Former Haas Dean Rich Lyons named new UC Berkeley chancellor

man wearing a suit and tie standing on balcony in front of trees
Rich Lyons at home in the Berkeley Hills. Photo: Keegan Houser/UC Berkeley

Rich Lyons, former dean of the Haas School of Business and UC Berkeley’s current associate vice chancellor and chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer, has been selected to become UC Berkeley’s next chancellor.

Lyons will assume his new role on July 1, 2024, when current Chancellor Carol T. Christ retires.

University of California President Michael V. Drake announced his selection and the UC Board of Regents approved the appointment during a special meeting held today at UCLA. Lyons, who has devoted most of his career to UC Berkeley, will be the university’s 12th chancellor, notably the first UC Berkeley undergraduate alumnus since 1930 to become the campus’s top leader.

“I am naturally humbled and thrilled to be serving alongside all of you in this role,” Lyons said after the appointment was announced. “The University of California, as we know, is not just one of this country’s most important assets; it’s one of the world’s most important assets, and we steward that asset, and that is an enormous responsibility.”

“The University of California as we know is not just one of this country’s most important assets; it’s one of the world’s most important assets, and we steward that asset, and that is an enormous responsibility.” – Rich Lyons.

Christ lauded his appointment. “I am both thrilled and reassured by this excellent choice,” she said. “In so many ways, Rich embodies Berkeley’s very best attributes, and his dedication to the university’s public mission and values could not be stronger. I am confident he will bring to the office visionary aspirations for Berkeley’s future that are informed by, and deeply respectful of, our past.”

Members of the UC community congratulated Lyons and spoke on his behalf during the meeting, including Jo Mackness, MBA 04, an associate vice chancellor at UC Berkeley and a staff advisor to the UC Regents. “As an economist, as a finance professor, you bring the financial acumen and the creativity that will be required to finance UC Berkeley’s future,” Mackness, who formerly served as chief strategy and operating officer at Haas under Lyons, said. “And as good as you are at vision and strategy, you understand Peter Drucker’s old adage that culture does eat strategy for breakfast, and you are deeply committed to creating an organizational culture where it’s OK to question the status quo.”

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, MBA 92, commended Lyons’ extraordinary talent for fundraising, recognizing the passion Lyons brought to Haas “and your belief and your faith in the business school and how effective you were at bringing other people along to help achieve the vision you set forth.”

Deep Berkeley roots

Lyons, who grew up in Los Altos, arrived on the Berkeley campus as an undergraduate. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business and finance with highest honors in 1982 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in economics from MIT in 1987. After six years teaching at Columbia Business School, Lyons returned to Berkeley in 1993 to join the faculty as a professor of economics and finance.

“No institution has come anywhere close to Berkeley in terms of shaping my life,” Lyons told UC Berkeley News this week. “There’s this favorite phrase of mine: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ Neither of my parents had a four-year degree when I arrived at Berkeley. For so many reasons, in so many ways, I could have never seen the life I have lived were it not for my undergraduate years at Berkeley.”

As an international finance professor, Lyons was a six-time recipient of the Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching—the school’s top teaching honor—and also won UC Berkeley’s highest teaching award in 1998. In 2006, he took a leave to serve as chief learning officer for Goldman Sachs, focusing on leadership development among managing directors and partners.

Lyons returned to Berkeley in 2008 to serve as dean of the Haas School of Business. During his tenure as dean, Lyons oversaw the construction of Connie & Kevin Chou Hall, a state-of-the-art academic building that opened in 2017. He also forged stronger ties with other UC Berkeley colleges and departments, with a focus on dual degree programs that combine business with STEM fields, including the new Management, Entrepreneurship, and Technology program with Berkeley Engineering.

man speaking at a podium in Haas courtyard
Former Haas dean Rich Lyons at the naming ceremony for Connie & Kevin Chou Hall, which opened in 2017. Photo: Noah Berger

While leading Haas, Lyons is perhaps most well known for his creation of four distinct Defining Leadership Principles that spurred a sweeping cultural initiative at the school that stands out in the minds of many.

“We had never made anything explicit,” about the culture at Haas, Lyons said in an interview with Poets & Quants in 2018. “That felt like a giant opportunity so I began to ask myself, ‘What would being truly intentional on culture look like?'” The values that emerged: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself, have inspired and influenced students and alumni alike.

Speaking at today’s meeting, Lyons noted how the Haas culture has spread across the Berkeley campus, so “that when the chancellor of Berkeley says we are all about questioning the status quo—this mindset that there’s got to be a better way to do this—nobody bats an eye because it’s part of where we come from.”

An innovative changemaker

In January 2020, Lyons became Berkeley’s first chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer. In that role, Lyons worked to expand and champion Berkeley’s innovation and entrepreneurship activities. To that end, he helped launch the Berkeley Changemaker program in 2020, which now boasts some 30 courses that help undergraduates see innovation and entrepreneurship in action. The courses have quickly become among the most popular academic offerings on campus.

Lyons is particularly proud of the startup ecosystem on UC Berkeley’s campus. When UC Berkeley took the top spot last year for the number of venture-funded startups founded by undergraduate alumni, Lyons said he wasn’t surprised, noting that support for UC founders has accelerated dramatically over the past 20 years.

Noting Lyons’ unique focus on innovation in science and technology, Dean Ann Harrison, who succeeded Lyons as Haas dean, said he exemplifies “what is uniquely great about Berkeley.”

“This will be a historic new era, building on the strength of the foundation set by Chancellor Christ and leading to ever-greater achievements for Berkeley and its community,” Harrison said.  “As my predecessor in the Haas deanship, Rich inspires me every day; as a friend and colleague, he enhances my life and that of everyone around him. I am truly delighted by this news and look forward to collaborating with him on a whole new level.”

U.S. News ranks Berkeley Haas FTMBA Program #7 in 2024

The Berkeley Haas Full-Time MBA Program claimed the #7 spot among full-time programs in the 2024 U.S. News & World Report Best Business Schools ranking.

The FTMBA program moved up four slots to tie for #7 with the Yale School of Management and NYU’s Stern School of Business. Except for 2021 and 2023, the FTMBA has ranked #7 since 2019.

Meanwhile, the Evening & Weekend Berkeley MBA Program ranked #2 this year among part-time MBA programs. The Berkeley Haas MBA for Executives Program placed #7 among EMBA programs and is now the top executive MBA program at a public university in the nation. This ranking is based solely on ratings by business school deans and directors. 

The 2024 FTMBA ranking, released today, reflects positive changes that U.S. News made to its rankings methodology, said Haas Dean Ann Harrison. 

The ranking reflects all of the work Haas is doing to strengthen its programs and reputation, she said. “There are many different ways of evaluating a school, and rankings go up and down for all of us,” she said. “The change in the U.S. News methodology, with less emphasis on starting salary upon graduation, is a positive step.”

A few details on the rankings methodology used this year:

  • Employment rates at graduation – 7% weighted  (previously 10%)
  • Employment rates three months after graduation – 13% (previously 20%)
  • Mean starting salary and bonus – 20%
  • Ranking salaries by profession – 10%
  • Peer assessment score – 12.5%

Haas ranked #5 in salaries, which were ranked this year by profession (tied with Chicago Booth). Harrison noted that alumni accept jobs in a variety of industries, which logically means a variety of pay scales. 

“This is true for Haas, as well, where graduates prioritize where they can make the biggest impact, whether that is in consulting, product management, fintech, or by founding a new company,” she said. “I applaud U.S. News for taking into account the reality of the wealth of opportunities for a b-school graduate and comparing apples to apples across all the schools it surveys.”

Assessment by the school’s FTMBA peers was strong this year, at #7 (tied with Columbia) and the school ranked #9 for its recruiter assessment. Haas also had the highest GMAT score, tied at #1 with Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg, and Columbia.

In specialty rankings, based solely on peer assessments, U.S. News ranked the full-time MBA program:

  • #4 in nonprofit
  • #4 in entrepreneurship
  • #4 in real estate
  • #7 in business analytics
  • #7 in management
  • #8 in finance
  • #10 in marketing

Cal swimmer Destin Lasco, BS 24, on chasing mentor Ryan Murphy’s records and his own Olympic dream

Man wearing goggles and swim cap with arm stretched up in swimming pool during competition
Destin Lasco, BS 24, at the NCAA championships in Indianapolis last month, where he broke the NCAA and American men’s 200 backstroke record. Cal Athletics photo: Justin Casterline.

As a UC Berkeley freshman, Destin Lasco, BS 24, of the Cal Men’s Swimming & Diving team, emerged as one of the nation’s best backstrokers. Now a senior at Haas, he’s just returned from the NCAA championships in Indianapolis, where he broke the NCAA and American men’s 200 backstroke record. (He also swims the individual medley and freestyle.) Fresh off of that victory, Lasco, a three-time USA Swimming National Team member, is training for the 2024 Olympic trials in Paris this summer. 

In this interview, he discussed balancing class at Haas with training, his friendship with fellow backstroker and Olympic gold medal winner Ryan Murphy, BS 17, and how his parents inspired him to study business.

Can you tell us about your background? Where did you grow up?

I’m from New Jersey. I studied at Mainland Regional High School. When I was going through my recruiting process, my second choice was Stanford. But the reason why I wanted to come to Cal was just how real it was and how the education system here sets you up the best for life. When I was hanging out with all of the athletes at Cal, they emulated this energy of, “Nothing is handed to you. You’ve got to earn it.” And that’s how life is. And that was the reason why I came to Cal, to set myself up for life outside the pool. 

That was the reason why I came to Cal, to set myself up for life outside the pool. 

How did you get into swimming?

three boys standing in a swimming pool
Lasco (left) with his brother and a family friend.

I lived near the Jersey Shore. When my brother was 5 years old, he was crabbing with my uncle, and the rope caught around his ankle, and he fell in with the trap. He didn’t know how to swim, so my uncle had to dive in and save him. When that incident happened, my parents said, ‘You guys have to know how to swim.’ So we went to the Atlantic City Aquatic Club 15 minutes from our house. One of the requirements to make the team was to swim a lap, and my brother was able to swim the lap. So they took him. But when it was my turn, I couldn’t do the full lap. After private lessons for six months, I went back and barely swam the lap. Since my brother was already showing promise of being a top athlete, they said, ‘We’ll just take the younger brother, too.” And the rest is history. 

Yes, you went on to swim at Cal and be named the 2021 Pac-12 Freshman Swimmer of the Year. What do you love about swimming? 

What I love about swimming is the grind aspect. You do it because you love it. Swimming taught me so many things about discipline.  I’ve also learned about that from Ryan Murphy, who is a Haas grad.  He showed me a whole different perspective—how you eat, how you sleep, how you do time management, building a routine. The most valuable advice he gave me was about consistency, making sure you’re giving 100% every day. 

The most valuable advice he gave me was about consistency, making sure you’re giving 100% every day. 

How did you meet Ryan? 

I’ve been chasing his national records ever since I was a young kid around 11, 12 years old. I always knew the name. I met him officially in 2017 and got to talk to him a little bit. But he wasn’t at Cal yet. I wasn’t committed or anything. He just knew me as a kid coming up through the ranks. That’s when our relationship started to blossom. And then, he ended up coming here and became my training partner. We practice every single day, and we have lockers next to each other. I just try to be a sponge around him and learn as much as I can and not to bother the man too much. 

I’ve been chasing his national records ever since I was a young kid around 11, 12 years old.

USA Swimming men's 4x100 medley gold medal winners
Ryan Murphy, BS 17 (left), and USA swimming teammates Caeleb Dressel, Zach Apple, and Michael Andrew at the medal ceremony for the men’s 4 x 100 medley in 2021.  Lasco will chase his Olympic dream in Paris. Photo: Oliver Weiken/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

How do you manage your time, balancing school and practice? 

The things I allocate time for are recovery—massage, stretching, sleeping, making sure I’m hydrating well. And then comes studying, making sure I’m  doing my homework and going to office hours when I need it. And then, the third thing is nutrition—not eating out a lot and trying to cook my own meals. I just had lunch with (my roommate and Haas undergraduate) Cal swimmer Björn Seeliger (BS 25). We made a seared steak with a mushroom sauce, and we had kale salad with fruit. It was so good.

Your NCAA race was called a ‘composed, patient swim,’ because you were in fifth at the half before suddenly pulling ahead. How do you feel about breaking the national record in the 200 backstroke

It feels good. But the goodness I feel is because somebody else broke it three weeks before I did, and I was like, “That has to be a Cal record.” I cannot let that record fall into anyone’s hands. So it felt great to do it after I kept missing it and was trying to find ways to get there. To see it finally happen was amazing. 

man standing next to olympic sized pool holding swim cap
NCAA champion Destin Lasco is gearing up for the Olympic trials in Paris this summer. Cal Athletics photo: Justin Casterline.

What did you do to celebrate?

Coach Dave (Durden) gave us two days off. So I got to enjoy Easter, which was nice—just lay down and do nothing. But that’s about it. I’m back in the grind now because of the Olympic trials that are 11 weeks away. I really just want to use the momentum from NCAAs to carry me through the summer. 

What would competing at the Olympics mean to you?

I always say this, but it’s a dream. It’s like that white whale you chase. So it’s the white whale I’ve been chasing, and it would be a dream come true. 

What do you love about the backstroke? 

I love backstroke because you can breathe the whole time. Your face is not in the water and that’s huge. You also start in the water, so you don’t have to worry about your goggles coming off during your race. And also, backstroke is hard. It’s an underrated stroke.You have to be very mentally tough to do it. Backstrokers are the most mentally tough swimmers. You can ask Ryan. He will agree!

Why did you want to study business? 

Seeing my parents open their own business sharpening medical equipment and the sacrifices and dedication it took. My dad and mom were working two jobs, my mom was in the casino industry because that’s really popular where I’m from. I would wake up for practice at 5 in the morning, and my dad would drive me. Just seeing the amount of passion that they had and the hustle it took, that inspired me to study business. My mom always cooked me fresh meals ,and she would sleep maybe five hours and take naps just to make my swimming dream a reality. Now, they have a mobile sharpening service; they pull up to hospitals and sharpen all their instruments.

What’s your favorite class that you’ve taken? 

Corporate Finance and Financial Analysis with Steve Etter for sure. Another class I loved was UGBA 133, Investments, with Sam Olesky. Great professor. 

three students sitting in class with laptops
Destin Lasco, BS 24, (left) is enrolled in Lecturer Steve Etter’s independent study called Financial & Business Literacy for the Professional Athlete. Photo Michaela Vatcheva

Do you want to follow in your parents’ footsteps as an entrepreneur? 

That’s a goal, but I know you have to have experience under your belt. I want to first work at a big company and learn how to work in teams and learn how to think on a macro level, so when I open my own thing, I can start micro and then build.

You are graduating this spring. What have you enjoyed about being at Haas?

Going to Haas and being in classrooms of like 30 to 50 kids, I felt like I was back in high school, where I know the professors and the GSIs on a genuine level. You take one course, and the next semester, you’re in the same course with a kid you took finance with. You get to build those really close relationships. The people here are just passionate about what they do and are passionate to pass down what they’ve learned, so I love that.

Asst. Prof. Kiera Hudson receives prestigious National Science Foundation award

portrait of a woman wearing a white collared shirt and tie
Assistant Professor Kiera Hudson studies schadenfreude and the psychological and biological roots of power hierarchies.

Assistant Professor Sa-kiera “Kiera” Hudson has received a 2024 National Science Foundation CAREER award, the NSF’s most prestigious awards program in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education.

Hudson said she is thrilled to receive the award and will use the $850,000 grant to fund new research on schadenfreude, which is pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune.

Empathy is often hailed as the emotion to target in intergroup conflicts, as it predicts consequential behaviors that can help reduce inequality, said Hudson, who earned a PhD in the (social) psychology department at Harvard University in 2020. “In many social conflicts, people struggle to feel empathy for those not part of their social groups,” she said. But in the study of empathy, behavioral scientists have perhaps overlooked schadenfreude’s relevance to conflict among groups of people, which is why it’s crucial to learn more, she said.

“If we better understand what drives intergroup schadenfreude—and the consequences—we can better understand how to design interventions to decrease the harm it causes, particularly to marginalized groups,” she said.

How schadenfreude harms 

In her new research project, Hudson, a member of the Management of Organizations Group (MORS) at Haas, will investigate how schadenfreude contributes to harm, attempting to understand the cognitive mechanisms that allow it to flourish. The project will put a strong emphasis on research and education, including training minoritized scientists, collaborating with organizations focused on equity and social justice, and disseminating research to interdisciplinary communities.

Hudson said her goal is to bring a broader understanding of people’s more “nasty, harmful behaviors,” at a particular time in history. 

“Across the world, there has been an increase in rigid beliefs of who belongs to ‘us’ versus ‘them’ fueled by perceived threat and competition, leading to intensified intergroup animosity,” she said. “These are the exact conditions under which schadenfreude thrives, suggesting that we are not only in an empathy deficit as a nation, as proposed by Obama in 2006, but perhaps also in a schadenfreude surplus.”

More broadly, Hudson’s research at Haas is focused on two main areas: the psychological and biological roots of power hierarchies, and how these hierarchies intersect to influence experiences and perceptions.

Is it ethical? New undergrad class trains students to think critically about artificial intelligence

two sstudents in a Haas classroom listening intently
Berkeley Haas undergraduate students Hunter Esqueda (left) and Sohan Dhanesh (right) are enrolled in Genevieve Smith’s Responsible AI Innovation & Management class. Photo: Noah Berger

 

“Classified” is an occasional series spotlighting some of the more powerful lessons being taught in classrooms around Haas.

On a recent Monday afternoon, Sohan Dhanesh, BS 24, joined a team of students to consider whether startup Moneytree is using machine learning ethically to determine credit worthiness among its customers.

After reading the case, Dhanesh, one of 54 undergraduates enrolled in a new Berkeley Haas course called Responsible AI Innovation & Management, said he was concerned by Moneytree’s unlimited access to users’ phone data, and whether customers even know what data the company is tapping to inform its credit scoring algorithm. Accountability is also an issue, since Silicon Valley-based Moneytree’s customers live in India and Africa, he said. 

“Credit is a huge thing, and whether it’s given to a person or not has a huge impact on their life,” Dhanesh said. “If this credit card [algorithm] is biased against me, it will affect my quality of life.”

Dhanesh, who came into the class believing that he didn’t support guardrails for AI companies, says he’s surprised by how his opinions have changed about regulation. That he isn’t playing Devil’s advocate, he said, is due to the eye-opening data, cases, and readings provided by Lecturer Genevieve Smith.

A contentious debate

Smith, who is also the founding co-director of the Responsible & Equitable AI Initiative at the Berkeley AI Research Lab and former associate director of the Berkeley Haas Center for Equity, Gender, & Leadership, created the course with an aim to teach students both sides of the AI debate.

Woman in a purple jacket teaching
Lecturer Genevieve Smith says the goal of her class is to train aspiring leaders to understand, think critically about, and implement strategies for responsible AI innovation and management. Photo: Noah Berger

Her goal is to train aspiring leaders to think critically about artificial intelligence and implement strategies for responsible AI innovation and management. “While AI can carry immense opportunities, it also poses immense risks to both society and business linked to pervasive issues of bias and discrimination, data privacy violations, and more,” Smith said. “Given the current state of the AI landscape and its expected global growth, profit potential, and impact, it is imperative that aspiring business leaders understand responsible AI innovation and management.”

“While AI can carry immense opportunities, it also poses immense risks to both society and business linked to pervasive issues of bias and discrimination, data privacy violations, and more,” – Genevieve Smith.

During the semester, Smith covers the business and economic potential of AI to boost productivity and efficiency. But she also explores the immense potential for harm, such as the risk of embedding inequality or infringing on human rights; amplifying misinformation and a lack of transparency, and impacting the future of work and climate. 

Smith said she expects all of her students will interact with AI as they launch careers, particularly in entrepreneurship and tech. To that end, the class prepares them to articulate what “responsible AI” means and understand and define ethical AI principles, design, and management approaches. 

Learning through mini-cases

Today, Smith kicked off class with a review of the day’s AI headlines, showing an interview with OpenAI’s CTO Mira Murati, who was asked where the company gets its training data for Sora, OpenAI’s new generative AI model that creates realistic video using text. Murati contended that the company used publicly available data to train Sora but didn’t provide any details in the interview. Smith asks the students what they thought about her answer, noting the “huge issue” with a lack of transparency on training data, as well as copyright and consent implications.

Student in class wearing blue and yellow berkeley hoodie
Throughout the semester, students will develop a responsible AI strategy for a real or fictitious company. Photo: Noah Berger

After, Smith introduced the topic of “AI for good” before the students split into groups to act as responsible AI advisors to three startups, described in three mini cases for Moneytree, HealthNow, and MyWeather.  They worked to answer Smith’s questions: “What concerns do you have? What questions would you ask? And what recommendations might you provide?” The teams explored these questions across five core responsible AI principles, including privacy, fairness, and accountability. 

Julianna De Paula, BS 24, whose team was assigned to read about Moneytree, asked if the company had adequately addressed the potential for bias when approving customers for credit (about 60% of loans in East Africa go to men, and 70% of loans in India go to men, the case noted), and whether the app’s users are giving clear consent for their data when they download it. 

Other student teams considered HealthNow, a chatbot that provides health care guidance, but with better performance for men and English speakers; and MyWeather, an app developed for livestock herders by a telecommunications firm in Nairobi, Kenya, that uses weather data from a real-time weather information service provider.

The class found problems with both startups, pointing out the potential for a chatbot to misdiagnose conditions (“Can a doctor be called as a backup?” one student asked), and the possibility that MyWeather’s dependence on a partner vendor could lead to inaccurate climate data.

Preparing future leaders

Throughout the semester, students will go on to develop a responsible AI strategy for a real or fictitious company. They are also encouraged to work with ChatGPT and other generative AI language tools. (One assignment asked them to critique ChatGPT’s own response to a question of bias in generative AI.) Students also get a window into real-world AI use and experiences through guest speakers from Google, Mozilla, Partnership on AI, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and others. 

All of the students participate in at least one debate, taking sides on topics that include whether university students should be able to use ChatGPT or other generative AI language tools for school; if the OpenAI board of directors was right to fire Sam Altman; and if government regulation of AI technologies stifles innovation and should be limited.

Smith, who has done her share of research into gender and AI, also recommended many readings for the class, including “Data Feminism” by MIT Associate Professor Catherine D’Ignazio and Emory University Professor Lauren Klein; “Unmasking AI: My Mission to Protect What Is Human in a World of Machines” by AI researcher, artist, and advocate Joy Buolamwini; “Weapons of Math Destruction” by algorithmic auditor Cathy O’Neil; and “Your Face Belongs to Us” by New York Times reporter Kashmir Hill.

Smith said she hopes that her course will enable future business leaders to be more responsible stewards and managers of such technologies. “Many people think that making sure AI is ‘responsible’ is a technology task that should be left to data scientists and engineers,” she said. “The reality is, business managers and leaders have a critical role to play as they inform the priorities and values that are embedded into how AI technology is developed and used.”

Berkeley City Council Candidate James Chang, MBA 24, talks People’s Park, campus safety

man wearing a blue suit and tie
James Chang, MBA 24, is running for City Council inn District 7.

James Chang, Chief of Staff for Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett, thought he’d return to a private sector job after graduating from the Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend MBA Program this spring.

Turns out that’s not happening just yet.

Chang said his experiences in the MBA program inspired him to double down on his leadership skills and remain in the public sector, running for the open District 7 City Council seat in the April 16 special election. District 7 stretches from the UC Berkeley campus to five blocks south. Chang is running against UC Berkeley senior Cecilia Lunaparra.

Haas News recently talked to Chang, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in political economy from UC Berkeley, about his love of public service, his experiences at Haas, and his desire to serve Berkeley in a district where students make up the majority of the voting population.

You came to Haas planning to return to the private sector. Why did you change your mind and run for office instead?

I wanted to leave politics. But coming here renewed my passion for public service. I was a delegate in the Graduate Assembly, representing all three Haas MBA programs, and president of the EWMBAA (student) association. That is what made me realize that I want to really double down on public service.

As you approach graduation, what are some highlights from your time spent in the MBA program?

Taking core classes with my cohort and the deep friendships that you build. Also, placing second at the HUD Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition. Being able to work with different people from the Real Estate development program, Berkeley Law, and the architecture program at Berkeley… If there’s anything I could recommend that Haasies do, it is case competitions with people from outside of your program. Meeting people from different majors and different walks of life is a beautiful thing. 

What made you decide to run for a seat on the City Council?

I’m running because I have a deep passion for public service and because I have a deep love for Berkeley. Berkeley is a place where I found the love of my life, Richard. But it goes a little deeper than that. I get to be authentically “me” here, whether that’s showing up at work at City Hall, or showing up authentically at Haas—being a leader on campus representing Haas, I have the opportunity to be who I am: fearless, not just in my identity, but also in my values and being able to speak up, even if it’s sometimes unpopular.

man speaking with students in front of Sather Gate.
James Chang, MBA 24, speaks with students on the UC Berkeley campus.

What are the core issues driving your campaign?

Fighting for affordable housing. I am concerned about housing affordability and availability and safety, which I know is a big concern for many of our students. Students deserve a nice place to live and an economically vibrant Telegraph Avenue business district. These are all things that I’m running on. The person who represents you—the job is to really serve you and bring back resources to the community, to make the community better, and I think I’ve shown I’ve been able to do that.

Do you support the UC Berkeley campus decision to build housing at People’s Park?

Yes. I think this is one of the reasons why Haasies should care about this election. The building project at People’s Park, to be clear, includes two-thirds green space. There’ll be housing for 1,100 students, and there will be over 100 housing units for the unhoused. We can either have that as an option, or an open-air drug market as the alternative. I know students overwhelmingly want housing. I think a lot of students are too afraid to speak up because, anytime we do anything to solve a problem that requires some form of public safety measure, it’s often vilified as a right-wing tactic or supporting right-wing policies. And I just really reject those notions.

We can either have that as an option, or an open-air drug market as the alternative. I know students overwhelmingly want housing.

How do you think your classes and community at Haas have helped you to be a better leader?

I think that all of my classes are founded on our Haas Defining Leadership Principles. Whether that’s going beyond ourselves, questioning the status quo, confidence without attitude, or students always, every single one of my classes has really grounded me. I have become a better leader, am open to different perspectives, ask the tough questions, and also just always want to learn and soak up different knowledge. I always say Haas is one of the most supportive communities that I’ve ever belonged in.

What do you love about your current job?

What I do best is I know how to deliver for constituents who are in need, as long as they’re patient with me and give me time. Most of the time, I am able to give them what they want within reason, whether that’s cleaning up a street, making sure that our unhoused people are compassionately served, or getting a traffic circle at the edge of our district, or making sure that their events get fully funded. Also, getting $9 million for the African American Holistic Research Center, and making MLK Way much safer. It’s still messy, but safe. That took seven years, and I am so proud of it. 

Four people standing in a room with banners
James Chang, MBA 24, supports the People’s Park housing project.

How would you make this area of Berkeley safer?

I think we need better lighting on and off campus. The campus “Warn Me” system needs to be a lot better. The city could do more to make sure that simple things like cracked shop windows are fixed, simple things like cleaner streets—this goes a long way. We are also working with merchants to install private cameras that work with the city. I am open to public cameras but I am always concerned with civil liberties, so I’m not ready to say yes or no to that. We should be working with business first. One of my biggest goals is economic growth on Telegraph. We know the No. 1 crime deterrent is more eyes on the streets, so that’s what I’m really hoping for.  

The special election will be held April 16 until 8 p.m. (mail-in ballots have been sent). Registration has ended, but eligible District 7 voters can register at the voting location, the YWCA Berkeley, 2600 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, before and on election day.

Berkeley Haas experts launch ‘The Culture Kit’ podcast with insights to improve workplace culture

A man and woman sit at a table wearing headphones and speaking into podcasting microphones.
Photo: Jim Block/Berkeley Haas

Berkeley, Calif.—The world of work is a work in progress. Hybrid work arrangements, emerging AI tools, ongoing layoffs, and an increasingly diverse pool of workers who want a voice and a sense of belonging at work—managers have a lot on their plates.

Illustration shows a toolkit with monkey wrench, tape measure, level, and clue. Text reads The Culture Kit with Jenny & Sameer.In their new podcast “The Culture Kit with Jenny & Sameer,” organizational culture experts Jenny Chatman and Sameer Srivastava tackle questions from business leaders wrestling with the seismic changes underway in the world of work. 

Chatman and Srivastava are professors at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business who have dedicated their careers to studying and advancing workplace culture. In each 15-minute podcast episode, they draw on the latest academic research and their years of experience advising organizations around the world and share concrete strategies to improve workplace culture.

“What I’m most excited about with this podcast is that it brings together the worlds of academic research and industry practice,” says Srivastava, the Ewald T. Grether Professor of Business Administration and Public Policy. “Here, we get to take a deeper dive into a specific problem raised by a specific leader and really workshop it together.”

“Here, we get to take a deeper dive into a specific problem raised by a specific leader and really workshop it together.”

The podcast is an extension of the work that Chatman and Srivastava started six years ago when they launched the Berkeley Center for Workplace Culture and Innovation to bring emerging insights from academic research to business practitioners. 

“With our new podcast, we hope to expand the reach of the work we’ve been doing through a new medium with the goal of reaching more people,” says Chatman, Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management and Berkeley Haas associate dean for academic affairs. “Business leaders can submit culture ‘fixit tickets’ laying out the topics on their minds. Our goal is to give them actionable steps they can take to improve their organization’s culture.”

Season 1 of The Culture Kit with Jenny & Sameer launched today and includes thoughtful questions from industry leaders such as WD-40 CEO Steve Brass, Hubspot CEO Yamini Rangan, and former Google SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock. New episodes will be released every two weeks on major podcast networks.

The Culture Kit with Jenny & Sameer is a production of the Haas School of Business, the Berkeley Center for Workplace Culture & Innovation and Professors.FM, a new podcast network helping you make sense of the world with top scholars. Professors.FM is a collection of scholar-hosted shows that bring insights from research and make them relevant to today’s world.

About the Haas School of Business

As the second-oldest business school in the United States, the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley has been questioning the status quo since its founding in 1898. The school is one of the world’s leading producers of new ideas and knowledge in all areas of business. Located within the world’s top public university, Berkeley Haas is at the heart of what’s next in the Bay Area’s rich innovation ecosystem. Learn more about our six degree programs, our exceptional faculty members—including two Nobel Laureates in economics—and our community of big thinkers: haas.berkeley.edu.

About the Berkeley Center for Workplace Culture and Innovation  

The Berkeley Center for Workplace Culture and Innovation aims to usher in the next generation of organizational culture research, one that draws on a wide range of data sources and computational methods to uncover different facets of culture within and across organizations and industries. The center partners with organizations and academics from a wide diversity of disciplines and industries to lead these efforts, with the ultimate goal of leveraging research insights to help organizations function more effectively and advance academic understanding. The Culture Connect Conference, held in January each year, convenes leading academic researchers studying organizational culture and company leaders to deepen the dialogue about how to address culture-related challenges. Lean more about the Berkeley Center for Workplace Culture and Innovation

Contact: 

Laura Counts, [email protected], 510-643-9977

Berkeley Haas names 2024 commencement speakers

Berkeley Haas has named alumni leaders in C-suite talent recruiting, investment platform innovation, and novel gene therapy commercialization as the 2024 commencement speakers this spring. 

Monica Stevens, MBA 96, an executive search consultant in Spencer Stuart’s San Francisco office, will serve as commencement speaker for the graduating full-time and evening & weekend MBA classes. Jasvinder Khaira, BS 04, a senior managing director at Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative asset manager, will be the undergraduate commencement speaker. Richard Wilson, EMBA 15, senior vice president and primary focus lead of genetic regulation at global pharmaceutical company Astellas, will serve as the commencement speaker for the executive MBA class.

Commencement ceremonies will be held at the Greek Theatre for undergraduates on Wednesday, May 15, at 9 a.m., and the FTMBA and Evening & Weekend MBA combined classes on Friday, May 17, at 2 p.m.. The MBA for Executives Program graduates will celebrate a few weeks later on Saturday, June 1, at 3 p.m. at Hertz Hall. 

Monica Stevens

portrait of a woman wearing a suit
Monica Stevens, MBA 96

As a member of Spencer Stuart’s Financial Services and Boards practices, Stevens focuses on executive search, leadership advisory, and succession planning work for C-suites and boards across corporate and commercial banking, payments, real estate, and risk. A seasoned banker and nonprofit board member with more than 25 years of experience in general management, customer relationship development, talent acquisition, and learning and professional development, Stevens is a champion of diversity and inclusion in business and in her community.

Before joining Spencer Stuart, Stevens spent more than two decades at Wells Fargo, where she held multiple sales, credit, and leadership roles in commercial real estate, capital markets, and global banking. Most recently, she was senior vice president and chief credit and risk officer in the company’s Merchant Services division.

At Wells Fargo, she co-founded the company’s first Black/African American employee resource group, and more recently, she served as co-chair of the Wells Fargo Merchant Services group’s Diversity Council. A champion of talent development, she ran, repositioned, and doubled the size of a program that recruited talent at various levels of the firm.

A veteran, Stevens is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. She started her career as an officer in the U.S. Navy,  before eventually coming to Haas, where she received an MBA with a concentration in real estate finance. 

Stevens is a member of the Haas School Board, and she was awarded the school’s Raymond A. Miles Service Award in 2017 for her contributions in supporting and enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She was also previously a trustee for the Redwood Day School in Oakland, where she led the Diversity Committee.

Jasvinder Khaira

Jasvinder Khaira, BS 04

Khaira is a senior managing director and founding partner of the Tactical Opportunities Group, or Tac Opps, at Blackstone.  Tac Opps was founded in 2012 to invest across private investment opportunities outside of traditional private equity and private credit. Today, Tac Opps has $34 billion of assets under management.

Khaira was born in Singapore and raised in the Bay Area. He joined Blackstone in 2004 in the Private Equity Group after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from UC Berkeley with degrees in Business Administration and History. In 2007, he joined a small team within Blackstone that eventually led the firm’s initial public offering. Before the IPO, he accompanied the firm’s founders on a roadshow that raised more than $7 billion.

Since helping found Tac Opps, Khaira has led more than 40 transactions for Blackstone totaling over $10 billion of equity invested. He was named the 2023 TMT Investment Leader of the Year and is a founding sponsor of the Berkeley Changemaker program, and a board member of the Berkeley M.E.T Program and the New York Philharmonic. Khaira is married and the father of three boys and lives in New York City.

Richard Wilson

Richard Wilson, EMBA 15

As senior vice president and primary focus lead of genetic regulation at Astellas, Wilson is responsible for a portfolio of novel gene therapies designed to treat life-threatening genetic diseases.

Wilson has more than 30 years of experience in research, development, and commercialization of small molecules, biologics, and gene therapies. 

Prior to Astellas, he held leadership positions at a range of organizations, including BioMarin Pharmaceutical, Glaxo Wellcome (now GSK), BioChem Pharma, Theravance, and Innoviva. He has also delivered new medicines to market for diseases such as asthma, COPD, and PKU (a rare disorder that causes an amino acid called phenylalanine to build up in the body), in addition to leading R&D programs in anti-infective, cardiovascular, rheumatology, and urology disease areas. 

Wilson has served on a variety of advisory committees and boards, which include Berkeley Executive Education and the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, and currently teaches at San Francisco State University on lifecycle management in the pharmaceutical industry.

Wilson earned a BSc in chemistry from the University of Manchester before making his way to Haas, where he received his MBA in 2015. 

Dean’s Speaker Series: Education startup founder Ramona Pierson on goal-setting, lifelong learning

woman speaking with microphone with two students sitting next to her
Dean’s Speaker Series guest Ramona Pierson. Photo: Katelyn Tucker

From holding management roles at Amazon and Meta to launching three educational startups, Ramona Pierson, founder and Chief Technology & Science Officer at L3RN.AI, has always been goal-oriented.

As a child, said she had dreams of becoming a gymnast and running in the Olympics. After being recruited by the U.S. Marine Corps. for her skills in mathematics at the age of 18, she started running every day—and even qualified for the Olympics under the Marine Corps’ sponsorship. But while on a run at age 22, life took a turn. Pierson was hit by a drunk driver, an incident that left her in a coma for 18 months, and blind for 11 years. She had to relearn to walk and talk. 

Nearly 100 surgeries later, Pierson was living in a group home for seniors; and with the help of the other residents, she said she was both encouraged and inspired to remain resilient and reach toward new achievements. 

“Every day they had goals for me, and every day I started accomplishing those things. And it was that journey of goal-setting that really helped me come back,” she said at a Dean’s Speaker Series talk held on March 11. (watch the video below)

When Pierson finally had the chance to attend university, she not only thrived but ended up graduating as class valedictorian. 

“It took a community,” Pierson said. “[Students would] read my textbooks into cassette tapes so that I could listen to them at night. They’d read the notes, and professors wouldn’t change their teaching style at that time, so they just put the notes up on the chalkboard (when there were chalkboards), and all the students would read those in and then help me organize my life.”

With the goal of becoming a neuroscientist after college, Pierson began conducting research at Camarillo State Mental Hospital. Eventually, her advocacy led her to transition to the education sector, focused on research, evaluation, and assessment at Seattle Public Schools.  In that work, she discovered the need for students to have a supportive and nurturing environment in the classroom and beyond—especially when school may be the place in their lives where they feel the safest. 

“The moment that we forget that and take kids or adults away from being lifelong learners, then we start capping our potential,” she said. “Whether that lifelong learning is gaining a new skill or something else, you have to stay involved in your own learning adventure.”

Her own experiences relearning and implementing learning solutions led her to found SynapticMash, which offered software tools to primary schools in Seattle, and Declara, a social learning and collaboration tech company. But startup life was not smooth-sailing. From fears about “the cloud” to being denied funding as a woman in business, Pierson faced her fair share of setbacks navigating a new avenue of education.  

But Pierson knew there was a gap in the market when it came to helping kids catch up on core subjects as they go through the system. She added that, if you can find a way to fill a market gap that has not yet been invested in, you have a higher chance of having a successful business. 

Throughout her career, Pierson went back and forth between her own startups and the corporate world. Most recently, she left her position as director of product management for AI Integrity at Meta to work on L3AN.AI, a startup that she feels aligns with her values of encouraging lifelong learning, now with the use of evolving technology like AI. 

“Every time I start a company, we first develop core values with a startup team, and then I try to just have those leadership principles, and those core values drive everything,” Pierson said. “I’m not going to break my core values to make money. It’s easy to make money, but it’s hard to undermine the good of society.”

“Every time I start a company, we first develop core values with a startup team, and then I try to just have those leadership principles, and those core values drive everything,” Pierson said. “I’m not going to break my core values to make money. It’s easy to make money, but it’s hard to undermine the good of society.”

Read the full transcript below:

– Good afternoon. I’m Wendy Guild, assistant dean of MBA programs. I’m not Ann Harrison, but you are here at the Dean’s Speaker Series. Unfortunately, Ann Harrison can’t be here today, so I’m standing in to convene the event. Welcome. I’m thrilled to introduce our guest, Ramona Pierson. Ramona has a remarkable story of resilience. She was hit by a drunk driver when she was out running at the age of 22 while serving in the Marine Corps. After spending 18 months in a coma and enduring nearly 100 surgeries, she was finally able to rebuild her life. Because of her experiences relearning skills like speech and navigation, after the accident, Ramona decided to dedicate her career to educational solutions that help people find their paths and realize their visions. She ultimately founded three educational startups: SynapticMash, Declara, and L3RN.AI. Ramona has been an innovator in AI through developing AI solutions for social media, E-commerce, and business intelligence in leadership roles at Amazon, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Meta. I’m so grateful to learn today from someone who truly embodies all of our defining leadership principles—question the status quo, confidence without attitude, students always and beyond yourself—through all of her entrepreneurial efforts. Ramona, thank you for coming today to tell us more about your story and teach our students how to steer their own futures amid the exciting and sometimes overwhelming advances in AI. I’ll now turn it over to MBA students Haritha Nair and Anupama Tej, who will moderate today’s discussion. Let you take it away. Thank you.

– Thank you so much, Ramona, for being here. It’s truly an honor to speak with you. Your story is truly inspiring. So why don’t we start there? A terrible accident changed your life, and can you tell us about that accident and your journey to recovery? And how has that shaped you and who you are as a leader today?

– You know, as a kid, I was always very goal-oriented. I don’t know why, but as a little kid, I wanted to be a gymnast, and so I trained all the time, and I wanted to be a marathon runner in the Olympics, so I ran all the time. And I probably had ADHD, so my teachers really hated me in the classroom all the time. So, they normally would have me go out and run instead of go into the classroom. But that benefited me. When I joined the Marine Corps, I ended up being the most physically fit Marine. I got to be in a pilot program, so I was the first woman in a fighter attack squadron. And what benefited me in that was, because I was so physically fit, just after Title IX came in, so I was running all the time. And when I went out for a run one day, so I had qualified for the Olympics, and the Marine Corps was sponsoring me, so I’d run about 13 miles a day and do my regular job. And one day, I went back, grabbed my dog, and went out in the street and started to run. And as soon as I stepped off a curb, a drunk driver ran the red light, and my left foot got caught up in the wheel well of the car. The bumper went through my throat, and it felt like a grenade went off in my head. So I woke up 18 months later, and I was 64 pounds and could not walk. I could not talk. I didn’t know who I was or even what species I was. And probably, had I not had my dog with me, she kept me from going underneath the car. Unfortunately, she ended up dying, but her body blocked me from being completely run over. So when I came to, nobody knew what to do with me. So essentially, the doctors just threw a dart into the dartboard, and they picked out a nursing home to put me in. And so, imagine having 100 grandparents that had nothing to do except focus on you all day. So, I couldn’t do anything without somebody nitpicking or actually identifying or assessing me. And there was one woman there that had been an educator before, and she had Alzheimer’s, so she’d repeat the same thing to me all the time, which, when you’re relearning something, it’s quite helpful to do the same thing over and over and over again. But the whole time I was there, they really helped me recover my goal orientation because I was so confused after my accident that I tried to get my thoughts back together, but they’d every day set up goals for me. Like, “You will accomplish this, this, and this. You will learn how to eat on your own.” And you have to remember, I had to get teeth again, so all my teeth are titanium and porcelain. They had to straighten my feet out and give me a new nose. And I lost my right eye, was completely blind at that time because I had a hematoma behind my left eye, and my cornea was destroyed. So eventually, the senior citizens felt like I needed to learn how to cross streets and use a cane and learn braille and get back into my life. So, every day they had goals for me, and every day I started accomplishing those things. And it was that journey of goal-setting that really helped me come back. And sometimes, I’d go see a doctor, and they’d go, “Well, you aren’t going to live six more months” because they found out I had all these brain injuries and heart injuries. So the biggest thing was my pituitary gland. When you have a head injury, your brain rips and shears. And so, my pituitary gland was split in half, which is one of the reasons I wasn’t able to gain weight beyond 68 pounds because everything I’d eat would just flow right on out of me. That’s pretty gross. But anyway. And so, then they had more new medications for me, and that helped, new surgeries for me to help slow things up, and then I ended up with a new heart valve, and that helped me. And so, when I wanted to go back to college, first thing I had to do was get a seeing eye dog because I was terrible with a cane. When you have a cane, you have to make sure that you don’t have PTSD. And since I had been run over, every time I’d get close to a street, I’d freeze up. So eventually, the senior citizens raised the money to send me to go get a seeing eye dog. And my seeing eye dog, she wouldn’t even stall. She’d go, “You’re crossing the street,” and she’d bully me across the streets and get me everywhere. And she also helped me succeed in college because she could help me find my classes, help me find the buses, help me find food, and she was a remarkable dog. And some of the obstacles that came up against the ADA laws for the American Disabilities Act was brand new and hadn’t been tested. So every time I’d apply for college, colleges would turn me down. And they’d say, “Only 1% of the blind people ever graduate, so we’re not going to accept you in here.” And so, it was actually in Colorado, the students went on strike and wouldn’t go back to the classroom until the college accepted me into school. And then, I had to prove that I could be a great student, and I ended up being valedictorian of the school. But it took a community. It was like being in the senior housing, where in the senior housing, all the senior citizens helped me. But when I was in college, students would read, this is before ChatGPT, but they’d read my textbooks into cassette tapes so that I could listen to them at night. They’d read the notes, and professors wouldn’t change their teaching style at that time, so they just put the notes up on the chalkboard when there were chalkboards, and all the students would read those in and then help me organize my life. And then I started working with the creators of Deck Talk and Vocalize—this is before there was text to speech. And we were able to get my laptop to be able to speak to me in a very rudimentary way, so I could take tests and be able to function independently in classrooms again. But every time I’d solve one problem, there’d be another problem. But being goal-oriented, I just kept saying, “I just need another four years of school. I just need this degree.” And then, as I moved on and through my education, and then fighting to get a job as a blind person wasn’t easy. And I had to go through residency because I set my bar low. I wanted to be a neuroscientist, so I had to work at Camarillo State Mental Hospital, and I was doing research on the perimeter cells of the brain as one of the causes of schizophrenia. Anyway, it was complex, but my goal-setting, and the folks, the other residents there, accepted me in and helped me dive through the hurdle. So one of the things I always learned was: Radical collaboration can help you overcome anything, and it takes a community to really raise all of us. So hopefully I didn’t go too long.

– No, I’m at awe of your strength and resilience and finding optimism even in the toughest times. So I think my next question is there. You mentioned this a bit, the community gave you strength to keep going. Still today, where do you find that strength and optimism from? We were just chatting earlier in the green room, and all the work that you do, where does that optimism come from for you?

– Probably from everybody I work with because so many people have made it possible for me to be sitting here, and I have new cornea in my left eye. And if it wasn’t for a person who was run over by a car and died, who donated their organs, I wouldn’t be here. And the communities of people who help bring me, I have this drive inside that my life should be that of service. And so, I’m a capitalist, too. So I try to combine that. How can I do good for others and really be focused on betterment of communities and people and try to have those core values that I lean on? So, every time I hire someone, I think about our core values. Every time I start a company, we first develop core values with a startup team, and then I try to just have those leadership principles, and those core values drive everything. And one of those core values has been really lifting communities. And by having that, it’s not right or wrong to not have that in your life. But I have been very dedicated to that, and setting goals around that in all of my companies, or even whether I take a job or leave a job. I left my job at Meta because the goals that the company set out, I have been running AI integrity, and then you can make a lot of money, a lot of revenue in the company if you demote integrity and focus on revenue, and there has to be a balance. And when we decided that we weren’t going to focus on that balance, it was time for me to go because I’m not going to break my core values to make money. It’s easy to make money, but it’s hard to undermine the good of society.

– Thank you so much, Ramona. You are definitely an inspiration, but I’m sure that’s not an easy thing to be. You must have faced a lot of challenges and failures along the way, and that’s something we usually don’t really talk about always. You know, a good story, like you’ve overcome some issues, and then everything was rosy. But I’m sure that’s not how it went. So, how do you really deal with failures, and what mindset do you maintain? And any advice you can give on how we can redefine our relationship with failure?

– Yeah, the innovator’s dilemma is if you can get over your skis too far, that you’re ahead of the innovation curve. And I’ve done that a few times, and I keep trying to temper myself. When I had started SynapticMash, nobody had heard of cloud computing then. It was right before AWS had launched itself, and I was going to school districts saying, “Give me your data, I’ll put it in the cloud” because I created an education cloud, and school districts were like, “I don’t even,” they’d look up and go, “What are you talking about?” So, trying to educate them around that, and the power of being able to have data in the cloud, and then being able to truly personalize learning. And that whole concept was ahead of the curve, so I had to back up, even though I knew that that was right around the corner. And it’s hard to talk to your investors about seeing a future they have no ability to see. It’s almost like a lizard only sees two-dimensionally, so it can’t see that you’re putting your fingers around it until you’ve actually touched it. So, how do you see that fourth dimension? And innovators are seeing that next turn in the road, and it’s hard to be able to describe it. Like, even FaceBook had called themselves Read Write Technology before they had the concept of social networking because they were trying to describe something that people hadn’t experienced before. So I had, with SynapticMash, I had to, I failed in my communication with school districts. So I had to figure out, “How do I get the language to be able to talk to people about something they hadn’t experienced before?” So I went to McGraw Hill and humbled myself severely, going to a publisher, and in my mind, I wanted to say, “Digitization is going to put you guys out of business, so you better partner with me.” Instead of saying that, I said, “We would make a beautiful partnership.” And I told them that, “If you let me digitize your content for free, I’ll put it into a technical space so that kids can get it anywhere, anytime, and just drop the whole cloud thing.” Even though I was putting everything in the cloud, I just said, “Anywhere, access to technology and content.” And that saved the company because I was at risk of losing the company because of not being able to sell it. And investors won’t invest in your company if you can’t get customers. So that was one failure, and trying to think about how to recover from that. And then with Declara, I have been told “no” 1,000 times because Silicon Valley at that time didn’t want, well, I went to Peter Thiel, and he said, “I don’t invest in women, and I don’t invest in people over 30.” And so I was like, “Uh-oh, I’m in trouble here.” So then it was, OK, I’m getting all these no’s. And then, he ended up investing us in us three times. So we were able to show the quality of our technology and figure out how to communicate. So, it was my failure for why it was difficult for investors to understand. Again, because I was talking about a future, at that time, I had come up with chatbots, and that was 10 years ago, so nobody was doing that. And so, imagine a bot doing all of the research for you. It was freaking people out. And so, people were having a hard time with, especially investors understanding it at that time. And now it’s all the rave. So there’s this risk of getting over your skis and then failing because you were too far ahead of where the market could bear it, you know what I mean? Other times I failed because, sometimes, I wanted to invent new computing. And again, the company I was working for was like, “If we invest in that computing power, it’ll put our platform out of business.” So sometimes, in order to take a leap change, you have to kill your one business to grow a new business. And not all companies want to be able to do that. But being a leader, you have to speak your truth and be willing to take that leap and bring your company forward, even if it’s through baby steps.

– Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing about your failures. We don’t talk about it enough as entrepreneurs. I think we need to. So you started talking about career already. So you went to college after this accident, and then you tried to build your career. I’m sure that was not easy. How did you get into your entrepreneurship journey? Can you tell us a bit about that journey?

– Yeah, it’s interesting because I was back in education again, and I had moved from New York to Silicon Valley, and at the time, like in 1996, where the dot-com was exploding. And if you invented anything, you could make some money. And so I—don’t do this—but I took my student loan and put it into the stock market and won’t tell you what I put it in, but I made a lot of money, so then paid off my loans, and bought a house with my wife, and then started investing in my innovations. And then, I saw a gap in the market. The market for education was changing, and the publishers were blocking innovation from coming in there, but the politics were starting to change. And so, school districts were starting to feel pressure from above to make changes, and there were changes in technology coming from below, and students were adapting technologies. And so, I realized there was this perfect storm coming in, and that investing my time and money and innovations in education, and thinking about, “Where do we need to go to really create a sea change?” Not just a one-step change, but, “How do we really personalize around a student and understand their foundational needs?” So, when I looked at data across the country around where student assessments were and where the curriculum was and why curriculum was not working for some students, it was obvious that—when I worked with the Gates Foundation to look at data—that some kids started having a dip in their education and math, right when fractions and decimal points came in. So pre-algebra, around third and fourth grade, kids would take a dip, and then they’d never recover from that. And so, I thought if I could focus on that one gap and understand why that’s there and the reason it’s happening there, is in elementary school. So, think about it. What teachers teach elementary school? Teachers that are avoiding algebra, calculus. So, how do they teach pre-algebra if they don’t have the math? So, what if we could stop that dip from happening? So, I thought, that is something that’s great for kids, great for the community, great for schools, and is a new market. So that was the gap that I focused on. So when you start a company, if you can find that one gap nobody is investing in, but that you can, in a very unique way, stop that gap: You’re going to have a great company. And that company, I ended up selling it to another company, and that company brought us in, and we ended up being in two-thirds of the school districts in the country and went public, made a little money, and anyway, it turned out really great for us.

– Thanks, Ramona. I think that’s a perfect segue because you mentioned the dot-com bubble when everyone was building a lot of companies. You also mentioned education, so this conversation with you would be incomplete without talking about generative AI. And you did mention in an earlier interview that the purpose of education is not to think on behalf of students. So do you think generative AI is detrimental to learning by thinking on behalf of students?

– Yeah, it opens up a whole different world, I think, because if you let generative AI do all of your thinking, my team, they’ll ask me questions, and then I’ll give them an answer of how I’d solve a problem. Then, they go to generative AI, and they ask it, and then they compare how I answer to how the AI answers. And ironically, we almost are always the same. Periodically, it has a hallucination. Not me, fortunately, but I think that it opens up a new world of, and kind of an exciting one for educators, “How do we actually teach people to discern information, to really understand, and to bring in a lot of different perspectives to what they’re trying to accomplish?” Because if your students are just asking this bot to do all the answers, then there’s a failure all around. The student’s not learning anything. But if you can help your student understand how they would answer something, maybe then see how the gen AI would answer it, how to set up. How do you discern? It’s kind of fun. I do it with my team, too, is, “Can you tell the difference between somebody actually doing the writing and Chat GPT doing it?” There’s a lot of Socratic learning and teaching that could happen if we just use our tools as educators to bring in different types of learning mechanisms and methodologies, to be able to help students be able to succeed in a world that’s going to be flushed with AI and flushed with content that may or may not be true.

– That’s really interesting. It almost reminded me of sort of a reverse Turing test. You’re trying to find out if it was written by a human or not. But you also mentioned about Declara, and we wanted to touch upon that a little bit, executing Declara, and you can talk about a little bit for everyone to really understand what it’s about. But it really needed a disruption to an existing education system, and we all, as part of the education system, know how rigid it can be. What are your thoughts on building products and solutions that disrupt existing systems and that can bring long-term change, especially when the system is not really helping you enter that space?

– Yeah, that’s a great question. When I created Declara, it was interesting because I was creating these bots, and Fermat’s biopharma companies really liked it because they could find molecular content from their content stores, and then the bot would go find the researchers that created it, and then create a community around that content so that they could figure out, how do we create new drugs faster? But the intention of the company was to focus on adult learning because, after I sold SynapticMash, and then I became the chief science officer for the company that bought it, Promethean. And what I saw over and over again were educators using the whiteboard. And I’d capture the data, and they would have fundamental problems because the curriculum kept changing or the standards kept changing. And so, you had new math, and then back to old math, and then new math, and then quadruple new math. I mean, it was so confusing that I think the educators were having a hard time Translating from one math curriculum to the next and the new standards. And I watched the data coming from the students. Some kids auto-corrected their educator in their tablet, and other kids were just completely confused. So I thought, “What if we gave a tool this time around for the educators so that they could stay on top of, create collaborative social learning among each other, and I could connect teachers all over the place?” So the country of Australia bought the platform, country of Singapore, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, and then eventually Mark Zuckerberg, through Chan Zuckerberg, brought it to the state of California for teachers to use. I had one use case for it, but then it was being used in so many different ways. And then, when I went to Amazon, the ironic thing, there was all the senior vice presidents were like, “Can we buy Declara and bring it into Amazon? Because we need it for all of our developers.” And I was like, “No, because it’s been bought by, the EU ended up buying it for open ed.” So I was like, “I can build something new, but it’s one of those things, that you build it.” And every time I turn around, people are like, “Can you build it again? We need it now.” I was so far ahead of the curve that, how do you reinvent it? But the problem for me is, I’d reinvent it 10 years to be 10 years into the future again. I have a problem with staying in the current decade I live in. Declara was successful, but I realized if I could have it today, it would be right time, right market, and right solution. And since it was a social, collaborative platform, we’d have to put in those constraints around the AI so that it wasn’t used for ill.

– Thanks, Ramona. Since we were discussing this in the back stage, I just wanted to bring that back. Once again, you talked about education, and we have been discussing, at least in business school, about the increasing income disparity, especially between people with higher education and people with, a high school diploma, perhaps, and compared to the people with high school diploma, are now earning much less than they used to before. As somebody disrupting or has been in the space for so long, do you think upskilling people, even if it means taking them out of the education system, helps better, or investing more into traditional educational systems, can help them overcome this gap?

– Yeah, we had a great conversation in the back area. I always have to bring up a time when I worked for Seattle Public Schools, and I ran research, evaluation, and assessment, and then there was a problem with a principal in one of the schools. So they said, “Why don’t you take that on, too?” So I was like, in a school district, it’s very hard to find people to fill all the roles, so you just take on whatever you can. And what I saw there in that particular school, the kids were in the hallways. Teachers were afraid of the kids. The kids were afraid of teachers. Teachers were checked out. There was a lot of alcoholism. It was very crazy. And when I think about answering that, we have to invest in our kids, and we have to invest in helping them feel safe. At that particular school, kids would, I’d open up the school at 6:30 in the morning, and kids would come in and go to sleep in the halls, and I’d ask them why they’re doing that, and they’d say, “Well, this is the safest place in my life.” And then, they’d get breakfast there. And so, school becomes a safe zone. Now, once you get them into school, how do you raise the bar and make sure that you are bringing the highest quality educator curriculum and institution? Kids don’t need just classes, but they need concerned adults in their lives. They need athletics. They need art. There’s a lot that makes up a whole human and the caregiving that happens. So I would say, “Can we bring in skill development, education, and nurturing to all of our students and figure out how to reinvent school?” When kids were, during the pandemic, not going to school, there were a lot of kids that just disappeared because they don’t have this caring, nurturing environment for whatever reason. Maybe parents are working three, four jobs, we don’t know. But the kids need caring, loving adults that are going to nurture them, educate them, care for them, and provide them skills and capabilities and competencies. And so, what’s good for the brain is to be a lifelong learner. The moment that we forget that and take kids or adults away from being a lifelong learner, then we start capping our potential. So whether that lifelong learning is gaining a new skill or something else, you have to stay involved in your own learning adventure, constantly learn something new and take risks and hang out on the cliff and fail. And kids in school have to learn to fail and to do it with humility and get back up and do it again.

– I think we’re almost at time. My last question to you is, you’ve been a successful entrepreneur. What advice do you have for a room full of aspiring founders and entrepreneurs? What should they be doing? What should they use their time at Berkeley for?

– You know, you guys are going to find so many different paths to your future. First of all, drive forward with passion and be a lifelong learner, because there hasn’t been one job that I knew how to do when I took it. So, you kind of have the skills to pull it together. But then, when you’re in the job, you learn how to do it. When I went to Amazon, I had to learn how to write PR/FAQs. Now, I write them all the time; but in the beginning, I was like, my first one I had to redo 40 times. The senior vice president kept saying, “Oh, this is crap, this is crap, this is crap.” And I was like, “But I’m a good writer.” But I wasn’t. Not in their methodology. So, anytime you take a new job or do something, you’re going to not do it right. You have to learn how to do that and then be able to learn how to look into the future. Help your employer move forward ethically and to take the risk to speak up, speak the voice for the people who don’t have voices. I do all the time. Or I did, I try to have an inclusive design mentality as I bring teams together because I was one of those people that was neurodivergent and blind. And so, you will have, as you become leaders, different kinds of people. And you’re going to have to invent different ways to hold team meetings, to include people, to really have empathy and care for the people who are working for you. And whether you become an entrepreneur or you go to a company, you’re going to grow into these leadership roles every single day because you’re going to have to lead—either as a technical leader, as a business leader, as a human leader, as an entrepreneur, and take risks. Take risks as a leader, take business. Right now, we need business disruption because business is stale. We’ve got all these technical innovations, but the business side isn’t keeping up. We need a new way to measure impact. And so, as we start thinking about community impact, Earth impact, like you guys are inheriting an Earth, a world, communities, politics. that my generation has failed on. So how are you going to take it forward and create the new business innovations that will allow humanity to go forward passionately and healthily?

– OK, this was amazing. First, I want to give a thanks for our students and Ramona Pierson. This is the moment where you have an opportunity to ask questions. So we’re going to go ahead and use the microphone in the center of the room. And if you have any questions for our speaker, please come forward. Now’s your opportunity.

– Hello, my name is Harsev Singh. I’m an EWMBA student here. In my regular life, I’m a civil engineer. So I had a question. Education is a very tough problem in itself to solve. And I felt like, even when I was going through school, most of the stuff I learned was probably not useful. And is there a way to, say, shorten the amount of education time span so that an individual can then, say, graduate in the 20s or earlier and go into experiential learning?

– Oh, I’m so passionate about that. I actually have a TED Talk on it. But SynapticMash. I partnered with McGraw Hill and Promethean, the whiteboard company, mainly because we could capture the data off the whiteboard and from whatever technologies used in classrooms. And McGraw Hill had all of this content, and so we digitized content, and the state of Indiana was going to bring the three of us together using my algorithms and data system and assessment system to personalize learning, and McGraw Hill, so we digitized their content. And the state said that they had a big problem with “gap kids,” they called them, so kids who hadn’t advanced in math for three years and had fallen way behind their age peers. So what started to happen are teachers hated seeing those kids in the class, not because the teachers were bad. It’s like, if anybody is failing or whatever, you feel like I’m failing. So you start pushing back away. And the kids would feel it, and they’d feel their parents sort of giving up on them or getting angry with them and their peers making fun of them. So these kids would spiral, lose confidence. So we decided, we want to take that on. Can we catch these kids up with their age peers? So we took all this content, took our algorithms, and what we did is we matched kids with different teachers. We matched kids to teachers who taught in ways that kids like to be taught. So small classroom environments, project-based learning. Some people like large classrooms, but we broke that all up and changed their classroom order. So some kids seem to do better with math right before lunch because after lunch, they’re going to sleep. And these kids, in particular, usually didn’t get breakfast. So we would make sure these kids got snacks in their classroom. So right before lunch, if they took math, they tended to do better because they had snacks. They were still awake, and they were engaged with educators that seemed to be comfortable teaching in a style in which the kids were. And then, we fundamentally changed the curriculum and the order. So there was a $60 million Gates program, where they worked with everybody to deconstruct learning progressions. So we looked at all the learning progressions of precursors, post-cursors of learning. So we compiled this really complex algorithm, and within six weeks, we got kids halfway caught up to their age peers by assessing, continuously, understanding where their fundamental gaps were. And instead of trying to keep them moving on with their age peers, we gave up on that. We just focused on, find out where they missed something, like ones and zeros. They don’t know how to multiply zero to any number. Well, they’re not going to understand 10s later. So it was, let’s go back, solve those problems. Once we did, it was easier to catch them up to their age peers. So we left that program in there. Two years later, I had sold my company, and this program was running for free in the school, and everybody kind of forgot about it. And these kids ended up becoming two years ahead of their age peers because they were getting personalized learning. The school district had fundamentally changed how they brought education in. And all of a sudden, a teacher came to me when I was doing a TED Talk, and she asked me a question because she was part of the experiment. She said, “How do we teach kids that finish high school curriculum in middle school?” Because these kids were continuously learning, and the publishers are building a curriculum around a spiral way of learning. That’s why it feels so redundant. Whereas in Europe it’s different. They teach everything forward. Anyway, if we could actually personalize learning and make it deep and make sure we don’t move forward until the foundations of learning are accomplished, we could get these kids through school faster. But it isn’t the speed; it’s the depth. So then, I would challenge that the curriculum, instead of being superficial and spiral, actually goes deeper. So that if kids finish algebra in elementary school, teach them calculus. Why do we make them wait until high school when their brains are open to learning when they’re younger? So they wouldn’t get as bored if they’re continuously challenged all through their younger years? That’s my bias.

– Any other questions? Thank you.

– Hello, Ramona. My name is Beatrice. I’m a first-year MBA. I wanted to ask you more when you shared with us that Peter Thiel said he wouldn’t fund you because you’re a woman and over 30. So how did you rebound from that? How did you have to change your strategy?

– What I did was I decided that I like challenges, and so it’s sort of like, “You can’t do that,” so I, of course, am going to do it. What I realized is that we were building the foundations of our company on building blocks. And then, I finally went, “What are some complex themes I could pull forward in my roadmap sooner rather than later, so I could get the wow effect sooner instead of waiting until the logical time?” So, it meant that I had to tweak my roadmap, and then get it in front of customers and get their buy-in because customers will go on a journey with you, but they’re not going to give you a dollar till you wow them.

– So would you say it’s a revenue and customer stream that you had to bring in earlier?

– Yeah.

– Thank you.

– Yeah. Investors are different than they were in the ’90s. So in the ’90s, you have an idea, you’d get money. Now, they want to make sure you have customers before you get money.

– My name is Dave Franks. I am in Executive MBA. Real life, I work in motion picture color and imaging. I wanted to know if you could give some examples of, you mentioned that business is lagging behind the technology in certain areas. Can you give some examples of where business isn’t catching up and needs to potentially?

– Yeah, where are the incentives for more of our moving into environmental, creating more interventions and innovation in the environmental space, and especially in the education space with all of our kids, and they’re our greatest resource for the future. And yet, schools are getting less dollars every year, and people are cutting, wanting to cut taxes. I remember when I went to school, was before Proposition 13 hit, for the older folks in the room. But Proposition 13 basically stripped the schools of funding. And when I was in school, man, we had swimming pool and this and that. We had 100 people that would try out for football or soccer or whatever. We had giant teams, had a surf team. I grew up in Huntington Beach, so I was surfing, but we had music. I could take violin and do really terrible there and then go do piano and do worse. But we had lots of things. When I go to schools now, there’s barely any music or art. We’re de-investing; how can we create a new mechanism or business innovation in that space, in the theater space? How do we bring people back to the theater? When I was growing up, I always was at the theater or trying out for something and not doing so great. But there was opportunity and more tax dollars that were going into young people’s lives. And we’re talking about whole populations of people who are being de-invested in and losing their jobs, potentially to AI. Yet, we’re not taking the money that the billionaires, and lots of businesses are making and putting it back into our greatest resource, which are your children, you guys.

– Hi, Colby, she/her pronouns, second year in the full-time MBA program. Thanks for being here. You’ve mentioned, now, a few of the big hairy problems we’re dealing with. Obviously, climate crisis, education crisis, income inequality, leading to a lot of these things. I think a lot of us feel a bit overwhelmed by it. Like, what is our role, especially post-graduation? I’ve worked in the social impact space. That felt hypocritical at times, because under that model, you’re still beholden to the philanthropists funding who have the power. Or I went to Amazon, and I couldn’t fully dissociate from the fact that I was a part of Amazon. And so, I think it’s a lot easier, once you’ve had your successes, to be like, “Oh, you should go do this thing.” And so, I think a lot of us are just grappling with, “How do we do what we can, use our skills, not perpetuate these systems that are clearly not working for us, but also, we can’t just jump to a new system tomorrow, right?”

– Yeah. And I think there’s so many paths to answering that. So I’ll tackle a couple of them. One is, when I went to Amazon, it’s like being in the military again. It’s kind of fun, but it’s kind of weird. But anyway, it’s very revenue, and I have to run four WBRs a week. I ran fraud and abuse there; and so, I had a giant AI and engineering team and product team, and WBRs are weekly business reviews. So everybody, the whole company was very focused on different things. And I would get feedback. Ramona, you’re missing 10 cents. And I’m like, but we just had 2 billion transactions, 10 cents is missing from those 2 billion transactions. And we’d go scurrying around trying to find those 10 cents. But we were extremely data driven and goal driven, which I liked. But my large team, I realized that because I was building AI models for fraud and abuse, I could turn those models inward and lay off a bunch of people because I didn’t need them doing manual labor anymore. I wasn’t going to need developers anymore. So then, what I decided to do was to take on the education problem within the company, which wasn’t popular, but it got momentum, where even Jeff Bezos decided to invest $600 million in education of employees. And bunch of projects started to build up within the company to try to figure out, how do we upskill our own employees to that next level? So what I’m trying to say is, you may go to a company for one job using one skill, but you’re going to see inequities. When you’re at every company, even startups, you’ll find an inequity, and you will have a choice. Do I try to innovate something there and help the company with those inequities and help the community of employees? Or do I leave or ignore it? So, you’ll have choices, but you’ll always be able to do and participate in the good, the social good, and changing. Because if you can change the hearts and mind within a company and affect change, you’ve changed thousands of people’s lives, or tens of thousands. And then, number two is, as students and graduates and future leaders of the world constantly ask yourself, “Is there a new way for me to look at this problem?” Like Uber, they flipped the business model upside down and became successful. Can we flip some of these problems upside down and solve these business problems in different ways? It’s not just technology that can create new innovations—it’s how we look at business that could actually create broad change in how people deal with recycling, or deal with water, or deal with community, or deal with war or conflict. There’s something we can do differently. I always focus on education because I’m always like, if we can get people learning together, they won’t kill each other. Or if we can figure out how to raise the voice of, in the areas of inequity, we can change the world. But it’s definitely, a lot hasn’t changed too much since for my 60 years on Earth. But I think you guys are smarter; you’re more aware. My generation was sort of trying different things and got lost on the way and then came back. But you guys see all of our mistakes and have new innovations and have a new voice and have a better sense of the good that could be done than probably we did.

– Thank you.

– Thank you. I’m afraid we don’t have any more time for questions, but I just want to thank you all so much for coming and wonderful questions. I’d like to thank our students Anu Tej and Haritha Nair. And of course, I want to thank Ramona. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and the far-ranging, very interesting conversation. It was really fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us.

– Thank you.

Berkeley Haas to host 2025 ClimateCAP Summit

two women with their arms folded. They're smiling
From L-R: Dean Ann Harrison and Executive Director of Sustainability Michele de Nevers.

Berkeley Haas has been chosen to host the prestigious 2025 Global MBA Summit on Climate, Capital and Business, or ClimateCAP, which prepares MBA students and business leaders to understand and respond to the business and investment impacts of climate change.

Haas was named host school during the 2024 ClimateCAP Summit held last month at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. At that event, the largest summit to date, Haas Dean Ann Harrison participated in a virtual Dean’s Roundtable on Climate and Business Education.

Asked by Professor Stuart Hart, a visiting lecturer at Michigan Ross, whether sustainability is “here to stay” or “something that you don’t want to bet the company on,” Harrison said:

“Business has to accelerate the transition to net zero. It has to reckon with the impact of climate change and shift away from fossil fuels. That is not a fad, it is not niche, and it is clearly, in my opinion, going to be a part of the business curriculum now and way into the future.”

“Business has to accelerate the transition to net zero. It has to reckon with the impact of climate change and shift away from fossil fuels. That is not a fad, it is not niche, and it is clearly, in my opinion, going to be a part of the business curriculum now and way into the future.” – Dean Ann Harrison

With more than 41 partner schools across the world, ClimateCAP hosts a summit every year at a different partner school. The event will bring up to 500 MBA students and business leaders from across the world to the campus for one weekend. 

woman standing at podium at conference with a large screen behind her
Haas was named the 2025 ClimateCAP host during the 2024 summit at Michigan Ross.

“We are so pleased that Berkeley Haas has been chosen to host ClimateCAP next spring,” said Michele de Nevers, executive director of the Office of Sustainability and Climate Change at Haas. “The conference will provide a terrific opportunity to bring hundreds of climate leaders to our campus to showcase Haas and California’s leadership on climate change.”

ClimateCAP aims to give students a deeper understanding of markets with the biggest financial and operational risks due to the climate crisis, and introduces them to promising innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities, de Nevers said.

The Office of Sustainability and Climate Change will organize the event alongside a planning committee consisting of faculty, staff, and students.

 

New center aims to create healthcare innovation research-to-impact pipeline

The Center for Healthcare Marketplace Innovation aims to shape the future of AI in healthcare through groundbreaking economic research, data partnerships and more.

Associate Professor Jonathan Kolstad will serve as faculty director of the new center (Photo: Copyright Noah Berger / 2023).

UC Berkeley experts are developing a trailblazing infrastructure to translate cutting-edge AI and behavioral economics healthcare research into powerful real-world advances in patient outcomes and drastically reduced medical costs.

The Center for Healthcare Marketplace Innovation, announced today by the College of Computing, Data Science, and Society and the Haas School of Business, will act as a force multiplier for top-tier technological innovation and economic insights. Developing and using the research on healthcare innovation incentives will lead to the creation and deployment of interventions that meaningfully improve public health.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is widely expected to transform healthcare. The new Berkeley center aims to play an essential role in ensuring those innovations benefit the public. AI tools could enhance care quality by, for example, helping triage patients in emergency rooms, diagnosing diseases and coaching clinicians. These technologies can also help reduce the 15% to 30% of health care spending that goes towards administrative functions each year, said Jonathan Kolstad, the center’s faculty director. That means up to $250 billion less in annual spending and more time focused on improving patient care. Still, this moment also carries risk.

“AI is going to be central to healthcare delivery in 10, 15 years from now,” said Kolstad, a professor of economic analysis and policy at Berkeley’s business school. “We’re at this inflection point. By understanding the technology, the systemic incentives and the human abilities in the healthcare system, we have a tremendous opportunity to help shape those dynamics.”

“We’re at this inflection point. By understanding the technology, the systemic incentives and the human abilities in the healthcare system, we have a tremendous opportunity to help shape those dynamics.” —Professor Jonathan Kolstad

“I think it matters whether and how those tools get built to actually enhance care delivery and help patients, and whether they are built in equitable, ethical ways because they’re started in places like Berkeley,” he said.

The center’s faculty are the right experts to lead this charge. Kolstad and faculty affiliates like Ziad Obermeyer are already award-winning academics in their respective fields, founders of healthcare innovation startups, and experts called upon by California and federal leaders to inform healthcare policies and regulations. Obermeyer is an associate professor at Berkeley’s School of Public Health.

This expertise enables them to build unique research and data resources and foster interdisciplinary incubation and industry and policy collaborations. Berkeley’s all-around excellence amplifies their potential impact. With connections to ambitious initiatives like the UC San Francisco-UC Berkeley Joint Program in Computational Precision Health and the open platforms initiative recently launched by CDSS, the new center can support other leading thinkers in moving their research from breakthrough papers into impact for public good. 

“Berkeley’s leadership in disciplines across computing, public health and economics and dedication to making real-world impacts make it the obvious home for this exciting initiative,” said Jennifer Chayes, dean of the College of Computing, Data Science, and Society. “The Center for Healthcare Marketplace Innovation will enable those at the intersection of healthcare economics and policy to join together with clinical and computing researchers to redefine success in healthcare outcomes.” 

“Harnessing AI to make our healthcare system work for people and ensure patients get better care requires a truly interdisciplinary approach,” said Ann Harrison, dean of the Haas School of Business. “I am very excited to see some of Berkeley’s great minds and cutting-edge resources come together at the new Center for Healthcare Marketplace Innovation.”

The center’s foundational development was made possible through a generous philanthropic donation by an anonymous thought partner. CHMI will be housed within the Institute for Business Innovation at Berkeley Haas.

A ‘bench-to-product’ runway

As society shifts to a new era of healthcare where AI plays a larger role, understanding human decision-making will remain central to discovering and applying useful solutions. The center aims to connect expertise in behavioral economics with the advanced research and development being executed at Berkeley to help develop healthcare solutions that people and companies want and will harness.

The center will focus on three pillars: conducting research to advance the science of innovation incentives in healthcare; encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration on projects and solutions; and partnering with healthcare providers, insurers, government agencies and others to test and refine the novel interventions.

Kolstad hopes this will be the “bench-to-product runway” that the increasingly technical and interdisciplinary AI, computer science and behavioral science need to be translated from research into impact.

“There’s a lot of really cool computational stuff happening, but it’s being built with very little understanding of the actual function of the healthcare system – of the complicated incentives of what it would take to have an algorithm, a prediction model, a solution be deployed to really change either healthcare outcomes or costs,” said Kolstad. “This kind of center that works to bridge these mechanisms can be very, very influential.”

“We want to take all of this intense energy and interest in AI and health and make sure that’s turning into benefits for patients and for the healthcare system.” —Ziad Obermeyer

Obermeyer’s work offers a blueprint of what the center’s impact could look like in practice. Through his research, Obermeyer found there was a need to improve physicians’ diagnoses of a patient’s probability of heart attack, an action that can trigger tests and other urgent care. Working with a major healthcare system, he developed an algorithm that could support doctors in emergency rooms as they screen patients and make crucial life or death decisions.

But will that algorithm work in practice? Obermeyer intends to find out. He’s now conducting randomized trials to see if the machine learning method he developed for an academic paper can become a real-world medical solution used in emergency rooms.

“We’re seeing so many papers come out in this area. I don’t think we’ve seen the impacts we want to see from those academic projects,” said Obermeyer, an affiliated faculty member of the Computational Precision Health program. “I think it’s because of that different skill set and because of the difficulties of translating academic ideas into the world.”

“We want to take all of this intense energy and interest in AI and health and make sure that’s turning into benefits for patients and for the healthcare system,” he said. 

Increasing access to industry data, feedback

The Center for Healthcare Marketplace Innovation is just getting started, but already its docket is stacked with ambitious projects. 

For example, the center is close to signing multiple large-scale, multimodal data access agreements with healthcare partners. The data is typically tightly held, and it can take years for academics to access it, Obermeyer said. That limits what research can be done to tackle health problems and the usefulness of related AI, which is only as good as the data it has access to train on, he said. Making it easier to access that data – and keeping it secure and used ethically – will unleash possibilities for research and impact in computational health. 

The center is also setting up an industry feedback platform, where large healthcare providers and others can share with researchers what problems they’re trying to solve for their patients, clinicians and systems. This input could lead to research and provide on-the-ground insights to inform the center’s efforts.

Additionally, the center will soon begin piloting a new generative AI model that offers clinical coaching to medical professionals. And it’s hosting an economics and policy conference – the Occasional California Health Economics Workshop – on March 8. 

These initiatives offer a glimpse of the new path forward the center is trying to create at Berkeley for this research, these industries and society.

“The future of AI and healthcare needs behavioral incentives, technological breakthroughs and data,” said Kolstad. “We’re working to bring those together.”

 

This article was also published by the College of Computing, Data Science, and Society with the headline “New center aims to create healthcare innovation research-to-impact pipeline.”

Media contact:

Laura Counts, Haas School of Business, [email protected]

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Financial literacy class prepares Cal athletes for the big business of pro sports

man teaching at white board
With the help of a grant from Robinhood, Professional Faculty Member Steve Etter’s Financial & Business Literacy for the Professional Athlete course will be reclassified as a full-fledged class rather than an independent study, which will allow more student-athletes to take it. Photo: Michaela Vatcheva

Shortly before Layshia Clarendon, BA 13 (American studies), was drafted into the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), the Cal senior attended a pre-draft orientation. Clarendon raised a hand and inquired about matching 401(k)s. The people fielding questions were floored. They weren’t used to college students knowing what a 401(k) was, let alone being savvy enough to ask about matching contributions. 

“I remember going to that meeting and thinking, ‘Oh, wow, I already know some of this,’” Clarendon recalls. When it came to financial literacy, Clarendon was miles ahead of most of their peers—all thanks to an independent study course they’d taken with Haas professional faculty member Stephen Etter, BS 83, MBA 89, called Financial & Business Literacy for the Professional Athlete.

For more than 20 years, Etter has helped scores of UC Berkeley athletes prepare for the financial realities of turning pro. Everyone from football great Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Jared Goff to Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin and golf phenom Collin Morikawa, BS 19, have learned about navigating contracts, choosing advisors, budgeting, investing, and more for their lives post-graduation.

Collin Morikawa holding trophy
Collin Morikawa, BS 19, after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament in 2020 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Now, all of these issues are relevant for students too. In 2019, legislation was passed—first in California, then later throughout the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)—allowing college athletes to earn compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL) via sponsorships. No longer are questions about agents, contracts, and taxes part of a hypothetical future; student-athletes are facing them today, intensifying the need for Etter’s class. 

“I’m working with students who are putting a half to three-quarters of a million dollars in their pocket today,” Etter says. The trouble was that his independent study only reached a small number of students. This coming fall, with the help of a grant from Robinhood Money Drills, Etter is expanding his course and bringing it to many more UC Berkeley student-athletes. 

Mary Elizabeth Taylor, vice president of international government and external affairs for Robinhood Markets, Inc., says one of the company’s top priorities is providing the next generation with access to financial education. “Through the Robinhood Money Drills program, we are proud to give college students and student-athletes a strong foundation to responsibly manage their finances for the future,” she says. UC Berkeley is one of eight schools nationwide benefitting from the initiative. 

It’s how much you keep

The idea for an independent study for athletes first occurred to Etter when one of his students, Nnamdi Asomugha, BA 06 (interdisciplinary studies), approached him for some advice. Asomugha was preparing for the draft (ultimately a first-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders) and was suddenly facing major decisions that would affect his economic future. Etter, one of the founding partners of Greyrock Capital Group, had been teaching corporate finance at Haas for nearly a decade by then. He favored experiential learning with real-world application, and helping athletes navigate the complex waters of a professional career more than fit the bill. 

Athletes turning pro find themselves in an unusual position, entering highly lucrative careers while having no financial training. The eye-popping mega-salaries that generate headlines are not the norm in pro sports, but starting salaries for many athletes are nevertheless substantial. Still, as former National Football League (NFL) player Justin Forsett, BA 14 (interdisciplinary studies), put it, “It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you keep.”

Forsett, who played pro football for nine years and is now an entrepreneur and motivational speaker, says taking Etter’s course gave him a real advantage. “There weren’t a lot of courses on financial literacy when I was a kid, in high school, or even in college,” he says. After gaining a solid foundation with Etter, he entered the NFL with what he calls “a conservative approach.” He explains, “I wasn’t going out getting fancy new cars. I knew it was about how much I could actually keep and save and invest in the right things.”

Keeping your future self in mind

Each year, Etter begins the class by sharing a series of sobering statistics: 78% of retired NFL players suffer financial hardship. Nearly 16% of NFL players have filed for bankruptcy. And 60% of former National Basketball Association (NBA) players are broke. These brief, cautionary tales drive home a crucial point that’s easily overlooked by young student-athletes: While the pros earn big salaries during their careers, those careers are often short and can be wildly unpredictable. 

“Steve tells us the reality,” says Cam Bynum, BA 20 (American studies), who studied with Etter and just finished his third season as a safety with the Minnesota Vikings. “The average lifespan in the NFL is three years,” he says. “If you’re blessed, you’ll make it to 10 years, maybe 12. So that means you’re retiring at 32 years old, maybe 35. That’s just half your life. So then, what are you going to do?” Without Etter to prompt them, many student-athletes might never give that question much thought.

Elijah Hicks, BA 20 (American studies), a safety for the Chicago Bears, says that one of the most valuable aspects of the course was that it forced him to think ahead. “I got to put myself in my future self’s shoes,” he says. “The class puts you in scenarios before you’re actually there, so now, I’m more prepared and I’m not surprised by anything that pops up, like taxes.” High-earning athletes, for instance, not only have to pay taxes in their home state but in nearly every state they play in, a fact that shocked many of Hicks’ first-year teammates—but not him. Etter also helped Hicks start a nonprofit, Intercept Poverty Foundation, to provide emergency grants to low-income UC Berkeley students during the pandemic.

Learning to ask the right questions

Since the course’s inception, athletes from a range of sports have studied with Etter, players heading to the NFL, NBA, WNBA, and Major League Baseball (MLB), along with swimmers, golfers, and water polo players. News of the class has tended to spread by word of mouth among teammates and friends, but Etter says coaches, too, have been instrumental in steering students to his door. “The Cal coaches have had the insight and caring attitude to make sure they prepared their athletes for the financial aspects of their careers,” he says. 

three students sitting with laptops in a classroom
(L-R) Destin Lasco and Tyler Kopp of Cal Men’s Swimming & Diving and Katja Wiersholm of Cal Women’s Tennis attending Steve Etter’s Financial & Business Literacy for the Professional Athlete independent study. Photo: Michaela Vatcheva

Not all professional careers are the same, however. Swimmer and six-time Olympic medalist Ryan Murphy, BS 17, knew he wanted to swim professionally after his success at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but he didn’t know what that entailed. In Etter’s class, Murphy’s fellow students that semester were heading for the NFL, but as a swimmer, Murphy’s professional path was less straightforward. “Our earning power is completely based on marketing,” he says. So Etter tailored the learning, helping him focus on finding a marketing agent.

“He connected me with people on campus and had me sit down for meetings with them,” Murphy recalls. Etter also encouraged him to talk to older swimmers who’d turned professional. “He was kind of a master connector for me.”

Getting out and talking to people is a big part of what Etter teaches. Whether it’s picking an agent, a financial advisor, or an insurance broker, knowing the kinds of questions to ask to make decisions that are in their own best interest is a fundamental skill he wants these athletes to learn. Sometimes, those questions come back to Etter himself. He continues to serve as a mentor to his student-athletes—they all have his number and aren’t shy about texting or calling for advice.

Changing the playing field for college athletes

Similar to professionals, NIL allows college athletes to engage in sponsorships and receive cash payments and gifts. For example, student-athletes may enter contracts to appear for autograph signings, endorse products via social media, conduct camps and clinics, post personalized video greetings, and more. However, the policy precludes students from entering pay-for-play contracts with colleges and universities. 

two men
Professional Faculty Member Steve Etter with UC Berkeley Junior Jaydn Ott, a California Golden Bears running back with a likely future in the NFL. Photo: Michaela Vatcheva.

Some Cal athletes secure deals on their own or through agents, while others are paid through the California Legends Collective, a newly formed organization (not affiliated with UC Berkeley) funded by donors who, together, create income opportunities like those mentioned above for Cal student-athletes. Advisory Board members include Lynch, Clarendon, and Murphy. 

Christian Trigg, MBA 23, director of brand development for the Cal women’s basketball program, says the new NIL rules benefit players and the team as a whole. “This is a huge opportunity for students to start building wealth at an earlier age,” he says. “Especially athletes who might be first-generation college students.” In his newly created position, Trigg will help members of the team build their brands and secure NIL sponsorships, which in turn will help attract talented recruits to Cal. As women’s basketball coach Charmin Smith notes, “Having a strong NIL presence is critical in today’s college athletics environment.” 

Cal football player Jaydn Ott is one of the students who’s benefited from Etter’s class while still at Cal. Ott, a running back with a likely future in the NFL, has begun earning money through NIL contracts, and he’s clear-eyed about the importance of financial literacy. “I want to understand what’s going on with my money when I speak to my financial advisors, so I’m not just giving somebody my money and saying, ‘Here, do whatever,’” he says. “I’m able to sit down and talk with them and understand what’s actually going on.” 

“I want to understand what’s going on with my money when I speak to my financial advisors, so I’m not just giving somebody my money and saying, ‘Here, do whatever.’ ” – Jaydn Ott, Cal running back.

Just like pros, college athletes need to understand the taxes they owe, and Etter makes sure his students do. “A lot of NCAA athletes don’t understand the difference in income and taxes between being a W-2 employee and a 1099 contractor,” he says. NIL compensation is entirely 1099, which means there is no tax withholding; players must pay estimated taxes. Etter suspects that more than a few student-athletes across the country will inadvertently fail to pay sufficient taxes. But Ott won’t be one of them. “After Jaydn got his first paycheck,” Etter says, “he put half away for taxes. And then he was worried, so he put half of the other half away for taxes, too.”

Spreading the wealth

Etter, who has three times won the school’s prestigious Earl F. Cheit Award for Teaching Excellence from his undergraduate students (once as a graduate student instructor), has long wanted to empower more students with the skills he teaches. Now, thanks to the grant from Robinhood, he’s going to. Starting this fall, the course will be reclassified as a full-fledged class rather than an independent study, which will allow more student-athletes to take it. The structure of the course is being retrofitted to accommodate up to 250 students while maintaining the active learning style that’s a hallmark of the class. Etter will be assisted by MBA graduate student instructors who are reflective of the diverse student-athlete population. 

The money is helping Etter fulfill a long-held goal. “My dream,” he says, “was to get this grant and to educate all 1,000 student-athletes at Cal.” From there, he says he’d like to bring the class to all NCAA athletes and ultimately to all 55,000 students on the Berkeley campus. 

Classified: What Uber (and others) teach MBA students about smart online marketplace design

“Classified” is an occasional series spotlighting some of the more powerful lessons being taught in classrooms around Haas.

woman holding a microphone in front of classmates and team
Marissa Maliwanag, MBA 24, pitching Tables Together during the Online Marketplace and Platform Design course. Photo: Jim Block

 

It’s a recent Tuesday evening at Berkeley Haas, and Marissa Maliwanag, MBA 24, has just five minutes to pitch her team’s idea for Tables Together. It’s an online marketplace that big corporations like Google could use to donate surplus food from their employee kitchens to organizations that feed people in need.

“There are matches that need to be made and we want to create a marketplace and solve the problem,” Maliwanag said, ticking off the amount of food that goes to waste in the United States each year.

After a few quick questions for the team, the rapid-fire pitch slam—part of the MBA class called Online Marketplace and Platform Design—continues. Students pitch ideas, among them a private plane rental marketplace to a community for matching skiers and snowboarders with coaches to a marketplace for tailors of bespoke clothing for events like weddings.

four students standing in front of a classroom pitching an idea
MBA students have just five minutes to pitch JetJunction, a private plane rental marketplace, during the night’s pitch slam. Photo: Jim Block

All of the pitches serve as practice for the students who are working toward final projects, says Assistant Professor David Holtz, who teaches the class, an elective that enrolls 68 students. The group is a split of mostly full-time and evening & weekend MBA students, on a journey that covers all aspects of online platforms—from A/B testing, network effects, and platform monetization, to reputation systems and discrimination in online marketplaces.

The class aligns with Holtz’s career experience as a former Silicon Valley data scientist. Most recently, Holtz worked for Airbnb, where he first became intrigued by online marketplaces. “I was exposed to a lot of interesting problems including reputation-system design, algorithmic pricing, and experiment design,” Holtz, a member of the Management of Organizations (MORS) and Entrepreneurship & Innovation Group at Haas, says. “To this day, these topics form the backbone of my research, because, in addition to being extremely interesting, they’re also extremely difficult to solve.”

Taking apart the case

During the first half of a recent class session, Holtz asked students to split into groups to discuss one of the week’s assignments: Pick a company on the a16z Marketplace 100 list—Andreessen Horowitz’s ranking of the largest and fastest-growing consumer-facing marketplace startups and private companies—and come up with a new market mechanism that the company might trial using A/B testing.  

One MBA student team wrote about the online specialty food marketplace Goldbelly, suggesting that the company might add a feature that prompts site visitors to indicate that they’re trying to buy a gift. Then, Goldbelly could customize searches and provide a more personal message option at checkout.

students sitting in classroom working on laptops
Students share their ideas for a new market mechanism that a company might trial using A/B testing. Photo: Jim Block

Holtz then runs students through a business case called “Innovation at Uber: The Launch of Express POOL, a case directly related to some of his marketplace research that examines experiment design in two-sided markets. Set in March 2018, the case follows Uber through the launch of a new product called Express POOL, which offers carpooling riders a cheaper ride if they agree to walk a short distance to and from pick-up and drop-off points and wait a few minutes before being matched to a driver. 

In this case, Uber had to decide whether to keep rider wait times at two minutes or change the Express POOL wait time to five minutes mid-experiment. The big dilemma? Uber benefited from a cost-per-ride reduction with a five-minute wait time but didn’t want to make a change that could hurt the user experience. “Even if the company did decide that a longer wait time was preferable, what did that mean for the ongoing experiment the company was running?” Holtz says. “Should they change the product mid-experiment or let the experiment continue running as originally intended?”

In this case, Uber had to decide whether to keep rider wait times at two minutes or change the Express POOL wait time to five minutes mid-experiment.

Holtz then shifts to a whiteboard, where he outlines different types of experiments (also called A/B tests) that marketplace companies like Uber use to test new features. 

First is the “bread and butter” user-level test, which Uber could have used to compare the behavior of riders with access to Express POOL to the behavior of those who did not have access to Express POOL. The second kind of test, a switchback experiment, would give all riders and drivers in a given market access to Express POOL for randomly selected 160-minute-long chunks. Over two weeks, Uber would switch Express POOL availability back and forth to compare behaviors.

The third type of experiment Holtz describes, which Uber did use with Express POOL, is a synthetic control experiment. It is the most accurate form of testing, Holtz says, but also the most complicated to run and the “noisiest.” Using the synthetic control experiment, Uber identified two sets of markets that, in aggregate, were as similar to each other as possible. The company then launched Express POOL in one set of cities, but not in the other. By comparing behavior in the two sets of cities, Uber could estimate the impact of both.

man in classroom teaching
The class aligns with Holtz’s career experience as a former Silicon Valley data scientist. Most recently, he worked for Airbnb, where he first became intrigued by online marketplaces. Photo: Jim Block

Holtz’s knowledge of how to apply A/B tests comes from deep research. He has conducted multiple large-scale experiments analyzing the effects of marketplace design choices on Airbnb. One study examined whether coupons would lead more Airbnb bookers to write more reviews—with the eventual aim of facilitating better matches on the platform and increasing revenue. Comparing behaviors of buyers who received coupons to those who didn’t, he found that the coupons led to additional reviews that were more negative, on average, and that the reviews didn’t affect the number of nights sold on the site or total revenue.  

In a separate, widely cited study, he and his co-authors examined the effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers at Microsoft. They scoured anonymized, aggregated data describing emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls, and workweek hours of more than 60,000 U.S.-based Microsoft employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to estimate the causal effects of firm-wide remote work on collaboration and communication. Results showed that under firm-wide remote work, collaboration patterns become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts of an organization. 

Impressive guest speakers

For Lena Corredor, MBA 25, knowledge gained in Holtz’s class is providing an opportunity to explore the challenges of building a successful entrepreneurship marketplace, which is her startup idea.

“This class is really eye-opening for me because it’s not as straightforward as it seems,” she says. “When you think about the different sides of a marketplace, one would think if you build it, they will come, but it’s not the case. The design elements he talks about are very important to business success.”

During most classes, Holtz opens with a guest speaker, and his roster includes an impressive industry bench of leaders including Sudeep Das, head of Machine Learning/AI at DoorDash; Martin Manley, co-founder of Alibris and former U.S. assistant secretary of labor; Ania Smith, CEO of Taskrabbit; and Briana Vecchione, a technical researcher at Data & Society’s Algorithmic Impacts Methods Lab (AIMLab); among others.

man sitting in classroom gesturing as he speaks
Roberto Pérez, MBA/MEng 24, said they were drawn to the class in part because of the impressive guest speaker roster. Photo: Jim Block

Roberto Pérez, MBA/MEng 24, an entrepreneur in Mexico before coming to Haas, said they were drawn to the class for two reasons.  “First, I knew that the professor had a great background and first-hand experience on this topic,” they say. “Second, I knew that the class would have a lot of guest speakers and that was interesting to me as this level of exposure is very valuable.”        

Looking toward the future of online marketplaces, Holtz said he’s excited to see where entrepreneurs will take new technologies, such as generative AI, AR/VR, and blockchain-based tech. To that end, he said he expects the students will hear more from a group of investors and VCs who are guest judges at the last class—Raphael Lee, Vickie Peng, and Lindsay Pettingill.

“They weigh business pitches all the time and will have a better sense than anyone of where we are headed,” he said.

28th annual Women in Leadership conference to celebrate resilience 

At a time when the world—and especially the job market—is full of uncertainties, it can often seem impossible to rise above the challenges many women face, from the workplace to their personal lives. 

The 28th annual Women in Leadership conference aims to shed light on these challenges—and more specifically, the resilience that women exhibit. This year’s theme, “Leading with Resilience,” features speakers who will discuss their experiences in maintaining strength and overcoming adversity as women, from the personal to the professional to the physical. The conference will be held Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Haas School of Business, with an additional optional event the preceding evening at Ivy Room in Albany. 

“Thinking about the theme for this year, we wanted to focus on what was happening in the broader world and physical environment,” said conference co-organizer Jillian Geary, MBA 24. “And this topic of resilience kept coming up for a lot of us in the room.” 

Organized by the Women in Leadership club, the conference is one of the longest-running and highly attended events at Haas. 

The conference will feature speakers such as Yasi Baiani, co-founder and chief product officer at Raya; Shripriya Mahesh, founding partner at Spero Ventures; and more.

closeup of a female student
Jillian Geary

Geary, who worked for a diagnostics startup amid the pandemic, discussed how her background in health care helped inspire the conference themes of leadership and resilience. She noted that, especially during such a time of uncertainty, she discovered the importance of collaboration.“I think of this conference in a similar manner—that we are smarter when we come together and create an atmosphere for people to share the challenges they’ve been through, rather than solely share their biggest successes.” 

Co-organizer Alyssa D’Cunha, MBA 24, likewise noted that she hopes that the conference will help normalize difficult conversations surrounding hardship through a mixture of keynotes, a fireside chat, and panels on topics ranging from navigating male-dominated fields to living a balanced life.

She added that their ultimate goal is for attendees to leave the conference with a toolkit, having discovered their own resilience. 

close up of female student wearing blue shirt
Alyssa D’Cunha

D’Cunha, who has a background in mechanical and materials engineering, highlighted the significance of addressing how women can navigate and succeed in male-dominated industries. Kellie McElhaney, Haas lecturer and founding director of the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership, will lead a conference workshop on the topic.

“I remember having a less than ideal conversation about having reached parity already, and how there is no longer this equality or equity problem that we need to address going forward,” she said. “We want to talk about how you navigate conversations like that with your superiors and what it means to be equity fluent.” 

On Friday, Feb. 23, there will be a pre-conference “Story Slam,” inspired by Haas tradition of Story Salon, where students share their lived experiences with storytelling.

Conference tickets are available now.

Former Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh on making a brand iconic

Chip BerghFrom leadership lessons learned while serving in the U.S. Army to creating iconic brand campaigns for big companies, former Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh shared many career stories at last week’s Dean’s Speaker Series, co-sponsored by the Center for Responsible Business.

Bergh, who recently retired, is known as a “brand guy,” starting his career as a brand assistant at Procter & Gamble.

“My career kind of took off from there,” he said.

Bergh discussed his work on brands—including Folgers Coffee’s “Best part is waking up is Folgers in your cup” campaign and JIF Peanut Butter’s  “Choosy moms and dads choose JIF” campaign.

“The challenge of marketing is: How do you get a consumer to fall in love with your brand?” he said.

After becoming president & CEO at Levi’s in 2011, Bergh led the company’s dramatic turnaround, returning the brand to the center of the culture.

Bergh said his plan to revive Levi’s was simple. “I’m a brand guy. I knew nothing about apparel. I didn’t know much about retail either.  But I grew up in Levi’s. I can remember my first date or first kiss, I was wearing Levi’s. My whole thesis was (to make) the brand the way it was when I was a kid. I had to have Levi’s to go to seventh grade. I was not gonna be that kid to show up in middle school not wearing Levi’s.”

Watch the video here:

Read the full transcript:

– Good afternoon, everybody. I’m Ann Harrison. I’m the dean at the Haas School of Business. Welcome to today’s Dean’s Speaker Series. We are so lucky today to have Chip Bergh joining us. So exciting. When we think of Chip, I think personally of brands, big brands: Levi, Swiffer, Gillette, Old Spice. Chip spent his whole career in brand leadership from his first job out of the Army, as a brand assistant at Procter & Gamble, all the way to president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Company. And with a few stops in between, Chip took on the challenge of reinvigorating the Levi’s brand in 2011. Now, Levi’s has a global footprint of 3,200 stores and net revenues way over $6 billion. Chip has consistently questioned the status quo, one of our defining leadership principles, with his values-based leadership, and one of those values is to walk the walk on sustainability. It’s so important for us tonight to be able to learn from someone whose everyday work has focused on sustainability goals, goals related to issues of climate, issues of consumption, and community. Now, we actually have a very special connection to Levi Strauss & Company that many of you in the room may not know about. In 1897, Levi Strauss helped establish UC Berkeley’s very first scholarships. One hundred and twenty-seven years later, the Levi Strauss Scholars Program continues to operate at UC Berkeley, and it provides financial security for students with limited resources and big dreams. But actually, Haas and Levi Strauss have even closer ties than that. Our namesake, the namesake for the Haas School, Walter A. Haas, he started working at the small dry goods firm in 1919, marketed to teens after realizing blue jeans were the ultimate in cool, and he retired as chairman of the company in 1970. So I’m sure that Chip has a lot to say about this history and how it connects to the company’s DNA and the amazing denim legacy that he carried forward and has built on so incredibly successfully. I also should note that Chip just retired this week, and we’re already working hard to recruit him here to becoming a professor at Haas, and that is no joke. Congratulations on a truly meaningful career and all the successes still to come. Thank you, Chip, for joining us today to teach us everything that you have learned along the way. Now, some quick housekeeping. You should all have a note card on your seat. If you have a question right now or anytime during the event, please write it on the card, and be sure to include your name and which program that you’re in. My colleagues over here will be collecting them throughout the event for the Q&A portion after the fireside chat. And since Chip has recently retired, we’re asking that you focus your questions on his career and not the future of Levi’s and now. And now I’m going to—

– About the future is great.

– OK, and now, I’m going to turn it over to Manu Singh and Chris Burke, and they are students, are MBA students and they will moderate today’s discussion. Thank you.

– Thank you, Dean, for the introduction and welcome, Chip to the Dean’s Speaker Series. All of us are really, really excited. Who we have in the audience are MBA folks. We have evening and weekend program folks, also MBA. We have students from the wider UC Berkeley community. We have alumni of Haas as well. And then everybody has their notebooks out, and they’re here to learn from your inspiring journey, so thank you for being here. My first question is to you: You’ve just retired, and how are you feeling?

– Well, first of all, let me say, thank you very much for the warm welcome and for the very, very kind introduction. Yeah, my last official day as president and CEO was on Sunday, and so the 49ers gave me the best gift possible. We’re going to the Super Bowl, right? So yeah, Monday morning was a really weird feeling, waking up and not going into work, and I’m still adjusting to it. Nobody’s sending me emails anymore. But I’ve got a lot of options of different and interesting things that I might do as I go forward. I feel too young. I’m 66, but I feel too young to just hang it up completely. I want to do something where I’m going to have an impact. And as the dean knows, teaching is actually something that is pretty high on my list. So, who knows? Maybe you’ll see me around campus.

– Yes, woo! 

– But from the week after I graduated from undergraduate school, I have gone to work every day. And to wake up that first morning knowing I don’t have to go into the office, it was weird. And it’s going to take some time to adjust to it. I’ve had somebody tell me, you need to give yourself a couple of months to really decompress and detox. The CEO job, it is a high octane 24/7, always on. You never know when you’re going to get the call in the middle of the night or something. And it’s going to take a while, I think, to decompress. And then, with a clearer mind, I will decide where I’m going to go and what I’m going to do next. But it will be something.

– So, as a Lions fan, I can’t express the same amount of optimism you have right now. But just to get us started—

– Sorry about what happened there.

– I don’t want to talk about it. Taking us all the way back, you served in the military, for what? A little over four years? Can you just talk about how that shaped both who you are and your views on leadership moving forward into your career?

– Sure. Yeah, so I’ll take you back to when I went to college. I graduated from high school in 1975, little history lesson. So I graduated in June of 1975. In April of 1975, the Vietnam War ended. So the furthest thing from my mind when I went to college was enrolling in ROTC. But somebody dangled a smart rising sophomore, who was in ROTC, dangled this idea that, if you sign up for ROTC and you stay for a week, you get to keep the boots. So I signed up for ROTC, and it turns out, I loved it. And then, six months in, the commander of the ROTC unit said, “Why don’t you apply for a scholarship?” And I was doing three jobs and trying to bailing wax and string trying to get my way through college. And I was like, he said, “It’ll pay for all your tuition, room and board, plus a monthly stipend of 100 bucks a month,” which back then, was a lot of money. I was like, “I’m in, I’ll apply.” And three months later, I got it. So then, all of a sudden, the military, Uncle Sam was paying for college, and I had this opportunity to go into the Army, and it was life changing for me. One of the life-changing moves, that I looked back on my life and said, “My life would be totally different if I had not done that.” Many people have accused me, it’s still looking like I’m in the Army, but it made me who I am as a leader. So, after I graduated from college, my unit was in West Germany, OK? Outside of Frankfurt, West Germany. When there was still an East Germany. My unit’s mission was to be kind of the first line of defense. I was in an air defense unit, first line of defense. When the Russian hoards came across to fold the gap in World War III, we were going to be the first line of defense. I had a platoon, my first assignment, I was a platoon leader, a second lieutenant, 22 years old, right out of college. My platoon sergeant, 18-year-Army veteran. My four squad leaders who had been in the military anywhere from about four to eight years, all had to salute me and call me sir. And it grew me up really, really fast. I learned everything about leadership in the military, and leadership has changed over the years, but it really made me who I am as a leader. And I learned never to ask a soldier to do anything that you yourself wouldn’t do. I’ve learned really the essence of what now is called servant leadership, taking care of your people. You take care of your people, they’re going to take care of you. But I learned so much. And it all applied to business too, later on. But I had the opportunity to make the military my career. I had a “regular Army commission,” which is the same commission that West Point graduates graduate with, even though I went to a “real school.” Sorry about that if there are any West Pointers in here. But I decided I really wanted to go to a place where it was a meritocracy, where if you performed really well, you moved ahead quicker. And that was not really the military until after about 18 years. And then maybe the better performers start to separate, so. But it was life-changing. Very big.

– Yeah, thank you. Thank you for sharing that. And you then joined P&G after your military experience, right? And then you rose in the rank there from a brand manager?

– Brand assistant.

– Brand assistant. All the way to the group president, right? And so, I’m curious, and then after that, you made the decision to move to Levi’s. As I see, these two sectors are very different. One is consumer goods, the other is apparel, different demand, different supply chain, different everything. So I’m curious, why did you make that kind of move?

– OK, well, so a couple of things. There were probably several questions in that question, but yeah, when I left the military, I graduated undergrad. I went to Lafayette College, relatively small liberal arts school in Easton, Pennsylvania. Any Lafayette grads here? Didn’t think so. Bummed me out. I was an international affairs major, so I didn’t really have any practical business experience or anything like that. But one of the things that four plus years in the military taught me was it taught me a lot about myself. I learned a lot about myself and what kind of environment I would thrive in, what kind of environment where I could be really successful. I knew myself as a leader and how I could make things happen through other people. And so, when I decided to leave the military, I looked at a wide range of different types of career opportunities and different companies. And at the end of the day, I felt that brand management at P&G really felt like the best fit for me. Back in the day, they used to describe brand management as like, mini general manager. I still remember the picture on the recruiting brochure where the brand manager was in the center and then all of the other functions were around it. And it was like a mini general manager role. And that’s the way they pitched it to young aspiring people like me and some of you. And that felt like a really, really good thing. And then, when I interviewed there, I just really liked the people, and I felt like it was an environment where I could be really successful. And it turned out, that’s how it played out. I mean, I spent 28 years at P&G. I actually technically retired from P&G. I went to work the next week when I joined Levi’s, but I had been there long enough that I technically retired. And I had an amazing career. I started as a brand assistant, and over the course of 28 years, I rose through the ranks of brand management. So brand assistant, it was a very linear career path, but brand assistant, assistant brand manager, brand manager. I started in a very obscure division called food service and lodging products, which was kind of the institutional division, if you will, of P&G where we sold big things of oil to restaurants, to deep fry food. We had big things of Tide laundry detergent that we sold actually to laundries and also to clean floors and restaurants. So, our customers were institutional customers. And then, after about six years, I moved over to the consumer side of the business to the retail food business. And my career kind of took off from there. I worked in the food and beverage business. I worked on brands like Folgers. “Best part is waking up is Folgers in your cup.” I worked on JIF Peanut Butter, “Choosy moms and dads choose JIF.” So, I worked at Duncan Hines. I was brand manager on Duncan Hines Baking Mix. And working in the food and beverage business as a marketer was a great place to spend my career. Because, if you think about it, the challenge of marketing is: “How do you get a consumer to fall in love with your brand?” And when you’re selling coffee, for example, the end benefit of coffee, it’s a drug, right? It’s caffeine; it wakes you up in the morning. What’s the difference between Folgers and Maxwell House? Back in the day, it’s “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” And that emotional advertising that kind of sucked the consumer in and created this attachment to the brand. And so, kind of growing up in food and beverage, I really learned the importance of understanding the consumer and kind of unarticulated needs and how to really emotionally connect with the consumer. And I will tell you how that played forward even on Levi’s. OK? Anyway, my career kind of continued. I was marketing director on Folgers, and I was general manager on this tiny crummy little business that we had called Hard Surface Cleaners. That sounds like fun, huh? Brands like Comet, Spic and Span, Mr. Clean, Luster Oil. Have you heard of any of these brands? OK. It was a business in the U.S. It was a $200 million business. It was breakeven, it was declining. Not fun, not strategic at all. And I had just come off of Folgers, which was like a $1.5 billion dollar business. Our marketing budget was bigger than the total size of our hard surface cleaners business. I was doing 30 pieces of advertising a year as a marketing guy. That was great fun. Come to Hard Surface Cleaners, and we’re barely making any money, and it’s not strategic to the company. And turns out, it was probably the best assignment in my career at P&G, or one of the best. The business was really challenged. And when I got there, I said to my team, “The best definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. We need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to turn this business around.” And if you think about it, all of those businesses, Comet, which is sand in a can, right? Mr. Clean, Luster Oil, these were all designed for the 1950s when mom stayed at home and cleaned the house and baked the cake, and dad went to work and came home. Honest to goodness, that was the business. And cleaning had completely changed. This was now in the 1990s, to working families. We didn’t even have hard surfaces in most of our houses. We had carpets for crying out loud, right? So, we went back and went deep on the consumer and discovered that consumers hated to clean. They wanted cleaning to be simple, quick, and fun. Like an impossible dream, right? And out of that came Swiffer.

– Yes!

– Thank you. I knew somebody would say that. And that is today a $2 billion global business. And it was all based on this consumer insight that people don’t want to clean like the 1950s. They have different surfaces, they have different needs in their life. And we built a new business around those needs, and it turned into a $2 billion business. Anyway, I’m taking too much time here. I haven’t even answered your question. OK, then I went, I kind of carried on in my career. I went to Asia for six years. I ran P&G’s business in Southeast Asia, which was amazing. I was based in Singapore. Interestingly enough, my youngest son and his wife are soon moving to Singapore, and he’s going to get to go back there. But it was a small business when I got out there. It was about a billion-dollar business across all these great markets from India, across to the Philippines, everything in between, and then down all the way to Australia, New Zealand. So I had some really high GDP per capita markets like Singapore. I had some really, really low GDP per capita markets like Indonesia and India and a little bit of everything in between. Incredible diversity, incredible young organization, amazing experience. And in six and a half, almost seven years, we went from a billion dollars in sales to $3 billion in sales. We were the fastest-growing business in P&G for three or four years in a row. Phenomenal experience. And then, P&G acquired Gillette. The CEO was telling me I need to go back to Cincinnati. I was like, “Nah, not so much. I’m not sure I want to go back to Cincinnati.” He called me up one day and he said, “We just acquired Gillette, how would Boston be?” And I was like, “Boston? Cincinnati, Boston be great.” And so, I was the first P&Ger dropped into Gillette when we made that acquisition. It was a $57-billion deal, biggest acquisition, still to this day in consumer packaged goods. That was an amazing experience as well, running this big. It was about a $7.5-billion business. I also had responsibility for all the other male grooming brands in the portfolio, the biggest one of which was Old Spice, which was also the troubled business that we managed to turn around the last couple of years that I was there. We used to jokingly say, “Old Spice is that fragrance your grandpa wears. Unfortunately, your grandpa is dying.” And so was the business. And so, we repositioned Old Spice. We went after Axe, and we did a really cool piece of advertising that aired just after the Super Bowl, not on the Super Bowl. Very famous ad that started with, “Hello, ladies.” And you probably know the ad that I’m talking about. It ends with, “I’m on a horse.” And that took the business to completely new heights overnight. Overnight. Then I got the call for Levi’s. And I was mid-50s at this point in time. Young daughter, two grown boys, and starting to think about what would be next. I’ve been working on the Gillette business for about seven years. And the most likely scenario is, I go back to Cincinnati and run Pampers or something else, which is a big brand, and that would’ve been fun, too, but it was kind of like, “Is that it?” You know, “Is that my career?” And it’s not like I had this burning desire. I had to go be a CEO per se, but I wanted to do something where I was going to have a legacy and make a difference. And I had been getting calls while I was at Gillette for other CEO opportunities, most of which weren’t very, very interesting. But when I got the call for Levi’s my ears perked up. The headhunter said to me on the phone, “You know, I think I’ve got something that might be interesting to you. What do you think about Levi’s?” And the words out of my mouth were, “Oh, wow.” And honestly, at that moment, I was actually in Beijing with my leadership team from Gillette at that exact moment. And if you’d asked me right then, and I had just been in a mall the prior day and had walked past a Levi’s store, and if you’d asked me, “How big is Levi’s?”, I would’ve said it was a $10 billion brand easily. ‘Cause everywhere I traveled around the world, I saw Levi’s. And I grew up on Levi’s, and I like to say everybody’s got a Levi’s story. But as I started doing my due diligence on the company, the brand was broken, the company was lost. It had not performed in well over a decade. I mentioned, I’ve got two, they’re now really grown boys. My oldest son is turning 41 this month and lives in Taiwan. My youngest son is 36 and works at Nike up in Portland. And when they were teenagers, they never wore Levi’s. It was not even in their consideration setting. My guess is, if there are some of you who were kind of early 30s, early-30s to mid-30s, it probably wasn’t in your consideration set either as a teenager. And so, the more I dug into it, the more I was like, “This is one of America’s greatest brands, one of America’s oldest companies.” We just celebrated our 171st birthday. We’re going on 171 years now. “One of America’s oldest companies, one of America’s greatest brands, one of America’s oldest brands, a brand that I loved as a kid.” And that represented the opportunity to really make a difference. And so, I decided to do it, and it’s been amazing— 

– Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I think you’ve worked in brands, which you feel inspired about, right? So I guess a quick show of hands in the audience, how many of you have had a pair of Levi’s jeans? OK, OK, wow.

– That’s almost 100%. Or let’s break the other way. Who hasn’t?

– OK, there are a few.

– OK, you’re brave, you’re brave. We’re going to work on you tonight. No, but seriously, I do like to say, “Everybody’s got a Levi’s story,” and I did my due diligence before I took the job. I kind of discovered that people, I asked my friends, “Have you bought Levi’s lately?” And they, “God, I grew up in Levi’s. I can remember like my first date or first kiss, I was wearing Levi’s.” And they would say, this is back before I took the job, “But I can’t even remember the last time I bought a pair of Levi’s.” And so the opportunity to kind of—my going-in thesis was really simple. I’m a brand guy. I knew nothing about apparel. I’m a brand guy. I didn’t know much about retail, either. My whole thesis was if we could make the brand the way it was when I was a kid. I had to have Levi’s to go to seventh grade. I was not going to be that kid to show up in middle school not wearing Levi’s. Those kids got pounded by the cool kids. And so, I asked my mom to drive me about three towns over so that we could buy a pair of Levi’s for when I went to seventh grade, that’s one of my Levi’s stories. First memory. And that was the whole going-in thesis. And that has really been what we’ve done over the last 12 years. We put the brand back at the center of culture, made it cool with the kids again, and have significantly grown the business by about 50% over the last decade or so. I’m freaking these guys out ’cause I’m a storyteller, and they’re like, “Man, we’re so far behind.”

– No, we would never. No, I feel like as a brand guy, being able to hop onto a 170-year-old brand has gotta be an exciting experience. Something you want to just kind of dig your teeth right into. But can you talk a little bit about the listening tour you did about chips and beers? ‘Cause that seems like something that not every CEO is doing these days.

– Yeah, and when I got to the company, I knew there was going to be a ton of skepticism. Did I? It’s blinking. Red and green. OK, when I got to the company, I knew that there was going to be a lot of skepticism. Who is this new CEO? He has never been a CEO before. He doesn’t know anything about apparel. Doesn’t know retail. Who is this bozo? And I also came in with a huge amount of humility because I knew they were right. I didn’t know anything about apparel. I didn’t know anything about retail. And I had to come in with a huge amount of willingness to learn. And so, one of the things I did is, I sent the same six questions to the top 60 people in the company. I’m not going to remember all six off the top of my head, but “What three things do you hope I will do? What three things are you most afraid I might do? What are the three things that you think we have to keep? What three things have to change? What advice do you have for me?” Which was open-ended. And there was one more, and I don’t remember what it was, but I went and I sent it out to the same 60 people and I said I’m going to set up an hour. I’m going to come to your office, sit down, use it as an opportunity to learn a little bit about the person, but then get into a conversation. And I was kind of surprised because after about 15 or 20 of those interviews, there were some really, really clear themes about what was almost sacred about the company. And almost, “Don’t touch these kind of things,” like our values, this notion of profits through principles, this deep sense of pride about the impact that this company has in the world beyond just selling blue jeans. But at the same time, it was also really clear that there was no strategy. The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. The company was very, very siloed. There was a huge amount of pride about the brand and the company but a real lack of understanding of how poorly the company was actually performing and had not really grown or created any shareholder value over more than a decade. And so, that really began the early phases of putting a strategy together is, “What are the things that we absolutely must protect?” And I would say, as I finally got it, it took me about a year or two, but this notion of profits through principles, which is one of the big differentiators of this company. This company punches way above its weight. We’re a $6-plus billion revenue company with a market cap of about $6.5 billion. And we get thrown around because of who we are and how we operate in the world. Our name gets associated with much, much bigger companies. Right? When we stood up to the immigration ban in 2016 that the president enacted unilaterally, the first week he was president in 2016, we immediately took a stand opposing the immigration ban because it was targeting people from Muslim countries, and it was just flat-out wrong. The headline in the newspaper the next day was, “Apple, Google, Facebook, and Levi’s stand up to the immigration policy.” They were all trillion-dollar market cap companies and little old us in the same headline because we have this long-standing tradition and focus as a company of not being afraid to stick our necks out to do the right thing and to make a difference in the world. And that is a big part of who we are. And part of the magic of this turnaround in the last decade is linking this concept of profits through principles to our business results internally with our employees. That the way we make a difference in the world is largely through the Levi Strauss Foundation and the nonprofit organizations that we work with. And we are able to have more impact with those organizations when we are more successful as a company. So the more profit we make, the more money we donate to the foundation, and the more great work that the foundation can do in the world. And that has created this virtual spiral. ‘Cause every employee wants us to make a difference in the world. And that kind of connects delivering strong business results to having an impact.

– Yup. And Chip, I don’t think you need moderators at all. I think you’re amazing at telling stories. So you talk a lot about employees and there, what are they saying? I’m curious in building these multi-generational brands, right? You also need to hear about the customer and what are they saying? So what are some of the strategies you did to listen to the customers more?

– Yeah, I think one of the things that we did pretty early on was, and my successor, Michelle, is doing the same thing, is really making a point of putting the consumer first in everything that we do, in designing our products and thinking about our marketing and how we go to market. Really putting the consumer front and center. And I learned that at P&G, too. I mean, Swiffer came out of great insights from the consumer. And I’ve always believed that you have to really listen and dig deep to understand the consumer. Our selling a great story on this. Actually, in India, it was in Bangalore that this happened. One of the things I love to do when I go to a market is do just real simple qualitative research with consumers. And sometimes, I’ll go shopping with a consumer and just understand how that consumer is shopping, what are they looking at, what do they like, what did they not like? And that’s a lot of fun. But this was early 2013, I think, maybe late 2012. I was in Bangalore, and I did a consumer in-home, and I was with a young woman who was in her 20s. She worked in the IT sector in Bangalore. She came from a wealthy family. They had a big house, air conditioning. And she also went to school in the U.K. So a good family. And she was recruited because she loved denim and she had multiple pairs of jeans. Long story short, did this qualitative research, at the end I said, “Can we see your jeans? Can we take a look at what jeans you’ve got?” And she walked into her bedroom with the moderator and the country manager and she spoke perfect English. So we didn’t need a translator or anything. And she laid out about eight pairs of jeans on her bed. And I said, “Well, tell us about each one of these.” And they weren’t all Levi’s to be clear, right? So the first pair was some premium brand. And she said, “Well these are my date jeans for fancy Saturday night date.” And we kind of went one by one down to the last two pairs of jeans, which were Levi’s, and the second to last pair, “OK, what are these for?” And she said, “These are my go-to jeans. If I’m going to go have coffee with a friend at the mall on Saturday, these are the jeans that I wear to just go out and hang out with my friends.” I was like, “OK, what about this last pair?” Silence. She gets a little wispy, a little tear in the eye and she says, “Well, to be honest with you, those jeans don’t even fit me anymore, but those are the jeans that I wore in college. They have the story of my college, my university years, and I can’t bear it apart with them.” And then she said, “You wear other jeans, but you live in Levi’s.” That is the selling idea in our advertising. If you watch our advertising, it’s live in Levi’s. And remember I said, “Everybody’s got a Levi’s story?” That’s what live in Levi’s is all about. Everybody’s got a Levi’s story. So it’s just a way to bring to life this notion of just really listening to the consumer and being very consumer-focused. And in apparel, you have to do that because trends change so fast. And when I first joined the company, we were missing trends, especially on the women’s business. Now, we’re leading trends, and we have been leading trends on the women’s business for the last five years or so, and we’re big enough that we can really create trends, too.

– So continuing on that listening theme, for someone who led the re-IPO, you talk a lot more about stakeholders than you do shareholders, I feel like. Can you talk a little bit about, A., how Levi’s treats its employees, whether that’s reproductive health care benefits, whether that’s advocating for gun reform in the U.S,, but then also, how you view that as a competitive advantage for hiring, especially being in the Bay Area, which I think a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily assume a company like Levi’s would place their headquarters.

– Well, Levi Strauss himself, the man, was a smart guy to put his company here in San Francisco and in the Bay Area. And I like to say we’re the original Bay Area startup. You know, “Who wants to come join us?” The original Bay Area startup. But no, stakeholder management is something that we’ve taken really, really seriously long before I came along. And I do consider our employees as one of our most important stakeholders. And I was telling you earlier, before we came out here, we got into this, we’ve taken a stand publicly on ending gun violence in this country. And we’ve been on this journey for the last probably seven years now. Seven years, I’m looking at Janna. It started because we have a couple hundred stores here in the United States. And in the United States, there are some states where people can walk around with a gun on their belt. And we have a company policy that employees are not allowed to bring guns to work. And so, we had store managers who were not feeling very safe because people were walking into their stores brandishing a gun, and they don’t know if they’re a good guy or a bad guy. And long story short, we had a customer in our store who went into the dressing room, had a weapon in his pocket, and when he dropped his jeans to try on a new pair of jeans, the weapon discharged, it went off. He literally shot himself in the foot, can’t make that up. And that was it. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back because that bullet, instead of going into his foot, it could have gone into one of my employees, it could have gone into one of the customers in a store. It could have gone into a customer’s child, it could have had a much more tragic ending. And our store managers know that other retailers had asked gun owners to not bring weapons into the store, particularly in open carry states. And so, we went to school and looked at other retailers who had done this. Notably, Target and Starbucks were the two models that we looked at. And we basically did what they did, which was politely, with courtesy, and with respect, to ask gun owners to not bring a weapon into the store. You don’t need a gun to try on a pair of Levi’s. And as you can imagine, there was immediate and massive blowback. And that is what basically got us into this journey. We got in deeper after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Is that OK? I get that right? Stoneman Douglas, after the shooting down in Florida in 2018, I think. And that’s when we talked to the board of directors about really going big and being public about trying to put an end to gun violence in this country. And if you talk to young people, which we do, and we quantitatively research young people as well, it is one of the top two or three things on young people’s mind. Most of you grew up in an environment, if you went to school here in the United States where you’d practice lockdown drills. And, oftentimes, in many schools, you don’t know if it’s a drill or the real thing. Many people have been impacted by gun violence in this country. I think the latest number is close to 60% of people know somebody who has been impacted by gun violence in this country. And it’s a top-three issue among young people here. And so, after that particular shooting, the Parkland shooting, we started working with the young people who were activating to really build a voice against ending gun violence in this country. And we supported them. And we’ve been in it now. In fact, our board of directors made it better. It’s like, “Don’t just use your voice, put your money behind it too.” And so, we have activated with our mouth and our money to try to put an end to gun violence in this country. And a year ago, or two years ago maybe now, U.S. Congress just passed the strictest gun violence legislation in over a decade. And we played a part in getting that done. We had over 500 companies’ CEOs join me in a letter to Congress to encourage them to pass that legislation. It’s the first time in over a decade where any gun legislation has been passed, and it’s one small step. We’re not all the way there, but we believe we’re making a big difference. And it all started because of our employees. Same thing, reproductive rights. I’ll try to be a little bit shorter here, but when Roe v. Wade was overturned, actually, before it was even officially overturned, when the leak happened, we immediately weighed in and said we were going to continue to support our employees with reproductive health care. And we were very public, and that really became the model that many companies followed, and we are still there for our employees even in states where it’s gotten egregious and very, very difficult for a woman to take care of her body as she wishes.

– Yeah, I think we have a lot of questions, but no time.

– I’m sticking around though. I’ll stick around.

– Yeah, I think it’s probably the last question is, I know you mentioned you’re going to teaching, and you’re probably coming to us to be a professor.

– I don’t know, I may not get a job after being so long-winded today.

– Yeah, no pressure though.

– You can make that check out to Manu’s, by the way.

– Yeah, but otherwise, what’s next for you? Apart from teaching that you’re thinking about?

– Well, I don’t know yet. It’s only been a couple of days. I still need to kind of get over the shock and awe of not going into the office and not being a CEO anymore. But I will say one thing. Yes, I was president and CEO of Levi Strauss for 12.5 years, and I’m really proud of everything that the company has accomplished over that period of time. But I think, unlike a lot of CEOs, I never made it who I am. I am first and foremost, a husband, a father, a brother, a friend. And that is still my identity. I also think of myself as an athlete. I’m a terrible athlete by the way, but I do try to take care of myself. I work out almost every day. That’s an important part of who I am, too. And so a lot of CEOs, the day they retire, they have this massive identity crisis. And there’s the funny story where the CEO goes out the front door and sits in the backseat of the car and then wonders why the car isn’t going anywhere. ‘Cause there’s no driver. And that’s not me. It’s not my identity. It never was completely my identity. It was what I had on my business card and what my job was. And I took those responsibilities really, really seriously. But I’m just a regular guy and I’m like a lot of you, and I’ve got hopes and dreams just like all of you. And I’ve got my blind spots and my weak spots as well. And there’s stuff that I’m still working on, too. So I put my pants on—my Levi’s on—one leg at a time just like everybody else. And I know that there’s a future still. So my biggest thing is, I do have a 15-year-old daughter who is a freshman in high school. She goes away, she’s at a boarding school actually on the East Coast. And my biggest thing is, I want to live a long, healthy life. And so that’s why I am really focused on fitness, nutrition, and I have been for a long, long time. You can probably tell it by looking at me, but part of what I want to do next is I want to stay very deeply engaged and do something where I have an impact. And that’s why teaching and being around young people like all of you is something that is really very high on my list.

– Thank you. Thank you for your time. Thank you.

– Thank you. And I’m Robert Strand. I have the privilege to be the executive director of the Center for Responsible Business and the executive director of the Nordic Center here at UC Berkeley. And I will say, first, and Chip, congratulations on your 49ers victory. Chris, you’re a Lions fan. I’m a Packers fan, so I say that congratulations with a little bit of a wince, but I do hope the 49ers win that Super Bowl. Dean Harrison remarked on the long-standing ties with the University of California, Berkeley and Levi Strauss going back to 1897. And of course, in our name here, Haas School of Business, those ties with Levi’s are so strong, and we are so proud at the Center for Responsible Business that Levi Strauss is our longest-standing partner. And Anna Walker here was a longtime board member for the Center for Responsible Business. And we want to say on behalf of the Center for Responsible Business also, thank you so very much. Our partnership means so much. The dean also emphasized that, Chip, you’re known for successful brands, and has come out here as well, as you’re known for purpose and deep-seated purpose. And you exemplify beyond yourself and question the status quo in spades. And I think that there’s such a lesson for our MBAs here in that business leaders can and should be champions of strong public policy that’s in the interest of society. To use your role, your platform, your power to be lobbyists for society first and your company second. And you exemplify that so well, and the work in your leadership in gun violence prevention and democracy is so incredible. Now, Chip, you love students, and Liz, I’m going to ask you to come up here in a moment and ask some questions on behalf of students. And we are so fortunate here at Haas that soon, Chip will also be a professor here at Haas. Who would say, yes indeed?

– I’m excited.

– We’re so excited. We are so excited. So you can have the weekend, and then you come on Monday, the semester just started and away we go. All right, well with that then, some of your future students here have some questions. So Liz, Schasel, who’s our Center for Responsible Business, one of our fellows, we’re so proud to have you, Liz, please on behalf of the students. And, Chip, again, thank you so much. Thank you, Robert.

– Thank you, Chip, for being here and sharing such a great part of your story with us today. We have four very thoughtful questions from the audience, and we’ll start with a hardball. What is the hardest decision you made as the CEO of Levi’s? Why was it hard, and what did you do?

– I think probably the hardest thing, we actually had to do this twice, was a pretty serious round of layoffs. And the first time was shortly after I joined the company, 2013, 2014. When I joined the company, we had about $2 billion of debt. Our profit margins were really low, we weren’t generating a lot of cash. Our balance sheet was an issue, and we were bloated, we were fat. And I made the hard decision to lay off about 15% of the management workforce. We did it the right way, if there is such a thing of letting people go, but people got packages, they were taken care of. But that was really, really hard. And we had to do it again during the pandemic. When the pandemic happened, the pandemic was a really scary moment when you’re running a business because one day everything was fine, and the next day, we were all locked down, and our stores were closed, and most of our customers’ stores were closed, too. And so, that very first quarter, we normally do about $1.5 billion or $1.6 billion a quarter. The first quarter of lockdown, we did less than $500 million in revenue. And that was in the first two and a half weeks of the quarter before everything else shut down. And we had no idea how long we were going to be shut down. You want to talk about scary? It was like, “How much cash do we have, and how long can we last?” That was the question we were asking ourselves. So we immediately went out and got cash. So we got as much cash as we could get our hands on, but we also had to rightsize the organization because we knew that we were not going to be a $6 billion business that year or probably the following year. So we had to do it again in the middle of a pandemic. And that was pretty tough. So that’s the hardest thing about running a business is, when your costs get out of line, you have to go do something about it. And I inherited the first one. The second one was a pandemic, and it was hard. But that by far is the toughest thing. Needing to look somebody that you’re working—these are all good, talented people, and needing to look them in the eye and tell them that they don’t have a job is really brutal.

– Thanks for sharing that. I know many of the future business leaders in this room may face tough decisions, so it’s nice to hear from your experience. Our second question is about mentorship. Who were the biggest contributors or mentors in your career, and what was the most important lesson that they taught you?

– Yeah, I’ve been really lucky. I’m a big believer that mentorship is not something that can be assigned. P&G used to do that. They would assign you a mentee or a mentor. It never works. I think it happens naturally. There has to be that human connection. But I would encourage all of you to work hard to develop a mentor relationship with somebody. It can be your boss or your boss’s boss, or it could be somebody higher up but not in your direct line of command. I was blessed. I mean, I had a number of great mentors and still do. Probably my strongest mentor through the years was, he was my boss for a period of time at P&G. And he’s older than me, he retired ahead of me. But when I was thinking about taking the job at Levi’s, I actually flew to Cincinnati where he lived and took him out to dinner. He was already retired, took him out to dinner, and I laid it out on him. And I actually thought he was going to try to talk me out of it because he was a P&G retiree, worked for P&G his entire career, owned a lot of P&G stock, and I thought he was going to say, “You’d be crazy to leave P&G.” And he actually said the biggest thing I look back on and ask myself is, “Would I have been a good CEO?” And he said, “If you want to really test yourself, you want to set yourself up to do something that makes a big difference, you need to go do this.” And he made a huge difference in my life without one single piece of advice ’cause I was really wrestling with it. When you spend your whole career at one company, you’ve got your own personal brand, and your career is really, really well-established. It’s a huge risk at that stage to go do something completely outside of your industry and everything else. And he was like, “You got this, you can do this.” And it made a huge difference.

– Wow. Well please send our gratitude on behalf of the Levi’s fans in the rooms to your mentor. I would be remiss if we did not talk about sustainability. Sustainability is a big passion of a lot of the folks at Haas. Dean Ann Harrison has done a great job incorporating this into the curriculum. How did your perspective on sustainability in the consumer business change over the course of your career, especially as climate change has become a more urgent topic?

– Yeah, I would say when I was at Procter, sustainability was code language for cost savings, lightweight the package, take water out of the package, lightweight the product, figure out how to do round things in squares so that it ships more efficiently. It was all code language for cost savings really. And a lot of the sustainability things that we did really did generate real cost savings. They were still good to do for the planet, but they generated good cost savings. When I came over to Levi’s though, and I began to really understand the impact that the apparel industry has on planet Earth, it became much more of a wake-up call. And very, very early on, I was introduced to the lifecycle study that we had done on a pair of blue jeans, which was first done back in 2007 by the company to really understand the carbon impact of a pair of jeans from growing the cotton all the way through to consumer use and post-use. And that was an eye-opener. Then, early in my first year, I did a supply chain trip and really began to understand, from a supply chain standpoint, the impact that we have as an industry. Chemicals and water and water use, water reuse. And that had a big impact. And then, when we started doing a little bit of back the envelope math on the amount of garments that go into landfills and the impact that that has on planet Earth, as these things decompose, all began to really paint a pretty bleak picture about the apparel industry. And we’re one of the leading apparel brands in the world. And the good news is, the company was already marching forward on a very big sustainability agenda. And what I did was, I just basically deemed that all of our innovation was going to be through the lens of sustainability. And very early on, we created the Eureka! Innovation Center, which you see the patch, that’s the patch. They made this jean jacket for me, this trucker jacket for me is a going away gift, but it’s right down the street from our headquarters, and we’ve put an enormous amount of energy in sustainability. Eliminating bad chemicals from our supply chain. We’ve led the industry there, we open source all of that, figuring out how to reduce water use in the industry. We’ve open-sourced all of that, so anything that we find that is really good for planet Earth from a sustainability standpoint, we’re all in for sharing it. It doesn’t need to be a secret. And so it is our commitment. From a commercial standpoint, we’ve been working secondhand. I like to say, I have no data to back this up, but I like to say we’re the No. 1 brand in secondhand stores, right? Anybody disagree with that? I think we are. And we know that people love buying vintage jeans, vintage Levi’s, right? So we have now kind of curated our own secondhand website. So we have levissecondhand.com, which we actually operate with a partner and we encourage and incent consumers to bring in their old jeans, and we work with a third party to patch them up and clean them and then post them on the website, and we sell them at a nice discount. So we’re kind of all in on this and trying to figure out. And sustainability, actually, it’s a huge important thing for young consumers. So we’ve got to be doing it from that standpoint. It’s a consumer need today, but it plays right to our sweet spot as a company, right? A great pair of Levi’s is going to last you for a long, long time. We are all about quality that never goes out of style. And invest in a good pair of jeans, invest in a great trucker jacket, you’re going to be passing it on to your children or your grandchildren. And that is the ultimate of sustainability. Buying fewer things, buying less things, buying higher quality things, buying things that are going to last, and buying things that are versatile. That’s Levi’s. And so, we should be able to win on a sustainability platform, and we think we are.

– That’s fantastic to hear—and I’m sure a big reason why the collaboration between Haas and Levi’s has lasted for so long. Our last question from the audience is, “What are three things that any growing leader should keep in mind while leading a team and helping manage a business?”

– Ooh, OK. Alright, I’m going to give you a couple of the things that I like to say. Number one is: Do the harder right over the easier wrong, OK? And when you lead teams, you need to be aware that they’re looking for how you make your decisions. The harder right over the easier wrong, you will always go right. So that’s one important thing. Second, I’m a big believer in just complete transparency and being straight. And I think a lot of mistakes, or one of the mistakes, that many people make when they begin leading people and leading teams is they want to be liked. It’s OK to be liked. I’m not saying being liked is a bad thing, but I would suggest, don’t strive to be liked, strive to be respected, OK? You won’t be as straight with somebody if you want to be liked. But if you want to be respected, you will give people direct and clear feedback. You will help them grow. You will come from a place where you want them to continue to grow and develop and build and improve. And so, if that’s where you really come from, you can be straight with them. But if you want to be liked, you’re going to be nice to them. And they may not even hear the feedback that they need to hear because you’re going to couch it in a way that it sounds like you’re being nice to them. So strive to be respected, OK? That doesn’t mean you can be a jerk, but just be respected, be honest, be straight, be transparent. Be thoughtful and real with your people. And then, the third thing that I’ve been saying a lot as I’ve been exiting kind of stage right from Levi’s is, nobody’s ever going to remember you for the business results. They’re going to remember you for what you did for them. It’s a paraphrase of a Maya Angelou quote, but they’re going to remember how you made them feel. They’re going to remember how you made them grow. They’re going to remember you for how you made them better. They’re going to remember you for how you picked them up when they were down, or how you saw that they were struggling with something and you helped them out. That’s what they’re going to remember you for. And if you get people to follow you because of that, you will have lots of people wanting to follow you.

– Thank you, Chip, on behalf of the student body and everybody in the room, thank you so much for spending your time with us.

– Thank you very much.

– And that brings our evening to a conclusion. So Chip, thank you so much on behalf of Dean Harrison. This was a Dean’s Speaker Series and a Center for Responsible Business, Peterson Speaker Series. Everyone have a nice evening.

– Thank you.

Professor Nancy Wallace wins top honor for work in real estate & urban economics

Professor Nancy Wallace, a national expert on real estate finance and strategy, mortgage-related securities, and pricing models, has received the 2024 John M. Quigley Award—the highest honor of the American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association (AREUEA).

Berkeley Haas Prof. Nancy Wallace
Prof. Nancy Wallace

The award, named for the late Berkeley Haas professor emeritus and leading urban economics scholar John M. Quigley, recognizes scholars who best represent the ways in which Quigley advanced the academic fields of real estate, urban economics, public finance, and regional science. 

The medalist must have produced a record of scholarship that opens up new avenues of inquiry, have a demonstrated record of mentorship of young scholars, have supported institutional advances within these fields, or have been particularly effective at dissemination of these fields to public and professional practices,” said Stijn Van Neiuwerburgh, outgoing president of AREUEA. “Nancy embodies all of the ideal traits of the Quigley Medal winner.”

Wallace has been at Berkeley Haas since 1986, where she is the Lisle and Roslyn Payne Chair in Real Estate Capital Markets, chair of the Haas Real Estate Group, and co-chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, and directs the Real Estate and Financial Markets Laboratory. She is a national leader in her field, having served as an advisor to the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury on financial crises and reform. Her research focus includes residential house price dynamics, mortgage contract design and pricing, securitization and asset backed security pricing and hedging, lease contract design and pricing, methods to underwrite energy efficiency in commercial mortgages, and valuation models for executive stock options. 

On campus, Wallace received the 2021 Williamson Award, the top faculty honor at Berkeley Haas, and earned the Berkeley Faculty Service Award in 2019 for work helping the campus navigate complex financial and real estate issues.

Wallace will receive the award and discuss her scholarship as the keynote speaker for the 2024 Midyear National AREUEA conference in May.