Observing Haas — With Tongue Firmly in Cheek

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.

IMG_0415

Davis, Susan, & Jon peruse the news.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 4.58.22 PMWhere do you find material?

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.

 

Peet’s gets a shot of creativity from Berkeley MBAs

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 and Evening & Weekend MBA Commencement: Slideshow & Student Speeches, & Video

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 Photos: Jim Block

Evening & Weekend MBA Brandon Middleton’s Commencement Rap

IMG_0258Dearly beloved as we close this last chapter

It’s appropriate to be sent off by the class’s favorite rapper

When I heard I’d been elected to give to you this message

I knew I had to try to do it big and make it epic //

For the record this was the last assignment I accepted

First commencement rap ever … Guinness Book of World Records? … hmm

Student Always, Beyond Yourself … forever

Questioning the Status Quo so we can change the world … together//

DCF, SG&A, and WTP,

LBO, IRR, and EVC

All foreign concepts to Brandon at the start

Thousands later though they’re tattoed on my heart//

MBA equals marriage babies and academics

Manifestations from all three I’ve seen from the beginning

I’ll miss a lot of things like taking naps on that shuttle

Like sometimes not reading a case and somehow not getting in trouble//

Like rich case discussions, the insights and lessons

Not getting to the insight because we asked so many questions

Like Jim the photographer and Dean Lyon’s dances

Like Saturdays not checking and showing up at the wrong campus//

Y’all never did that right, probably wasn’t your struggle

But you must admit that being EW teaches you how to juggle

It teaches you how to hustle, my look at how we’ve grown

Multitasking homework, family, and watching Game of Thrones//

So thank you Haas for the challenge and thank you for the love

We did more than what we thought we were capable of

Congrats to the spouses, professors, and the staff

On a job well done filled with lots of fun and laughs//

And finally my hats off to the class of fifteen

You’re a good looking group … you’re So Fresh and So Clean

This for gold and for oski to axe and to blue

It’s B. Middleton signing off I will now bid you adieu//

 

Full-time MBA Sandeep Pahuja’s Commencement Speech

IMG_9438My greatest fear in life is that I won’t live up to my potential. And two years ago it seemed more certain than ever that I would have to settle for a life I didn’t want to lead. There was that nagging voice of self-doubt in my head telling me, “You’re not ready.” Round 1, rejection email. Round 2, rejection email.  Round 3, rejection email. Each time, every successive round that voice screaming louder and louder in my head “I told you so.” In those moments of intense self-doubt, when all that I had worked hard for seemed futile, my family and friends picked me up—because they knew that I could. And they believed in me when I stopped believing in myself. And they gave me the gentle push to go after the life I wanted and I applied to Berkeley in Round 4.

I remember getting the phone call, and being so afraid of the possibility of what might happen that I let it go to voicemail (sorry Stephanie), because something I worked so hard for was about to happen and it was scary.  I like to think that I was the last person the school let in, the one that Haas took a chance on, the one with below average GMATs, but above average facial hair growing ability. I wanted to come to Berkeley not only because Haas creates leaders, whether in investment banking or non-profits, but because Berkeley teaches us how to think differently, find the right problem to solve, and most importantly, helps us find the right path for us.

But we never would have gotten here today if it weren’t for all of those people that believed we could even when we were sure we couldn’t.  To the partner who told you that you needed to go across the country to go to Berkeley-Haas even if it meant a long distance relationship, the friends that continued to ask you what you really did at business school since all they saw on your Instagram feed was pictures of HaasBoats and VegHaas and HaasLoween and HaasDogs and #HaasTag and #Haasome and every other event we like to combine with Haas, the professors who’ve dedicated themselves to teaching us to recognize the pitfalls of the leaders that came before us, and the amazing staff that does all of the little things with no fanfare and makes this place better year after year. THANK YOU.

But I want to especially want to thank our families who made us we are—I am thinking of my family today, that couldn’t be here today because my mother needed emergency surgery yesterday, who thankfully is doing okay—love you Mom. Hopefully the livestream is working better than AirBears2. But most of all, thank you class of 2015. Because if you happen to be by yourself today, I want to remind you that you have 250 family members sitting with you today in this audience. We’ve spent the last two years growing into this family, and we’ve accomplished amazing things. And we did it because we pushed, challenged, and supported each other.

Take my friend Gordon Yu, who pushed me to join Ben Killmer’s Lean Launch Pad team.  A push and a challenge that’s changed my path and led me to co-found a startup. Together we won 12 case competitions, started 10, soon to be 11, companies, raised over $170,000 for charity and volunteered the equivalent of 155 days, had more than 5,000 people attend the 9 conferences we organized, created our own signature cocktail, and incredibly had 9 babies born in two years.  We were all admitted to Haas because they saw who we could be, we’ve spent the last two years pushing each other to reach new highs, and now it’s our time to go out into the world and live up to that potential.

I want to turn my fear into an asset so I am going to leave you with a challenge today. Find your own path. Don’t go follow someone else’s because it’s what you are supposed to do. Associate to engagement manager to partner—throw it away.  Make your own—skip around, skip ahead, go backwards, but do it because it’s yours and it’s the one you want to be on, not the one you think you should be on or the one that’s going to give you the most money. You have to. You’ve given so much of your heart and soul, and frankly, your bank account, to become the leader Berkeley believed you could be. You know right now in your gut if you are on the right path or if you aren’t. I want you to make calendar invite for one year from now, and invite the classmate that has pushed, challenged, and supported you the most. If you haven’t found your right path yet, spend the next year doing what you’re passionate about in all of your free time. On May 22, 2016 call that person up, and talk to them about where you are at because you’ll need a push to walk away from a comfortable life to go for one that holds meaning for you. And if in a year you don’t get the push you need, call me because we’re family, and I know you can.

Our lives are short, and our time is fleeting. Spend it with the ones you love, doing the things you want, with the people who matter the most. We are ready.

 

Haas MBAs Win Silver for “No Buy” Pitch

By Tom Garland, MBA 15

Ivey Stock Pitch

Serious business: Ryan Stanley, Tom Garland, and Zane Keller, MBA 15, make their pitch

The Team: Tom Garland, Zane Keller, and Ryan Stanley, all FTMBA 15
The Field: Teams from 25 business schools internationally, with three invited to the final in Toronto.
The Pitch: With all three finalists given the same stock to evaluate, we were tasked with pitching a “buy” or “no buy” and explaining our rationale. Our conclusion was a “no buy” for the stock—Buehler Inc—on the basis of three key value factors:
  1. The company’s free cash flow has been negative since 1994, owing to poor sales and a highly capital-intensive industry
  2. Significant declines in ROIC
  3. Opaque ownership and incentive structure
The Clincher: Our feedback highlighted that we were one of the few teams to genuinely grasp the ideology of value investing. Aided by Zane’s years of experience in the field, our models were tight and our evaluation comprehensive. We also received numerous complements on our presentation style, for which we are indebted to the experience of delivering such a significant number of presentations during our two years at Haas.

Xendit: Cash Without Borders

The Xendit Team

The Xendit team, left to right: Bo Chen & Juan Gonzalez, both BS 13 (computer science); Vivek Ahuja and Moses Lo, both MBA 15

Moses Lo, MBA 15, has lived a border-spanning life. Born in Singapore to a family with roots in Malaysia, Indonesia and China, he spent his early years in a one-room house with a bucket shower before moving to Australia—and indoor plumbing. For a time he had a business selling custom suits made in Thailand and China. He has studied in Sydney, New York, and now at Berkeley-Haas; he worked at the Boston Consulting Group and Amazon.

It was this global existence that inspired Xendit, an cross-platform app that lets anyone transfer cash around the world in seconds, for a fraction of the cost of established services like Western Union—or even upstarts like Transferwise and Xoom. The funds can go directly into a bank account, or even to a post office or convenience store where the recipient collects it.

“I grew up in one world, and moved to another, and I’ve gone between different worlds all my life,” says Moses, Xendit’s CEO. “I know first-hand how difficult it can be to move money across borders, especially for people who are outside the traditional banking system.”

The startup team includes COO Vivek Ahuja, MBA 15, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent five years on a nuclear submarine; Casey Lord, MBA 15, who worked at Paypal and in impact investing, and is serving as head of Asia; as well as as CTO Bo Chen, EECS 13 and Lead Engineer Juan Gonzalez, CS 13.

Traction

The group has made quick progress: they won the Andreessen Horowitz’s Bay Area Bitcoin Hackathon last November, coming in first among 200 competitors. They took 2nd in last week’s LAUNCH startup competition, and Xendit was a finalist at the Global Social Venture Competition in April. The team has recently been funded by one of the most prestigious names in the Valley and will spend the next few months preparing for a public launch.

Xendit is focusing first on Asia, a massive market. Remittances from the U.S. to Asia alone are estimated at $50 billion, according to World Bank estimates; transfers within Asia are billions more.

Xendit screenshot 250Seven Clicks

Xendit’s user interface couldn’t be simpler. Simply choose a contact’s email or phone number, choose a currency and amount, and hit “send”. The app displays real-time exchange rates, and the cash is transferred in seconds. Within seven clicks, you’re moving money across the globe.

The back end is a bit more multifaceted: The cash moves through a combination of traditional bank channels and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin and Ripple. Xendit has already negotiated relationships with banks and non-bank cash-out locations in Asia and moved $35,000 in a six-week pilot.

For bank-to-bank transfers, fees are between 1 and 2 percent. For a non-bank transfer—to someone who does not have an account and may be picking up cash at a 7-Eleven in Malaysia, for example—fees are considerably higher, because of extra service charges along the chain. Xendit is aiming to keep the fees about half of what current competitors charge.

Support Back Home

It’s that market that gives Xendit a social-impact component. Moses says he has met many low-wage immigrants over the years who lose thousands of dollars annually to send support back home. He describes Thomas, a friend in Australia who was a South Sudanese refugee.  His father died during the civil war, he arrived on a UN passport and with a scholarship to study in Australia. He was always working two jobs to put himself through school, and paying 15 percent fees to send money to his family in a Ugandan refugee camp.

“Banking is unjust. It’s simply inefficient and too expensive to serve these markets,” Moses says. “I believe that a business worth pursuing should add value to our world.”

Berkeley Built

Moses says he came to Haas specifically to build an entrepreneurial venture. After taking time to build a team that spans Haas and the engineering school, he and Vivek have been able to leverage their 2nd-year MBA coursework this year to strengthen Xendit. They took Entrepreneurship with Toby Stuart and Rob Chandra, then Workshop for Entrepreneurs, offered through the Lester Center and taught by lecturers Nancy Kamei and Doug Galen.

“Startups are about the right team, the tech talent and access to funding networks,” he says. “Berkeley is the place to be for all of that.”

Xendit was the runner-up at LAUNCH, the Berkeley startup accelerator and competition

Xendit took 2nd place at LAUNCH, the Berkeley startup accelerator and competition.

Making it Rain in London: MBA Team’s Drought Mitigation Innovation Wins 1st in Morgan Stanley Challenge

By Nick Wobbrock, Chad Reed, Leigh Madeira, and Zach Knight, all Full-time MBA 15

2015_Competition_Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing

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.

Read more about the win on ClickGreen.

WeFinance: Funding for the Student Crowd

It’s a common student dilemma: you’ve got a full-time offer post-graduation, but you still have several more months to finish your degree. And you’re facing the up-front costs of relocating—before your first paycheck or signing bonus hits your account.

What do you do? Often, your only option is to pile more credit card debt on top of your student loans, and bite the bullet on the high fees.

WeFinance_WillyChuEnter WeFinance, a crowdfunding startup co-founded by Willy Chu, MBA 15, that launched last week. Though crowdfunding is becoming a crowded space, Chu acknowledges, WeFinance is the first platform focused on truly peer-to-peer loans.

“Many students are paying seven to 8 percent on their student loans—even higher if you’re international—and they have living and moving expenses,” Chu says. “They’re low-risk borrowers but their credit scores don’t reflect that, and they can’t refinance until they have more credit history. Meanwhile, a peer lender in these students’ network could earn four percent or more on their extra savings.”

Built-in Assets

WeFinance launched with two critical resources. First, it has a software platform built by co-founder and CEO Eric Mayefsky, a Stanford econ PhD grad and ex-Facebook product manager who spearheaded the concept. This platform fully automates disbursements and repayments between borrowers and lenders, allowing both parties to rest easy that payments are made on time. Second, WeFinance has been tested by Chu’s network of fellow Haasies, a dozen of whom have signed on as guinea pigs seeking funding.

“My classmates have been incredibly supportive, willing to try out the product,” he said. “Faculty members have provided core guidance.”

Ton Chookhare, MBA 14, used the platform to refinance some of his higher-interest student loans, raising $5,000 in just a few weeks and lowering his interest rate from 8 percent to 4 percent. He already had accepted an offer with Kaiser Permanente, and was working on a side project involving custom suits made in his hometown of Bangkok, Thailand. “I think many people will be surprised at how willing people in their network are to offer financial support, especially when they’re getting much better returns while supporting someone they know and trust,” he says.

Entrepreneurial Evolution

Chu says when he came to Berkeley-Haas, he thought he might end up working for a startup—but had no intention of launching his own. His thinking evolved while taking Entrepreneurship with Prof. Toby Stuart and Lecturer Rob Chandra. His new path began last summer when a Stanford MBA friend saw an email from Mayefsky seeking help with the venture. After a few months of working well together, Chu—who previously worked at Credit Karma and Kiva—became a co-founder. He’s focusing on marketing, partnerships, and growth while Mayefsky develops the technological infrastructure.

“I’ve benefitted from starting this in my second year, after I had a strong base, and I’ve been able to piggyback on my coursework and lessons learned from my peers who launched businesses last year,” he says. “In particular, New Venture Finance with Asst. Prof. Adair Morse has been useful.”

Chu’s goal is to expand WeFinance to 40 schools within a year, beginning with Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton. In addition to MBAs, the company will focus on law and other top master’s and undergrad program students.

Read more about WeFinance in TechCrunch.

The Rise of Big Data at Haas

Big Data Students

Haas Data Science Club leaders Claire Bianchi, Antoine Bruyns, Scott Crider, Samy Merzgui, and Pete Dillon, all MBA 16.

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.

ClaireQuoteIn 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.”

Student Spotlight: Nikita Mitchell, Full-Time MBA Class of 2015 President & Diversity Leader

Nikita Professional optionIt was the scariest thing she could think of doing as a new MBA student.

When Nikita Mitchell arrived at Haas in the fall of 2013, her top goal was to develop her leadership skills—which she knew would require stepping outside her comfort zone. So instead of heading up a club or organizing a conference, she decided to run for class president.

“I’ve never been in a big public role. I’ve never had to be the face of something, and the idea was terrifying,” says Nikita, MBA 15. “Ultimately, I decided I should do it because I didn’t have anything to lose.”

A few months into her first semester at Haas she was elected, and in 2014 she served as the first African-American woman to head the MBA Association. She also served simultaneously as a liaison to the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which works to bring more under-represented minorities into top MBA programs. Along with co-liaisons Kory Vargas-Caro and Dan Wong, both MBA 15, she led the Haas group to win the Consortium’s highest honor and $10K to build on their work.

Just after passing the mantle to the 2015 MBAA President Dan Fishman, Nikita spoke with us about her leadership style, her accomplishments, and what she learned.

TEAMwin

Nikita and Kory Vargas-Caro, MBA 15, celebrate winning the T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) trophy from The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management in June 2014. Not shown: Dan Wong, MBA 15

Team spirit

“I’ve grown a lot,” she says. “Most importantly–both personally and professionally—I’ve also learned how to ask for help when I need it.”

Nikita is up front about the fact that balancing outside leadership activities with the rigorous academic demands of the MBA was the biggest challenge she’s faced. During her first semester as president, she took on some big issues for the program, including how to make changes in the academic culture.

She credits the support of her classmates, and former MBAA President Stephanie White, for going out of their way to support her. “It was really incredible what people did to help me, often without even being asked.”

Her approach to managing it all was to build a strong team.

“I feel I created a high functioning team where everyone has been able to accomplish a lot in their own roles,” she says. “And I feel like I’ve been a strong voice for students.”

With the Berkeley MBA members of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Classes of 2015 and 2016

With the Berkeley MBA members of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Classes of 2015 and 2016

Making choices

As a natural collaborator, she knew being at the top of an organization would sometimes mean making tough calls.

“Being at the point of making a decision, where you know not everyone is going to be happy, was the biggest development area for me,” she says. “I think my biggest lesson was the realization that being in a leadership role among my peers wouldn’t harm my friendships. In fact, the relationships I built fueled my leadership.”

Though Nikita says the experience underscored how critical it is to not go at decision-making alone, she also learned that sometimes people don’t want to have input.

“That’s part of leadership too—knowing when people want to be brought to the table,” she says. “It started to become more instinctual toward the end.”

On a student trek to Morocco, spring break 2014

On a student trek to Morocco, spring break 2014

The importance of community

As the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, Nikita is proud that she was the first African-American woman to serve as Full-time MBA class president—and it was important to her family in the tight-knit community around Howard University where she grew up.

Her father came from Trinidad on a soccer scholarship to Howard, and her mother immigrated from Barbados. They met in the 1980s at Howard, where both worked as accountants. Nikita and all four of her sisters earned their bachelor’s degrees at Howard as well.

After graduation, she landed a position at Deloitte Consulting. She later earned a fellowship through ProInspire, which matches young professionals with nonprofits, as she explored careers in social impact.

She applied to MBA programs through the Consortium, which offers full scholarships to students who get into their top-ranked school. At the last minute, she ranked the University of Michigan’s Ross first, which has a large and active minority population. But in a twist of fate, she visited Haas during the Women in Leadership conference weekend, and knew it was the right place for her.

“I was so surprised by how right the culture felt. The warmth was there. The connections I made with people felt authentic,” she says. “I felt included immediately, and I thought ‘that’s somewhere I’ll continue to grow.”

As she looks toward graduation in May, Nikita summed up her biggest takeaway:

“What this leadership experience taught me is that I like to run things,” she says.

No doubt she will.

Update, March18: Nikita has accepted a job as Chief of Staff for Cisco Consulting Services.