Economic uncertainty as catalyst: how an MBA helps you to pivot in unpredictable times

By Om Chitale

Thanks to economic shakeups caused by COVID-19, many Americans are bracing for a recession. Berkeley Haas professor Laura Tyson says the depth and duration of the recession will be tough to predict, but there's no doubt we're facing economic turmoil in the years ahead.

The good news is, a recession doesn’t hold back innovation. On the contrary, it fuels it.

Berkeley Haas professor Henry Chesbrough says innovation will have an important role to play in recovering from the aftermath of the coronavirus. He recently published a paper that discusses how to manage innovation as part of that recovery.

“Good ideas can come from anywhere, making openness imperative in these times of crisis. Opening up will speed up your internal innovation process, and allow you to take advantage of the knowledge of others in your business (outside in), even as you allow others to exploit your knowledge in their business (inside out). This will create more experiments, generate more knowledge, and explore more ways to apply that knowledge for customers’ businesses.”

As COVID-19 has swiftly changed our lives for the foreseeable future, the concept of “pivoting” is driving survival in business culture. We’ve already seen it as luxury hotels turn into quarantine centers and textile companies shift to making masks. One Berkeley Haas startup has even made a quick pivot to deliver hand sanitizer to the needy. 

Another startup was founded by 20 of the 67 executive MBA students in the 2020 class to connect donors with people and organizations in need. The nonprofit startup, One Link, aims to build a marketplace platform for desktop and mobile devices that connects donors and recipients—and scales beyond the current crisis.

You might be asking yourself “is an MBA right for me” or more likely “is an MBA right for me now?” Whether you’re an entrepreneur or you’re looking to grow your career, an MBA from UC Berkeley positions you for a pivot that could change your life, or even the world.

How a Berkeley Haas MBA prepares you to lead in times of uncertainty

If history teaches us anything, it’s that difficult economic times are the perfect breeding ground for progress: Iconic companies like Airbnb, Netflix, Mailchimp, and Warby Parker all started during a recession.

When it comes to job skills that will likely be in high demand in a post-coronavirus world - innovation, leadership, adaptability, and critical thinking top the list.


For example, because of COVID-19, your business might need someone with a design-thinking background to reassess the business plan. This enables you to reinvent yourself and change your business course - perhaps something that wasn’t available before. One way an MBA can help is with courses like Innovation and Design Thinking, taught by Sara Beckman. This course will test your analytical skills and teach you how to dig down to a problem’s root cause and find solutions for change.


In times of uncertainty and disruption, companies require bold leadership to capitalize on opportunities and solve difficult problems. Courses like Peter Goodson’s Turnarounds: Effective Leadership in Crisis will get you thinking like a leader in crisis and teach you how to bring out the best in your teams, even with limited resources. Additional core courses like Leading People and Leadership Communication will prepare you to lead effectively in any situation.


Adaptability will be another critically important skill in the post-coronavirus economy. In these unprecedented times, many well-established industries are struggling, while others are on the rise. Established businesses must adapt their models as well. For example, one of Seattle’s high-end restaurants switched to serving burgers and offering drive-thru service. The Experiential Learning and Applied Innovation components of the Berkeley MBA program give students a chance to put new ideas to the test.

Critical thinking

Critical thinking and the ability to objectively evaluate information from diverse sources will be essential as we rebuild our global economy. As part of our Defining Leadership Principles, questioning the status quo is embedded into every aspect of the Haas MBA program experience, from curriculum to faculty and research.


Collaboration and ideation are needed more than ever, and that’s not likely to change. An MBA gives you access to a broader network than you have now - during and after your MBA program. Your fellow Berkeley Haas MBA students bring a diverse mix of life and work experience from all industries and corners of the world. Many of them are established business people with on-the-ground management experience. Others are passionate leaders who are building legacies that go beyond themselves.

The connections you make and the ideas you share during your MBA program will be critical to making an impact after graduation.

Invest in yourself now to help reinvent the future

Having an MBA gives you an advantage in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Given the current economic climate, hiring managers now have more candidates competing for fewer jobs. 

Hiring managers from major companies recruit at Haas specifically, and so do alumni. That’s because, aside from traditional business skills, they know that MBA grads from top business schools have the drive, communication, and collaboration skills to thrive.

Now is a good time to take stock of your job, career, and industry. If your current line of work is on shaky ground, consider taking time to focus on your personal and professional development. If you’ve been thinking about a career pivot, now could be the perfect opportunity to act on it.

As businesses (and individuals) pump the brakes on spending, growth, and development, the ones who push forward and find new ways of doing things will be the ones to inspire greatness.

Find out if a Haas MBA can help you reinvent yourself.

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Posted on May 19, 2020
Themes: MBA Benefits
Om Chitale
Om was the Director of Diversity Admissions at Haas from 2019-2021, as well as a graduate of the full-time MBA program (class of 18). He started his career in consulting at Deloitte, then switched paths into education access and equity work through an Education Pioneers Fellowship in Memphis. He's now Sr. Program Manager of Inclusion Recruiting Partnerships and Communities at LinkedIn.