As co-founder of Rolling Stone Magazine, Jann Wenner published the first major interviews with dozens of top rock stars of the 1960s and launched the careers of generations of journalists, musicians and photographers.
AT 77, Wenner recently published a memoir, Like a Rolling Stone, which covers the launch of the magazine and the music, politics, lifestyle, and cultural change that swept America during the 1960s and beyond.
In conversation with writer author and music critic Greil Marcus last week, Wenner looked back on his time as a student at UC Berkeley, where he met Marcus and participated in the Free Speech Movement.
Running a groundbreaking publication brought its share of organizational challenges, Wenner said.
“Our main task in the first 15 to 20 years was learning how to be a business and how to manage growth,” Wenner said. “Our growth was rapid. We had no experience. Anything that you did that was wrong, you don’t learn from, you just move on. It leads you, obviously, into making some pretty dumb moves and mistakes, thinking you’re better than you are.”
Rolling Stone helped pioneer narrative journalism when two of the magazine’s reporters, Hunter S. Thompson and Timothy Crouse, eschewed conventional reporting during the 1972 presidential race between George McGovern and Richard Nixon.
“We did something so brilliant and exceptional that it changed journalism forever and put Rolling Stone up into the first rank of American publications,” said Wenner.
Wenner also published Outside, US Weekly, Family Life, and Men’s Journal, and co-founded the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
While tech employment remains strong, a wave of layoffs is shaking up the industry. According to the tracking site layoffs.fyi, about 137,000 people have lost their jobs since layoffs started ticking up in May.
To find out more about what is driving this shakeup, we spoke with Saikat Chaudhuri, faculty director of the Management, Entrepreneurship, & Technology (MET) Program and of the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Hub. Chaudhuri, an expert on corporate growth and innovation, mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing, and technological disruption, says the upheaval offers the opportunity for a reset and a chance to pursue growth in emerging areas.
The economy and labor markets are going strong. So why are so many tech companies laying off workers?
Many people are confounding two different things. We should not mix up the events specific to the tech industry with all the other issues that are going on in the broader economy due to the challenges of macroeconomic shocks, like Russia’s war on Ukraine, the aftereffects of the pandemic including supply chain problems, and the general inflationary pressures. The technology industry is also affected by those events, but there are additionally more fundamental factors at play.
“I am not worried about the jobs coming back. What we are seeing are structural changes. The jobs will be shifting, and will grow in up-and-coming areas.”
What’s happening in the tech industry is really a natural shakeout after over a decade of phenomenal growth. It is not unlike when the dotcom bubble burst in 2001. The sector was overheated and it could not continue as it had. The same is true now, as many startup and unicorn valuations skyrocketed over the last years, especially because the pandemic accelerated the growth to record levels as the deployment of technology and digital transformation became necessary everywhere. On the bright side, it’s actually not all bad. While I recognize that layoffs are painful for many people right now, the industry as a whole needs this adjustment to bring us to a path of more sustainable economic growth in tech. Because what was happening, especially with hiring over the last few years, was just completely unrealistic.
How did we get here?
During the pandemic, we went more digital. People worked remotely and they could work from anywhere—Hawaii, the countryside, anywhere. Tech became a big factor as the economy shifted entirely online: online retail, online banking, online instruction, online meetings, online therapy. It brought significant disruption to all industries.
We need to keep in mind that the pandemic was a different kind of economic crisis. Usually in an economic crisis, everybody loses, but that didn’t happen here. Some industries actually gained significantly, especially most of the technology sectors. The growth rate that they experienced, whether hardware, software, e-commerce, healthcare apps, fintech, crypto—you name it—was completely unsustainable. Just take a look at tech hiring last year: Tech job postings hit their peak in March 2022 and have been declining sharply since. We hit the point where the trend reverses. It was going to happen, either now or a year or two from now. It coincides with what’s going on in the overall economy and world politics, leading to a perfect storm.
“Once that first domino falls, it is easy for others to follow.”
This situation also poses a great excuse for employers. They say: A recession is coming. I will have to let people go.” Once that first domino falls, it is easy for others to follow.
Are you saying there was an inflation of the workforce inside the tech industry?
Yes. The reason for this is very simple: You don’t get penalized for growing your workforce while the sector is growing so fast. Everybody knows it will have to stop at some point, but there’s no penalty for riding the wave.
In fact, there’s a loss for your firm if you don’t ride the growth. If you said, “We should be more prudent because some sort of adjustment is going to happen,” there’d be no gain and you’d be losing out on the potential benefits—profits, funding, talent. Because when the correction happens, you can simply lay people off by the thousands. Two years later, the same people who got laid off will come back to the industry (whether at the same kinds of firms or new areas that emerge), and the same VCs will invest. There are no consequences for these actions. That’s just the way of Silicon Valley and the tech world, as they go through cycles.
Is this correction just a tightening of the belt, or is the industry reorganizing itself to make room for a new wave of technologies that require new skills or a reallocation of resources?
There will be some reorganization happening, because some areas are growing faster than others. For example, Amazon decided that not all of its devices are doing so well. Companies have been carrying losses in some areas for a while. But it didn’t matter because there was so much growth overall, and they didn’t want to miss out on that wave. It is not unlike the dotcom bubble, where for instance network equipment companies were investing in an array of optical networking products that never properly worked, because regular routers and switches were minting money.
“A re-evaluation of talent needs will also play a role.”
Moreover, re-evaluation of talent needs will also play a role. I’ve been puzzled for a while about all the anxiety surrounding the shortage of software developers, and the salaries they were being offered in the mad scramble to secure such talent. So much basic programming work has become well-defined, codified, and routine that those skills can be learned at scale by a wider base of employees. If you think about it, thousands of software developers, even at companies like Microsoft and Google, are engaged to implement enhancements to products such as adjusting fonts or updating visuals or adding simple features—not product design or creation of new functionality. Those jobs don’t require computer science graduates, as IBM realized five years ago, when they began hiring non-college graduates with programming experience, at that time out of necessity.
In fact, there are tools now that can automate basic code writing, which are already being deployed. It won’t stop there, because we now also have algorithms which can do many sophisticated tasks; just look at Open AI’s ChatGPT, which is writing essays, poems, lecture notes, speeches, and other creative pieces at the click of a button!
Why now? Is there anything in particular that started this domino effect this year?
Now, with increased scrutiny from investors and others who look at a firm’s financial viability, this overstaffing approach is getting reined in. There have been excesses in view of rosy projections and seemingly limitless valuations. Now the bubble has popped, as it does in every tech cycle, and it’s been a great opportunity (and excuse) for firms to make adjustments, tighten their belts, and reduce their workforce.
Where do you see opportunities?
The next wave of growth will come from emerging sectors, like cleantech and green tech, new materials, breakthroughs in the life sciences, and novel products and services resulting from the maturation of general purpose technologies like AI. Just like the dotcom era was about the internet and all that it spawned—cloud services, big data, the internet of things, and other advances in information technology—there will be a wave of new technologies that will disrupt a lot of different sectors.
In many industries, the disruption has just begun and exciting new transformations are taking place that’ll unfold over the next decade—whether in education, healthcare, finance, automobiles, or aerospace, just to name a few. I am not worried about the jobs coming back. What we are seeing are structural changes. The jobs will be shifting, and will grow in up-and-coming areas.
“If I could give one piece of advice, it’s this: Don’t get sidetracked by group think and FOMO. To become a leader, you’ll need to be comfortable charting new paths and challenging conventional approaches.”
What does that mean for the students at Haas, and those considering an MBA?
For our own graduates, it would be healthy to see this as an opportunity. The most entrepreneurial people are the ones who look at these situations and say, “Change is good, and uncertainty has two sides. It’s what creates the opportunity for new things.”
Instead of defining your career in terms of a particular job at a particular company, you could think about which problem you want to solve. That is where you will find the opportunity to lead and to make a real impact.
It’s great to aspire to work your way up to an executive job at a large firm, and many of our graduates will do that and be very successful. Others will go against the grain. They will be the ones we hear about, because they actually change how Goldman Sachs works or McKinsey works or Google works for the next era. And of course there will be the entrepreneurs who will pursue startups that will redefine entire industries.
Take Stuart Bernstein, BS 86, former Goldman Sachs managing director and partner who shook up investment banking with his passion for clean energy and the environment. A true leader by definition changes things. That’s why we pay attention to them and learn from them.
A lot of our students come in wanting to make an impact early in their careers. What does it take to get there?
If I could give one piece of advice, it’s this: Don’t get sidetracked by group think and FOMO. To become a leader, you’ll need to be comfortable charting new paths and challenging conventional approaches. Leaders have confidence, without attitude—confidence in their vision and in their ability to make it happen, and the humility to learn and acknowledge challenges and risks.
The good news is, you don’t have to be born with it. An MBA program like Berkeley’s gives you the opportunity to develop that kind of confidence. You can train yourself to see the opportunity in ambiguity, embrace serendipity, and take intelligent risks.
Along the way you also learn key the business skills—finance, marketing, management, operations, and so forth—that you will need as a leader. All that will help you develop this vision for your path to make an impact, and the confidence and network to make it happen.
What opportunities are there at Haas and Berkeley to get ahead of the next wave?
As part of our strategic priorities, we are building a new entrepreneurship hub at Haas that will be a game changer for our students and students across Berkeley. It will draw people from all over the campus. The great thing about Berkeley is that it has so many top-rated departments, and we will be able to bring them to one place to talk to each other and collaborate. So many of our Haas signature programs are about this kind of cross-pollination. Take Cleantech to Market’s partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, or the Berkeley Skydeck accelerator, or the dual degree programs we have with Public Health, Engineering, Law, and that we are developing with the Rausser College of Natural Resources.
The most pressing problems of global society today require interdisciplinary perspectives. The hub we are developing will not only allow diverse people to connect, but it will provide them with the space and resources to create community, build their ventures, and be discovered by investors. What is novel is that we will not only support those who have a good sense of the entrepreneurial path, but also those who simply would like to be exposed to what it’s all about—the “entrepre-curious,” as we call them. And anyone from around the university will be able to drop in to simply ask an expert for guidance on how to navigate the vast innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem at Berkeley based on what they need.
“While the tech industry is doing a reset, it may be a great time for you to do a reset as well.”
What’s your big-picture advice?
Silicon Valley is our backyard. While the tech industry is doing a reset, it may be a great time for you to do a reset as well. Beef up your skills, develop your leadership potential, build your network, and embrace your inner entrepreneur.
C2M is a partnership between graduate students, startups, and industry professionals to help accelerate commercialization of cleantech solutions. Over 15 weeks, each C2M team spends nearly 1,000 hours assessing leading-edge technologies and investigating market opportunities.
Last week, teams presented their findings, followed by an audience Q&A. Dean Ann Harrison also took the stage, interviewed by Financial Times correspondent Dave Lee about the school’s work to put sustainability at the core of business education.
This year’s winners of the MetLife Climate Solutions Awards included:
Niron Magnetics: The team won $20,000 for working on powerful, low cost, and environmentally-sustainable permanent magnets to free electrification from dependence on rare earth elements. The team included Andrew Cahill, EWMBA 23, Ben Brokesh, JD 24, Campbell Scott, MBA 23, Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23, and Sepideh Karimiziarani, MS 22, Development Engineering.
GenH: The team won $10,000 for working on a rapidly deployable, fully modular hydropower system to electrify non-powered dams and canal heads to generate clean, stable, and cost-competitive renewable energy. Team members included Emily Robinson, EWMBA 23, Hon Leung “Curtis” Wong, MS 23, Development Engineering, Maelym Medina, MBA 23, and Santiago Recabarren, MBA 23.
Quino Energy: The team won $5,000 for working on scalable, non-flammable energy storage made possible by a proprietary zero-waste process that transforms coal and wood tar into designer flow-battery reactants. Team members included Dongwan Kim, MBA 23, Ingrid Xhafa, MS 23, Development Engineering, James Wang, MBA 23, Kennedy McCone, graduate student researcher, UC Berkeley College of Chemistry, and Noah Carson, EMBA 23.
The Quino Energy team also won the Hasler Cleantech to Market Award as audience favorite based on online polling throughout the day.
MetLife is a corporate sponsor of the C2M Program; The Financial Times served as an event partner.
Pearly Khare, MBA 23, was in a difficult spot. His ‘boss’ was confronting him about takingoff early for vacation, leaving his colleagues “in the dust.” “I definitely understand how that impacted the team,” he said, adding that he gave her and his team advance notice. Then he apologized.
Afterwards, MBA students who had watched the interaction discussed Khare’s apology to Bree Jenkins, MBA 19, who played the role of his boss.
“If we apologize, and we’re not even sure of what we did or we are not genuinely sorry for what we did, it can be another form of conflict avoidance,” says Jenkins, co-instructor of the new Berkeley Haas MBA pilot course Difficult Conversations: Conflict Lab, where students roleplay tricky situations that are dreaded at work. “We should ask ourselves if it’s just because we want to move past the discomfort.”
From delivering a poor performance review to providing a critical work project assessment to firing an employee, things often got “spicy” during the 10-week session, says co-instructor Francesca LeBaron, MBA 19. But the class isn’t about right or wrong or about debating morality. “It’s about maintaining connection, even when we disagree with the person,” LeBaron said. “What is your objective? Is it to make this person feel heard, to problem solve, or to share your own needs? And how effective were you at achieving that objective?”
The new Conflict Lab extends learnings from longstanding Haas School MBA offerings including [email protected], which delivers a common framework for teamwork across MBA programs, and the core Leading People course. It also compliments experiential learning on conflict management included in the class Leading High Impact Teams and the new core course Communicating in Diverse Environments.
Do you want to be promoted?
Jenkins and LeBaron kicked off their new class with a speed conflict session (similar to speed dating) where students role-played a back-to-back series of conflicts to get a sense of the discomfort they would experience in the class. The exercise helped students to assess if this style of experiential learning was right for them.
Ten undergraduate UC Berkeley students and a group of Berkeley Haas alumni—ranging from PWC partners to a Google exec to an NYU professor—also joined the class to play roles that would put students in the hot seat.
In one session, alumna Kelly Deutermann, MBA 17, confronted Mridul Agarwal, MBA 23, about why he wanted to get off a project. Deutermann aggressively questioned Agarwal. “Do you want to be promoted? Do you want to be taken seriously? This is your chance.” When Agarwal explained that “it might not be the best project for me at this time,” Deutermann responded with, “This project needs to happen. Do you just not want to work hard to do it?” In this role play, Agarwal had to balance his own bandwidth and need for support with Deutermann’s demands for project management.
After the difficult talk, Agarwal took a deep breath, and the two of them laughed and shook their heads.
Friends coming up with solutions
Jenkins and LeBaron met in their first year at Haas. They were in the same cohort and found they shared a lot in common: They were both Consortium Fellows, student instructors for the Leadership Communications course, and board members for the Haas Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL). After graduation, LeBaron went to work as an executive coach and mediator for startups at UC Berkeley’s accelerator SkyDeck; Jenkins runs leadership training courses as a senior leadership development associate at Pixar Animation Studios.
“I noticed themes and trends with what we were doing at work,” Jenkins said. “There was conflict avoidance and harm from conflict that’s not dealt with effectively. We talked to friends in other organizations and we realized quickly that everyone is dealing with workplace conflict.”
For example, LeBaron had recently coached startup founder and former Haas classmate Fahed Essa on how to fire someone. “Fahed is brilliant—has three masters degrees and has started three companies,” she said. “If he is still struggling with this, I bet many people are. I want Haasies to have this skill set that balances being compassionate with being honest and clear.”
After discussing the problem, Jenkins and LeBaron did what they were known for doing at Haas: they came up with a solution. With sponsorship from the Center for Social Sector Leadership at Haas (CSSL), they designed a syllabus for a pilot course completely devoted to managing difficult conversations. The class enrolled 32 MBA students, with a waitlist.
To track their progress throughout the class, students provide one another with feedback, write papers addressing their own conflict styles, and identify conflicts in the media and how they can be improved using lessons from the course framework. “It’s really important that the students find ways to continue to practice this work after the class is complete,” Jenkins said. “They should have a clear understanding of where they are in their conflict journey and what they want to do to continue to grow.”
During their final class, Jenkins and LeBaron took on a role-play with each other. Jenkins played a manager criticizing an employee for botching a critical client presentation. “I expected more of you,” Jenkins said. “I’m hearing that my actions didn’t meet your expectations. Can you tell me more about what that looked like for you?” LeBaron said. After more back and forth, they drilled down to the core issue: Jenkins was frustrated and disappointed because she wanted to appear competent in front of the client. The two decided to review all future presentations together before going to a client.
LeBaron asked the class to consider what Jenkins felt. “I don’t know if I made typos, but in her mind I made those mistakes,” she said. Her objective, she said, was to better understand her boss’ experience and unmet needs. “I can still hold my experience as true for me, while being curious about understanding her experience,” LeBaron said.
Working past fear through practice
After the 10-week class ended, students who identified themselves as conflict-avoidant at the start of Conflict Lab said they were starting to work past it.
Daryl Pugh, MBA 23, an executive recruiter before he came to Haas, said he’s learning to be “comfortable with discomfort” and was already using what he learned in class to help a friend through the difficulty of laying off employees. “I tried to talk to her through having that conversation and processing other people’s feelings, understanding what was happening and her interpretation of what was happening. We had a couple of sessions.”
What Pugh said he found most surprising over the weeks was understanding how inaccurately he can interpret the actions of others. “We need to focus on not ascribing emotion to people that could be just wrong,” he said. “That’s how we are trained our whole lives, even in social settings, is to interpret other people’s feelings. The only way to know how a person is feeling is to ask. This class taught me how to get others to express their feelings, then I can move past my observations and interpretations to a new level of understanding.”
Mariam Al-Rayes, MBA 23, said the course provided a set of tools that she plans to use at work and beyond. “I wish we’d learned this earlier in life,” she said. “The role playing was so useful—like when alumni talked to us as our managers. It was realistic and we applied what we learned in class first-hand.”
On the journey to create a new class of conflict-embracing leaders, LeBaron and Jenkins are well on their way—and plan to offer the class again in Fall 2023.
Karan Singh, BS 05, said his career purpose didn’t become clear until a life-changing event 13 years ago.
“I was on the other end of a phone call after a loved one had tried to take their own life,” said Singh, COO of Headspace Health, during a recent Dean’s Speaker Series talk. “I’ve always thought of myself as a good read on people and a good judge of character, and I had no idea at all. I realized in a lot of communities of color—my family’s originally from India—that mental health is just the no-go zone. It’s the topic that no one talks about.”
That realization set Singh on the path to founding Ginger, a digital therapy platform that takes a preventative approach to mental health, in 2011. The company merged with Headspace, a meditation and mindfulness app, to form Headspace Health in 2021, a time of global need for mental health care services as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified behavioral health challenges.
During the DSS talk, Singh discussed the increasing level of investment in mental health care, and his excitement that more young entrepreneurs are joining him in mental health innovation.
“I want to say that mental health has made it into the forefront…I think we’re on that journey now. We’re having these conversations in rooms in government, in boardrooms, and in other settings that historically would never have been in the dialogue. So, we’ve come a long way, and still, there’s just a whole lot more we’ve got to do.”
The DSS talk was held with Google, part of a collaboration for The Haas Healthcare Association John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Challenge. The event marked the start of this year’s Challenge, which invites graduate student teams from around the world to develop creative solutions for improving the quality of and access to mental healthcare.
As a strategy manager at self-driving car startup Zoox last summer, Yiannos Vakis, MBA 23, spent a lot of time thinking about the challenges of rolling out robotaxi fleets in cities.
“Watching self-driving cars navigate the complex streets of San Francisco is pure magic,” Vakis said. “But to commercialize at scale, the industry has big strategic questions to work on that no one has fully solved so far.”
Vakis, co-president of the Berkeley Haas Transportation and Mobility Club, is among a growing number of students drawn to the rapidly-changing and fast-growing transportation/mobility industry. At Berkeley Haas, interest in the sector reflects that growth, with eight students in the Class of 2022 taking full-time jobs in the industry, (up from previous years), and 15 students in the 2023 class accepting internships. One lure, aside from the fun of being immersed in new technology, is the impressive pay. Mean base salaries for the 2022 FTMBA grads reached the higher end of the school’s employment report, coming in at $152,000 with a mean $23,000 bonus.
Doug Massa, a relationship manager in the transportation and mobility sector for the Berkeley Haas Career Management Group, said the rise in interest comes at a time when companies that spent years on the technical aspects of building their products and services are looking to scale.
“That’s why these companies are recruiting strong MBA talent,” Massa said. “MBA roles like corporate strategy, product management, and operations are what get our students excited and these are the types of roles that they’re landing.”
Many current students are meeting and networking through the Haas Mobility Club, which is hosting its annual Haas Mobility Summit 2022 Saturday, Nov. 5, at Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum. The summit, UC Berkeley’s largest transportation-focused conference, focuses this year on “reimagining sustainable and accessible mobility,” with senior executives from Zoox, Rivian, General Motors, Spin, Autotech Ventures, and others joining. The student-run Haas Mobility Club, now more than 175 members strong, welcomes graduate students from beyond Haas—in the Engineering, Data Science, and Urban Planning programs.
As the market has heated up, Massa said he’s fielding about 20 calls a week from first and second-year students who want to talk about job opportunities in transportation. In addition to Uber and Lyft, Massa helps students recruit for roles at upstarts as well as big automakers like GM and Ford, electric auto leaders like Tesla and electric adventure vehicle maker Rivian, and autonomous vehicles like Cruise.
Haas Mobility Club member Minjee Kang, MBA 23, landed an internship in strategic operations at Rivian. Kang, who worked in operations at Air Korea before coming to Haas, said her goal and her reason for getting an MBA is to be part of sweeping industry-wide change.
“I believe the airline industry is going to be disrupted soon, just like Uber and ride sharing disrupted the traditional auto industry,” she said. “I think the transportation and mobility industry is facing a variety of opportunities as a whole, and I want to be a part of it.”
Sarah Thorson, MBA/MEng 23, who studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate, landed an internship in product management at Nvidia, where she worked on autonomous vehicle development tools.
Thorson said she’s always been pulled to the technical side of the auto industry and knew she could study both business and engineering in her dual degree program. “I wanted to come to Haas to explore a product role in tech and to learn about the impact of technology innovations on transportation and mobility,” said Thorson, co-president of the Haas Mobility Club.
Investment opportunities in transportation also lures MBA students. Logan Szidik, MBA 23, pivoted toward early stage venture capital investment at Haas, working as an intern at Menlo Park-based Autotech Ventures.
“With companies staying private longer than ever before, private capital has an outsized impact on the future of the automotive industry,” he said. “As someone with a deep interest in technologies addressing the climate crisis, I wanted to better understand how investors approach start-ups focused on emerging spaces like vehicle-to-grid and fleet electrification.”
As more Haas grads move into transportation, the alumni community has expanded, with about 180 members of the Haas Mobility Network’s WhatsApp group.
That community includes transportation industry entrepreneurs like Ludwig Schoenack, MBA 19, co-founder of Kyte, a cars-on-demand service, and Arcady Sosinov, MBA 15, CEO of FreeWire, which makes fast electric vehicle chargers and battery generators. Both Bay Area companies have found success in raising $239 million and $230 million respectively, to expand their businesses.
This rich alumni network will continue to serve students well, Massa said. (Carlin Dacey, MBA 22, for example, recently joined Kyte as a market manager)
“The network has led to internships and full-time jobs,” he said. “It’s become a really nice ecosystem.”
Afraz Khan, MBA 23, has led a life driven by faith, community engagement, and social activism. Prior to business school, Khan served as an outreach coordinator for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program and wed interracial and interfaith couples within the Muslim-American community as owner of Muslim Wedding Service. In this interview, Khan, an LA native, discusses his journey to memorize the Quran, his activism and social enterprise work, and why he decided to study business.
What brought you to Haas?
I joined Muslim Wedding Service in 2017 as an officiant. Our focus is providing qualified officiants who work alongside interracial and interfaith couples to craft culturally inclusive wedding experiences for all those in attendance. In 2018, I took over the enterprise and have built it out to a team of about 25 officiants. We conducted 120 weddings last year across the U.S. and, given our business is a social enterprise, we successfully donated $50,000 to nonprofits and social services over the past three years. My thinking was, “Let me come to business school to get a better sense of how business strategy and revenue models are used to build sustainable funding streams.” The hope is to incorporate that type of approach into social enterprise work, where we can sustainably fund the types of initiatives that would help tackle some of our current social issues.
My thinking was, “Let me come to business school to get a better sense of how business strategy and revenue models are used to build sustainable funding streams.”
Tell us about your family background.
My parents immigrated from North India in the 1980s to Los Angeles, where I was born and raised with an older sister. Growing up, we were pretty attached to the local Muslim community, which was primarily immigrant and South Asian. My parents prioritized faith and building connections with immigrants from that same background.
How did you connect to America and LA from that space?
Until Kobe and the Lakers, my family had little attachment to American culture. However, we really started getting into basketball in the early 2000s when the Lakers were winning championships. I have a lot of memories of watching games with my family and listening to them on the radio. It helped me feel more connected to the broader American culture claiming the Lakers as a piece of our own. Also pivotal was 9/11, when I was in second grade. After 9/11, there was a push for us to demonstrate more of our patriotism. It was understood that you had to have an American flag in front of your house. I remember people in our community not sending their kids to high school because there were instances of racial targeting and Islamophobia.
How did 9/11 change your life?
One moment comes back from eighth grade. I was sitting in class and the clock struck noon and the teacher was in the middle of his lecture. My watch started beeping and this student yelled from across the room, “Watch out! He’s [Afraz] got a bomb.” Most of the kids were laughing. The teacher didn’t really say much, and I was frozen, not knowing how to react. But there wasn’t much addressing of the comment or an acknowledgement that it wasn’t appropriate. In high school, I was one of maybe five or six Muslims in a school of over a thousand kids. It was hard to understand how I, as a Muslim American, was supposed to integrate into this larger society. Islam felt foreign to the American experience, and there was not really a place for my faith identity to exist. This othering continues to persist.
It was hard to understand how I, as a Muslim American, was supposed to integrate into this larger society. Islam felt foreign to the American experience, and there was not really a place for my faith identity to exist.
You began memorizing the Quran in fifth grade and have continued religious work as a teacher and advisor. What drove that commitment?
A big part was this general desire to build a closeness with my faith and take ownership over my relationship with the divine. I spent eight years memorizing the Quran, which also included taking a gap year before college. As an undergraduate student at NYU, I found for the first time a large community of native Muslim Americans also trying to understand their journey with faith. I started deliveringsermons and facilitating classes at our Islamic center on campus and unexpectedly fell into a role in providing the community with something I hadn’t had while growing up: a person who possessed the lived experience of growing up Muslim in America and could draw upon deeper sources of knowledge of the faith in demonstrating how Islam can actually serve as a source of empowerment.
I found for the first time a large community of native Muslim Americans also trying to understand their journey with faith.
Where did you work after your undergrad program?
I spent a year in New York City government conducting community affairs work, and then the next three years at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, focusing on advocacy and outreach. I was doing some organizing work around changing the disorderly conduct statutes in the South. These were policies designed to provide law enforcement broad discretion in criminalizing students of color for typical youth behavior—like when a kid purposely burps in class or doesn’t sit in an assigned seat. Law enforcement was charging these kids with disorderly conduct. We were working to help dismantle that policy, starting a lawsuit and organizing. But we had to shift our priorities at a certain point based on the desires of our funders to focus on a different issue within criminal justice. It’s tough when you know the on-the-ground realities, but the folks providing the funding have a different view. So, there was that lack of agency plus the reactionary way in which a lot of nonprofits understandably need to behave that pushed me to think more about business as a potential force for good.
What relationship does your faith have with your activism work?
In 2016, our country bore witness to the continued murder of unarmed Black bodies at the hands of the police as well as a spike in xenophobic and anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks. In organizingseveral university-wide rallies alongside various allied minority groups, I started to learn how the same white supremacist institutions that govern this country uniformly and uniquely impact different marginalized communities. In learning from organizers and advocates who have dedicated their lives to social change, I sought to utilize my own lived experience of being Muslim in America to focus on dismantling broader systems of oppression. As activist Lilla Watson says, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
What’s a principle of your faith you seek to incorporate in your day-to-day work?
In 4:135, the Creator commands me “to uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly—if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.”
This verse pushes me to reflect on justice as a universal principle that exists outside of ourselves. A commitment to justice actually starts with a willingness to interrogate our own unjust behavior. This requires a strong development of humility and self-awareness which I believe is key to any movement work.
How have you continued your activism work at Haas?
I’m focused on leveraging the clout and influence of Haas to bring light to issues that otherwise aren’t discussed within elite institutions and circles. Through Haas Hearts, a student-led non-profit consulting program, I got to work with and now currently serve on the board of Urban Compassion Project, an Oakland-based grassroots organization dedicated to empowering unhoused populations. Over the past few months,we’ve organized volunteer events for Haasies to attend as well as hosted an on-campus discussion on the current housing crisis in the Bay Area and what our role as MBA students is in supporting those fighting for change.
Additionally, I’m working to expand Haas’ engagement with the broader UC’s union organizing efforts. Currently, a few of us student workers here at Haas are phone banking, tabling, and canvassing to build people power within our program to support the 48,000 UC student employees across the state who are fighting for a more fair and equitable contract.
You recently performed a rap at Haas that highlighted the disconnect between how history is taught in the U.S. and the realities that shaped your heritage under British colonial rule. When did you start rapping?
In third grade I wanted to run for student government vice president. I wrote a first draft of my speech and my teacher told me that the presentation was boring and that I should rewrite it. My sister suggested rapping the speech and came up with a very simple rhyme and I was like, “What the heck?” and performed it. I was so nervous that I didn’t look away from my paper. I ended up winning. I ran for VP twice more and for president and just kept rapping all my speeches throughout middle and high school. At the end of high school, I started getting more into spoken word and slam poetry, using rap not just as a tool to have a fun experience but to also share more about my own narrative and experience.
For those who are curious, here’s my original rap:
Vote for me for VP/ — I’ll be the best, you can put me to the test/ — Yyou won’t regret and that’s a bet, it’s a promise that will be kept/ — Iif I win, I’ll put a spin to the school year that’s bright and clear/ – Sso don’t forget and put a check, next to the best… Afraz!
Watch Afraz Khan performing “Colonization of the Mind” last month at UC Berkeley’s Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL)’s annual EGALapalooza event.
Xavier Jefferson, MBA 24, worked as a general analyst in wealth management before arriving at Haas, where he planned to narrow his focus to land a job as a securities analyst concentrating on stocks and bonds.
“When I looked in the mirror, I saw a capital allocator, someone responsible for making investment decisions,” Jefferson said, “And I came to a point in my career where I needed to find ways to be exposed to the next level of investors and thinkers outside of books, podcasts, and blogs.”
That ambition led him to Haas, where he is now among the 2022 Finance Fellows, first-year, full-time MBA students pursuing careers in finance fields that include investment banking; private equity and investment management (including quantitative finance); and entrepreneurial finance (which includes VC, fintech, and impact investing).
Students receive a $5,000 cash award, and are assigned mentors, who are Haas alumni working in finance, including recent graduates and senior executives.
“The one-on-one mentoring by alumni in the field provides high-level perspective and advice, which the Fellows capitalize on in seeking opportunities, and then succeeding on the job in these fields,” said William Rindfuss, executive director of strategic program for the Haas Finance Group.
The 2022 Fellowship recipients, all MBA 24, include:
Investment Banking: Nick Goomer, Didi Pritakinari, Daniel Billostas, Adebola Adeniyi
Entrepreneurial Finance: Yining Yan, Elias Mufarech, Hoi Wong
C&J White Fellows (selected in the spring before matriculating): John Graft and Teo Gumusoglu
The mentor edge
The Finance Fellowship program launched 17 years ago, expanding over the years as more MBA students pursued finance careers. All Fellows are chosen based on their experience and preparation in their stated area of interest, the clarity of their goals and career plans, and interviews. They all receive priority enrollment for finance electives.
Finance Fellow Nick Goomer said the program has given him the opportunity to learn directly from his Morgan Stanley mentor.
“Despite his busy schedule and responsibility, he has taken a hands-on approach to help me curate my unique story, and learn about how the tech world is shifting in our new market landscape,” Goomer said. “He is a force of nature within the tech investment banking industry, and I am incredibly grateful to have him as my mentor.”
Yining Yan, who worked in blockchain venture capital in Singapore before coming to Haas, said that a mentor will play a critical role in her career development in the Bay Area.
“Having a mentor who is deeply rooted in the industry will be the most effective approach for an international student to plug into the local entrepreneurship and VC investing ecosystem,” she said.
Making venture capital more equitable
Fellow Hoi Wong, who was a business operations manager at fintech startup Bluevine before he arrived at Haas, is driven toward entrepreneurial finance for reasons that hit close to home.
“My parents were immigrant small business owners who leveraged a loan to start and grow their business, despite only having a grade-school level of education,” Wong said. “Entrepreneurship was one of the major levers that helped my family rise from poverty.”
Wong plans to pivot from the operating side of fintech to the investing side by joining a fintech-focused venture capital firm. He’s also exploring venture capital investing within major financial services firms.
“As a first-gen student, I believe one way to make venture funding more equitable is by changing who is in control of the money, and one way to do that is to become a VC investor myself,” Wong said.
The meeting was fortuitous. Weber came to Haas with a mission to work on developing a product or drug that could improve global health and to create a new model for access to medicine. Rees and Abergel told her that they’d been working on a drug to address lead poisoning and radiological hazards and were ready to find a partner to help raise funds and bring the drug to market. The meeting led Weber to join their team as vice president of strategy and business development.
HOPO Therapeutics’ first product— HOPO-101—is a novel oral treatment that works by selectively binding to toxic metals so they can be removed from the body, a leap forward from older-generation treatments that also remove essential minerals in the process, Weber said.
The company expects the Phase 1 clinical trial to begin later this year, testing for the treatment’s safety in humans. “This innovative product has a broad application for hundreds of millions of people around the world suffering from heavy metal poisoning, and needs to be launched in a way that maximizes its application for public health,” said Weber.
“This innovative product has a broad application for hundreds of millions of people around the world suffering from heavy metal poisoning.”
HOPO-101 has received government funding to date, but one of Weber’s first goals for the company is to secure venture backing, starting with the company’s first seed round. Over the next five years, the company plans to develop relationships with physicians, governments, impact investors, and global health nonprofits to establish distribution channels.
“This is a lesson in sticking true to our values and finding partners that share our global health mission, and are eager to help us make it happen,” she said.
Weber pointed out that the pandemic has increased awareness of the importance of private and public partnerships in global health—her original mission for coming to Berkeley Haas.
“It’s made us all aware of the need for quick development and quick distribution of affordable life-saving drugs,” she said. “It’s also made the world appreciate the importance of public and private partnerships and the importance of collaboration across the table.”
Working on the company while at Haas also has its benefits, she said. “There are so many classes that allow you to explore your own venture within the classroom,” Weber said, noting that Health Management professional faculty members Kim MacPherson and Jeffrey Ford have been particularly helpful mentors. Weber has also found many opportunities to tap into the Bay Area startup ecosystem to advance the company, participating in the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program for entrepreneurs, as well as the San Francisco B-School Disrupt showcase.
A passion for improving access
Weber, whose father was a physician, has been around healthcare her entire life and said she’s always had a passion for treating patients who had little access to care. Though she entered the undergraduate program at Georgetown University on a pre-med track, she quickly pivoted to global health and, more specifically, sought to focus her career on addressing how the pharmaceutical sector could be a partner in improved access.
An internship in Tanzania during college working on introducing digital innovations into government hospitals also led her to consider the impact a private company could have on global health. That led her to L.E.K. Consulting after graduating, where she worked in the Life Sciences Practice for nearly four years. Learning about strategy and market access from the point of view of pharmaceutical companies, made her look forward to being involved in making some of those company-forming decisions.
“I was excited at the prospect of working with a team developing novel medicines and asking big questions about how we could get them to people that needed them most,” Weber said. “I was looking to get involved with a small company launching a new technology, one that had that mission in mind.”
That mission led her to pursue an MBA/MPH at Haas, and has been the foundation for growing HOPO Therapeutics.
“I had a strong conviction that it was possible to do well and to do good. Business school has been an eye-opening chance to see how it’s possible,” she said. “Luckily, I’ve found a community at Haas and at HOPO that really resonates with that idea.”
Employment rates and average base salaries jumped for the full-time Berkeley Haas MBA Class of 2022, with the consulting, technology, and financial services industries again drawing about 75% of the graduates.
“What made this year so exciting is the extraordinary demand for our MBA graduates and the appetite for their skills, including an ability to lead and innovate in a changing, diverse world,” said Abby Scott, assistant dean of MBA Career Management and Corporate Partnerships.
Salaries reached new heights, hitting an average base salary of $152,831, nearly $10,000 more than $143,696 in 2021. About 74% of the class received an average signing bonus of $33,418 and 43% of our graduates received stock grants or options as part of their compensation packages. Consulting pays the highest average salary at $166,637.
Within three months of graduation, 93% of the class of 320 students accepted job offers. With these results, Haas returned to some of our highest pre-pandemic levels of job acceptances.
Amazon, Bain Consulting, and McKinsey & Co. were the top three hiring firms, followed closely by Adobe, BCG, Deloitte, and Google. 15% of the graduates joined startups and 16 students (or 5% of the graduating class) started their own company at graduation. And 18% of the graduates who accepted jobs reported that their position had a “social impact component,” commonly in industries including healthcare, cleantech, sustainable real estate and investing.
“As our graduates enter the workforce, we look forward to seeing what they do next,” Dean Ann Harrison said. “We know they are well equipped to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. We see our graduates innovating to create inclusive and sustainable businesses.”
Finding the right fit
There were small shifts in industries where students accepted jobs this year. Thirty three percent of the class joined the tech industry; 28% accepted jobs in the consulting industry, and 13.7% went into financial services. There were also small increases in the number of students taking jobs in real estate and the transportation/mobility sectors.
Chase Thompson, MBA 22, a global strategist with Samsung, said he came to Haas knowing that he wanted to work in the tech industry, but unsure about what role would best suit him.
After interning at Adobe, he discovered an interest in global business, which led him to recruit with Samsung. “Fortunately, Samsung’s global strategy group fit squarely in the criteria I was targeting, so it made logical sense as the best next step for me post-MBA,” he said.
Thompson said his job provides incredible exposure to high-level Samsung management, travel opportunities for company research at subsidiaries in Korea, Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America, and a clear leadership pipeline.
“I am working directly with EVPs on projects, and the output of our work is leveraged for long-term decision making within the organization, oftentimes informing multi-billion dollar decisions,” he said.
Tess Krasne, MBA 22, said an interest in the intersection of business and climate brought her to Haas, and ultimately to become a senior associate at Alante Capital, a women-led firm that invests in technologies that enable a resilient, sustainable future for apparel production and retail.
Krasne interned at Alante after she was introduced to its founder through Haas’ Strategic and Sustainable Business Solutions class. After completing multiple internships with different companies during her MBA program, she accepted a full-time position after graduation with Alante,
“I came to Haas wanting to be part of a new wave of change,” she said. “I love that I get to work with such great co-workers and mentors and that I get to meet with 10 entrepreneurs a week to see what they’re building as I think about what the future might look like in the apparel space.”
The show asks 30 single people to spend 10 days inside “pods,” where they interview potential love matches from behind a wall that separates them. Couples who agree to get engaged during the experiment exit the pods to see each other for the first time.
In this interview, Alagbada, who plans to work in early-stage venture capital investing after graduating, discusses his Netflix adventure, life before Haas, and juggling the demands of the show with the MBA program. The first episodes of the new season—which features Alagbada—airs October 19.
Haas News: The Season 3 “Love is Blind” cast promo came out yesterday. How do you feel?
SK Alagbada: It’s a mixture of excitement and feeling anxious because this remains the craziest, most out-of-place thing I’ve ever done—crazier than moving to Poland from Nigeria by myself when I was 19. I’m a little worried about how the show will be edited. We filmed so many hours and you don’t know what will make it to the final cut.
Do your classmates know yet? I kept this secret from my classmates even though so many of them watch the show. I haven’t stepped into a class since the announcement so I am just preparing myself for the 21 questions. I kept this from them because of the confidentiality agreement, and also to try to have as normal a first-year MBA experience as possible.
Watch the “Love is Blind” cast announcement.
Had you watched “Love is Blind” before you were on the show?
No, but my mom had. She loves the show.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I left Nigeria as an international exchange student to study in Poland. I still speak some Polish and three other languages. I lived all over Europe for a few years before moving to the U.S. 13 years ago by myself, and settled in Texas, attending Baylor University as an undergraduate. My brothers and mom are in the U.S. now. I am from the Yoruba tribe in southwest Nigeria, so I take my African culture, food, and Afrobeat music with me everywhere.
So how did Netflix find you?
Every season is scouted in a certain city. This one was in Dallas, where I lived. Someone reached out after they saw my Instagram account. I initially thought it was a scam and didn’t respond for several weeks. One day, I responded. From Instagram we did FaceTime auditions and interviews during COVID. They’re looking for responsible, emotionally stable people in their 20s to mid-30s. They look at your interests, your career, your lifestyle, and whether you are an eligible bachelor.
Why did the reality show idea of finding a wife appeal to you?
I was at the point in my life when I wanted to settle down. I didn’t want to hear my mom’s constant reminder anymore about getting married. Also, in the past couple of years I’ve lived in different places where I haven’t had stability in my life. I tried the conventional ways of finding partners, through friends and family introductions and dating apps, but nothing seemed to stick. But a lot of things in my life happen in unusual ways, most unexpected ways, so this was not foreign to me. It’s the story of my life.
I was at the point in my life when I wanted to settle down. I didn’t want to hear my mom’s constant reminder anymore about getting married.
How did you juggle filming “Love is Blind” with your MBA program schedule?
We finished filming the season before I started my first year of class, but I was still working at JP Morgan as a senior data engineer during my first year to cover the higher Bay Area costs and occasionally support my family back in Nigeria. Juggling that first year was tough. I’m so grateful for my classmates at Haas. They’re very gracious and were especially understanding when I had so much going on, willingly volunteering their time to help me understand unclear concepts in class. As a community, we are always there for each other.
I’m so grateful for my classmates at Haas. They’re very gracious and were especially understanding when I had so much going on, willingly volunteering their time to help me understand unclear concepts in class. As a community, we’re always there for each other.
In the show promo they asked about your most annoying habit and you said “snacking.” Snacking doesn’t seem so bad!
I work from home and study a lot and I always have a snack with me. My favorite snacks right now are Smartfood popcorn and Walkers shortbread cookies. My girlfriends in the past learned to accommodate it—or they picked up snacks for me when they went shopping.
You are very involved with the LAUNCH accelerator program. How does the student-led startup accelerator program align with your career goals in venture capital?
Prior to Berkeley, I worked at large companies like General Motors and JP Morgan, but I wanted an immersive startup experience and to learn the business of technology, grow my network, and boost my startup pipeline. Serving as LAUNCH co-chair of strategy and partnerships helps me to achieve this goal. I’m responsible for shaping the vision by managing and growing our relationships with investors, raising funds for our startups, and developing initiatives to strengthen our program experience. To date, LAUNCH startups have raised over $700 million and LAUNCH remains completely student run.
You are also president of the Africa Business Club. Can you talk a bit about investing in African startups?
This is very personal. I left Nigeria at the onset of a tech revolution that’s led to one of the fastest growing ecosystems in the world. I’ve stayed connected to home, but still have major FOMO from leaving the country at such a pivotal time. That’s why I’ve been dedicated to helping connect startups on the continent to capital, mentorship, and resources in Silicon Valley. In April, my team and I hosted the first in-person Africa Business Forum at Haas since COVID. This event laid groundwork for new connections and startup investment in Nigeria.
What’s your favorite thing about Haas?
Haas does a very good job of assembling a class of genuinely good people. In addition to being so accomplished and having done such interesting things in their lives and careers, they are genuinely good people.
What do you like to do outside of school?
I love soccer, tennis, and Scrabble. I also like to cook. There is a dearth of African food in the Bay Area, so I usually find myself cooking a lot. My mom also ships me food sometimes.
Have you picked up anything new since moving to California? Recycling! I came from Texas. It’s a huge shift for me.
After Berkeley Haas professional faculty member Alex Budak created and launched his course “Becoming a Changemaker” in 2019, it quickly grew to be one of the most popular electives for both undergraduate and MBA students.
Erika Walker, senior assistant dean of instruction, introduced Budak and described the book as “very Haas.” It also connects closely with the school’s Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always and Beyond Yourself.
“Students will share that the Becoming a Changemaker class was life-changing, even transformational, and that they were surprised that such a course as this was offered in business education,” she said. “It ultimately reframed the way students approached their own leadership journeys.”
Before Budak began teaching the class, he had to undergo his own changemaker journey. He recounted a “single, serendipitous” meeting with Jay Stowsky, then the senior assistant dean of instruction, about career advice.
“He said, ‘Alex what do you really want to do?'” Budak recalled. “I said, ‘Well, what I really want to do is teach,’ and then made some excuses for why I couldn’t possibly teach. But to my shock and delight he said, ‘All right, what do you want to teach?’ And in that moment, it became crystal clear. I said, ‘I want to teach ‘Becoming a Changemaker.'”
Stowsky told Budak to put together a syllabus. “I remember literally leaping out of my seat, so elated that someone else saw this potential in this class and this vision,” he said.
Budak then welcomed alumni Shannon Eliot, MBA 20, Angelica Song, BS 20, and Alicia Wilson, BS 23, (Ibrahim Baldé, BS 20, participated via video), for a panel discussion on their journeys to becoming changemakers.
Startup Spotlight profiles startups founded by current Berkeley Haas students or recent alumni.
Joe Obeto, MBA 21, co-founded startup Bird to help solve a vexing roadblock he and other African immigrants face when they arrive in the U.S.: trying to open a bank account. We recently interviewed Obeto about what led him to become an entrepreneur and his big plans for Bird.
Describe your startup in 30 words or less.
We’re building a platform to enable non-US residents to open a bank account, a checking account, and do easy and frictionless cross-border transfers.
What was your background before coming to Haas?
My undergrad degree was in computer information science. When I graduated, I had several options: to pursue the traditional technology route as a software developer or maybe go into finance. What really shifted for me was during a summer that I went to Wall Street to intern for Credit Suisse. My experience that year was very incredible, and that really pushed me toward finance. I came to realize that not only do I like finance, I really wanted to become an entrepreneur.
What was the problem that you are solving with Bird?
When I first came to the U.S., I learned that I had to be a resident of the country for about six months minimum before I could open a bank account. With most major banks, this is the policy. In addition, sending money back to Nigeria is very expensive or it takes several days for the money to get to the final destination because there are so many intermediaries. It also costs 10 times more to send $100 to Nigeria than what it would cost you to send to a place like the U.K. or Poland because they have stable currencies.
So you decided to address these challenges as an entrepreneur?
I thought we could build a solution to solve this. So we decided to build a platform to do two things: enable non-U.S. residents to open a checking account and also enable a frictionless, low-cost way for you to be able to transfer money cross-border. There are some regulatory processes that we need to complete before we can actually go live with the banking solution, but the cross-border solution is going to be ready soon.
How does a Bird service work?
We don’t have a banking charter, so we cannot actually hold your funds. What we’ll do is partner with a local bank so when you open an account on the Bird platform and deposit money, it will be held at the bank, so it’s FDIC insured, meaning your money is going to be safe. You can do a wire transfer and have a debit card from the Visa network or the Mastercard network. You can use the card globally, anywhere that Visa or Mastercard is accepted. In addition to that, you can also transfer money.
How will transferring money work?
Right now, we’re establishing a payment corridor between Nigeria and the U.S. We want to test this corridor out. Eventually, we’re going to expand to other corridors in Africa. We’re looking into Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya, as well as Rwanda.
Right now, we’re establishing a payment corridor between Nigeria and the U.S. We want to test this corridor out.
Will transferring money using Bird be cheaper than other methods?
Yes, it is cheaper because rather than having multiple intermediaries moving money from one end to the other, we will use a stablecoin on the blockchain to move money cross-border. Essentially, we convert dollars to USDC stablecoins (a cryptocurrency). When it gets to Nigeria, that USDC stablecoin is on-ramped to Nigerian currency. The same thing will happen when somebody’s trying to send money to the US. We’re able to cut out a lot of middlemen and drastically reduce the cost of sending money internationally, especially to Africa.
Have any Haas courses helped you build the company?
New Venture Finance with Professor Maura O’Neill. She’s incredible. I learned a lot from that course, and even today when I’m talking to investors or negotiating a term sheet, the learnings from that course have been helpful; the entrepreneurship course taught by Kurt Beyer was helpful as well, and an operations course taught by Professor Terry Taylor showed me how to run operations of any firm. We went through lots of cases, analyzing different companies and what led to their successes, what led to their failures. As somebody building a company, you need to be able to learn from failures so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.
You also placed second last spring at UC Berkeley LAUNCH after going through the accelerator program. How did that help?
LAUNCH gives you a framework for you to validate your idea. It uses the lean startup methodology to develop a very strong value proposition. You go out to talk to customers to challenge your initial hypothesis, test it, validate it. Ultimately, when you come out of LAUNCH, you realize that you have a stronger position for your customers and that you are building something that people actually want and need.
Did you always plan to get an MBA?
That has always been part of my strategy. An MBA is not going to necessarily make you a successful person or a successful entrepreneur. But it does reduce your chance of failure and increases the odds of your success. Building on that knowledge of having a structured approach to entrepreneurship, to starting a business, is what the MBA equips you with. Besides that, I think the network that I’ve been able to build here in the Bay Area has afforded me the opportunity to build something that I think will be a success.
The Berkeley Haas courtyard has sprung back to life. Over the past week, new undergraduate, full-time MBA, and PhD students arrived for orientations, getting a first glimpse of life in the classroom. Students in the Berkeley Haas Executive MBA and the evening & weekend MBA program, including the first Flex MBA class, came to campus for orientation last month.
Full-time MBA Program
(Photos by Jim Block)
Spirits were high among the entering full-time MBA students who gathered for the traditional Week Zero orientation Aug. 15-17. School and student leaders (including Week Zero Co-Chair Dingmi Gong, MBA 23) and Jamie Breen, assistant dean of MBA Programs, welcomed the group, who throughout the two days participated in sessions on diversity, equity and inclusion at Haas, productivity and time management, and an introduction to the case study method. They also met their study groups for [email protected], a program that’s celebrating its 10th year in the MBA curriculum with lessons on collaborative leadership.
MBA Association (MBAA) President Jude Watson, a former chef and community organizer from Seattle, introduced Dean Ann Harrison, who emphasized how important it is for students to lead on critical issues such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as climate change. She noted that both innovation and collaboration that will be required to solve the world’s toughest problems.
“The issue of climate change has become visibly real, and despite the important climate bill that Joe Biden has put in place, we have a very long way to go. It’s just a down payment on the change we need,” she said. “I believe that you, as business leaders, will lead the change.”
“I believe that you, as business leaders, will lead the change.” Dean Ann Harrison.
Orientation speaker Lo Toney, MBA 97, urged students to explore, celebrate, and focus during their journeys. Toney, founding managing partner of Plexo Capital, told students that they will learn the most from their peers–not just about the diversity of where people are from, but what they have done. “Look around you,” he said. “These are people who are going to be in extremely senior positions,” who will help you along your journey.
In welcoming the new class, Dean Ann Harrison noted the sweeping changes coming for the undergraduate program, anchored by the recent $30 million gift from alumnus Warren “Ned” Spieker, BS 66, and his wife, Carol, BA 66, (political science), that will be used to create the new four-year Spieker Undergraduate Program.
In her welcome message, Emma Hayes Daftary, the new assistant dean of undergraduate admissions, expanded on the changes and the importance of enhancing collaboration among the students in the competitive program. “This program and our Defining Leadership Principles will challenge you to shift from what you, as an individual, can achieve, to what we, as a community, can accomplish,’ she said. “It’s for this reason that we’re focusing on culture this year, and we’re working to create a more collaborative, inclusive, and equitable culture in the undergraduate program.”
Hayes Daftary said the first order of business is to eliminate the “Haas Curve” grading policy—which drew cheers from the students.
She said the policy of grading on a curve was adopted in 2011 across the MBA and undergraduate programs for ease and consistency. But in May 2021, the Undergraduate Program Committee voted to recommend that the policy be eliminated. Policies such as grade caps and grading on a curve are often criticized because they lead students to compete against each other, but in this case it was also deemed to be ineffective, she said.
“I’m not a competitive person, so I think it’s good…It will definitely help.” said Gloria Gonzalez-Serrano, a continuing undergraduate student who plans to pursue a career in digital marketing.
Other program changes include the hiring of more staff to focus on the academic and student experience, funding the Haas Business Student Association (HBSA) at historic levels, renovating the undergraduate program lounge, and upgrading the Cheit Hall classrooms.
Browse more highlights (photos by Noah Berger):
Evening & Weekend MBA
The new class of evening & weekend MBA students arrived on campus in July for a jam-packed “WE Launch” orientation weekend of work sessions, team-building exercises, and an introduction to the Haas Defining Leadership Principles.
A few details about the Class of 2025: More than 40% of the new students have at least one advanced degree, including 21 PhDs. More than 40% of the class was born outside of the U.S. Nearly half—47%— are married or partnered, with 22% raising kids (altogether they have 80 children.)
Browse highlights from EWMBA orientation here. (Photos by Jim Block)
Also, some fun facts:
The class includes a violinist who performed at Carnegie Hall, a former professional ballet dancer, and three published authors, including the author of the “Silicon Valley Dictionary.”
The class boasts the youngest elected city council member of a Bay Area City, the lead singer in a band that raises money for domestic violence victims, and a volunteer for the Yellowstone Wolf Project who helps with tracking wolves. There’s also a flight controller for NASA Mission Control, a pilot instructor for the Air Force, and a paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.
A total of 14 students joined the PhD program this fall, with an equal split between men and women. The group hails from around the world, including the U.S., Brazil, China, Colombia, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, and Singapore.
The students’ area of study is equally diverse, including accounting, business and public policy, finance, marketing science, management of organizations, and real estate.
This year’s efforts bring the total raised for the past two fiscal years to a record $116 million, the most ever raised in two consecutive years.
“So many alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends went beyond themselves this year, providing unbelievable support for Haas,” Dean Ann Harrison said. “Their generous gifts will be used to do important work within our community, work that will help Haas build the next generation of Berkeley leaders, stay connected to and support our alumni community, and remain a top business school. We are truly grateful.”
Fundraising highlights from the past year:
$69 million raised from donations by 4,339 alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends.
A $30 million gift, the largest single donation in the school’s history, from Ned Spieker, BS 66, and his wife, Carol, BS 66 (political science). Their gift will be used to launch the four-year Spieker Undergraduate Program in Fall of 2024.
The addition of seven new Builders of Berkeley—donors who given at least $1 million to Berkeley—including Haruki, MBA 12, and Mikiko Satomi, Kevin, BS 82 JD/MBA 85 and Eileen Shields, John Hokom, BS 59, MBA 60, Steve Etter, BS 83, MBA 89, Roshni and Jagdeep Singh, MBA 90, Joanne and Jon Goldstein, BS 82; and the Liang-Kuo Family.
The 2022 one-day Big Give campaign, which raised $2.475 million from a record 911 gifts.
A record number of gifts of $2,500, the new gift level for the Haas Leadership Society.
A record $4.86 million raised for the Haas Fund, the most raised in one year. Gifts to the Haas Fund are used for scholarships and program enhancements, as well as our Alumni Network podcasts, lifelong learning, and alumni programming.
Alumni engagement highlights from the past year:
Alumni engagement also thrived in 2022, with a record-breaking group of nearly 1,700 alumni returning to campus for their makeup and in-person MBA reunion weekend celebrations. Together, the MBA reunion classes of 2020 and 2021 donated $2.2 million and gave 11 lead gifts. At the annual Alumni Conference, the combined virtual and in-person events allowed alumni from all over the world to tap into Haas thought leadership. In-person events fostered community-building and connections.
More alumni engagement highlights:
Alumni affinity groups increased programming for women graduates as well as programming in real estate and growth industries like cryptocurrency and blockchain.
Alumni sourced and shared 474 jobs with the school as part of the Hire Haas campaign.
More than 3,700 alumni accepted a call to action, volunteering for Haas by assisting with admissions, meeting with students for career conversations, serving as guest speakers or panelists, or leading and arranging events and programs for fellow alumni.
The OneHaas Alumni Podcast produced 42 podcasts featuring alumni in conversation about their Haas experience and career trajectories.
Three new mentoring programs were launched to support student career planning and help build greater alumni connections.
A Berkeley Haas MBA student team took first place at the 2022 Net Impact Case Competition for crafting innovative ways that a leading outdoor retail company could invest $50 million to make a sustainable impact.
The March 5 competition, hosted by University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, virtually brought together 50 MBA teams from U.S. business schools, including Daniels College of Business (University of Denver), Robert H. Smith School of Business (University of Maryland), and Darden School of Business (University of Virginia).
The winning team, Too Haas to Handle, won $10,000 in prize money. Team members included Tomoe Wang, Adriana Rueda, Liz Kanovsky, and Tomas Stegmann, all MBA 23.
This year, teams were asked to consult a leading outdoor retail company on how to allocate $50 million to address three priorities for the company: narrowing the racial wealth gap, reducing climate emissions, and strengthening democratic institutions.
The Haas team proposed creating a sustainable impact fund that would support initiatives including offering down payment loans to 7,000 employees to narrow the existing racial wealth gap; distributing grants to nonprofits focused on redistributing political and economic power; and providing loans to all stakeholders–from employees to suppliers–who initiated projects that raised sustainability standards and reduced climate emissions. Those projects included installing solar panels at the company’s warehouses.
“What set us apart from other teams was the diversity of our team,” Stegmann said. “Each of us came from different backgrounds, grew up in different countries, and experienced different cultures. However, despite being so different, we complemented each other very well and we were able to leverage each other’s strengths to get the most out of the team.”
Yue Chen, BS 20, MFE 23, is the first-ever Chinese national to play on a NCAA Division 1 Women’s basketball team. At 6’6” and the daughter of professional basketball players, Chen played center for the women’s team at Cal for five years before returning to China to play professionally for 18 months.
Now, the pioneering athlete is back at Berkeley with sights on becoming a Triple Bear. Chen is studying in the Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) program, among a record 32% women in the Class of 2022, along with a diverse group of students from 17 different countries. This fall, Chen will intern as an associate at Morgan Stanley.
After Chen finishes the MFE degree, she plans to begin the full-time MBA program in 2025, accepted under Accelerated Access, which allows students to apply as seniors and defer for several years. We talked to Chen recently about her basketball career and why she chose to do three degrees at Haas.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
Yue Chen: I was born in Beijing and spent my first 18 years there. Both my parents met in college. They used to be professional basketball players in China so I was born into a basketball family. I started playing basketball when I was a little kid and it was a big part of my life. During high school, I was facing the decision of either going to play pro or going to college. It was always a dream for me to come to the States and to play ball and also pursue academics simultaneously.
When was the first time that you visited the U.S. ?
I was fortunate to attend a Junior NBA camp when I was 12. Three teams played each other from Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. The winning team got the opportunity to come to the States and watch the All Star Games. I played for Beijing, the winning team, and we came to the States to watch the All Star Games in Dallas. That was my first time in the US. Kobe Bryant was there and people were truly enjoying basketball with others and celebrating. That was really a culture shock, and I was like, “Oh, I want to stand on this course one day, and also play here.” So that’s always been a dream, a goal, from then on.
How did that experience lead you to Cal?
In high school, I needed to choose a college. I looked at places like Berkeley, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and did official visits as an athlete. Of these three schools, Berkeley was my first choice. While the others are definitely great universities, I felt like the culture, the people here are just awesome. The coaches and players were warm and welcoming. I said, “Oh, I’m coming here.” I still keep in touch with a lot of the staff and coaches.
You were among the first group of students to apply for the Accelerated Access Program at Haas in 2020. Then you decided to do an MFE degree before the MBA. What led to that decision?
Berkeley has one of the top MFE programs in the world. As an undergrad, I was a double major in statistics and business administration and those subjects have been a passion for me. I’ve loved math since middle school and I’m really good at it. The MFE is a really interesting intersection of mathematics, statistics, and finance. So that’s how I came to the program. It’s a perfect combination of my interests.
How are you finding the MFE program so far?
The class material is really hard. The professors are great and you are surrounded by talented, smart students. So it’s just awesome to be with them, to learn with them, and to learn from them. Every day I’m improving at something and that feels really great. This semester, I am taking a class on Fixed Income with Professor Richard Stanton, who has won Haas’ Cheit Outstanding Teaching award three times. He is enthusiastic and engaging, sharing not only his knowledge about knowledge but his experience in the financial industry.
A great mentor for me at Haas is Stephen Etter, a finance lecturer for 10 years. He respects the potential of all students from diverse backgrounds.I met him when I was 17 when I first visited Cal and he’s been a great support both on and off the court—with my professional career, my Haas application, and career development.
Why did you choose to combine the MFE with the MBA degree?
It’s really hard for undergrad students to say what they want to do in the future. We’re really young. So the deferred MBA program gives us time to try out different things, and to gain different experiences to be sure about what I really want to do for the future. This gives an option to come back to Haas and make more connections and improve my skills and see how business is run from a leader’s perspective.
What kind of career are you thinking about?
After just finishing my basketball career, I’m trying different things right now and the MFE is preparing me to enter the finance career path. I’m looking forward to gaining more experience in the finance world and eventually, maybe, doing some business involving sports. Someone I really look up to is Joe Tsai, co-founder of Alibaba, who owns the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Liberty basketball teams. He was a student athlete at Yale and played lacrosse, and he’s a really successful businessman. So he’s someone I really look up to when I envision my future.
Do you still play basketball?
Although I’m not playing sports anymore I am still close to Cal Athletics. I hope I can help out and offer support to young student athletes. I want to use what I’ve learned on my journey, and what I’ve gained here at Berkeley, to help young people who are facing challenges—so that they will be able to celebrate their journey at Cal long after they graduate.
Haas Voices is a series that highlights the lived experiences of members of the Berkeley Haas community.
Jude Watson, MBA 23, never intended to become a social entrepreneur. But that was before Watson successfully founded Seattle-based Cooks for Black Lives Matter. Watson, who for years worked as a chef, raised $100,000 by selling CSA (community-supported agriculture) food boxes of gourmet treats donated by cooks, restaurants, and farmers to support Black-led community organizers. We interviewed Watson about the power of community organizing, and their experiences as MBA Association student body president and as a transgender student at Haas. (Jude uses the pronouns they/them/theirs)
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Seattle on Capitol Hill, which is the gayborhood of Seattle. My mom’s a hair stylist and my dad does a lot of climate justice work. I had a very socially motivated family and that shaped a lot of how I grew up. I felt very connected to the community in a lot of ways because both my parents are firmly rooted in Seattle and very present in our community.
Did you become politically active at a young age?
Yes, at age 16. When I realized I was queer, and especially when I realized I was gender expansive, I got very involved with local queer youth organizing. There was this amazing group of queer young people who were trying to start a community center for ourselves. A lot of LGBTQ spaces tend to be bars, so there aren’t many inclusive places for young queer people. We founded the first youth-led LGBTQ community center in Seattle with large grants from the City of Seattle and the Point Foundation. That period of my life was a mind-blowing crash course in community organizing. I also met and was mentored by trans adults for the first time, which was very meaningful and helped me imagine a future for myself.
Sounds like that was a very open and formative environment.
Definitely. I learned so much about social justice issues, especially around race, class, and disability. We were a diverse crew and it was a very energizing organizing community to be a part of. While doing that organizing, I graduated from high school when I was 16, and did an early entrance program at the University of Washington, where I made my own major in the History of Social Movements by pulling together classes in history, ethnic studies, women and gender studies. It was a great way to learn how social changes happens over time in different social contexts, and informed my work with Queer Youth Space.
What did you see yourself doing after graduation?
I saw myself doing social work and community organizing with young people, which I pursued for a couple years after I graduated. But I also craved more creative work, so at age 22 I took a very abrupt left turn to pursue a career as a chef. I left my job working with young people and got a job as a restaurant prep cook, and then worked my way up to a chef-level position for the next seven years. I even spent a summer learning traditional butchery in Italy from a third-generation pig farmer, which was mind blowing.
What made you leave cooking?
Although I loved my career in kitchens in many ways, it was also an incredibly intense experience that I have a lot of ambivalence about. There are parts of my job that were life affirming and beautiful, and there were parts about it that were horrifying: toxic people, sexual harassment, gnarly injuries, constant violations of labor laws. At some point I was deeply burned out and knew, “It is not healthy for me to keep doing this.” But I still deeply love cooking. I’ve done some elaborate dinner parties for fellow Haasies.
So how did you end up in business school?
Seattle was the first city that got COVID in the U.S., so we shut down our restaurants before everyone else did. At that point, I turned back into community organizing and founded the social enterprise Cooks for Black Lives Matter, which has raised over $100,000 for local Black-led community organizing. Although at the time I just felt like I was doing something to be useful during such a dark time, I eventually realized, “Oh, I’m an entrepreneur now. I’m genuinely good at this,” and I wanted to build up those skills more. I contemplated a master’s in social work or public policy, but I thought it would be a bigger stretch for me to learn more about business.
Are you happy with that choice?
I’m so glad to be at Haas. It’s unbelievable the amount of opportunities that exist in business school. You have access to so much, which is often unbelievable to me coming from the service industry where you’re always given the bare minimum. One of my best experiences at Haas was in Lean LaunchPad last semester, where I was on the team with MBA student Carlson Giddings, helping her start a sweet potato flour company. I did all the recipe development for our team, and learned so much about the entrepreneurship side of the food CPG industry from entrepreneurship experts with decades of experience. During that class, I got to make a short video about our project and get editing help from Ralph Guggenheim, one of the co-producers of Toy Story and a mentor in the class. That’s one of those opportunities that, if I wasn’t at Haas, I would never in a million years have had access to.
You’re an active student leader at Haas. What’s that been like?
Although I would love to find out that I’m wrong about this, I believe I’m the first ever out transgender person to be the student president of an MBA program. It’s been a huge priority for me to have more conversations about trans identity at Haas. Via Abolencia, MBA/MPH 23, is one of my best friends, a fellow non-binary student here, and a co-president of [email protected] Together, we ran an event called Trans Futures, featuring a panel of trans advocates from public health, consulting, and community organizing, which was such a moving experience. The vast majority of the time, I’m the only trans person in the room at school and at work, which is a fairly exhausting experience. To create a trans-led space at Haas was good for my heart. It’s powerful for my classmates, most of whom have never seen eight trans people together before in their lives, to get to listen to these incredible activists reflect together on their work and their lives. That is by far the event I’m most proud of running at Haas.
Any suggestions for how our community members can be better allies to the trans community?
Overall, I would say read trans authors and watch media made by trans people, because I think what many people are lacking is empathy for our life experience. Follow some trans people on social media, and in general gain a more casual familiarity with the language we use and the struggles and successes a lot of us share. We’re not a huge percentage of the population, (although the number of people that identify as gender expansive is growing as more people feel comfortable coming out), so cis people need to put in more effort themselves to build their familiarity and comfort with trans people.
Exuberant grads tossed beach balls and danced salsa in the aisles of the Greek Theatre at Saturday’s commencement ceremony for the Berkeley Haas Full-time and Evening and Weekend MBA Class of 2022.
It was a moment of unfettered joy, as speakers rallied the graduates for the challenges ahead.
“The world right now has lots of huge unsolved problems—from political polarization to climate change to artificial general intelligence to augmented humanity to disease to inequality—so you have lots of big problems to choose from,” commencement speaker Jagdeep Singh, EWMBA 90, told about 600 graduates, who gathered under blue skies and sunshine. “Pick one that you have passion for, that you can’t help but want to spend all your time day and night on even if others think it’s too idealistic, too big, or too unsolvable. You’re Berkeley MBAs now. You don’t need to settle.”
Dean Ann Harrison welcomed Singh, an entrepreneur who in 2010 co-founded battery technology company QuantumScape. She acknowledged how special it was to be together for the first in-person MBA commencement in two years.
“This felt like the best closure for a two-year process that has been life changing,” said Ignacio Solis, MBA 22, an international student from Chile.
Harrison praised the students for their resilience during their program, noting that those experiences will serve them well throughout their careers. “Because of who you are—your fierce intelligence and your deep understanding of the forces that drive business– you will have power,” she said. “Power is not always about how many people report to you or whether you have the CEO’s ear or whether you are the CEO. Power is the ability to make a difference—one day at a time; one project at a time; one function at a time.”
Evening & Weekend grads: “Pause and savor”
Noting how many life events happened for the EWMBA class during the program, Harrison said that 32% of the class was promoted, 41% of the students changed jobs, 13% got married, and 30 babies were born.
Evening & Weekend program student speaker Paulina Lee, a marketing director at Procter & Gamble, told graduates to stop and consider how much they’ve changed at Haas.
“What Haas has afforded us is the opportunity to redefine ourselves, to explore the edges of our comfort zone, and that’s why as we end this chapter and start our new paths to our own definitions of success we are faced with so many different emotions,” she said. “Joy, anxiety relief, excitement to move on to the next thing, get on with it, but perhaps we shouldn’t. At least not right away.”
Lee asked students to pause for a moment and savor, after spending the last three years on a sprint. “The first ask (from me) is to pause, really pause, and see the space that school used to take up and protect it,” she said. “Now that you have become the person you are today, reevaluate, sit down with yourself and honestly seek to understand who you have become.”
Full-time MBA: The opportunity to “fail and learn”
The 2022 full-time MBA class is the most diverse ever, Harrison told the graduates, including 39% women, 50% U.S. minorities, 8% veterans, and 10% first-generation college students.
Full-time MBA student speaker Kokei Otosi, who will join IBM as a senior consultant in August, opened her speech by thanking her classmates. She also expressed thanks for the time that the MBA program gave her to explore.
“What I know now is that the MBA is a sandbox,” said Otosi, a Bay Area native-turned-New Yorker whose parents are Nigerian immigrants. “When you leave you may still not know what you want to do, but for two years we had the opportunity to try and fail and learn and try. We may not get that kind of freedom again.”
Throughout the ceremony, speakers paid tribute to classmate Nadeem Farooqi, who died in fall 2020.
Otosi said the shock and grief the class experienced over his death was palpable. “Nadeem, we cannot believe you aren’t here with us celebrating today, but we haven’t forgotten you,” she said. “We miss you.”
Honors for both MBA programs
Harrison asked all students with GPAs in the top 10% of their classes to stand and be honored for their achievements.
Here are the EWMBA program honors:
Outstanding Academic Achievement Award: Laura Jacobson
Defining Leadership Principles awards:
Question the Status Quo: Eleanor Boli
Confidence Without Attitude: Cheick Diarra
Students Always: Steve Odell
Beyond Yourself: Nana Lei
The Berkeley Leader Award: Nana Lei and Frances Ho
Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching, weekend MBA program: Ricardo Perez-Truglia, for macroeconomics
Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching, evening MBA program: Professor Max Aufhammer, for data and decisions
Cheit Award for Graduate Student Instructor: Kimberlyn George
FTMBA program honors:
Outstanding Academic Achievement Award: Jon Christopher Thompson
Question the Status Quo: Aliza Gazek
Confidence Without Attitude: Casey Dunajick-DeKnight
Students Always: Mathilde De La Calle
Beyond Yourself: Kevin Hu
Cheit Award for Graduate Student Instructor: Griffin Grail-Binghman
Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching: Associate Professor Ned Augenblick for Strategic Leadership
Earlier this month, seven Phd candidates participated in a hooding ceremony.
The PhD program at Haas stands out among all six academic programs, Harrison told the graduates. “It is our smallest, but it’s also the program nearest and dearest to the hearts of our faculty, all of whom are PhDs and are deeply committed to training the researchers and professors of the future,” she said. “This is a core part of my mission, and of all of our faculty’s mission.”
Graduating students included Kristin Donnelly, Shoshana Jarvis, Łukasz Langer, Petr Martynov, Alexey Sinyashin, Daniel Stein, and Young Yoon. The Cheit award for excellence in teaching in the PhD program went to Professor Panos Patatoukas of the Haas Accounting Group.