First Berkeley Executive MBA Class Graduates

Honors, accolades, and a musical performance by Haas Dean Rich Lyons marked the historic graduation last Saturday of the first 68 students in the inaugural Berkeley MBA for Executives (EMBA) program.

Approximately 500 people attended the graduation ceremony at Wheeler Auditorium, which was followed by a reception at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley.

The graduating students are the first to complete the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, which launched after Berkeley-Haas and the Columbia Business School agreed to end their joint program in 2013.

“There’s something special about a first, as was the case with our first class of EMBA students,” said Mike Rielly, assistant dean and executive director of the EMBA program. “As a group, they were incredible pioneers for the program. And they had a phenomenal 19 months together, inside and outside of the classroom.”

This group is the first to experience the Haas School’s unique brand of experiential learning, which comprises 25 percent of the curriculum. At the heart of this new EMBA format are five immersive learning experiences led by Haas faculty on location: leadership communications in Napa Valley, entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, applied innovation in San Francisco, business and policy in Washington DC, and innovative pricing in Shanghai.

An “Amazing Experience

At graduation, Kevin Brown, MBA 96, CEO and founder of startup Innit, and an Inktomi co-founder, delivered the commencement address. Brown encouraged the new graduates to stay connected with each other and with Berkeley-Haas, advice which he said has served him well.

Laura Adint (pictured) was class valedictorian. “It was an amazing experience from the first day all the way through the graduation celebration,” she said. “I am thankful it won’t end at graduation, as I have made lifelong friends in the program. “


As student commencement speaker, Tony Stobbe drew from his years of experience working as captain of a U.S. Coast Guard ship in Alaska. He noted the parallels between surviving a shipwreck and succeeding in life, concluding that success relies on our mindset and the people we choose to accompany us on our journey.

“The beauty, the wonder, and the vibrancy of life are found by those who bravely venture out there,” he said. “And when you do set sail, be ready, have a survivor’s mindset, be ever vigilant for mediocrity, and draw inspiration, strength, and support from those around you.”

Prof. Toby Stuart received the Earl F. Cheit Award For Excellence In Teaching for his instruction, for setting the bar for experiential learning, and for the profound effect he has had on the EMBA program and its students.

The ceremony included Haas’ Defining Principles Awards, which went to Greg Durkin (Question the Status Quo), Scott Robertson and Peter Yang (Confidence Without Attitude), Laura Adint (Students Always), and Carmen Palafox (Beyond Yourself).  An award unique to EMBA, The 5th Principle, went to Luke Johnson, for embodying all four defining principles and for always choosing graciousness.

At the dinner, Stuart toasted the students to get the evening started. Dean Lyons also took the stage with his guitar, singing special lyrics he adapted for the grads to the tune of a Counting Crows song.

Thanks and teddy bears

Four EMBA students then thanked “all of the children who allowed their parents to be away for a fair amount of time these last 19 months, as well as the partners, spouses and family members, who were pillars of support,” Rielly says. The children received Cal teddy bears and the family members roses.EMBA kids

The dinner finished with a video, which captured the essence of the students’ time together.

Joe Inkenbrandt, EMBA 14, a former engineer for a semiconductor company, said the program was transformative.  “By the end of the Silicon Valley Immersion Week, I was convinced I could found a company and that it was completely doable,” says Inkenbrandt, who went on to co-found Indentify3D with Stephan Thomas, a guest speaker at one of his Haas classes.

Lasting relationships are an integral component of the EMBA program. “There is a sense of community that develops within each of our cohorts,” Rielly said. “Of course, this inaugural class developed important business and leadership tools.  They are also graduating with deep friendships that will provide both personal and professional support for the rest of their lives.”