Haas Voices is a first-person series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community.
Matt Solowan, MBA 23, embodies the Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principle Question the Status Quo in both work and life. In this Haas Voices column, Solowan discusses their commitment to workplace inclusivity, their work as a marketer at L’Oréal, and a love of all kinds of dance. Solowan will join Bain & Company in New York after graduating this month.
“Dance has always been a passion of mine. Growing up on Long Island, I did tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical, and hip hop lessons from a very young age. In high school, I was on the kickline team and we performed at football and basketball games and competed in local and national competitions. Dance was my entire life. But when I got to USC as an undergrad, I realized that it wasn’t something I wanted to do professionally, so I took it as a minor and then picked up economics, along with Italian, as a major.
As a junior at USC, looking for a summer internship, I remember this one interview I had with a bank. At that time, I presented quite femininely. I had longer hair and wore makeup. I sat down and saw this smug guy looking over my resume. I had a 4.0 as an economics major and he spent the entire time grilling me about my dance minor, correcting me that dance was my “hobby” when I called it a “passion.” That was all he could see. He didn’t care that I had a 4.0 in economics. I could tell he’d written me off the minute that I walked into the room.
I had a 4.0 as an economics major and he spent the entire time grilling me about my dance minor, correcting me that dance was my “hobby” when I called it a “passion.”
I left that interview feeling so dejected and made a point that this was the type of person that I would prove wrong in my career. Luck would have it that within the next week or two, I went to an event that L’Oréal was hosting on my campus.
At that time, I didn’t even know that you could market beauty products as a career. But when I met with the L’Oréal recruiter it was a total 180 from what I had experienced at the bank interview. Without looking back, I accepted an internship, which turned into a career working on the marketing teams across a handful of L’Oréal-owned brands, including IT Cosmetics, Maybelline, and Garnier.
Making a mark at L’Oreal
Here, I learned that having as many diverse voices as possible on work teams is so critical as it impacts everything from the makeup shades a company markets to how the company hires for its advertising campaigns. There is a pervasive culture in large beauty organizations, where beauty is viewed through the eyes of the white male gaze—white, European features, thinner, and younger women. But you have junior talent who are ready to break away from that and the old-school view of beauty.
On one brand launch I worked on I was given was a rainbow-handled makeup brush for Pride Month. I immediately flagged the launch as “rainbow-washing,” —which is when businesses use rainbow colors to suggest support for the LGBTQ community without making any tangible effort to positively impact the lives of LGBTQ people. I reached out to L’Oréal’s employee resource group for LGBTQ employees, who put me in touch with a local charity and I worked with them on a plan to have some of the sales from the brush tie back to a center for LGBTQ youth.
I was devastated when my plan was rejected by a company manager due to budget cuts. But then one of our key retailers put the brush on their website earlier than anticipated and immediate backlash from consumers started flooding in. I could have had a “told you so” moment.
Instead, I reached back out to that charity, and got things back in motion and we officially launched the brush tied to this charity. Doing what’s right isn’t always easy, which I experienced first-hand modeling for some of the brand campaigns. These multimillion, sometimes billion-dollar brands, often have employees shoot videos and images to post on social media. I was featured in quite a few of their marketing materials that went up on our Instagram. As a model, I would get very nasty hate comments from some of our consumers. That was very hard for me to reckon with. I was an employee of this brand putting my face forward and some of the consumers of this brand had a negative reaction to seeing me.
Doing what’s right isn’t always easy, which I experienced first-hand modeling for some of the brand campaigns.
But looking back, it is something I’m very proud of. I helped push a brand forward. My motto has always been, if I can have one person look at that image, and see themselves represented and feel like there is a space for them, that means much more to me than a hundred negative comments from people who really do not matter to me. It’s a trade off I’m willing to make.
Why an MBA?
At L’Oréal, I met a few people I admired for the way they spoke and presented, and the way that they tackled problems. I found out that a lot of them had MBAs and had previously worked in management consulting. It was a formula that I thought might be a good path for me.
When I came into Haas I was determined to land an internship in consulting. One of the most helpful resources to me at Haas was the second year peer advisors who had just gone through the recruiting process. They were the ones who looked at my resume, reviewed my cover letters, and were practicing cases with me during the fall and into winter break. We have a very strong pay-it-forward culture at Haas. I ended up becoming a peer advisor myself, working with both the second-years in my class who were recruiting for full-time roles in consulting and the first-years recruiting for internships. I think that was one of the most rewarding things I did at Haas.
We have a very strong pay-it-forward culture at Haas.
Heading to Bain
I chose Bain over other firms I received offers from because, even though it has a generalist model and I am hoping to specialize in retail and consumer early on, I loved all of the people that I met at Bain during the recruiting process. They were in many ways similar to the people I know at Haas: very down to earth, very kind, very warm, very supportive. I knew that consulting would be a tough job. I knew the hours would be long. It’s a rigorous role to go into post MBA. I wanted to make sure that I was surrounded by a good support system and I felt like I had met people there who would be cheerleaders for me. That carried a lot of weight.”