How to maneuver through a many-faceted MBA transition

By Eric Askins

When she enrolled in the full-time MBA program at Berkeley Haas, Chifum Ann Ukadike, MBA 25, navigated several transitions: She moved to a new country. She returned to the classroom—in a different academic system—after many years in the workforce. She encountered a new culture and social environment. How did she handle all of that change?

“For me, it has always been important to have a plan. But, just as important, you have to be flexible in executing your plan,” Ann said.

An MBA "the right way"

Ann’s journey to Berkeley Haas bears out the truth in both of those statements. She had barely finished her undergraduate degree program at the University of Benin when her father passed away. Suddenly responsible for two younger brothers, she put her plans for an MBA on hold so her brothers could pursue their education. Both Ann and her brothers benefited. Over the course of 10 years, Ann worked in Nigeria, Ghana, and India. Her last position before Haas was chief operating officer with Terragon Group, a Series B start-up.

“When my younger brother finished law school at the University of Illinois, both of my brothers and my husband insisted that it was now time for me to pursue my dream,” she recalled. Her new plan would include doing an MBA “the right way,” by which Ann meant studying in the U.S. Her comprehensive approach to choosing a business school encompassed research, guidance from her mentors, and conversations with alumni and her family. To ensure a smooth transition, Ann created a detailed plan that included career and academic goals, a budget, and a timeline for key tasks, such as housing arrangements and visa requirements.

Although a West Coast school was not part of her initial plan, Ann was influenced by the “incredible things” Berkeley Haas grads had to say about their experiences. And while it may be a West Coast school, Ann soon discovered Berkeley is much cooler than the West Coast of Africa. “I wanted a location that didn’t have a harsh cold winter,” she said. “However, I was surprised at how chilly it could be in the morning and at night.”

Ann also appreciated being close to many of the Silicon Valley companies she admires and has followed from afar. “Closer than I expected,” she said. “It was incredible to actually be inside Tesla’s balance sheet during our core Accounting class.”    

Planning for product management

While Ann’s early career had focused on consulting and human resources, primarily in the tech sector, her MBA plan was to transition into product management. “Just saying that out loud for the first time took courage, but I suppose it is one way I am Challenging the Status Quo,” she said. “I like the way a product manager can visualize the questions and needs a customer has and use that information to build a product that satisfies the customer.”

A product management internship with a tech company is part of Ann’s plan but she is nonetheless considering an offer from Amazon in a human resources role. “I don’t believe in passing up opportunities,” she said. Ann leveraged support from the Career Management Group (CMG) as she tailored her résumé and did mock interviews. “CMG has been instrumental in providing guidance on résumé building, networking—which is new to many international students, by the way—and connecting with potential employers,” she said.

As she went through the recruiting process, Ann couldn’t help noticing that interviewing for internships at tech companies is “less structured than say, for consulting or investment banking internships. CMG encouraged me to make direct contacts using the Haas Alumni Network and I found student clubs are a good way of making connections in tech companies, but I believe we can do better,” she said. No surprise, Ann has a plan: she is working to add structure to the tech internship recruiting process especially for Africans coming to Haas. That effort meshes with her roles as VP-Careers in the Black Business Student Association and co-president of the Haas Africa Business Club.

Evolving as a leader

A resident of University Village, Ann has gotten to know students, their partners, and families from all over the world and from across UC Berkeley. “Meeting other Africans, especially Nigerians, helps home feel a little less far away,” she said. Staying true to her values is another part of Ann’s plan. She says it is “important to strike a balance between assimilating into the new culture and maintaining my identity.”

Because she has worked and lived in several different countries, Ann appreciates the role diversity plays in global business, and being at Berkeley has broadened her awareness. “At home, diversity efforts often focus on ethnicity and religion,” she said. “Here, I see so many more examples of diversity. I feel we are being prepared to succeed in a multicultural and interconnected business environment. It is very powerful to look through my classmates’ lenses and understand their points of view.”

Her leadership skills are evolving, too, thanks to classes like Leading People. In her leadership positions before Haas, Ann put execution and results first. “I worked in cultures that were more hierarchical, where leadership is based on authority and respect. Here, I am learning how to use other leadership tools, like authenticity and empathy.”

Ann’s long-term plan is to return to Nigeria and start her own business, where she can “identify and fill some of the tech gaps in Africa. I want to design products that answer the questions Africans are asking in their everyday lives. Haas has a robust focus on entrepreneurship, providing resources such as the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program, startup incubators like SkyDeck, and a network of successful alumni entrepreneurs. Students and alumni receive valuable support and guidance.”

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Posted on December 22, 2023
Eric Askins
Eric is the Executive Director of Full-time MBA Admissions. He partners with students, faculty and staff to recruit a diverse student body that enhances our community through innovative leadership and academic excellence.