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.

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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.

 

First-Ever African Business Forum to Explore the New Mobile Frontier, May 2

Forum organizers: Serge Ouedraogo, MBA 15; Ould-Ali Najat, MBA 15; Ahmed Khada, MBA 15; Oseyi Ikuenobe, MBA 15; Remona Moodley, MBA 16; Sadiya Abdullahi Nur, MBA 15

Forum organizers: Serge Ouedraogo, MBA 15; Najat Ould-Ali, MBA 15; Khadar Ahmed, MBA 15; Oseyi Ikuenobe, MBA 15; Remona Moodley, MBA 16; and Sadiya Nur, MBA 15

The first-ever business forum at Berkeley focused on the world’s second-largest continent—and second-fastest-growing economic region—will take place at Haas on Saturday.

MBA students organized the Africa Business Forum to fill a gap at the school, where students have long held regional business conferences focused on Asia and Latin America.

“Our vision is to make Berkeley-Haas the premier destination for the development of innovative business solutions to Africa’s challenges, and a home for visionaries who want to develop these solutions,” says Oseyi Ikuenobe, MBA 15, one of the event organizers.

They chose the theme, “Africa: The Next Frontier For Mobile Technology,” to resonate with the larger Berkeley community.

“We didn’t have to look far to find our theme,” says Serge Ouedraogo, MBA 15. “Mobile is where everything is happening in Africa—when you talk about access, it’s through mobile devices. As a business school, we should not be missing this emerging market.”

Growth Leader

The forum is not only a first for Haas, but for the larger Berkeley campus as well, organizers believe. Conferences and panels have focused on politics and policy, development, and advocacy, but never business. But given the growth forecasts for the continent, that’s likely to change.

A few stats:

  • For 2015, Kenya has the world’s 3rd-fastest growing economy, behind only China and the Philippines, according to an analysis by Bloomberg. Nigeria has the 6th fastest-growing GDP.
  • Only about 16 percent of Africa is currently online; the connected population is expected to grow to about 50 percent by 2025.
  • Africa’s middle class is expected to double over the next ten years.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be the global leader in growth of mobile usage over the next seven years
  • Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana have emerging Silicon-Valley-type tech ecosystems.

Gathering of Big Thinkers

In the face of such rapid growth, what will Africa look like in ten years? That’s the central question of the symposium, to be explored by entrepreneurial speakers and panelists who are pioneering a range of innovative ventures, as well as in a hands-on business-model-design session for attendees.

Sophia Bekele, founder and CEO of DotConnectAfrica—which has advocated for .africa domain names—will give the keynote address. Panelists include Shashi Buluswar, co-founder and executive director the Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab; Stephen Ozoigbo, CEO of the African Technology Foundation, Sarah Kunst, venture partner at Future Perfect Ventures; Twitter developer advocate Bear Douglas, who will talk about Twitter’s Digits—a free mobile app authentication framework suited for emerging markets; and Kevin Schuster, growth director for VOTO Mobile, a Ghana and U.S.-based enterprise working to amplify disenfranchised voters’ voices through mobile phones. See the full speaker list.

Organizers expect a crowd of about 70 people, including students from Haas and other schools, and working professionals. The group has also been marketing the event at meet-up groups focused on African business.

The event will be held from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. May 2 in the Wells Fargo Room. Click here to register. Follow the forum on Twitter: @HaasAfrica.

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.

Root Beer Floats With the Oracle of Omaha: 2 MBAs Recount Their Visit With Warren Buffett

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…

Buffett Trek_1200

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.

One Day, Triple Play: 3 Competition Wins in Finance and Sustainability

Braving the cold: Akshay Yadav, Jessica Holland, and Carl Olson (not shown: My-Thuan Tran). All are MBA 16.

Big Impact in Boulder

The Win: First place in the Leeds Net Impact Case Competition in Boulder, Feb. 20-21

The Team: Akshay Yadav, Jessica Holland, Carl Olson, and My-Thuan Tran, all MBA 16

The Field: Twenty-five teams of four graduate students each, competing to solve real-world sustainability business cases

The Pitch: Our team was asked to plan the optimal coastal restoration infrastructure for a city that is facing a growing threat of erosion and severe flooding due to climate change. Our approach was to minimize costs and risks and develop a diverse capital expenditure plan to ensure long-term protection. Our solution was a three-pronged approach of green infrastructure funded by water protection taxes; earthen berms funded by FEMA grants; and wetlands protection funded by wetlands mitigation banking.

The Clincher: One thing our team kept top of mind was the Haas defining principle “question the status quo.” The solution we came up with was not a conventional way of financing similar projects, according to our research. However, we knew we needed to take a bold approach for a bold solution. We worked to mitigate the risks in our proposal, and we prepared for the tough Q&A session.

The Investment Club team, left to right: Miran Ahmad, MBA 15; Carl Choi, MBA 16; Scott Furumoto, MBA 15; and Zane Keller, MBA 15

The Investment Club team, left to right: Miran Ahmad, MBA 15; Carl Choi, MBA 16; Scott Furumoto, MBA 15; and Zane Keller, MBA 15

Stars in LA

The Win: First place in the Fink Center Stock Pitch Competition at UCLA on Feb. 20

The Team: Miran Ahmad, MBA 15; Carl Choi, MBA 16; Scott Furumoto, MBA 15; and Zane Keller, MBA 15, all of the Haas Investment Club

The Field: MBA students from 10 other business schools across the country

The Pitch: Our team, “Get Shorty”, pitched a short recommendation on insurance company Assurant in the first round. Living up to iour name, we also decided to short Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba in the final round. We defended our investment thesis in front of a panel of judges, from hedge fund managers to equity research analysts.

The Clincher: While our team fielded difficult questions during the Q&A, one judge later remarked that what helped the us stand out was our ability to defend its thesis confidently but without sounding defensive. 

Veteran team member Zane Keller believes that the difference came down to the team’s decision to take a controversial short position on final round stock Alibaba.  “After thoroughly reviewing the macroeconomic assumptions and the underlying fundamental growth projections required to justify its lofty stock price, we knew it would be difficult to make a long recommendation.”

RotmanWinFeb2015

Going International in Toronto

The Win: 2nd Place in the Rotman International Trading Competition, the largest trading competition in the world, in Toronto, Feb. 20

The Team: Master of Financial Engineering students Simon He, Yi Lu, Tanya Gupta, Tong Lu, Wontai Cho and Maoqi Wang, all MFE 15. MFE Lab Manager Charles McCutchen helped prepare the team.

The Field: More than 50 teams from universities around the world, including MIT, Columbia, NYU, Princeton, the London School of Economics, and 1st-place winner LUISS Guido Carli/University of Rome.

 

Student Spotlight: Entrepreneur Dan Schoening, MBA 16

Dan Schoening_MBA 16Dan Schoening began his entrepreneurial career early.

At age 14, he was running his own soccer camp company. By 18, the Seattle native was advising high school students on how to get recruited to college athletic programs. As an undergrad, he started a mobile shuttle tracking service.

So it’s no surprise that Dan has continued his entrepreneurial journey at Haas, as co-chair of LAUNCH: the UC Berkeley Startup Accelerator & Competition. He was also selected as one of two Berkeley students to go on the inaugural Silicon Valley Bank Trek, a tour of the Valley and San Francisco’s startups, banks, and investment firms. For three days this week, he and 18 other students from the across the U.S. are meeting a who’s who of influential tech leaders, stopping to visit the Silicon Valley Bank, the offices of Andreessen Horowitz, startup business analytics company BIRST and VC data provider Mattermark, and the San Francisco-based co-working facility WeWork Golden Gate.

We recently talked with Dan about the Trek, the LAUNCH competition, and his experience at Haas.

Haas: Tell us about your most innovative startup.

Dan: As an undergrad at Tufts University in 2009, I co-founded a mobile service that provided information about bus schedules to students traveling to and from campus. We were pleasantly surprised with the traction it gained on campus and we began to expand its applications into the shuttle management space.

Haas: What drove your decision to enroll at Haas for an MBA?

Dan: I was only interested in the West Coast—I wanted to immerse myself in the entrepreneurship world and the startup scene here in the Bay Area. This is where you have to be. I ended up doing a West Coast entrepreneurship search, and I chose Haas. I’ve only been here a few months, but I’m really excited about the program and the various opportunities and the resources it presents for entrepreneurs. I’m especially excited for Toby Stuart’s entrepreneurship class this spring—I’ve heard rave reviews about it.

Haas: What do you hope to get out of the Silicon Valley Bank Trek?

Dan: The Trek is a new event this year, so it will be fun to see how it unfolds. In addition to connecting with key influencers in the Valley, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet and learn from the other students from around the country.

Haas: As co-chair of LAUNCH, you (along with co-chair Franklin Russell and the student executive committee) are shepherding the established competition through some significant changes. Tell us about them.

Dan: The criteria for competitors are more stringent this year: applicants needed to be further along with their startups and present more mature businesses. We’ve also shifted the program to be more of an accelerator model versus a standard business plan competition.

We had over 100 applicants from all across the UC system, and all of them have validated a product in their space. Many have incoming revenue. Only one team member has to be an affiliate of a UC school, and applicants include alumni, faculty, and staff.

LAUNCH Bootcamp is coming up on Feb. 6-7. This will be the first full-group event with the 16 teams, the faculty advisors and the mentors. We’re feeling really confident about the new model.

Haas Community Comes Together in Solidarity Against Racial Profiling and Violence

IMG952014120495122842For four-and-a-half minutes on Thursday, Haas students, staff, and faculty stood in silence, with their hands up in the air in a position of surrender, in respect for Ferguson teenager Michael Brown and other young African Americans who have died recently at the hands of law enforcement.

The Stand in Solidarity demonstration was organized by several MBA students—in parallel with larger campus demonstrations—to call attention to issues of police brutality and racial profiling.

“Today we want to observe 4.5 minutes of silence because Michael Brown’s body had reportedly been left in the street for 4.5 hours,” said Angela Steele, MBA 16, who co-organized the demonstration with Emily Yao and Michael Young, all MBA 16 and members of The Consortium, a network focused on promoting underrepresented minorities in business education.

“Many of us have been wrestling privately with the events of the past week, and we wanted to gather publicly and recognize what is happening and respect the lives that have been lost.”

Demonstration_Organizers

Demonstration organizers Michael Young, Emily Yao, and Angela Steele, all MBA 16.

Steele, who is the incoming MBA Association’s Vice President of Diversity, was referring to the back-to-back decisions by grand juries in Ferguson and New York to drop charges against white police officers involved in lethal altercations with unarmed African Americans—as well as the nationwide upheaval that has followed. Organizers also distributed information packets with news articles and information about the death of Eric Garner, who had been held down in a chokehold; the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland; as well as statistics about police violence in African-American communities.

Dean Rich Lyons, Senior Assistant Dean & Chief Strategy Officer Jo Mackness, and Senior Assistant Dean for Instruction Jay Stowsky were among the Haas administrators, staff, and faculty who joined the students packed into the Bank of America Forum.

“I’m here to stand in solidarity with our students,” Stowsky said. “I’m also here because my son is half black. He’s only four years old, but he’ll grow up to be a young black man and he’ll face these same issues.”

Young, a first year student, said he was moved by the strong show of support.

“This has easily been my favorite moment at Haas so far,” he said. “If I wasn’t talking I would have been crying.”

The demonstration was followed that evening with the first of the student-organized series “Hot Topics: The Conversation You Haven’t Had,” where Haas classmates shared personal stories on controversial topics in talks titled Black in America, Muslim Extremist, and Death With Dignity.

“Hot Topics is supposed to be a conversation starter”, said Dan Fishman, MBA 16, who organized the event with classmates Amin Aaser and Kenny Vaughn, both MBA 16, and Ryo Itoh, MBA 15.

The goal of the series is “to create a safe space within the Haas community that triggers the important but difficult conversations around challenges that vex our society, in an effort to create self-aware business leaders who will always think beyond themselves on their journey to shaping our future.”

play day: slideshow

The 10th annual >play conference packed Fort Mason last month, attracting a record 700 people to San Francisco last month to explore the latest, greatest, and most disruptive digital trends.

Organized by the Haas Digital Media Entertainment Club (DMEC), >play is the largest student-run technology and digital media conference in the country. The day included a “start-up alley,” hackathon, keynotes from business leaders—and some time to play at the silent disco.

Check out the highlights.

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Students shift gears for Specialized at Innovation Challenge

A streamlined store experience that makes shopping for bikes less intimidating, and a chain of Specialized indoor cycling studios to get people comfortable with riding outdoors were two of the stand-out ideas at the DISC Innovation Challenge last weekend.
The annual event this year featured a business challenge from Specialized bicycles. COO-USA Joe Brunetti, MBA 92, Director of Global Retail Services Joe Wheadon, and five other Specialized representatives served as judges. Design consultants from IDEO guided students through the iteration and innovation process.
DISC_Specialize_I-Challege

Students got the chance to try out a Specialized electric bike, called the Turbo.

Brunetti said he was impressed with the students’ inquisitiveness and creativity, and how the short timeframe created a sense of urgency and unleashed their creative energy. He hopes to invite Haas students to participate in an internal brainstorming session at Specialized.

“One of the challenges in managing a business is that over time the team puts on blinders. It becomes easier to spend more time thinking of why we cannot do something, rather than why we can do something,” Brunetti said. “You go into ‘protect’ mode instead of being on offense. The energy of the Haas students could challenge our thinking and pre-dispositions.”

Katerina Barilov, Sandeep Pahuja, and Dan Goldman, all MBA 15, organized the event for the Design & Innovation Strategy Club (DISC). The goal is to give students hands-on practice with the design thinking under time pressure.
While there was not technically a “winning” team, Specialized judges chose the plan for a streamlined shopping experience—which students presented in the form of a skit—as their favorite. The team included Marisa Johnson,  Juan Franceschini, both MBA 16; Andrew Goodman, MBA 15; along with Hasnain Nazar of the School of Information and Alexandra Alden of the multi-disciplinary Development Practice department.

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Why I never thought about gender balance, but do now: a male student’s perspective (Part 3)

This is the final post in a three-part series on gender balance at Haas. In the first two parts, first-year MBA student Ryann Kopacka described what it’s been like for her so far in a class with 43% women. Today, second-year student Jesse Silberberg, MBA 15, writes about the dynamics in a cohort with far fewer women—and what he’s learned.

By Jesse Silberberg, MBA 15

My first six managers were women. First as an intern in politics and investment banking, then in full time roles in higher education and consulting, I took my daily cues from smart, effective and accomplished women.

Because I had worked with, and for, as many women as men, I did not actively think about issues of gender in the workplace. I did not see the need.

My perspective has changed since I got to business school.

Jesse, top left, and Haas classmates at an event for Amazon MBA interns over the summer.

Jesse, top left, and Haas classmates at an event for Amazon MBA interns over the summer.

When you combine the current graduating classes of the top 10 business schools, just 37 percent of students are women. In my class at Berkeley, the percentage of women dipped to 29 percent (from 32 percent the prior year). Haas placed me in a study group for my core classes where four out of five of us were men, and in two other groups for project based classes that were all male.

I noticed subtle differences about working in male-dominated groups. We were quicker to form norms based on known (or assumed) similarities in past experiences. We were less structured in how we approached our work and more susceptible to groupthink. Our final work products were very high quality, but largely due to individual team members stepping up at particular points in a project.

These perceptions are anecdotal, but they are supported by research findings from McKinsey about leadership behaviors that improve organizational performance: women are more likely to clearly define expectations and responsibilities, reward achievement of targets and spend time listening to individual needs and concerns; men more often monitor gaps between objectives and performance, take corrective actions when needed, make decisions individually and engage others in executing them. With this simplified lens, our experiences appear to be better when groups have a balance between women and men. I can say definitively that mine have been.

At the whiteboard for a design thinking session with innovation consultancy syPartners

At the whiteboard for a design thinking session with innovation consultancy syPartners

Attending a Lean In event at Facebook’s headquarters, where I was one of about 20 men in an audience of 300, further shifted my outlook. Sheryl Sandberg spoke, and then we moved to Q&A. Although I had things I wanted to ask, I thought to myself “I’m not sure this is the time for me, as a man, to ask questions,” and stayed in my seat.

This was the first time that I had changed my behavior based on something—my gender—that I could not control. It made me realize that being outside of the dominant group—which, frankly, was rare for me—can affect how I approach a meeting, an organization, or a career. Being part of an identifiable minority is a powerful learning experience, the type of which I now seek out more often. The Lean In event also showed me the value of initiatives that allow women to voice their perspectives in a space where they do not feel like a minority—something I struggled to understand during my pre-MBA career.

Leaning in at Facebook

Leaning in at Facebook

I entered my second year of business school with refined thinking:

  • Gender balance improves the performance of groups and organizations
  • It is important to be aware of the limitations of our personal experiences with regard to gender balance, and find ways to reflect beyond our day to day
  • Women can benefit from opportunities to discuss gender issues in settings where they do not feel like a minority

At Haas, clubs like Women in Leadership (WIL) and classes like Kellie McElhaney’s The Business Case for Investing in Women provide platforms for us, as men, to think about our experiences with different levels of gender balance, and create opportunities to experience different gender dynamics, even if only for a short time. We must find and seize opportunities—both formally through classes and clubs, and informally by asking questions of our classmates—that expand our perspective and advance our thinking on gender.

My thinking is not the only thing to have evolved at Haas. The Class of 2016 is 43 percent women and every study group of five has at least two women. With the highest reported percentage of women among top MBA programs, and one of the smaller class sizes in our peer set, Haas could be primed to become the first business school with 50% (or more) female students. But one year does not a trend make, and we won’t get there unless men and women actively work to better understand gender dynamics, in our community and beyond.

You don't need to work at Amazon to use an Amazon Locker. Jesse Silberberg MBA '15, is interning as a senior product manager.

Jesse Silberberg is a second-year student in the Full-Time Berkeley MBA Program. He has worked as a senior product manager intern in Amazon’s Kindle Education group, a Founder’s Intern at edtech startup DIY.org, a consultant in Deloitte’s Strategy and Operations practice, and a Presidential Fellow at Dartmouth College, his alma mater. At Haas he is the co-president of the Design and Innovation Strategy Club and the education lead for the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC). A native New Yorker, he is still searching for great pizza in the Bay Area but happy to be doing so with better weather.