When Conor Farese, MBA 19, was invited to speak at a recent Days at Haas, it caused him to ponder his role as a campus leader.
“There are so many competent people at Haas who are much better public speakers,” says Conor, president of the MBA Association, the student government for the Full-time Berkeley MBA program. “I had to figure out how to be a voice for this community and to help prospective students feel excited and welcome here.”
This challenge was one of several throughout his Berkeley MBA experience that would shape him into the leader he has become today. In fact, his journey has often reflected the program’s Defining Leadership Principles.
Confidence without attitude
As MBAA president for 2018, Conor led a team of 12 vice-presidents, each charged with their own aspect of improving the student experience. His greatest challenge was discovering how to build a collaborative community among these high-achieving individuals while also ensuring they could be successful in their diverse initiatives.
That challenge helped Conor learn when to step in as a leader and when to “get out of the way.”
“Some people knew exactly what they needed to do and so I would support them from behind. For others, I needed to be a thought partner or idea generator.”
He also enrolled in Extreme Leadership taught by Omri Even-Tov and Jen Chatman, which helped him become “an empowering leader” of a collaborative group.
Question the status quo
Early on, Conor and his MBAA team noticed that campus communication traveled through varied platforms. This included the informal use of the workplace communications tool Slack, but there was no acknowledged central hub. So they worked to formalize Slack as the main communication source to provide a place where students and the administration could connect.
Their work ranged from negotiating price and loading email addresses into the software to training students and the Program Office staff to use the platform.
“Slack is now the No. 1 place where students post whatever comes across their radar—whether that’s looking for housing, friendship, or opportunities to join a company,” Conor says. “It’s also provided a new way for them to interact with the administration around questions and issues.”
A key conversation during his time at Haas centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As a white male, Conor wanted to learn how to be an ally. He signed up for the student-led course Dialogues on Race to build his knowledge of race and racism in our society. He then supplemented that with books, podcasts, and guidance from leaders who advocate for DEI issues on campus.
“When it comes to DEI, there is a huge amount of foundational knowledge you need, so ‘always be a student’ has been such a big takeaway for me,” he says. “I believe strongly that diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace ensure the best talent, the best products, and the best ideas.”
Conor again applied the Student Always approach during his internship last fall at IDEO, an international design and consulting firm. Assigned to a healthcare-related strategy project, he had to get up to speed on unfamiliar issues in the emerging field of digital health. With help from friends in the Berkeley Haas MBA/MPH program, he was able to do so quickly.
His proudest achievement as MBAA president is his team’s effort and accomplishment at recruiting and transitioning the incoming class of 2020 to lead the MBAA.
“That was so critical,” he says. “We could make a world of difference in our year, but if the incoming class is not prepared to take on leadership roles, what legacy does that leave?”
When Conor graduates in June, he will join IDEO as a senior business designer. The position will call upon many of the same skill sets he developed as a leader at Haas.
“I’ll be working with high-achieving people, who have different craft areas, sharing my framework in a way that builds up others. I practiced that so much at Haas, I feel it set me up to be successful at IDEO.”
Want to be a world-changing leader? Explore how in the Berkeley Haas Full-Time MBA Program.