. “The rigorous curriculum and extracurricular demands at Haas often leave little time for scholarly research. That Alex was able to do this is evidence of his commitment to deep, critical thinking.”
That Alex was able to do this is evidence of his commitment to deep, critical thinking.
The innovation community is small, which helped Severin convince leaders of the importance and broad applicability of his research. “Once people knew that they would get a copy of this report, they were more than happy to speak candidly,” he said. “People were willing to talk in a way I haven’t experienced in other research projects. They understand that this is a very hard thing to do right, so that creates a willingness to chat.”
The deep interviews led to five best design thinking practices:
Set the right expectations through strategic pilot projects immediately following launch. “Quick wins help get people on board,” Severin said. Make sure that the pilot outcome is easy for everyone at the company to understand so you can say, “Hey, we piloted this and look at the change,’” he said.
Establish a shared set of metrics with the business units to build buy-in and quickly create trust.
Seek deep company experience in innovation team leaders; seek external perspectives in all other roles. Every successful innovation team had a person in charge with deep company experience, he said. “Trust is so important,” he said. “If you come in as a hotshot off the street there’s no trust that exists from the start.”
Don’t fall in love with your framework. The most successful design and innovation teams sell tangible outcomes, not branded frameworks. “The sad truth is that few really care about the intricacies of your framework,” he says. “All they care about is what it means for them, and what the expected outcomes are. Speak their language, don’t expect them to learn yours.”
Stand up separate centralized and embedded teams with distinct missions to fulfill the mandate of corporate innovation teams. “The most effective application of a centralized team is an ‘A Team’ attached to the meatiest, most complex opportunities,” Severin said. Conversely, embedding a few people within the organization’s different business units promotes more precise work, better relationships, and a straighter path to successful democratization of innovation, he said.
Note: Berkeley Haas News followed two of this year’s 25 teams participating inLAUNCH, an accelerator for UC startup founders that has helped create more than 200 companies since 2015. At last Friday’s Demo Day finals, 10 UC teams remotely pitched VCs and angel investors, competing for $70,000 in funding. Startup SuperPetFoods made the finals; BumpR did not.
María (Mar) del Mar Londoño, MBA 21 and CEO of SuperPetFoods, headed into last week’s LAUNCH Demo Day finals determined. After failing to place in the top three at last month’s Hult Prize Global Regional Competition in Bogotá and the 2020 Rabobank-MIT Food and Agribusiness Innovation Prize finals, she’d buffed up the startup’s presentation, polished answers to potential questions, and emerged ready to win.
Her team’s efforts paid off, as SuperPetFoods took second place (and was voted audience choice) at LAUNCH Demo Day May 1, netting $20,000 to move into the summer phase of developing her eco-friendly dehydrated pet food, made from black soldier fly larvae. Digiventures, a Berkeley Haas MBA led team that built a platform enabling Latin American customers to be evaluated for credit, took the top prize.
Missing from Demo Day, however, was BumpR, an undergraduate team aiming to produce an inexpensive Internet of Things (IoT) device that drivers mount on their cars to easily collect data over geographic areas. The startup, founded by Armaan Goel, Aishwarya (Ash) Mahesh, Shreya Shekhar, all M.E.T. 23 students, and Justin Quan, BS 23 (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science), didn’t make it to the finals, mainly because the team pivoted right before the semifinals and ran out of time to do the necessary customer interviews to vet their new idea.
BumpR will continue to work on the idea at UC Berkeley’s SkyDeck this fall, as a SkyDeck Hot Desk team. Rhonda Shrader, the executive director of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP), which sponsors LAUNCH, also helped the team apply for a $25,000 VentureWell grant to prototype and test their product. “The lessons we learned along the way under the guidance of all the LAUNCH faculty will stick with us whether it’s with this product idea or another,” Ash said.
“The lessons we learned along the way under the guidance of all the LAUNCH faculty will stick with us whether it’s with this product idea or another.”
We spoke to Mar, who founded the company with Thais Esteves, MBA 21, and Gina Myers, MS 20 (bioengineering), about LAUNCH and what’s next for SuperPetFoods.
What was the biggest challenge participating in LAUNCH during the coronavirus crisis?
There were many challenges. The first was managing the emotional stress that coronavirus brought to this— worrying about your family and evaluating your priorities. As a team leader my biggest challenge was being able to give my team the space they needed while seeing this project as something that could make them feel excited about the future. That’s a difficult balance. You want to give them their space but you also want people to be engaged.
Another challenge was the operational part. Literally, we had to start cooking the food in Washington state, where Gina is staying in her family’s cabin. All the people we contacted to do pet food trials are in Berkeley or the Bay Area.
So Gina is cooking the food you plan to send out for trials this summer?
Yes. Dogs are lucky to have a trained chef from the Culinary Institute of America cooking for them. At this point, Gina has everything she needs to start cooking: a recipe that offers complete nutrition that was formulated with a board-certified pet nutritionist, and the required machinery: a dehydrator and a bag sealer. Our target for the summer is to give 100 free samples to friends, family, and people who have shown interest through Facebook ads.
Depending on feedback we get from people, we’ll be able to go on to a bigger scale and go to local pet food stores. We are at a stage where we are literally testing how people feel about a pet food that is highly disruptive. It’s not only that it’s made of insects. It’s also dehydrated, so people need to add water, stir and serve. This format is more nutritious and tasty for dogs, so we have the hypothesis that pet parents will like it and prefer it to kibble. But that’s for us to test.
You plan is to eventually produce the food in your native Colombia. What’s the timeline this summer?
Producing in Colombia will give us a cost advantage and that is a crucial element of our operational model. However, we are focusing our efforts on two fronts this summer: testing product market fit and building the brand identity. First, we need to collect feedback on our product. All of our work so far was gathering consumer insights and understanding their sentiment around feeding their pets insects. Now we will get their feedback with an actual product. Second, we need to develop the brand identity and translate that into a website, package, and logo. We already conducted an A/B test that proved that the sustainability angle has more appeal than the nutritional one. Next step is to define which tone to convey around sustainability. We need to identify which is more effective: the loving, caring, tree-hugger kind of tone, or the more vigorous approach targeting changemakers who are empowered to make a change in the world.
What was most valuable about the LAUNCH experience?
Belonging to a cohort of collaborative teams. The collective brainstorming when you present progress and roadblocks, and having the other teams there. They help you think and you can identify elements from listening to them that might be useful for you—like what platform you’re using to set up your website. It’s a good place to get help. The second thing is you see how the teams are progressing and that allows you to have accountability for what you are doing.
Eleven Berkeley Haas PhD students congratulated for “insanely huge accomplishments” were urged to take a moment to reflect before moving to the next stage of their careers.
“Please take that time to think about your accomplishments—even if it’s not with the usual commencement music in the background,” said Finance Prof. Ulrike Malmendier, faculty head of the doctoral program, who dressed in full regalia for last Friday’s remote celebratory call. “You made it through, you showed your resilience, and found a starting point for the next part of your life.”
Melissa Hacker, the executive director of the PhD program, welcomed the students, many of whom thanked her personally for her help and emotional support.
Praising the class for its resilience, Dean Ann Harrison, who earned a PhD in economics from Princeton University, noted the students’ “insanely huge accomplishments.”
Harrison recalled working tirelessly during the third year of her doctoral program, after finally coming up with a dissertation topic. “I spent an entire summer in the basement of the computer center typing in numbers into a spreadsheet so I could have a database,” she said. “I’m getting tears in my eyes just thinking about what you’ve been through. You are all going on to do amazing things and I’m just so proud of you.”
You are all going on to do amazing things and I’m just so proud of you.
The PhD students slated to graduate include Christopher Lako, Dayin Zhang, Jieyin (Jean) Zeng, Luc Kien Hang, Margaret (Maggie) Fong, Maria Kurakina, Marius Guenzel, Michael Rosenblum, Oren Reshef, Troup Howard, and Xin Chen. Their areas of specialization include real estate, accounting, finance, business and public policy, marketing and management of organizations.
The graduates selected Prof. Ernesto Dal Bó, the Phillips Girgich Professor of Business, to receive the Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching. Faculty are selected to receive the award—which is the top teaching honor at Berkeley Haas—by students in each program.
“We all made it.”
Nine of the grads are heading to jobs in academia and two landed in industry both in the U.S. and abroad. Guenzel, whose dissertation was on behavioral and corporate finance, accepted a job as assistant professor at Wharton, while Hang, who researched asset pricing, will work as a data and applied scientist at Microsoft. Zeng, who welcomed a baby boy with her husband during the program, is headed to the National University of Singapore as an assistant professor.
Students shared stories of late-night poker games, intense study groups, testing research questions on each other, and forging lifelong friendships along the way. The program was about experiencing something together with your friends, Zeng said. “The third year was hard but it was less hard because my cohort was experiencing the same thing and we all made it,” she said. “I’m really happy with that.”
Howard, who will be an assistant professor at David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, recalled many “incredible, wonderful moments” during the program “and some tough ones as well.” He recounted heading into Hacker’s office three weeks into his first semester worried that he would lose his funding if he failed all of his classes, and that he wouldn’t be able to pay rent. “I wouldn’t have made it without a ton of support and friendship of the folks on here,” Howard said.
I wouldn’t have made it without a ton of support and friendship of the folks on here.
Hacker, who held back tears several times, responded that she remembered thinking that day, “He’s going to be just fine.”
Influential couples in economics
Zhang, whose wife is graduating with a PhD in economics from the University of Michigan, expressed his admiration for the “best couples in economics” at UC Berkeley, including husband and wife economics professors Christina Romer and David Romer, and Malmendier and her husband, Prof. Stefano DellaVigna. “This gives me a goal to achieve,” he said, of becoming another successful economics couple.
Reshef and his wife had two babies, a girl and a boy, while he was in the program, both of whom made an appearance during the call. Reshef, like other students, regretted that they couldn’t be together to celebrate in person, but vowed to reunite after the coronavirus crisis passes.
“It’s great to see everybody,” he said. “I hope we get to see each other again under different circumstances.”
Members of the winning team included Maryam Rezapoor, MBA 20, and Asif Mohammad, Cynthia Sobral, and Vera Xiao, all MBA 21. The Haas team, one of 25 teams representing 10 universities, won $5,000.
The Technology Club at Haas has held the tech-focused MBA case competition at the school since 2011. The challenge, which moved online between March 30-April 3, brings together MBA students from top programs around the country, providing an opportunity to solve real-world business challenges.
Teams this year were asked to write a three-page response to the question, “How should businesses or organizations think about resiliency, recovery, and hope in the face of unforeseen global crisis?” Teams could choose to write from the point of view of a CEO sharing thoughts with employees on how to brace for the next 12 months, or as a reporter working for a major news publisher “who will write an article read by millions.”
The Haas team opted to write from the perspective of a CEO, who emphasized the value of individual vulnerability and created a corporate culture of shared empathy to reassure employees during a major crisis.
We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level.
“We took the perspective of a CEO sharing his or her own story and brought that experience to a very personal level,” Mohammad said.
The team wanted to stress the notion of “experiencing grief both individually and collectively,” Sobral said. “We need to be honest about that. We need to consider how we find meaning in this crisis.”
The pitch also suggested encouraging employees to volunteer time to help a struggling small business and that the firm establish an impact investment fund and an accelerator to support startups. “We need to be preparing for the next crisis, so we sought to empower new companies for the future,” Rezapoor said.
Ultimately, the pitch encouraged employees to consider the bigger picture of helping a tech firm facilitate “more collaboration and innovation and to be able to think beyond themselves,” Xiao said.
After submitting their entries, teams participated in an April 3 round-table discussion with the judges—executives from cloud software company Nutanix, the competition sponsor, as well as Haas Lecturer Gregory La Blanc and Gauthier Vasseur, executive director of the Fisher Center for Business Analytics.
Even in the midst of a global crisis, participating in the Tech Challenge “gave me a sense of optimism,” Sobral said. “I shifted from thinking about the here and now to thinking about the future path for business and society.”
The eight teams in the event’s final round represented Haas, UC Berkeley’s School of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Dartmouth, Northwestern, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Washington. Mary Yao, Corrine Marquardt, Dunja Panic and Brad Deal, all MBA 21, organized this year’s competition.
Two alumnae of the Berkeley Business Academy for Youth (B-BAY) took a top honor at a competition held this month in Jamaica that challenged students to come up with innovative ways to deal with the COVID-19 crisis there.
More than 100 students participated in the DIA Ideathon, including two teams of former B-BAY students. The competition, organized by DIA Jamaica, is an initiative created by The Trust for the Americas, an affiliate of the Organization of American States. DIA Jamaica’s goal is to empower a new generation of Jamaican entrepreneurs and innovators.
Akielia Willburgh and Aaliyah McKenzie, who are both from Jamaica, are recent alumnae of B-BAY, a college preparatory business program at Berkeley Haas for middle and high school students. The pair won first place in the “education and access to information” category, pitching Borderles$, an educational website that will connect Jamaican teachers to jobs teaching non-English-speaking students worldwide.
Willburgh said she hopes that Borderles$ will be used to help English teachers who have been laid off by the Ministry of Education to stay employed; to assist struggling citizens in meeting their utility bills, and to serve as an advertising tool for Jamaica as the island’s largest revenue source, tourism, has declined.
A second team that competed in the competition also included B-BAY alumnae Safia Mendez and Kashana Davis.
B-BAY Director Olive Davis assisted both teams. Davis said Mendez had told her about the competition earlier this year—and she was inspired to text her former students from Jamaica to gauge their interest in forming teams.
After she heard back from four interested former students, she invited them to meet on WhatsApp to discuss the competition topics: education and access to information, health, economic relief and crime and security.
“I worked with them throughout the process as a facilitator, keeping them on task, ” Davis said.
Willburgh said she tapped what she learned in her B-BAY program to form the team’s pitch, skills including “critical thinking, aspects of entrepreneurship, Design Thinking, and presentation skills/elevator pitch.”
The winners in each category were announced April 5.
Berkeley Haas has launched the MBA Summer Internship Stimulus Fund, which will provide $5,000 stipends to students.
The stipends, which will help cover basic needs like rent and living expenses, will be awarded on a rolling basis to continuing MBA students who qualify. Full-time first-year MBA students, first and second year MBA/MPH students, and evening and weekend MBA students seeking internships may apply.
Students can apply once they’ve received a written job offer for a paid summer internship, so long as the salary offered is below market, said Abby Scott, Assistant Dean of Career Management & Corporate Partnerships.
“We know that some companies are experiencing significant financial constraints right now and supplementing student compensation through this stipend program will help impacted organizations access Berkeley MBA talent for the summer,” Scott said. “If a company cannot pay a typical summer salary, they can still hire a Berkeley MBA intern as long as they are contributing to student wages and meeting standards governed by employment law.”
All internships must be for MBA-level work and the internships must start by July 6 and run for at least six weeks.
Scott said she considers the fund “a stimulus package” that will benefit both students and employers.
“Ultimately we want all of our MBA students seeking internships to have a great experience and we believe this fund will help,” she said.
Click here for more information on the fund. The Haas Annual Fund for the Full-time MBA Program supports the Internship Stimulus Fund. To make a gift, click here.
Word was getting out last year about Berkeley Haas startup Dispatch Goods.
The startup had landed its first two corporate clients and had 15 deals in the pipeline. They’d signed a partnership with Yelp! and debuted a mobile app and subscription service with membership tiers. By November, the Wall Street Journalhad featured Dispatch’s business model— providing reusable stainless steel containers that companies use for restaurant takeout or pickup— in a news article.
But then coronavirus hit. Nearly overnight, business evaporated as restaurant owners shut down and corporate workers started working from home. For CEO Lindsey Hoell and her team it was “a gut punch for the anti-single use movement.”
“COVID was a huge disruption,” said Hoell, EWMBA 21. “We thought to ourselves: What do we have to offer now and how can we help?”
A quick pivot
Hoell had heard that hand sanitizer was quickly hard to come by after COVID-19 hit. One of the Dispatch team members knew that Tim Obert, CEO of Seven Stills distillery in San Francisco, had a plan to use some of the company’s alcohol to make hand sanitizer. The company connects donors to those in need on its website.
Hoell chatted with Obert and decided to launch a zero waste co-op to provide some of the hand sanitizer in recycled containers. Now, the team is collecting plastic bottles from donors, cleaning the bottles in their commercial dishwasher at their warehouse space in Daly City, and delivering them in the company’s van to Bay Area organizations, including retirement communities and homeless shelters.
Hoell, who is relying on donations to run the co-op, said they’re trying to keep costs down by batching pickups in neighborhoods in San Francisco, South San Francisco, Daly City, Berkeley, and Oakland. (Bottle donors can sign up on their website) She’s not sure if the model is financially sustainable, as the transportation costs are high, but the startup is willing to try to make it work.
“All of us got into this company because of the impact we want to have,” Hoell said. “We didn’t know how we could make money but we knew we could make an impact.”
All of us got into this company because of the impact we want to have.
Sticking to the mission
Meanwhile, Dispatch Goods’ founding mission hasn’t been lost.
Adam Boostrom, an evening and weekend MBA student, is working to adapt the business model while Dispatch participates in Berkeley’s SkyDeck accelerator program. During Skydeck’s online sessions, he worked alongside the Dispatch team to develop a pilot which would continue zero waste delivery for businesses. The first plan is to work with Square Pie Guys to deliver pizza on Tuesdays and Thursdays to employees’ homes in a reusable, covered metal alloy pan.
If the pilot works, the startup will approach other companies that want to provide takeout food to their employees who are working at home.
The startup’s goal has always been to change the food delivery model and eliminate the waste—and this is a new approach.
“The mission is still the same: we pick up containers, clean them, and return them to food providers,” said Boostrom. “What’s different is the primary customer.”
As the coronavirus spread in California last month, Kapil Sharma, EMBA 20 and director of cardiac surgery at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, worried that keeping critical medical supplies in stock would be nearly impossible.
“Last week, it was blood shortages, which seems to have stabilized now that elective surgeries have stopped,” Sharma, EMBA 20, wrote on March 22 on the his Executive MBA class Slack channel. “If your company has access to any sort of protection like masks or hazmat suits, many facilities are at critical lows.”
What would be ideal, he wrote, would be a website where companies could post what they’re able to donate, and hospitals could list their needs. What happened next surprised everyone.
Within two days, 20 of the 67 executive MBA students in the 2020 class came together to try to hammer out a solution to connect donors with people and organizations in need. Those discussions, over several weeks, led to the founding of nonprofit startup One Link.
‘That need (to solve a problem) helped us to put something together and form the team,” said Naresh Vemparala, a program director at Partnership HealthPlan of California, who is now leading the project management team for nonprofit One Link. “We said: why don’t we do it? Why don’t we bring these two sides together?
That need (to solve a problem) helped us to put something together and form the team. We said: why don’t we do it? Why don’t we bring these two sides together? —Naresh Vemparala
The EMBA startup has three short-term goals: to build a marketplace platform for desktop and mobile devices that connects donors and recipients—and scales beyond the current crisis; to connect to corporate responsibility units within companies; and to build effective social media campaigns to create awareness of supply and demand problems in real time.
“The glue that brings us together”
One Link’s founding came at a difficult time for this EMBA 20 class. The students had been looking forward to their third term, which included an immersion week, a program staple that was postponed after the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“It was a shock to the system for our class,” said Margaret Park, a senior art director at Sephora, who is leading marketing and branding for One Link. “Suddenly we couldn’t leave the house, suddenly we had a forced break from school. Juggling everything before was such an incredible struggle, but then we had an unexpected seven-week hiatus.”
During that break, it was inspiring how quickly everyone came together, said Marisa Hewitt, director of business operations at BioMarin, who is charged with business development for the startup.
“In how many organizations can you go from an idea to a team with so many different skills in just a few days?” she said. “Our classmates are all people who care about what we’re learning in business school and want to do something with it. That’s the glue that brings us together.”
A simple design
The 10-person leadership team for the startup now meets on Zoom every Monday night to discuss its progress. Members spend hours every week working on One Link for free—in addition to their jobs and school work.
The project quickly became a second full-time job for Sumit Patankar, director of supply chain strategy at Applied Materials, who is leading the One Link development team with his wife, software engineer Shalaka Borker, head of data engineering at Roofstock.
Patankar hired a team of developers in India, who have asked that the platform be released in India to help during crisis times. The marketplace design will be simple, he said. Initially, it will provide ways to donate 10 to 15 types of items, providing the option to match people and organizations that are geographically close to each other so drop offs are simple.
To simplify logistics, One Link is working on partnerships and possible discounts with Amazon, FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, and UPS.
They are also building a way to gauge the level of need posted by an organization so donors can prioritize. That need level—critical, moderate, or low—will be based on information an organization provides. They plan to offer donors the option of giving only to a nonprofit organization, or to an organization that’s within 10 miles of their location.
Team member Jessica Patterson, CFO of the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada, is finalizing the process of incorporating One Link as a nonprofit, hopefully by early May. The company plans to launch soon after clearing the legal hurdles.
Keeping One Link going after the pandemic
The goal is to keep One Link going long after the COVID-19 crisis is under control, and to make the platform available internationally to help during hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, or future disease outbreaks. The group plans to raise money to expand the startup’s platform.
“We want it to be an EMBA 20 legacy—to feel that we’ve done something of value to society,” Vemparala said. “We will be impacted one way or another due to COVID-19 and if we look back, the one thing that will be in mind is what have we done and how did we react to it?”
Emma Hayes Daftary, executive director of the EMBA program, said the 2020 class is living out the Haas Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself in real time.
“It doesn’t surprise me that they’ve found a way to go beyond themselves in this challenging time,” she said. “They have rallied in a way that will make a real difference.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Berkeley Haas Assoc. Prof. Adair Morse and Prof. Laura Tyson immediately began thinking about ways to make it possible for cities to attract private and institutional capital to help small businesses make it through the crisis.
Their idea has now taken root locally, with a new partnership between Berkeley Haas and the City of Berkeley’s Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Vice Mayor Sophie Hahn to pool private and public money into a small business loan fund.
Last week, the Berkeley City Council approved creation of the Save our Small (SOS) Business Recovery Loan Fund, to support businesses with fewer than 50 employees that have already felt the severe impact of the economic shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The news comes as the $349 billion federal government program meant to keep small businesses afloat during the pandemic ran out of money last Thursday, just two weeks in.
Small business loan and grant programs by the federal, state, and local governments have been keeping the lights on, but when shelter-in-place ends, small businesses need working capital to restock, pay employees, and catch up on credit and rent, said Morse, who proposed the loan program to the Berkeley Mayor’s office with Tyson, Distinguished Professor of the Graduate School.
Both are founders of The Sustainable and Impact Finance (SAIF) initiative at Berkeley Haas, a program founded last year to use impact investing and sustainable finance to drive positive change and opportunities. Helping Berkeley’s small business community to rebound is perfectly aligned with SAIF’s mission, Morse said.
“Many municipal programs are already helping small businesses to keep the lights on, but in the medium term, small business survival will require more capital,” Morse said.
One key SOS loan fund supporter is Kirsten MacDonald, CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, who says about 98% of local businesses are considered small businesses.
There’s a lot at stake with the recovery and a lot of anxiety coming from local business owners ranging from hairdressers to small nurseries and retailers, she said. “I don’t think anybody knows what the aftermath of this is going to be like (for business),” said MacDonald, who wrote a statement of support to the city for the SOS Fund. “The city should be looking at any and all ways to provide financing at a low rate to small businesses,” she said.
Many municipal programs are already helping small businesses to keep the lights on, but in the medium term, small business survival will require more capital.
More federal and state money may come, but the goal of the SOS fund is to support businesses that were healthy and viable before the pandemic and help them weather the crisis. “It’s imperative to support viable, forward-looking businesses that can, in turn, support our economy through owner successes, employee wages, and return on property,” Morse said.
Mayor Arreguín called the program “a creative way for the city, campus, and community to come together to support one of Berkeley’s most important resources, our small businesses, in this time of unprecedented need.”
“We want all ideas and support on the table for our business community,” he said.
While the City of Berkeley will manage the program’s loans, Morse and Tyson are working with the SAIF team to design the loan terms and to build the model used to make the loan decisions.
“This program is so well-structured,” said Ben Mangan, executive director of the Center for Social Sector Leadership at Haas, who will help the SAIF team with outreach in the investing community. “Once we have a few leaders who take the plunge and invest I think we’ll see a quick uptick in participation.”
The Berkeley Mayor’s office is looking for a financial institution to partner with on distributing the five-year loans. The financial institution will offer private investors a fixed-income product, something like a WWI Liberty Bond for COVID-19, that will yield a 1% to 2% return, Morse says. The rest of the funding to back the loans will be provided by local government and philanthropy.
While the City of Berkeley will market and manage the fund, Morse said Haas will help get the word out to private wealth and asset managers through its network.
“We hope to have this done and ready when businesses are allowed to open again,” Morse said. She added that she hopes the fund will become a model for other communities.