You can now find stories about our MBA students in the full-time, evening & weekend, and executive MBA programs on The Berkeley MBA blog.
Last spring, a team of Haas MBA humorists decided to have a little fun at the expense of the school they love so well. The result was the Haas Observer, funded by $5 contributions by fellow students to a Tilt campaign.
We spoke with co-founders Susan Lee, Davis Jones, and Jonathan Prowse, all MBA 16, to gain insight into the minds behind the madness.
Why did you start the Haas Observer?
Jon: Susan and I were sitting around drinking coffee and talking about our favorite Onion headlines. Then we started to think of all the ways we could make fun of the little quirks that make Haas a place we all love. SYNERGY.
Susan: Just to clarify, when Jon says “sitting around drinking coffee” he really means “making side comments in the middle of Strategy class.” Everyone here has their own student commitments, friends, even life outside Haas. I see the Haas Observer as a fun way to bring us all together, because as Haasies, we’re the only ones in on the joke. We’ll all walk away from Haas with a variety of experiences, but every one of us will remember the first time they were terrified by that giant Mac ‘n Cheese photo in the Bank of America hallway. And that’s kind of beautiful, you know?
Davis: Susan had asked me to join after she and Jon came up with the idea. I was an editor for my undergrad school paper, and my favorite issue each year was always our Onion-style issue, so I was excited to work on something similar at Haas. A self-published paper like this provides a good outlet for humor, self-reflection, and maybe a little bit of humility in our self-mockery, which is good for all of us.
Since you’re Haas students, we know you’ve had great starts to your careers and you aced the GMAT, but what qualifies you for this endeavor?
Susan: I briefly ran a comic strip in my college newspaper. Once I realized it took me 30 seconds to write the joke and seven hours to draw the cartoon, I decided I should stick to words.
Jon: I’ve always thought I was hilarious…. But no, I have a great appreciation for comedy and I’m a big fan of The Onion. I’ve always secretly wanted to go into comedy, but instead, I went to business school.
Davis: Yep, I have tons of background and experience, which I think is really what helped make me a leader/mentor figure on this team.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from fellow students & the school administration?
Jon: We’ve had a super-warm reception from students. We were very careful to be funny and poke fun but try to celebrate the unique place this is, and we hope that came through.
Susan: It’s been a trip to hear people reference the jokes and have it all be in good fun. As far as administration, we heard Asst. Dean Stephanie Fujii was going to pick up a copy, and—now that it’s too late to reject us—we’re thrilled to hear it. No word from Dean Lyons or a response statement on the contents of The Folder.
Susan: After a year’s worth of Haas experiences, frankly, we were teeming with material. Just thinking back to the daily absurdities, the class Facebook group threads, that ‘Cool, Hip, Unique Gear’ sign at the Haas store we walk past every single day—these are things every Haas student knows are ridiculous in the back of their heads. We just had to bring that to front of mind. We reached out to a bunch of friends and started a Google Doc of potential headlines, of which probably 10% made it into print, so we’ve got plenty more to go around next year.
How do you walk the line between good-natured humor and ridicule?
Jon: It’s a bit of a balancing act. Humor is not universal either, so we had to be cognizant that not everyone would find this style of humor funny. These conversations sometimes took longer than the actual writing itself. Regardless, we put a disclaimer in the back so no one can sue us, right?
Susan: It was really important to me that this be seen as a funny way to celebrate Haas—not ridicule it. My general rule was “don’t make fun of anyone who doesn’t make fun of him/herself.” By that standard, we were a little rough on Cheit Hall.
What’s next for the Haas Observer?
Susan: We plan to reach out to advertisers so we can distribute the Haas Observer for free next year, so I’d like to use this interview to make Davis publicly accountable for managing the money.
Davis: I plan to make a lot of money from future publications. Since Susan and Jon are both financially illiterate, I shouldn’t have a hard time paying myself a generous salary for my role in this.
Jon: Back-to-school special? It would be great to make this a multi-generational project by bringing in some fresh blood from the new class. I’d also like to fire Davis, which might be tricky since apparently he controls the purse strings now.
Drinking coffee is a given for students pulling all-nighters to finish up final projects, but for a dozen MBA students this spring, coffee drinking was the project.
The students spent hours on recon at local cafes, serving coffee to classmates and surveying them on every detail of the experience, and conducting a nationwide poll on coffee consumption habits. The research team was part of the Haas@Work program, and their goal was to help Peet’s Coffee & Tea find new ways of engaging Millennials.
And they did: Jessica Mitchell, Peet’s Director of Innovation, said that the students’ ideas are more than likely to see the light of day. “We felt they had a lot of potential to reach customers who are new to coffee. They’re really tangible solutions that we could see implemented.”
Peet’s earned a place in local lore and helped launch a nationwide specialty-coffee trend after opening its first store in 1966 in North Berkeley. Peet’s now has 237 cafes and 141 licensed partner locations nationwide, including seven in Berkeley. So it was only natural that Peet’s turn to Berkeley-Haas for a shot of creativity.
Haas@Work dispatches teams of MBA students to help inject fresh thinking into client companies. Students began with insight generation, identifying Peet’s core competencies and its customers’ core values, before moving on to idea generation—“It’s literally putting as much stuff out there as you can,” says team member Michael Christman, MBA 16.
After paring their list down to 15 ideas, the team worked with Peet’s management team to select the top three. Next, they designed and ran micro-experiments to validate their key assumptions. Students then transformed their insights into concrete recommendations for some of the company’s top leadership, says Ceren Baseren, MBA 16.
“The fact that you, as a student, have a chance to have your voice heard and to present in front of such a high-level client is extremely valuable,” she says.
Past Haas@Work clients have represented a wide range of industries and products, including banking, enterprise software, electric vehicles, health care, cloud computing, and pet food. In addition to the dozen students at Peet’s this semester, another 12 worked for Bio-Rad Laboratories, a 63-year-old medical diagnostics company also founded in Berkeley.
“What’s really unique about the model for Haas@Work is that the teams operate like an outsourced innovation agency,” says Dave Rochlin, Haas lecturer and Haas@Work executive director.
Over the course of the semester, students are introduced to the innovation framework and tools, and the teams collectively put in thousands of hours identifying insights and developing novel concepts for—and with—their clients, Rochlin explains.
“In the case of Peet’s, we took a deep dive and fresh look at both coffee drinkers and cafes, and how people connect with coffee, to try to understand areas where Peet’s innovation team can take advantage of unmet needs,” he says. The team also spent time examining how the company’s unique sourcing and roasting model might be further leveraged, holding in-depth discussions with Peet’s coffee roasters, buyers, and baristas.
In addition to Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA students, Haas@Work is open to students in the Haas school’s Executive MBA program and the UC Berkeley School of Information.
Full-time MBA students went way beyond themselves this year in their annual Challenge for Charity (C4C) campaigns, raising a $85,000 for charitable causes—including $43,350 for the Special Olympics of Northern California. The total was a 25 percent increase over last year’s fundraising.
C4C is the nation’s largest MBA charitable organization, with nine West Coast member schools. Haas came in 3rd among the members this year. Sara Oon and Tiger Lee, both MBA 15, led the 2014 C4C campaign before passing the mantle to Marisa Johnson and John Maus, MBA 16, in January.
For their C4C campaigns, Berkeley-Haas students raise money and provide volunteers for the Special Olympics of Northern California; the Alameda Point Collaborative, a nonprofit dedicated to providing housing for and aiding the homeless or those at risk of homelessness; and Reading Partners, a nonprofit dedicated to improving children’s literacy rates through weekly mentorship. In addition to raising funds, students volunteered 2,300 hours for the three charities during the year.
Outside of C4C, Haasies logged another 1,700 volunteer hours for a variety of other causes, bringing the total for the year to 4,000 hours—a 50 percent increase over last year, Johnson said. Students also raised $6,000 in a crowdfunding campaign for Nepal earthquake relief.
By Tom Garland, MBA 15
- The company’s free cash flow has been negative since 1994, owing to poor sales and a highly capital-intensive industry
- Significant declines in ROIC
- Opaque ownership and incentive structure
By Karen Sorensen, guest blogger
Haas startups Xendit and Optucourse were among the four teams to take home $50,000 in prize money Thursday at the annual finals for LAUNCH—the Berkeley Startup Competition.
Now in its 17th year, the event featured a start-up expo, fast-paced pitches from five finalist teams to a group of judges, VCs, and a live audience of more than 300 people, as well as plenty of B-School related jokes from Dilbert creator Scott Adams, MBA 86.
This year’s LAUNCH competition, organized by Berkeley MBA students and hosted by the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship, attracted more than 100 entries, each with a required UC-affiliation.
The 15 semifinalists, working on everything from healthcare to financial tech to electronics, participated in a new, rigorous four-month accelerator program—complete with training, networking, and mentorship.
Event organizers said they were amazed by how accomplished the finalists are this year.
“Investors have been clamoring to meet with the teams,” said Dan Schoening, who co-chaired the competition with Franklin Russell, both MBA 16.
The new LAUNCH format is part of a move at Haas to shift entrepreneurship programs to a new accelerator/lean-startup model.
“From hackathons to Lean LaunchPad to LAUNCH we can teach and support our entrepreneurs from the idea stage all the way through to where they can credibly talk to angel investors,” says Andre Marquis, executive director of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship.
In true Dilbert fashion, LAUNCH keynote speaker Scott Adams—a supporter of Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator—offered a contrarian view of success, reviewing his “36 business failures.” His final comment—making fun of the students’ attempt to solve all sorts of problems, including toe fungus asthma—drew roars of laughter. “I’m really happy I came here, not just because I got to meet great folks, but because I have asthma, toe fungus, and I snore.”
Grand Prize ($25,000): Transcense, which has created a mobile app that allows people with hearing-impairments to understand and participate in group conversations. The company’s founder and CEO, Berkeley engineering alumnus Thibault Duchemin, MEng, 14, was mentored through Haas Lecturer Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad course. Transcense plans to launch its product next month and is currently working on seed funding. The company attracted $30,000 of pre-orders within just six days, Duchemin says.
While participating in LAUNCH, Duchemin said, the focus on customer interviews helped the company refine and improve its product from a transcription device into an easier-to-use, more intelligent “personal captioner” for the deaf, Duchemin said.
Transcense now uses speech-recognition technology to deliver what’s being said into multiple users’ phones at a given moment—and shares all parts of the conversation with a deaf person, he explained.
Runner Up ($15,000): Xendit, which has built an app to transfer money around the world at a fraction of the cost of established money-wiring services. The team includes Moses Lo and Vivek Ahuja, both MBA 15; and Bo Chen and Juan Gonzalez, both EECS 13.
Moses Lo, MBA 15, co-founder of Runner Up award winner Xendit, said the help of LAUNCH mentor Philip Inghelbrecht particularly helpful. Inghelbrecht is co-founder of music app maker Shazam, “He helped us do the right things faster.”
Audience Choice ($5,000): Optucourse, which aims to improve online learning via live online discussions. The team includes Jonathan Heyne, MBA 15; Armando Fox, PhD Computer Science, 98
Faculty Choice ($5,000): DeviceFarm, which has built a medical device to cure fungal nail infections. The team includes Jeffrey Roe, PhD Bioengineering, 89.
By Nick Wobbrock, Chad Reed, Leigh Madeira, and Zach Knight, all Full-time MBA 15
The Win: First place in the Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge, at Morgan Stanley’s London Headquarters on April 17.
The Team: (left to right) Nick Wobbrock, Chad Reed, Leigh Madeira, and Zach Knight, all full-time MBA 15
The Field: The challenge began with 380 students, on 127 teams, from 78 graduate schools, based in 20 countries. The final round included 10 teams from 10 top graduate business schools.
The Pitch: Our team, Blue Forest Conservation Notes, pitched a financial structure that would allow investors to help California and the Western U.S. alleviate historic droughts and catastrophic forest fires, all while earning competitive returns. Blue Forest Conservation Notes utilizes pay-for-success contracts to monetize the shared benefits of proactive forest management among water and electric utilities, as well as the US Forest Service. We defended our investment thesis in front of a panel of industry leaders, including both impact-focused investors and more traditional institutional asset managers.
The Clincher: The judges cited the timeliness of the problem, and our team’s convincingly innovative financial structure, which they believed would bring investors and stakeholders together to take a step forward in solving California’s two most pressing environmental issues.
By Kim Girard
When Antoine Bruyns, MBA 16, arrived at Haas last year, he was already addicted to the power of Big Data.
A native of Belgium, Bruyns and several friends had started a mobile data-crunching company in Tanzania in 2010. The company, Real Impact Analytics, has since grown to 70 employees and recently helped track the spread of the Ebola virus using anonymous data.
But the draw of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial culture led Bruyns to leave the growing startup for Haas.
“The way I see it, Silicon Valley is like Italy during the Renaissance,” he says. “It’s like being among the Medicis, among all of these great minds. That’s why I came.”
In Berkeley, Bruyns immediately jumped into his passion. He connected with the Berkeley Institute for Data Sciences (BIDS), a five-year, $38 million collaborative effort established to promote data-driven scientific breakthroughs, and to the AMP lab, which focuses on the intersection of three trends: machine learning, cloud computing, and crowdsourcing.
Bruyns found kindred spirits among his classmates, and joined forces to increase Haas students’ access to Berkeley’s top-flight data science resources. He and fellow MBA 16 students Scott Crider and Samy Merzgui co-founded the Haas Data Science Club last fall, as a spin-off of the Haas Technology Club. Classmates Claire Bianchi, Pete Dillon, Dale Alejandro Robinson, and Peter Jordan joined soon after the first meeting, and the group enlisted Assist. Prof. Tom Lee as their faculty advisor.
In tandem with the students’ work, Prof. Greg LaBlanc says the MBA curriculum is changing to reflect industry changes. Data analysis has become much more sophisticated since he began teaching his Data and Decisions course five years ago with Assoc. Prof. Lucas Davis.
“We realized that business was being transformed through data-driven decision making, and companies were engaging in experimentation—moving away from decision by gut,” he says. “So we reconfigured the class to be more about understanding data and inference and not just about statistics.”
This quarter he’s introducing a new course, Data Science/Data Strategy, centered on how big companies build strategies around data, and exploring data science techniques and business models built around data. The class is already full, with 60 full-time and 60 part-time MBA students enrolled.
Two years ago, Asst. Professsor Minjung Park also launched a Marketing Analytics course, which focuses on understanding and using Big Data in marketing.
In addition, LaBlanc is working with Data Science Club members to organize a speaker series this fall, inviting executives from Wells Fargo, IBM, Facebook, and Walmart to discuss how they use data in business. The goal is to give students the tools they need so they can leave Haas with the confidence to immerse themselves in a data project.
“When they walk into a meeting with a team of engineers they can’t come in cold,” he says. “They have to bring something to the table.”
The Data Club, which is open to IT, engineering and business majors, is also organizing technical workshops run by companies that show students how to use different data tools.
Big Data can be difficult for business majors who lack a technical background, but Bruyns says he knew they were on to something when more than 60 people showed up for an data visualization event last fall with Tableau software.
Bianchi, MBA 16, says the club was exactly what she wanted as part of in her MBA program. She has worked as a senior database marketing analyst at Hotwire and as a manager of customer relationship management at UniversityNow. Those experiences taught her that deep-data knowledge is crucial for any MBA working with engineers, analytics experts, or business intelligence managers.
“You’re at the mercy (of others) if you don’t understand data,” she says. “At Hotwire, the people who didn’t have that background struggled. They might think that the data someone pulled for them was pulled incorrectly, but they don’t understand why and they’re not able to have a conversation with that person.”
On Feb. 27, a group of 20 Berkeley-Haas MBA students from the Investment Club trekked to Omaha, NE, to meet Warren Buffett. Every year Mr. Buffett invites students from MBA programs around the country to tour some of the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio companies and participate in a two-hour Q&A followed by lunch.
In a guest blog post, two students share what they learned from the legendary Mr. Buffett.
By Ben Ferrara and Sulaiman Al-Bader, MBA 2015
If we had to choose our Top 5 favorite nuggets from the many that Warren Buffett shared with us, it would be these:
#5. Some people go back and relive their youth by finding old Playboys; I buy old Moody’s reports.
#4. Risk is losing purchasing power—NOT volatility.
#3. Always surround yourself with people better than you are.
#2. Study success and failure through the biographies of leaders like Sol Price and Sam Walton, who didn’t care about money but about being the best and winning.
#1. Success comes from thinking and by creating time to think without meetings, committees and PowerPoint.
But there’s so much more to say…
It’s a brisk 8 degrees Fahrenheit and far from California 20 Berkeley MBAs are embarking on an adventure in Omaha. This special day includes company visits at Nebraska Furniture Mart, Borsheims, and Oriental Trading Company. Yet all of us are laser-focused on catching a glimpse of, inspiration from—and yes, a group photo with—the Oracle of Omaha. Warren Buffett is one of the few living and actively working legends in the game of finance.
En route to Berkshire Hathaway headquarters in Kiewit Plaza, we actively prepare for our Q&A with Mr. Buffett. We gather in a room with 160 MBAs—from Canada, Boston, and Austin—where a deep appreciation of capitalism and opportunity is brewing. When Mr. Buffett (and his world champion bridge partner, Sharon Osberg) enter the room, there is silence—and then, a feeling of warmth and familiarity when we see Mr. Buffett’s contagious smile and ever-present Coca-Cola product (which happened to be Cherry Coke).
Over the next two hours, the 84-year-old Buffett shares his wisdom on how to pick winners (both companies and people), personal models of success, how to develop a contrarian viewpoint, trends in income equality and philanthropy, and more. What makes the most impact on us is the importance he puts on picking “first-class human beings.” Mr. Buffett shares a story of meeting a Holocaust survivor who told him that whenever she makes a new acquaintance, she hears her internal voice asking: “Would this person hide me?” Her story provided a life lesson to Mr. Buffett, and now to us. He sums it up like this: “If you’re 70 years old, even wealthy, but you don’t have people in your life who would be willing to hide you in that scenario, you have not succeeded in your life, no matter how other people see you.”
Our Omaha adventure does not stop there: Mr. Buffett generously invites us to join him for lunch at Piccolo Pete’s, where we socialize with other MBAs. The two of us have the tremendous good fortune to sit with Mr. Buffett at his table, where we enjoy a plate of steak and fries, along with more of his pearls of wisdom in this intimate setting. One of these pearls is Mr. Buffett’s sharing his self-proclaimed favorite investment: GEICO. He says investing in the insurance company was a turning point for his career, and positioned Berkshire Hathaway for long-term success. He also encourages us to challenge the status quo by avoiding shortcuts in finance—for example, relying too much on third-party analyst reports—and thinking for ourselves, citing an example of exciting South Korean companies he found from a paperback book on equities.
“You’re unlikely to get great ideas from others,” Buffett tells us. This is a recurrent theme for him: thinking for yourself and following your own path, surrounded by gracious and giving people, is the recipe for success. It’s hard to argue with the sweet success of the Oracle of Omaha. As we finish our root beer floats, and leave that afternoon for Berkeley, we feel we have gained not only a renewed sense of purpose, but also inspiration about the endless possibilities we have to make a difference in this world over the course of our entire life journeys.
Dr. Costanzo “Zino” Di Perna is a successful thoracic surgeon, Medical Director for the Dignity Health Cancer Institute of Greater Sacramento, and a physician with Mercy Medical Group Inc. He handles about 500 cases a year and oversees a large practice.
So why did he decide to enroll in the Berkeley MBA for Executives program?
In the first installment of two-part series, Zino talks first about why—in the rapidly changing healthcare system—he feels a business degree is critical to his own professional success.
In Part 2, he discusses why it may be important for more MDs to add MBA diplomas to their office walls.