Haas Sends Off Last Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Class

With an inspiring commencement speech from alumna and vintner Kathryn Hall, BCEMBA 08, former ambassador to Austria, 66 students in the Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program marked the end of their 19-month program Saturday at Wheeler Auditorium.

An accomplished attorney and businesswoman, Hall credited the Berkeley-Columbia program with her winery’s enormous success, increasing production from 500 cases in 2002 to more than 54,000 cases this year. Hall’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon came in as #2 on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2011 list. Stressing the importance of being open to change, she told the graduates how she had felt vulnerable and afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep up as a student in the executive MBA program. But her her student team valued her diplomacy skills and helped her develop in areas such as number crunching where she was previously weak.

Hall (right) began her career as an assistant city attorney in Berkeley. She went on to develop and administer one of the nation’s first and largest affirmative action programs for Safeway stores and managed her family’s 63-acre vineyard in Mendocino County. She co-founded the North Texas Food Bank, was the director and vice president of the Texas Mental Health Association, and was a member of several federal advisory committees including the National Advisory Council for Violence Against Women.

Hall returned to the Napa Valley in 2001 after serving four years as the United States Ambassador to Austria, where she worked with central European countries on treaties to establish a compensation program for Holocaust survivors and victims’ relatives. By 2005 her Napa Valley winery, HALL Wines, was growing at a brisk pace, and Hall enrolled in the Berkeley-Columbia program to add an MBA to her economics degree from UC Berkeley and law degree from UC Hastings.

“Congratulations,” Hall told the graduating class. “Wishing you ever-expanding careers.” Her speech follows a tradition at Haas of inviting alumni to speak at commencement ceremonies.

The student speaker at Berkeley-Columbia commencement, selected by his classmates, was Jeff Allen. The class recognized Lisha Bell (right) with the Distinguished Service Award for her outstanding service to the class and program. Students gave the Cheit Award to Suneel Upda, who taught Financial Accounting.

Twenty percent of the graduating class of the Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program made a donation to the Haas Fund this year, helping to raise $16,500 for the school.

Eight of the graduates donated $1,000 or more each to the Haas Fund, earning a celebratory graduation lunch with Dean Rich Lyons a day before their commencement ceremony. The total raised includes company and new alumni challenge matches. 

After the commencement ceremony, about 300 graduates, family, and friends celebrated their graduation from the 19-month program over cocktails and dinner at the Claremont Hotel. 

Six students in the Berkeley-Columbia class celebrated the birth of a child during the program, two got married, and several founded companies, changed jobs, or got promotions during the program. One student took out a patent and another sold a company.

The students were the final class to graduate from the joint Berkeley-Columbia program, which the two schools agreed to close after the graduation of this class. The Haas School launched a stand-alone MBA for Executives program this year, and is currently accepting applications. The first class of the new program will meet for orientation on May 15, 2013, and begin classes May 16.