Leaders Who Redefine: EMBA Cristy Johnston Limón, Destiny Arts Center


Berkeley EMBA student Cristy Johnston Limón at Destiny Arts

As a teen in the San Francisco Mission District, gang pressure was high and she dropped out of high school. But she went back, with the help of her cello.

At 19, with skyrocketing rent, she joined angry street protests against gentrification in The Mission. But felt violent confrontation didn’t work.

Following undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, she returned to San Francisco to work on a pilot program to revitalize the neighborhood: the Excelsior District. It was a success.

She received a national community leadership award for this pilot program, which has since become a citywide initiative for transformation.

Cristy Johnston-Limón spent her early years resisting gang pressures and street violence. She learned and overcame every step of the way. It wasn’t easy, but it ultimately prepared her for the road ahead: heading up a nonprofit and pursuing her degree in the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program.

Steps to Destiny

The work that prepared Cristy for Berkeley-Haas was no walk in the park. In 2011, her future employer, Oakland’s Destiny Art Center, was facing eviction from its shared space. They needed to do something and they needed to do it fast.

Destiny Art Center was a pillar in the community for encouraging violence prevention through the performing arts. It offered classes in hip hop, kung fu, and karate for thousands of kids. As the newly hired executive director, Cristy was tasked with finding a new space and saving this organization from floundering.

She went to work; overcame obstacles, and gained priceless skills along the way.

Even before her first day, Cristy had already scouted 50+ new sites for the organization. Eventually she found one. But it was a tough sell. Directors and advisors were worried about a plan to purchase and build out an 8,000 square-foot warehouse. Cristy was not.

“I knew this one was it and I did everything in my power to a make it happen,” Cristy says.

Berkeley EMBA student Cristy Johnston Limón at Destiny Arts

With the help of Destiny Arts Center board member (and Berkeley-Haas Executive Fellow) David Riemer, Cristy met with the board often and was able to counter their arguments against the building plan calmly and confidently, listening and solving problems all along the way.

“Cristy is a leader with an incredible combination of confidence, ambition, passion, and vision,” said David Riemer, an Executive-in-Residence at Berkeley-Haas.

Growing with an MBA

Cristy expressed having nerves starting her EMBA program at Haas. But was soon pleasantly surprised by what she found.

“The bonds you are able to build with classmates are a key piece of the Haas experience. I've come to know my classmates as truly extraordinary individuals and I am astounded at both the diversity of background, experience, and interests, and at how much we have in common, across nationality, industry, and life experience.” says Cristy.

Starting the program she had strengths in communication and leadership, but lacked the quantitative skills to keep up with the class. That changed too.

“I’m a much better critical thinker now, much more likely to Question the Status Quo, and to not take data for granted,” Cristy continues.

More than anything else, Cristy learned how to talk to her board at Destiny Arts Center and really give a deep analysis of the present state of affairs.

“The Destiny Arts Center has quadrupled in the last four years, which posed some structural challenges. Now I can look at our balance sheet and P&L with greater understanding. I can talk with our board at a deeper level of analysis,” Cristy states proudly.

Leaders who Redefine

Cristy chose the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program because at Haas, we develop leaders who redefine the way we do business. Her opportunity was relocating and rebuilding a nonprofit ...What will yours be? Define your destiny. Find opportunities to grow. Join Berkeley-Haas.

Learn More: The Berkeley MBA Executives Program


About The Author

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.