At a time of life when many of his peers are well into retirement, Peter C. Fung is having “the time of his life” as a student in the Berkeley Haas Executive MBA Program.
But for Fung, 76, a retired neurologist and self-proclaimed lifelong learner, retirement was never an option. It’s the reason he wanted to earn an MBA and why he connected immediately to Students Always, one of the four Haas Defining Leadership Principles (DLP).
“Age is not important,” said Fung, EMBA 24, who sits on the El Camino Health District Board of Directors and for a decade led the hospital’s stroke program, which is named after him. “When we’re using our brains in thinking or learning new information, neuronal pathways from neuron to neuron are formed. This is the best anti-aging therapy. Just like an old car, you have to keep it running to keep it from rusting.”
Developing leadership skills
As a physician, Fung, an advocate for health, wellness, and disease prevention, has spent more than 35 years improving health care quality and access. Now, he’s running for an open seat on the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors, where he hopes to tap what he’s learned at Haas on the journey.
In the EMBA program, Fung said he’s developed leadership skills that he believes will help him stand out as a political candidate. He’s also gained new expertise in economics and data analysis—and a deeper understanding of organizational finance that he hopes to apply to overseeing the county’s budget and tackling the deficit.
He said he is impressed that his classmates—busy with careers and young families—are all committed to learning new skills, pivoting to new jobs, starting companies, and helping each other.
“The cohort has been treating me as one of their own,” he said. “I was terrible with the computer, especially with Excel, when I started the program. But I was finally able to master this very powerful tool. I actually did quite well on my finals. I have enjoyed the challenge. It was a thrill.”
Fung believes he brings something unique to the program. His classmates agree.
Abdus Sattar, EMBA 24, collaborated with Fung during a recent business policy immersion trip the cohort took to Washington D.C. Their paper on “Medicare Drug Price Negotiation, “offered me an opportunity to delve into crucial healthcare topics,” said Sattar, who holds a PhD in electrical engineering.
Saya Honda, EMBA 24, said that Fung “pushes us and encourages us to challenge ourselves.” She said Fung embodies all four of the Haas Defining Leadership Principles: He questions the status quo by being unafraid to ask questions; he shows confidence without attitude by using humor in public speaking; he’s a student always as the oldest person in the cohort and as someone who believes in the importance of education; and he’s questioning the status quo by running for county supervisor.
A passion for learning
Originally from China and having grown up in Hong Kong, Fung came to the United States to study at the University of Michigan Medical School, where he became board-certified in internal medicine and neurology and also earned a master’s degree in neurochemistry and neuropharmacology.
“His passion for learning is not only impressive but also infectious,” said Elizabeth Stanners, executive director of the Haas Executive MBA program.
When a professor recommended a PhD program, Fung’s wife, who missed living in Asia and warmer weather, balked. “She said, ‘We’re going to move to California.’ he said. “That pretty much was an ultimatum. So we came to San Jose, where I was the only neurologist in my area of the city.”
For Fung, 1996 proved a turning point in life after his mother had a devastating stroke that left her paralyzed on one side and unable to speak. Fung managed to consult with the chief of the stroke program at Stanford about a new drug called tPA, which his mother received. “The next day, she asked, ‘Why am I here?’ Her arm was no longer paralyzed, and she was speaking fluently,” Fung recalled.
Running for supervisor
After that experience, Fung decided to study strokes, immersing himself in articles and at conferences for a decade. Along the way, he became the first physician in the Bay Area to be board-certified in stroke neurology. “I thought I would work as a stroke and vascular neurologist for the rest of my life,” he said. “But then, I started thinking about what else I could do.”
Running for office was part of that plan, to expand his commitment to improving access to care for everyone. Earlier in his career, Fung served as co-director of the El Camino Health Chinese Health Initiative, to provide education and access to the Asian community. The initiative is now the largest nonprofit organization catering to Chinese patients in California.
In 2014, he ran for the El Camino Healthcare District, which manages the budget for the district’s hospitals. The Santa Clara Board of Supervisors is the next step, where his work would have impact on a larger population.
If elected, he said he’d tap into the DLPs to help with decision making in critical areas that are top of mind for constituents: crime, safety, healthcare, inflation, education, and housing. “After thorough research and analysis, I would delve deeply into the issues at hand, engaging with fellow political leaders to gain diverse perspectives, and to develop well-informed and practical solutions,” he said.
Meanwhile, Fung is looking forward to adding an MBA to a long list of accomplishments.
“If I’m the oldest student to graduate successfully from Haas, and I go on to make a meaningful life after graduation, that will be something to write about,” he said. “That’s my goal.”