Photo of Molly Zucker

From retail wine to Big Tech: Executive MBA spurs alumna’s career pivot

By Susan Petty

Berkeley MBA for Executives graduate Molly Zucker Carson, EMBA 19, attended Haas to grow her business and leadership skills. She planned to apply her new abilities to her work as director of the online auction division of her family’s retail company, K&L Wine Merchants.

Instead, her academic journey led to a program manager opportunity via The Adecco Group with Google’s Go-to-Market team.

Why did you choose Berkeley Haas over other business schools?

I was an unconventional MBA candidate. Yet it felt like Haas celebrated diversity in background and experience and that my uniqueness would be an asset rather than something to hide. The Defining Leadership Principles also intrigued me, particularly Question the Status Quo. I’ve always been someone who incessantly asked why and pushed boundaries. 

How did the Haas network help you on your journey?

Jeff Decker, MBA 17, was my biggest supporter. We had attended UC Berkeley together as undergrads. After graduation, he went into the culinary world, so it felt like we were kindred spirits. Jeff was incredibly generous with his time and spoke about the quality of the people in the MBA program. He also helped me combat imposter syndrome. He reflected this idea that you don’t have to work at a big tech company or startup to be embraced in the MBA world. A background in hospitality or food and wine was just as respectable.

Which courses, immersions, and faculty influenced you most?

Innovation and Design Thinking, taught by Sara Beckman, showed me how to dig down to a problem’s root cause. And that it’s okay to be wild and crazy with your ideas because there’s a kernel of genius in them. 

Peter Goodson’s Turnarounds: Effective Leadership in Crisis class was the best simulation I had for what leaders in crisis must consider to bring the best out in their team using available resources, with limited time and money. It’s an especially relevant skill set in this time of COVID-19 where businesses are dealing with extreme circumstances and figuring out how to save their companies. 

What role did Haas play in your decision to leap from retail wine to tech?

Breaking away from my family business was not an easy decision. My team and I had built something very successful, and I was proud to be part of that. Plus, launching K&L’s online auction division revealed business instincts I hadn’t tapped into yet. But after eight years, I got to a place where I felt unable to take our business to the next level and was hungry to learn more.

Growing up in the Bay Area, I was privy to the tech boom but felt like an outsider. Haas opened my eyes to that world. The Silicon Valley immersion was very pivotal for me. Every business I looked at had some principles of innovation and technology that could be applied to retail or a direct-to-consumer business.

K&L has been such a privilege, but I thought I’d be a better leader if I broadened my scope and explored new experiences and technology. Haas gave me the confidence to do that, along with the network to make this pivot possible—most notably, my fellow alumna and Google senior program manager, Sara Davis, EMBA 19.

For me, getting exposure at Google is an open-ended opportunity to dive into the deep end of one of the most innovative and respected technology companies in the world. 

How has your Haas experience transformed you as a leader?

When you’re a leader in a company, you have a certain amount of status. So it can be hard to admit that you’re struggling or don’t understand something. Haas helped me get past that. I wouldn’t say it was an immediate transformation. It took some soul-searching and moments of picking my confidence off of the floor, but I felt surrounded by folks that really wanted to support me and help me learn. I’m now so much more open and no longer frightened of not being the expert in the room. 

What advice do you have for others deciding whether to pursue a Berkeley MBA?

I would say to any females considering business school that, at Haas, you’ll be in the company of strong women who will embolden and strengthen you. If you’re someone who doesn’t see yourself as an MBA candidate because you have an unconventional background, realize there is a place for you at Haas. It’s a world-renowned institution that will value your diversity, perspective, and opinions.

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Posted on April 24, 2020
Themes: Technology
Susan Petty
Susan is Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program. She has nearly twenty years of experience in marketing and advertising, having worked in several different industries including technology, travel, healthcare -- and many others from her media planning days at J. Walter Thompson where her clients included Chevron, Kaiser Permanente, Nestle, and Ford. She enjoys advising prospective students and guiding them through their personal MBA experience.