As commencement approaches, we’re interviewing grads from different Berkeley Haas programs about their experiences and future plans.
Today we feature Kyle Cook, EWMBA 21, a data analyst at Vanguard who served as Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA academic cohort representative, VP of social impact for his class, executive VP of the EWMBA Association, and a Berkeley Haas admissions ambassador. Cook lives in Phoenix, Ariz., with his wife, Jayanthi, and two rescue dogs Limerick and Chewbacca Pickles. To hear more from Cook, listen to his 2020 Haas Podcast interview.
You’ve been at Vanguard almost 11 years, a long time considering how often people job hop these days. What’s kept you there—even as you’ve completed your MBA?
What appeals to me about Vanguard is its mission: To take a stand for all investors, to treat them fairly, and to give them the best chance for investment success. We’re not putting retired peoples’ money into really risky things, and we want to be as low-cost as possible and return those savings to the consumer.
I’ve had multiple opportunities for advancement there, rotating to four or five positions, taking on new and challenging opportunities. In my current role, I’m responsible for sourcing, storing, validating, and distributing investment data. At Haas I’ve been able to update my job skills, including learning Python (the programming language) in my marketing and people analytics class.
What do you think helped bring your class together during the pandemic?
We’ve done a lot of different things to keep the unity of the EWMBA program. I will say it was definitely very challenging. The students really valued informal networking and that isn’t as easy to replicate on Zoom.
Despite the challenges, one really cool thing that came out of the pandemic was Haas Hearts, a consulting and project implementation initiative driven by MBA students to address challenges nonprofits faced due to COVID. I worked with the program office and Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA Programs for Working Professionals, to set up the program. Students stepped up and gave up their free time and we opened the program to incoming MBA students who delivered valuable services at a time when all businesses were suffering. Every team had a faculty advisor and the teams reached out to nonprofits, offering help with everything from volunteer planning to fundraising to strategy implementation to scaling and digitization.
Did you have a favorite course or professor at Haas?
I took two classes with Peter Goodson: Turnarounds and Private Equity. Turnarounds is a really unique course. We had to finish 16 cases before class even started. We got barraged with questions from 9 to 5 and worked on our slides until 10 pm each night. Goodson has the energy of a 20-year-old, and people like that he’s extremely candid with his feedback. If you give an answer that’s not good, he lets you know. You get muted if you go off topic and he has his GSI mute him if he goes off topic too. At one of our finals, we were asked to present to a board of directors.
Goodson took previous feedback he’d gathered that Haas students weren’t good on their feet or strong with presentations and he made us focus on those two things. In one role-playing assignment in class he’d say, “This is the role I want you to play,” and he’d tell you what the expectations were and when you were up, everyone had to present. I had a classmate who didn’t contribute much in core courses, but because he was forced to participate in Goodson’s class he opened up a lot more. He had so many insights that he wasn’t sharing before that enriched the class’s learning.
You’ve been involved with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in Phoenix to help the underserved with their taxes. What inspired you?
Vanguard partnered with the City of Phoenix to run a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site at the nearby community college. I started volunteering as a tax preparer in 2013 after some of my friends who were doing it suggested that I do it as well. It was a learning opportunity for me. During the program, you meet with clients and often their families. Their income was between $12,000 to $20,000, so getting every penny back for them was a critical thing. The year before I got into Haas I signed up to be the site lead. We took time to get everything right and we generated $1 million in returns from a total of 120 returns for people. Our work was so important and it helped generate a lot of empathy.
What did you take away from doing the MBA program during a pandemic and what’s next for you?
I think that you learn more when times are more challenging. A lot of successful companies were founded post-Great Depression, after wars. There are a ton of startups launching this year. People are innovating and finding new ways for the world to work. It wasn’t ideal but this is preparing people for the new economy, which will be remote-friendly.
Next up, I’m hoping to become a product manager. The longer term goal would be to eventually launch a social impact incubator at Berkeley and recruit business students to give more back to society.
I want to thank my wife a lot for her support. Before the pandemic lockdown, she would drop me at the airport and make me something to eat for my trip. I was a commuter from Phoenix so I would leave at 4 a.m. and get back the next day or night. She took care of our dogs and supported me through the devastation of a bad test. I couldn’t have done the program without her and I am excited to have more time to spend with her now.