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Numerous people holding onto a giant net trying to catch shooting stars.

Wish You Were Here

Evolving your company culture for the new world of work.

For Sarah Tait, MBA 16 (shown below), not a lot changed when COVID-19 lockdowns first upended the world of work two years ago. Her company, Branch International, provides financial services to emerging countries, so its roughly 200 employees were distributed across the globe. They were used to connecting, coordinating, and collaborating online—often asynchronously. The hard part came later, says Tait, the company’s chief people officer, as Branch’s customers, mostly entrepreneurs, stopped seeking or repaying microloans.

Sarah Tait MBA 16. Photo: Julie Schoening.Branch’s business soon stalled, forcing layoffs and an intensive focus on conserving cash. As the company used the downtime to innovate and work on new product launches, Tait and her team started surveying employees through frequent polls and focus groups, signaling a new approach to managing company culture.

The feedback helped her keep tabs on employee sentiment. She and her team ran wellness workshops and a “burnout clinic” for engineers and product managers to share ideas on how to separate work from personal life. Branch also instituted a monthly mental health day: The entire company shuts down and stays off Slack and email. Food delivery gift cards are sent to employees to encourage them to log on for synchronous “eat and learn” get-togethers with colleagues—whether they’re eating breakfast in the Bay Area, a late-afternoon snack in Nigeria, or dinner in India.

Today, Branch’s revenues and employee count have bounced back, but Tait says the hard work is just beginning. The company looks different today than it did two years ago, and pressure is mounting to make decisions that had been put off: What does the future of work look like for Branch? And what does that future mean for company culture?

“Now more than ever,” says Tait, “the importance of culture is front and center for us.”

It is for a lot of companies.

The search for purpose

Jennifer Chatman PhD 88 Photo Credit: Jim BlockProfessor Jennifer Chatman, PhD 88 (shown right), a leading researcher in organizational culture, says that in the first phase of the pandemic, executives and managers were focused on urgent operational matters—like keeping workers safe and healthy, ensuring that remote workers had the resources to get their jobs done, and managing severe disruptions to global supply chains. “Most business leaders have prioritized supporting their people during these uncertain times,” says Chatman, the Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management and associate dean for academic affairs.

By necessity, culture took a back seat for many business leaders. Some simply hoped their existing workplace ethos would migrate easily to an online world. It hasn’t worked out that way, say Haas faculty and alumni interviewed for this story. Untethered from the physical office, remote employees now transact—they don’t bond, says Homa Bahrami, a senior lecturer and expert on organizational behavior.

“There has been a cultural dilution, a weakening of the glue that holds companies together,” says Bahrami. No company has been immune, she says, and the implications for productivity, collaboration, innovation, and sense of belonging are profound.

The evidence of that cultural weakening is mounting. Americans voluntarily quit a record 47.4 million jobs in 2021. “Employees are missing the unique ways that they interact with co-workers making up organizational culture,” Chatman says. “Without these distinctions, employees are hard-pressed to feel great loyalty to one organization over another.”

Seven people putting together what looks like a play structure made of Tinkertoy-like pieces of rods and balls.Professor Sameer SrivastavaRecently, Chatman and Professor Sameer Srivastava co-authored a study finding that companies are performing well on just one of 10 attributes associated with workplace culture: communication. A separate 2021 study co-authored by Assistant Professor David Holtz, of 61,000 Microsoft employees working remotely during the pandemic, uncovered drawbacks for collaboration across formal and informal teams. And a report from the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that 62% of managers were finding it difficult to create and sustain workplace culture.

“As business leaders make strategic decisions about their workplaces and what they will look like, it’s imperative that they stay open about their strategic opportunities and consider evolving their company cultures to execute on new priorities.”

—Prof. Jennifer Chatman

Kavita Vora, MBA 09.Kavita Vora, MBA 09 (shown left), the chief people officer at online education company BrainPOP, says business leaders are discovering that pre-pandemic cultures don’t always translate to the new world of work—and that’s an important realization. “It’s a little bit daunting for business leaders to think about, ‘Am I okay with letting the culture evolve, even if I liked the old culture and knew it worked?’” says Vora. “But we have a golden opportunity to keep our employees engaged by approaching this moment with a growth mindset.”

Embracing transformation is crucial, says Chatman. One of her many groundbreaking insights has shown that companies with cultures that are strong, strategically aligned, and adaptable to rapidly changing business climates perform 15% better than those with weaker or less adaptable cultures.

“As business leaders make strategic decisions about their workplaces and what they will look like, it’s imperative that they stay open about their strategic opportunities and consider evolving their company cultures to execute on new priorities,” says Chatman, who also co-directs the Berkeley Culture Initiative with Srivastava, the Ewald T. Grether Chair in Business Administration and Public Policy.

The Clorox Company offers a useful lesson in adaptability, says Chatman. The 109-year-old consumer goods giant spent years infusing boldness and agility into its decision-making at all levels. That investment paid off early in the pandemic when, for example, it moved quickly to ramp up production of its disinfecting wipes while also protecting factory workers.

Hilda West, MBA 92.“It helped us that we were shifting in the right direction, culturally, prior to the pandemic,” says Hilda West, MBA 92 (shown right), the vice president of talent and culture at Clorox until her retirement last year. “We were able to say, ‘Okay, we’ve got this. We know how to do this faster.’”

Universal challenges

The coronavirus pandemic is not the only force causing workplace upheaval. The May 2020 murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matters protests that followed, along with minorities being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, have made many companies take a hard look at how their own practices may be contributing to deep-seated racial inequality. Chatman and Srivastava’s 2021 study, for example, found that members of minority groups view their company cultures more negatively and feel less optimistic about the future than their white peers.

The verdict is out on how hybrid work—and its unintended consequences—will impact those feelings. Surveys have shown that many members of minority groups say they are happier to be freed from daily microaggressions at the office. But another concern is proximity bias, which holds that workers who are physically closer to the boss are at an advantage.

Cynthia Owyoung BS 94 Photo Credit: Kevin Abosch“If I’m a member of an underrepresented group who is way more comfortable working from home, am I then making a trade-off in my career potential?” says Cynthia Owyoung, BS 94 (shown right), the vice president of inclusion, equity, and belonging at financial services firm Robinhood and author of All Are Welcome: How to Build a Real Workplace Culture of Inclusion that Delivers Results.

Solving for culture

The risk to any culture in the new world of work boils down to a loss of connection—across all levels of the organization. But there are steps that all business leaders can take to reinforce a sense of belonging.

One solution is by crafting the company narrative to reflect shared experiences over the last two years. In her research, Professor Laura Kray has shown how stories that companies relay about their earliest days motivate employees.

“The sense that ‘We almost didn’t make it’ inspires counterfactual thinking, or ‘if-only thoughts,’ of what might have been if the company hadn’t survived and can be a boon for creativity, commitment, and feelings of gratitude,” says Kray, The Ned and Carol Spieker Chair in Leadership. The pandemic, she says, is an opportunity for companies to both recognize real losses while also letting employees know that “at this point, we’re all COVID survivors, and we’re all trying to figure out what comes next.”

“The pandemic is an opportunity for companies to both recognize real losses while also letting employees know that “at this point, we’re all COVID survivors, and we’re all trying to figure out what comes next.”

—Prof. Laura Kray

Eight people looking through eight telescopes of varying lengths clumped together.Executives and managers also need to think differently about what it means to lead, says Haas’ Bahrami. They have to think like scientists, test new ways of working, and embrace trial and error. What’s more, they need to be open with employees that culture is a work in progress. Above all, even though workplace culture is undergoing a massive disruption, it’s important to be deliberate.

“Take baby steps,” says Bahrami, also a faculty director for Berkeley Executive Education. “Experiment, fail, learn, and iterate, just like Thomas Edison did a thousand times before he invented the lightbulb.”

One example of a baby step that paid off: Tamara Brown, a manager at Adobe, created a “mistake of the month” conversation during virtual meetings with her global team of project managers. She kicked it off by describing a recent mistake she’d made and what she’d learned from it. Next, she invited employees to share a mistake. “Complete crickets,” she recalls. She intentionally didn’t bring it up at the next team meeting but tried again at the one after. After describing a fresh mistake she’d made, someone else spoke up—and the conversation took off.

Brown didn’t just create a safe space for employees. Open discussions of mistakes as well as successes in meetings have also helped her identify operational challenges. “These rich conversations have dramatically increased our ability to manage and uncover patterns of risk,” says Brown, who is based in Ontario, Canada, and took one of Bahrami’s Executive Education classes. Brown’s iteration: “Mistake of the month” is now “opportunity of the month.”

embracing uncertainty

Brown is leading her team exactly how Chatman and other Haas experts say all business leaders should: by embracing uncertainty, keeping an open mind while being realistic about the future, and signaling empathy and support—whether it’s providing the right technology tools or speaking openly about mental health.

“It’s really about demonstrating respect and recognizing the value of allowing employees to be co-creators of your culture and the climate that will be the most conducive to their productivity.”

—Jill Vialet, Haas visiting scholar

“People talk about empowerment,” says Jill Vialet, a social entrepreneur and visiting scholar at Haas who is an expert on the power of play at work. “But it’s really about demonstrating respect and recognizing the value of allowing employees to be co-creators of your culture and the climate that will be the most conducive to their productivity.”

For BrainPOP’s Vora, this meant surveying employees on how well they thought the company was living by its work values every day. Employees gave the company high marks for leading with empathy, one of the company’s formative values, but said that communication was harder in a hybrid model. They also felt that too many tools and processes had been introduced for hybrid work; they craved more simplicity. “We spent a lot of time weighing the value of giving people unlimited choice to do their work in the way they see best, or simplifying work processes so it’s easier to make decisions,” says Vora. The team ultimately decided to implement a single project management platform companywide to streamline communication and collaboration.

This is one of many ways BrainPOP is giving employees a voice in how its culture evolves. To Vora, business leaders who are thinking about how their workplace will look and function going forward shouldn’t try to force fit their old culture into the new environment.

“Take a risk and embrace where the culture wants to move,” she says.

Stephen Brooks Herrick, BS 60

Passionate entrepreneur, Haas Board member

Stephen Brooks Herrick, smiling.Stephen Brooks Herrick, a successful entrepreneur and devoted Haas volunteer, died on February 6 at age 84. Herrick was fired from his first position out of college after refusing to be told how to do his job, so he became an entrepreneur. He eventually founded a Japanese auto parts import firm in the ’60s that became the largest importer of Japanese car aftermarket parts in the U.S.

With a tireless work ethic, he bootstrapped his company’s growth with the help of his wife, Sally, whom he married in 1965. After selling his company, Herrick continued to reinvent himself as he ventured into angel investing and real estate.

He was also a devoted volunteer for Berkeley and Haas, serving on numerous committees, including the Haas School Board for more than 25 years.

In 2014, Herrick suffered a serious hemorrhagic stroke, but his tenacious and indomitable strength kicked into high gear. Despite health complications over the remaining years of his life, Herrick poured his heart into his grandchildren and children, finding joy and love in his family and all around him.

Richard C. Blum, BS 58, MBA 59

Beloved UC Berkeley benefactor

Richard C. Blum waving.Richard C. Blum, a visionary leader and philanthropist, died at his home in San Francisco on February 27 at the age of 86. He is remembered for his profound impact that was felt from the nation’s capital to the Himalayas to his beloved alma mater and beyond.

“He was the type of man who really replaced his divot in life, who left things better than he found them,” said his wife of 42 years, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in a statement following his passing. “His enormous generosity is an inspiration for so many of us.”

After earning his MBA, Blum began a long and successful career in the world of finance, becoming a partner at the investment brokerage Sutro & Co. before turning 30 and later founding Blum Capital Partners, the equity investment management firm for which he served as CEO and chairman.

As a financier and philanthropist, he served on the boards of many companies and organizations, sharing his business acumen and his generosity. He also served as an economic policy adviser to Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama.

While Blum succeeded in business, he distinguished himself for his humanitarian efforts. For decades, he devoted much of his time to the people of the Himalayas, founding the American Himalayan Foundation to improve the lives of thousands of people in the region. Along the way, Blum befriended His Holiness the Dalai Lama and was named an honorary consul of Nepal.

Berkeley always remained especially close to Blum’s heart, and he was a generous donor to Haas and the university in addition to being a longtime member of the Haas School Board and UC Board of Regents, for which he was chairman emeritus.

He was named Haas’ Business Leader of the Year in 1994 and awarded Haas’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

In 2007, he founded the Blum Center for Developing Economies, which supports interdisciplinary education and research to address the causes and consequences of poverty. The success of the center in educating and inspiring a new generation of global citizens led to the establishment of similar Blum centers at other UC campuses. In 2009, campus awarded him the Berkeley Medal, the university’s highest honor, for his commitment to the alleviation of poverty in San Francisco and abroad.

A memorial service was held on March 4 in San Francisco. Contributions may be made in his honor to the American Himalayan Foundation.

Read a full statement from UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol T. Christ.


Margery Locke, BS 47
Lloyd MacDonald, BS 47
Harlan Dupuis, BS 48
John White, BS 50
Stanley King, BS 51
Alfred Bottino, BS 52
Thomas Kunz, BS 52
Robert Larmer, BS 52
Paul Petruzzelli, BS 52
George Abernathy, BS 53
Thomas Brasel, BS 53
Bert Yarborough, BS 53
Duane Allen, BS 54, MBA 57
Milton Bruzzone, BS 54
Harold Jeffrey, BS 54
J Paul Woollomes, BS 54
Donald Cherry, BS 55
Richard Ralph, BS 55
Richard Sahagian, BS 55
Raymond Kellner, BS 56
Robert Sullivan, BS 59
Richard Dutton, BS 60
William Dewitt, BS 61
David Epstein, BS 61
Stanley Trilling, BS 61
Harvey Wittenberg, MBA 61
Kathleen Braunstein, BS 66
Eugene Trotter, BS 66
Frank Laak, BS 67
Stephen Roland, BS 67
Craig Berry, MBA 67
Frederick Nichols, MBA 67
Timothy Ryan, BS 70
James Hulsy, BS 71
William Sterry, MBA 71
Peter Reese, BS 72
William Martin, MBA 73
Cleaves Thompson, MBA 76
William Waller, MBA 79
Charles Wade, MBA 80
Marian Bamford Smith, MBA 82
Frances Draper, MBA 82
William Mitchell, PhD 88
Sigal Barsade, PhD 94
Patrick DeNeale, MBA 01
Robert Irlbeck, MBA 02
Yangyang Liu, BS 11
Virginia Andersen, Friend
Elinor Beck, Friend
Leilani Grinold, Friend
Dean Meyer, Friend

OCHO Candy

How one alum’s hard choices and strong relationships led to confectionary success

Cross-sections of five different Ocho candy bars stacked atop one another.

Scott Kucirek, MBA 99, co-founded OCHO Candy with Denis Ring in 2010 with a mission to make chocolate bars from responsibly sourced organic ingredients.Scott Kucirek, MBA 99.

The pair self-financed at first to slow early development and allow them to strategically choose equity holders. Local Whole Foods stores were early customers, and within nine years, OCHO was a multimillion dollar business, producing bars for national drugstore and grocery chains in a cutting-edge facility in West Oakland that employed previously incarcerated individuals from the local community.

But OCHO’s fast growth followed by the pandemic nearly melted its sweet success—nearly! The story of OCHO is one of navigating growth and unprecedented challenges and speaks to the importance of building trustworthy relationships. Here, some key moments in OCHO’s evolution.


OCHO (which stands for organic chocolate) is born. Initial flavors include chocolate-covered coconut and peanut butter.


50 employees work 24/7 making the tempered-chocolate bars with thick shells and soft centers by hand, but OCHO still has to turn away clients.


Now with a custom-built manufacturing facility that’s revolutionary for its tempering and molding process, OCHO expands its eight varieties to national markets, like Walgreens and Target.Ocho coconut bar.



Sales are up 50%.


OCHO’s explosive growth threatens to drain the company of cash. Kucirek seeks emergency funding from his carefully selected investors and raises $2 million in 30 days. Meanwhile, he shifts strategy to finding a manufacturing partner.



Kucirek and Ring court four investors. When COVID hits, all but one, a confectioner from Trinidad and Tobago, back out. OCHO’s distributor deprioritizes moving chocolate. Inventory builds as sales diminish.


On the verge of bankruptcy, OCHO closes the deal with the investor from Trinidad and Tobago, who will handle manufacturing in the Caribbean. Kucirek provides job-search support for all employees and bonuses for those who stay to the end.



U.S. production ends, but a wave of COVID halts the factory setup in the Caribbean.


Production finally begins, just in time for holiday runs.



OCHO opens a new facility in Oakland for front-office staff and is on track to have a record-breaking year.

Your Opinion Matters

Alumni survey results

Multicolored post-it notes shaped like word clouds or thought bubbles.

Our alumni engagement survey, conducted last fall, polled undergraduate and graduate alumni from the Classes of 1994 through 2021 about their connection to Haas, programs that would most benefit them, and business topics of interest. The responses will guide alumni engagement programming and initiatives in the years ahead. Here, a few insights.

Culture Club

A whopping 93% of alumni reported using our Defining Leadership Principles to guide their daily lives.

Personal satisfaction

A record number would recommend the Haas School of Business to those seeking a business degree.

On topic

Alumni are most interested in leadership development and industry-specific programming, particularly entrepreneurship, civic responsibility (sustainability, ethics, etc.), and growth industries (like cryptocurrency and blockchain). Affinity groups are a potential area of growth with the greatest interest in programming for women.

Current events

Alumni prefer a mix of virtual and in-person programming. Digital lectures allow alumni worldwide to tap into Haas thought leadership, while in-person events foster community and connections.

Chair Lift

New Chancellor’s Chair celebrates Ken Rosen

Professor Kenneth Rosen speaking at a real estate conference.

Anyone familiar with Haas’ real estate program knows the name Kenneth Rosen. A professor emeritus and chairman of real estate market research firm Rosen Consulting Group, he’s revered for his long-running real estate and economic forecasts. He’s also chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics and is directly responsible for the Center’s revitalization starting in the ’80s—which led to Haas’ recognition today as one of the nation’s leading real estate programs.

To honor Rosen’s immeasurable legacy—and to maintain the program’s strong reputation—a group of donors has given $1 million each to establish the Kenneth T. Rosen Chancellor’s Chair in Real Estate.

The Chancellor’s Chair represents a new model for UC Berkeley, one designed both to retain outstanding faculty and to attract new talent. Part of the money will support a professor’s research, teaching, and academic initiatives. The remaining money will fund a new full-time real estate faculty member.

Donor Kevin Shields, BS 82, MBA/JD 85, attests to the importance of faculty in drawing students. “The reason I decided to get an MBA was the opportunity to study under Ken,” says Shields, chairman and CEO of Griffin Capital. “He became my mentor and had a profound effect on the trajectory of my career.”

Lecturer Bill Falik, also a donor to the Chair, illustrates the investment faculty make in the success of students. Under his tutelage, Haas teams have won three of the last four UT Austin Real Estate Challenges—a premier case-based competition for 20 top-ranked business schools—despite having a smaller faculty than virtually all the competitor schools. “Haas could well have the best real estate training of any business school in the country,” he says. “Hiring additional faculty would help continue that success.”

The Fisher Center was one of the first real estate and urban economics programs nationwide when founded in 1948 by Paul Wendt and Sherman Maisel. Maisel hired Rosen in 1979, who in turn expanded the Center by hiring the late professor Dwight Jaffee and professors Bob Edelstein and Nancy Wallace.

The Chair will also support the innovation that’s a hallmark of the program. The real estate curriculum, for example, has recently been reshaped to focus on sustainability amid climate change.

The donors to the Chair have all been involved with the Policy Advisory Board, a group of academics, policy makers, and business leaders Rosen established to transform real estate at Haas into an interdisciplinary center not reliant on state funding. Their willingness to establish the Chair reflects the strong alliances Rosen created in service to real estate at Haas.

The donors include: Shields and his wife, Eileen; Falik and his wife, Diana Cohen; George and Judy Marcus; Ken and Donna Coit; the Fisher Family in honor of Don, BS 50, and Doris Fisher; Dan, BA 89 (political science), and Jaclyn Safier; and an anonymous donor.

Home Economics

Why Black and Latino homeowners profit less than whites

Sign in front of a house advertising a short sale.

In the U.S., Black home ownership rates doubled from about 23% in 1920 to 45% in 2021. Yet the median white U.S. household still holds about 10 times the wealth of the median Black household, and this massive wealth gap has barely budged.

Associate Professor Amir Kermani and a colleague analyzed massive datasets capturing 6 million home ownership spells from 1990 to 2017 to better understand why the wealth gap is so persistent.

They found that Black and Latino homeowners across all income levels make significantly lower returns on owning a home than whites, on average: 44% and 22% lower, respectively, when compounding the average of all types of sales over ten years. But surprisingly, it’s not because of differences in prices or appreciation rates in their neighborhoods.

In fact, when it comes to regular home sales, minority sellers profit about as much on average as whites—regardless of the racial makeup of the neighborhood. Almost all of the disparity is driven by higher rates of distressed sales among Blacks and Latinos, which wipe out a huge chunk of potential wealth and drive down average returns.

Minority homeowners are 5% more likely to experience a distressed sale—which includes foreclosures and short sales, where a lender forces a sale for the mortgage balance. They are also more likely to live in neighborhoods where forced sales carry a steeper price discount, probably because there are fewer buyers, Kermani says.

“Higher job instability and fewer liquid assets make people very vulnerable to a temporary shock and increase the chances of losing all the wealth they’ve accumulated in their house.”

“If we could equalize the rate of return on homeownership for Blacks and whites—without any increase in home ownership—we would reduce the Black/white housing wealth gap by about 40% at retirement,” says Kermani. “If we were able to equalize both home purchases and the rate of return on ownership, we’d reduce the gap by 50%.”

But why are those in minority groups more likely to lose their homes in forced sales? The study identifies deep-seated disparities in liquid wealth, especially after age 50, and job instability as the culprits. Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to lose their jobs than whites—across all sectors, education levels, geographic locations, and income levels.

“Even Black households with income over $100,000 are still about 5% more likely to experience a layoff,” Kermani says. “Higher job instability and fewer liquid assets make people very vulnerable to a temporary shock and increase the chances of losing all the wealth they’ve accumulated in their house.”

The main problem seems to be rooted in the labor market, and the main fix is to create more stable jobs and ways to build liquid assets, says Kermani. “But in the short term, one solution is more flexible mortgage contracts and more mortgage modifications,” he says.

He estimates that receiving a modification after three months of failing to make mortgage payments can reduce chances of a foreclosure by 37 percentage points and increase a homeowner’s average annual returns by nearly 9 percentage points.

Hello, Stranger

Don’t cheat yourself out of social connections

Two strangers sitting under an umbrella at a bus stop.

The pandemic-driven mental health crisis has underscored the consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Yet in everyday life, most of us make a habit of cutting off conversations with new acquaintances after a few minutes of polite chatter—whether it’s on an airplane, at a conference, or at a cocktail party.

This tendency to cut things short not only runs counter to our own best interests, but it’s based on fundamentally mistaken beliefs about conversation, according to a new study co-authored by Associate Professor Juliana Schroeder, the Harold Furst Chair in Management Philosophy and Values.

“All close friendships begin with a conversation between strangers. The more you talk with someone, the more you know about them and the more you might have to talk about,” Schroeder says.

Over several experiments with some 1,000 participants, Schroeder and colleagues found that most people predicted a chat with a stranger would get less enjoyable over time, yet it did not—and for many, their enjoyment increased. The main reason people cut things short was worry that they wouldn’t have enough to talk about rather than social awkwardness or some other reason.

“There are so many good reasons to be socially engaged for people’s physical and mental health,” says Schroeder. “Yet we find that over and over again, people tend to be less social than is optimal for their well-being.”

Demystifying DeFi

Prof. Christine Parlour talks decentralized finance

A globe encircled with numerous intersecting lines with web-like grids in the space below the globe.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the explosive growth of decentralized finance, otherwise known as DeFi, now is a good time to start.

DeFi refers to the ecosystem that enables the provision of financial products and services—including trading, lending, borrowing, insurance, and more—without traditional financial institutions. It’s an open-source system built on permissionless blockchains that anyone can use or build on.

According to DeFi Pulse, the total value of currency at play in DeFi ecosystems shot from $10 billion in 2020 to $93 billion in 2022. What once had been considered a kooky corner of the online world has now caught the attention of the biggest players in traditional finance.

Professor Christine Parlour, the Sylvan C. Coleman Chair in Finance and Accounting, explains what DeFi is all about.

What are the origins of defi?

DeFi’s roots go back to 2008 after the financial crisis, when people started feeling grumpy about traditional finance and Bitcoin emerged. There was a sense that there could be a better way of designing the financial system.

As with any new idea, it took time for people to understand what they could do with blockchains. We had the ICO [initial coin offering] craze and that was a bit like a lottery. Once you had this plethora of cryptocurrencies, people wanted to use and trade them—this gave rise to decentralized trading and lending platforms.

And now, Wall Street’s traditional institutions have realized there could be substantial cost savings associated with transacting on a blockchain. Bank of America, for example, launched a digital asset research division last October.

What are some benefits of DeFi?

DeFi opens the possibility of letting many more participants offer different bundles of financial services. That increases the rate of innovation. Secondly, it gives people more control over all matters relating to their financial health.

How so?

Most of decentralized finance is based on some form of blockchain technology, which is essentially a public computer that anyone can check information on anytime. This would be like a traditional firm allowing you to see exactly what they’re doing and what things cost.

Building on this public resource of different blockchains allows completely new and cheaper ways of trading, whether it’s cryptocurrencies, stocks, bonds, chickens—anything.

There’s also been a huge amount of movement in payment systems with lower fees. They’re safer than cash and offer the ability to send money over large distances.

Are there personal privacy benefits?

Yes. When it comes to activities within DeFi, you are pseudo-anonymous. No one knows your age, gender, or educational background—information that usually goes into things like credit scoring.

What are your biggest concerns?

Regulation is moving very slowly. That adds a risk for innovators and for consumers. We’re used to being in a highly regulated financial system, and DeFi is the Wild West.

What’s coming in the near term?

I think we’re going to see this become accessible for retail adoption. We’re starting to see some apps allowing people to trade cryptocurrency. Another thing to expect is huge growth in payment systems, which can have a big impact on welfare—especially for the developing world.

Overall, it’s worth being informed about DeFi, because it’s not going away.

Wage Yearners

How pay transparency affects worker productivity

Three people atop increasingly taller stacks of coins. The first person is casually dressed and sitting, the second is in a shirt and tie and looking at the thrid person, who's in a business suit carrying a briefcase. Illustration: Good Studio/

What if you knew how much your boss makes? New research shows that increasing pay transparency can have surprising impacts on worker productivity.

The study, co-authored by Associate Professor Ricardo Perez-Truglia, asked over 2,000 employees at a large commercial bank in Southeast Asia to guess their peers’ and managers’ salaries, then monitored their work habits after they were given the salary information.

Employees became less productive when they discovered their peers were making more money than they thought, but they worked harder when they discovered their bosses were earning more than they estimated—even up to 20 times more than their own salary.

“When you compare yourself to your peers, small pay differences demotivate you,” says Perez-Truglia. “But when you find out your bosses make an obscene amount more than you make, you don’t care. If anything, you become more productive.”

The productivity boost was strongest for manager positions just a few promotions away from an employee’s current job, but the effect faded when it came to unattainable positions. This suggests workers believe that if they work hard and get promoted, they will get paid an obscene amount themselves, says Perez-Truglia.

Inside Edge

In navigating the opportunities and challenges of innovating within large corporations, alumni build on decades of trailblazing Haas thought leadership.

Innovation is often considered synonymous with startups, but when it comes to developing groundbreaking products and services, company size doesn’t matter. Intrapreneurs, or those innovating within a large corporation, are just as inventive. Case in point: Nick Caldwell, MBA 15. The product development and engineering leader has ascended the ranks of the tech industry and is now the general manager of core technologies at Twitter. But he didn’t cut his teeth at a startup.

Instead, he honed his entrepreneurial skills from within the Microsoft Corporation, where he worked for 15 years. During his time there, he founded many product efforts, including the company’s business intelligence software, Power BI.

Caldwell says that when it comes to innovation, large firms have some distinct advantages over startups. “Big companies have magnitudes more resources and an existing business ecosystem of products they can leverage,” says Caldwell. “You can take more shots on goal because you’re building on the back of existing businesses.”

Adjunct Prof. Henry Chesbrough, PhD 97 (left) and Prof. David Teece (right).
Adjunct Prof. Henry Chesbrough, PhD 97 (left), is known for his paradigm of open innovation. Prof. David Teece is known for his dynamic capabilities framework.

The idea of corporate innovation is ubiquitous these days, but Haas is central to its origin story. Two key figures are Professor David Teece, known for his theory of dynamic capabilities, and Adjunct Professor Henry Chesbrough, PhD 97, known for his paradigm of open innovation.

Chesbrough’s inspiration came from his work as a product manager at hard drive company Quantum. Most of the company’s business was in selling drives to other companies, but in 1984, Chesbrough joined a new venture to sell them directly to end users. The new company, dubbed Plus Development, was 80% owned by Quantum and 20% owned by the employees themselves.

“We were only allowed to hire five engineers from Quantum—everything else we had to do ourselves,” he recalls. Having the backing from the parent company gave him and his fellow intrapreneurs the resources they needed to get the business off the ground. The internal startup eventually blew open an entirely new market. “We ended up with revenues over $100 million and gross margins of over 40%,” Chesbrough says.

He went on to earn a PhD in business and public policy at Haas, where he focused on how companies could successfully innovate new products. One of his mentors was Teece, who was strategizing how companies could retain their competitive edge and resist losing out to new disruptors.

The groundbreaking theories of dynamic capabilities and open innovation led Haas to become one of the nation’s top business schools in teaching principles of innovation, catalyzing the field of study. Gary Pisano, PhD 88, a professor at Harvard Business School, experienced this firsthand as one of Teece’s doctoral students. “Today we take innovation for granted but Haas really was a pioneer,” says Pisano, who remembers not just the academic rigor but also the guest speakers from business and government who visited campus. “Haas started to become an intellectual hub on the serious work of innovation management and strategy—an influence not just in the form of papers but also PhD students who went off to teach at various business schools nationwide.”

A woman in a red and blue blouse sitting at a conference table resting her chin on her clasped hands.
Alex Levich, MBA 09, a product management lead at Google, frequently presents publicly on best practices for corporate innovation. Photo: Christina Gandolfo.

Haas as trailblazer

Yet it wasn’t a given that learning to lead innovation would become an essential part of business education. In the ’80s and ’90s, Pisano says, the common belief was that corporate structures were poorly suited for innovation. “But the Haas way of thinking of it was that firms matter, that organizational structures for certain kinds of innovation can be incredibly helpful,” he says. It’s that perspective of innovation as essential, not just for scrappy startups but for established companies as well, that has minted graduates who have pushed innovative products and ideas at places like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and many others.

Alex Levich, MBA 09, a product management lead at Google who presents publicly on best practices for intrapreneurialism, is one of those graduates.

At Google, she worked on the creation of the Chromebook to extend cloud computing to individual users as well as the USB-C connector as a universal power connector that has become the industry standard—an example of open innovation at work. “We wanted to create a future where no one ever worried about missing a particular cable to charge a device,” she says, “so we set out to create a new standard by joining forces with the [nonprofit] USB Implementers Forum and users across the country.”

Dynamic capabilities

Teece contended it wasn’t enough for companies to innovate—they also had to profit from those ideas, arguing in an influential 1986 paper that access to manufacturing, marketing, distribution, and other complementary assets on favorable terms was just as important to success as R&D. Over the next decade, he developed the framework of dynamic capabilities, which insists that companies need to constantly sense, seize, and transform to take advantage of both internal and external opportunities for growth. The pursuit of efficiencies and even “best practices” sometimes got in the way.

“Dynamic capabilities really put the management team front and center in the innovation process,” Teece says. “It’s not just about having the best engineers and scientists; you also need good entrepreneurial managers to succeed.” Without them, he says, companies too often become bogged down in administrative processes or, worse, focused on efficiency to build value. “You can’t build a company to greatness on cost cutting—that’s a short-term game,” he says. Companies must also overcome what Teece calls the “persistence bias” of continuing to do things the same way. Apple under Steve Jobs is a classic success story. “He really saw an opportunity for a phone of the future that would be first and foremost a computer with a phone and internet connectivity built in rather than a phone with a few smart features, which is what Nokia was doing,” Teece says. More recently, companies such as Amazon and Netflix have shown a constant ability to pivot and launch new products and services, even as they grow very large.

Gary Pisano PhD 88.Pisano (shown right), a co-author of the 1997 article on dynamic capabilities, says that Teece’s brilliance lies in his ability to synthesize ideas from across fields. “Organizational economics was historically separate from work on strategy, which was historically separate from work on innovation,” Pisano says. “David brought together three very different fields and that created some new paradigms and ways to think about a whole range of problems.”

Open innovation

Chesbrough’s concept of open innovation stems from field research with Xerox in Palo Alto in the 1990s. He examined 35 innovative projects within the company, finding that all but 10 of them failed. “The ones that succeeded were those that found a way to make them attractive to external partners and make money for themselves in the process,” he says. For example, when engineer Robert Metcalfe created a smart cabling system to connect printer components, he realized it could have much broader uses and negotiated a royalty-free contract for the technology for $1,000. He used his new Ethernet cable to connect IBM computers to HP printers, eventually spinning out the company 3Com, which eclipsed Xerox in value.

Five people in a semi-circle. Two of them appear virtually, on screens.
Google has new meeting room concepts like Campfire to put virtual attendees on the same footing as in-person attendees. Photo: Cayce Clifford/New York Times.

Now faculty director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, Chesbrough says that companies succeeding in innovation today often similarly look beyond their own business to find collaborations with outside partners—sometimes even with competitors. That’s what Amazon did in the mid-2000s when they realized that other firms might also have difficulties managing servers as they scaled. So they sold to other companies—including their competitor Barnes & Noble—the ability to host their websites on Amazon’s infrastructure. Out of these experiments the company created Amazon Web Services, an innovator in cloud technology. “Amazon has fostered a culture that allows people to try these experiments,” Chesbrough says. “They key is you’re learning from your interactions with customers and the market.”

“Companies with successful intrapreneurs break new ideas down into manageable building blocks and assign cross-functional teams that aren’t afraid to experiment and fail.”

—Alex Levich, MBA 09

Winning big

What does it take to achieve intrapreneurial success? In Caldwell’s experience, it’s essential to have backing at the highest level. “Teams responsible for innovation must be well-protected and have top-down support,” Caldwell says. “The worst thing is your new innovative bet is killed by internal antibodies that don’t want the disruption and are incentivized toward stability. Leaders often have to reinforce strategy and make sure it is broadly communicated.”

At the same time, he says, you must reassure stakeholders that incremental improvements are valuable and will pay off down the line.

Recently, Caldwell helped spearhead a reimagined Explore page for Twitter that relies on algorithms to recommend new posts based on users’ changing interests over time rather than people they follow. To move quickly, he secured support from other executive leaders and assembled a “virtual team” of engineers, product designers, and marketers rather than creating a new department. After a lightning-fast three months, Twitter rolled out the page to users in a select geographic area and is now monitoring time spent engaging with the app. “We carved out a safe space for experimentation, and now we can tie it back to specific metrics,” he says. “It’s important that you have key results or objectives you want a team to achieve by a particular milestone, and hopefully a team can make an honest assessment of whether they are achieving those targets.”

Culture of innovation

Google’s Levich stresses that companies with successful intrapreneurs create a culture of innovation that starts with hiring and recruiting people with the right mindset. “For the company to have that culture in its DNA, they must believe that this is what delivers the most value to the company,” she says. From there, the company must break new ideas down into manageable building blocks and assign cross-functional teams that aren’t afraid to experiment and fail. “If teams are filled with people who have not failed, that probably means they didn’t aim high enough,” she says.

Uday Tennety MBA 13.Often, corporations develop their own specialized processes to organize innovation efforts. At Amazon, any employee can propose a new product or program by submitting a document called a PRFAQ, says Uday Tennety, MBA 13 (shown right), who spent over four years at the company leading product and go-to-market strategies. The document, he says, explains customer problems and how the proposed product or program solves them. Employees also detail the plan to complete it. This allows good ideas to come from anywhere within Amazon while also subjecting them to rigorous analysis before pressing go.

“Companies that succeed in innovation today often…look beyond the four walls of their own business to find ways to collaborate with outside partners—sometimes even with competitors.”

—Adjunct Prof. Henry Chesbrough, PhD 97

“It enables you to think very deeply and gather valuable feedback to solidify the idea,” says Tennety. At Amazon, he used the company’s innovation process to lead new product AWS Panorama to market. AWS Panorma allows companies to combine cameras and computer algorithms to improve processes such as employee check-in, inventory or cargo management, and food services operations. He recently left Amazon for Nile, a new startup offering secure connectivity as a service.

A woman sorting through items in a yellow bin at an Amazon warehouse.
At Amazon, any employee can propose a new product or program. What eventually became known as Amazon Prime stemmed from an idea for a free shipping service posed by a software engineer, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Photo: Geoffrey Robinson/Alamy Stock Photo.

While companies like Google and Amazon make innovation look easy, other companies have struggled to put together the right combination of leadership, culture, and processes to make innovation work. After years of innovating under CEO Bill Gates, Microsoft struggled from 2000 to 2014 during the tenure of his successor Steve Ballmer, who’s been criticized for focusing too much on the core software business at the expense of new offerings. That’s turned around under new CEO Satya Nadella, however, says Teece, as the company has made up for lost time in entering cloud computing through its Azure portal.

Juhi Saha, EMBA 15.Juhi Saha, EMBA 15 (shown right), had a front-row seat to that transformation in positions including global director of strategic startups and director of financial services. Saha ran a program to provide high-profile, VC-backed startups with white-glove onboarding into Microsoft’s ecosystem, which enables them to sell through Microsoft’s sales channels. Rather than supporting companies just through their cloud migration, Microsoft shifted to supporting customers through their entire cloud journey to increase top- and bottom-line revenue for these companies.

“Access to Microsoft’s marketplace where they can transact deals has been a game-changer for fast-growing companies, enabling them to take their business to the next level,” she says. “I’ve seen a company close a deal in six weeks that would typically take nine months and quintuple the deal size—simply because they worked with Microsoft sellers to transact through this marketplace.”

Saha says a change in culture made all the difference. Leaders began rewarding risk-taking employees who weren’t afraid to fail, overcoming a previous culture of fear. Departments such as marketing and business operations became more decentralized. “There was freedom to experiment,” says Saha, who recently left after five years to join marketing technology firm Clearbit as vice president of partnerships and alliances. “It was refreshing to work with some amazing sales leaders who were fearless about providing an innovative, customer-centric culture.”

Different strokes

Companies that struggle to innovate within their existing framework can take advantage of other models to help them create new products and services. As a venture build director at BCG Digital Ventures, the corporate innovation and digital-business-building arm of Boston Consulting Group, Julia Felts, EMBA 15, works with corporations to manage the whole innovation process, from ideation to incubation to execution of ideas. She is inspired by the design-thinking process she learned at Haas from Teaching Professor Sara Beckman. Companies often reach out, she says, “when they see there is a space for something in their industry, but they don’t think they can get there fast enough with their current teams.” Felts assists companies in creating separate fully or partially owned startups and supports the recruitment of executive leaders with startup experience who might be looking for the stability a large company can provide.

A woman standing next to a purple wall decorated with triangles.
Julia Felts, EMBA 15, a venture build director at BCG Digital Ventures, helps to facilitate the entire corporate innovation process for companies. Photo: Christina Gandolfo.

Sometimes, companies have assets available to generate new business. Recently, she helped UPS create Ware2Go, a digital marketplace connecting small and medium-sized companies with available warehouse space nationwide, which allows for faster delivery times and optimized transportation costs. Felts sees her job as the best of both worlds, being able to build something new with industry leaders without having to worry about raising venture cash. “I get to build a business that’s already funded with the best resources and the best people—it’s really impactful to build something at the forefront of innovation when there’s so much support.”

Julia Felts, EMBA 15, sees her job as the best of both worlds, being able to build something new with industry leaders without having to worry about raising venture cash.

Phil Puthumana, BCEMBA 07.Not all innovation is conducted with profit in mind. As edtech lead for corporate social responsibility at Verizon, Phil Puthumana, BCEMBA 07 (shown right), spearheads the company’s efforts to help bridge the digital divide and improve education through technology. His group works with nonprofits to bring tablets and other technology into high-need schools and to train teachers how to integrate technology, such as virtual or augmented reality, in classrooms.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the team moved to create Verizon Innovative Learning HQ, a free next-gen education portal with resources that include innovative learning apps, tailored lesson plans, and professional development courses as a remote resource for educators nationwide. As schools have dealt with continuing uncertainty, those tools can be available in both remote and hybrid learning formats, Puthumana says. Since launching in August 2021, the program has already reached some 500,000 students with a goal of reaching 10 million in 10 years.

Puthumana’s group has succeeded, he says, by aligning its goals with the larger goals of the company. In addition to helping students, the initiative provides an opportunity to test and explore apps that can take advantage of newer 5G networks. At the same time, it creates a halo for the brand in its sincere attempts to go beyond just writing philanthropic checks to fulfilling the needs of students and teachers in new ways. “We work with great intentionality to be genuine and respectful of our audience,” Puthumana says. “At the same time, customers have a lot of choices, and we hope that they feel better about choosing us because of the positive impact we’re making in our communities.”

Entrepreneurial culture

When it comes to questioning the status quo—from both an academic and practical perspective—Haas plays a key role in the evolution of bringing novel ideas to market. And innovation continues to be a lens through which the school operates.

“A key concept at Berkeley Haas has to do with ‘new thinking,’” says Caldwell. “Both in the way we identify and solve problems and in the way people and organizations create networks of ideas we can tap into and contribute to.”

It is this emphasis on innovation as a worldview rather than a watchword that allows faculty, students, and alumni to constantly redefine how the world does business.

Defying Expectations

HubSpot CEO Yamini Rangan, MBA 03, adapts to even the most destabilizing challenges with a calm confidence.

Yamini Rangan’s time at HubSpot has not been what she expected. Currently CEO, she joined the customer relationship management company in early 2020 as its first chief customer officer, only to have the pandemic hit. “I had barely gotten out of my onboarding period,” recalls Rangan, MBA 03. “And it was clear that whatever we thought we needed to accomplish over a period of time, we needed to get done immediately.”

The HubSpot team aimed to help small and medium-sized businesses through the uncertainty of the pandemic by making its entry-level product easier to use and more economically accessible. “We found that not only were customers able to continue using our product, but they bought more of it,” says Rangan. The changes HubSpot made in a matter of days that March continued to drive business growth as the pandemic months ticked by.

A year later, another surprise development: HubSpot CEO and co-founder Brian Halligan was injured in a snowmobiling accident and needed time to recover. He asked Rangan to run the company for him. Rangan embraced the challenge, and she was so successful that after six months, Halligan asked Rangan to take the leadership reins permanently. She became CEO in September 2021.

Dealing with the unexpected didn’t destabilize Rangan. She’s no stranger to jumping in and defying expectations, tracing back to her youth growing up in a small town in India where, she says, the bar for women’s achievements was set low. But her parents raised her and her sister to be independent. “My mom fed a ton of ambition as we were growing up,” says Rangan. That ambition guided her to earn a bachelor’s degree at an engineering school in India where fewer than 10% of students were women—who were often treated with hostility. She turned the antagonism she encountered into motivation to be the best engineer possible.

Four people standing and smiling, looking at a laptop held by one of the people.
HubSpot’s cultural embrace of adaptability and transparency drew Yamini Rangan, MBA 03, to the company and has helped it weather the pandemic.

Fresh from college, Rangan moved to the U.S. by herself to pursue a master’s degree in engineering at Clemson University. Suddenly, 21-year-old Rangan was on her own in South Carolina, thrust into a constant cycle of unlearning and relearning.

“I grew up in a society where women were on mute,” says Rangan. “Now, half of my class grades came from participation. I would literally write down exactly what I was going to say in class the next day.” That system worked great unless a classmate beat her to her point, forcing Rangan to reformulate her input on the fly. It was a crash course in adaptability.

Rangan spent the first five years of her post-Clemson career as an engineer but realized that her interest lay less in hands-on engineering and more in communicating the value and vision of technology. By then married and living in the Bay Area, she pursued a Berkeley MBA to help her transition to business.

“The way I got here was persevering, doubling down, working harder, working longer. That should not have to be the playbook for the next generation of women.”

After earning her degree, Rangan embarked on a career in enterprise software, working in sales and strategy roles at SAP and Siebel for a few years followed by another ten years at cloud-based enterprise platforms, first at Workday where she rose to VP of sales strategy and operations, and then at Dropbox, where she eventually became chief customer officer. All her jobs had one thing in common: customer relationship management (CRM). “What fascinates me is that CRM is always evolving, especially in the B2B world,” she says.

When Rangan started her post-Haas career, CRM was considered a sales tool, she explains, centralizing customer information and contact notes for sellers. “Fast-forward to the cloud era, and it’s all about buyer empowerment,” says Rangan. “If you’re a buyer, you go to a website, maybe you try a product, maybe you already know what product you want to buy. You’ve made a decision before you even talk to anyone in the company. CRM companies now need to enable buyers.” As HubSpot adapts to data shifting ever more toward the buyer, Rangan’s deftness with unlearning and relearning should prove instrumental.

In fact, it is HubSpot’s wholehearted cultural embrace of adaptability and transparency that both drew her to the company and has helped it weather the pandemic. “We went from being office-centric to being hybrid during the last two years, and we’ve hired people globally in places we never could before,” she says. To Rangan, HubSpot’s success during the pandemic era, which saw 2021 revenues climb 47% over 2020, proves that “our values live in our hearts, not our hallways.”

A woman seated on a cushion, resting her chin on her hand.
Recognized in 2019 by the San Francisco Business Times as one of the most influential women in business, Yamini Rangan, MBA 03, has since become CEO of HubSpot, a customer relationship management company.

Recognized in 2019 by the San Francisco Business Times as one of the most influential women in business, Rangan understands that being a female CEO of a $21 billion-dollar public company makes her a role model. “There are things that happen to you, and then there are things that happen through you,” she says. “There are still not enough women in leadership positions within technology and other industries. The way I got here was persevering, doubling down, working harder, working longer. That should not have to be the playbook for the next generation of women.”

At HubSpot, developing women leaders means mentorship programs for women and people of color, targeted workshops and community for women employees at the director level and above, and an active Women@HubSpot employee resource group of which Rangan is co-executive sponsor. The company’s ongoing commitment to supporting diversity in the workplace, where women currently comprise 46% of the global employee count, rises to its highest levels: 70% of HubSpot’s board of directors identify as a woman or person of color, and three other women share HubSpot’s C-suite with Rangan.

To someone accustomed to defying expectations, the wisdom of building a heterogeneous workforce is easy to accept. “The best products are built by teams that deeply understand their customers,” Rangan says. “And customers are diverse. How in the world can you build a product without having that level of diversity within your own teams?”

Conflict Resolution

The impact of sourcing responsible minerals

Artisanal gold miners near Iga Barri re, Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of Congo.

An ambitious change in U.S. accounting rules appears to be helping reduce violent conflicts in Africa, according to a new study.

The conflict minerals disclosure rule, or Dodd-Frank’s Section 1502, has required companies as of 2014 to publish detailed reports on their sourcing of tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold. These so-called 3TG, or “conflict minerals,” used in smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles, and other devices, have fueled a humanitarian crisis by serving as a major source of revenue for armed groups in Central Africa.

“With Dodd-Frank, the SEC made an unprecedented move by requiring disclosures intended to tackle issues outside of the shareholder-protection realm,” says Assistant Professor Omri Even-Tov, co-author of the study.

Panning for gold near Iga Barrière, Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Panning for gold near Iga Barrière, Ituri Province, Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo: Guy Oliver/Alamy Stock Photo.

The U.S. government’s response focused on transparency rather than sanctions. The hope was that if consumers, investors, employees, and other stakeholders knew more about the conflicts linked to the mining of minerals in the devices they use every day, they would push companies to change their supply chains and, more importantly, that the changes in companies’ mineral-sourcing decisions would help alleviate the conflicts.

It seems to be working, Even-Tov found.

Analyzing data from the first four years after the disclosure requirement was enacted, Even-Tov, along with Seoul National University Professor Bok Baik and others, found that companies became substantially more responsible in sourcing minerals. What’s more, their analysis found that the number of conflicts decreased.

The researchers collected data from over 4,000 minerals disclosure reports published by more than 1,000 companies between 2014 and 2018. Over the four-year period, responsible sourcing nearly doubled, increasing from 45% to almost 82%.

Even though companies were not penalized for continuing to buy conflict minerals, the researchers found that public attention made companies more committed to responsible sourcing. For every 100 downloads of a company’s disclosure report, they noted a 1.2% increase in the percentage of conflict-free smelters and refiners and a 4.5% increase in the likelihood that a company would put in place a policy for avoiding conflict minerals.

Market reaction also appeared to play a role. In the five days surrounding the publication of a disclosure report, Even-Tov found that a one standard-deviation increase in the number of conflict-free smelters and refiners that companies sourced from (which amounted to a 24% overall increase) was associated with a bump of about 0.6% in market value, which equates to $66 million for the average company in the sample.

To determine the humanitarian impact, the researchers drew from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Database to obtain the dates, locations, and types of conflict events between 2010 and 2019.

They found that the number of conflicts decreased by 15% in the mining regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the nine neighboring countries covered by the disclosure rule, relative to countries not covered. They also found that conflicts had not spilled over into non-mining areas.

“I don’t want anyone to think that the conflict minerals disclosure rule is a panacea; it’s not,” says Even-Tov. “But our results show that increased transparency is effective at nudging companies toward responsible actions that are having a real impact.”

He even thinks that the policy should be applied more broadly. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo supplies most of the world’s cobalt, a mineral not currently mentioned in the rule. He believes it should be added.

Still, Even-Tov acknowledges the need for policymakers to strike a delicate balance with laws requiring more disclosure. “It’s easy to ask companies to disclose more,” he adds, “but what’s crucial is to measure the impact the disclosures have. That’s what we, as accountants, are endeavoring to do.”

Hussein Ahmed, EMBA 18
Founder & CEO, Oxygen

Hussein Ahmed, EMBA 18.

For freelance workers and entrepreneurs without a consistent salary flow, finding a fee-free business banking account—or access to credit—can be near impossible.

Such was the dilemma for Hussein Ahmed when he started working as a freelance consultant for startups. He found that others in his WeWork location faced the same problem. So Ahmed founded Oxygen in 2018.

The fintech company is intended to be a one-stop mobile banking platform. Users can sign up for FDIC-insured personal and business banking accounts (provided by Bancorp Bank) with no monthly fees or minimum balances. They can also access debit cards with cash-back rewards and accounting tools.

“When you invoice clients, there’s no need to go through the hoops of signing up for FreshBooks or QuickBooks, trying to tie it to a merchant account like Stripe, and then moving your money from Stripe to the bank,” says Ahmed. “It’s all easily set up within the app.”

Oxygen, now with over 600,000 users and more than 120 employees, even helps clients form limited liability companies (LLCs).

The need for such a platform has proven to be great. As the pandemic-fueled unemployment rate reached 14.7% in April 2020, some 57 million Americans turned to gig labor that year to make ends meet—a nearly 20% increase from 2014, according to Forbes.

Investors are taking note. By spring of 2021, Oxygen had raised more than $33 million in funding. Some seven months later, TechCrunch reported that the company was in talks to raise another $70 million in a Series B round.

Amanda Parker, MBA 18
Managing Director, Cowgirl Creamery

Amanda Parker, MBA 18.

When Amanda Parker joined Cowgirl Creamery as then-deputy managing director in 2018, she expected certain challenges: the ongoing integration of Cowgirl with Swiss multinational acquirer Emmi and the retirement of founders Sue Conley and Peggy Smith. But a pandemic-triggered closure of the San Francisco Ferry Building store of the iconic West Marin farm-to-table organization wasn’t on her bingo card.

“Closing that location was heartbreaking,” says Parker. “But focusing on growing and building the rest of the business into an even healthier and more robust ecosystem was the right decision.” She credits the balanced skill set she gained at Haas for helping her navigate the turbulence. “Modern leadership blends empathy and open leadership in a way that allowed me to say, ‘I feel awful about this. I’m sad. But here’s why it makes financial sense,’” Parker says.

One of only about 1,200 Certified Cheese Professionals worldwide, Parker started as an entry-level cheesemonger at artisanal retailer Murray’s Cheese in New York, where she advanced to vice president within seven years.

Under her leadership, Cowgirl’s new production facility, which came online in 2017 and hit its stride shortly before COVID, has invested in growing existing products and initiating an innovation pipeline for future new products.

And while the pandemic forced the closure of one store, it also allowed access to customers beyond the Bay Area via virtual cheese tastings and corporate events. “Historically, there’s been resistance to purchasing food online that you can’t see, touch, or smell,” says Parker. “But we’ve broken through that.”

Noni Ramos, BS 90
CEO, Housing Trust Silicon Valley

Noni Ramos, BS 90.Noni Ramos may be a relatively new CEO, but she’s a seasoned professional in the affordable housing field.

Having spent almost three decades working nationally to combat the housing crisis, she now focuses on the Bay Area’s thirteen counties as head of Housing Trust Silicon Valley, where she endeavors to keep people in their homes, add more housing, and ensure available housing is affordable.

A Bay Area native, it’s a role with particular personal resonance. “I grew up in affordable housing,” Ramos says. “I have firsthand experience of the life-altering impact that can have not only on an individual but on generations to come. My children have the life and the opportunities they have because I had those opportunities.”

Ramos, a woman of color and first-generation college graduate, also understands the diversity and interconnectivity of local communities. This perspective motivates her collaboration with private organizations and the public sector to create programs that span the Bay Area’s income gamut. “We need housing for all income levels, of all types,” she says. “And we need that housing to be built in different places, not just in one part of the community.”

She explains how connecting residents to other support services, like Spanish-language materials and mental health and medical resources, is paramount to fully include, support, and develop communities—a fact made especially clear during the pandemic.

It’s work that Ramos approaches with a strong sense of responsibility. “I hope to be a role model in ways that other folks were role models for me and supported me,” she says.