At a pivotal point in her career, Kriya Chantalat, EMBA 16, faced the best sort of problem: a promotion out of her comfort zone. After working for years as a CPA and controller of Arcadia Companies, she was offered the chief financial officer position. It was a role that called for leadership skills she wasn’t sure she had.
Exploring the where and why
“Accounting is a role where you know the ‘what’ and the ‘how’—this is what we’ve done and how we got here,” she says. “For a CFO, it’s about the ‘where’ and the ‘why.’ Where are we heading, and why? That’s more strategic and visionary.” The Berkeley MBA for Executives equipped her for her new role.
After a childhood spent moving between Dallas and her native Thailand, Chantalat pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting at the University of Texas at Austin, seeking a “career with the kind of financial stability [she] lacked as a child.” Her first job was as an auditor for PricewaterhouseCoopers. She enjoyed that work, but something was missing.
“It taught me people skills, how to work on a team, meet deadlines, and deliver results,” she says. “In the role of an auditor, you write the report, but you don’t get to see how it is implemented or whether it’s done effectively. It’s not as fulfilling.”
Two successive career moves to Fortune 500 homebuilders immersed her in a new industry and sparked her desire to lead. As the 2008 financial crisis roiled the housing market, Chantalat landed a position with Arcadia, a 60-year-old private real estate firm.
She started out overseeing accounting for Arcadia’s core real estate business. Soon, her boss was asking her to engage in activities as diverse as angel investment and private wealth management. “I had to wear so many hats at the same time, I did not know if I had it in me to succeed,” she recalls.
A trusted sounding board among experienced Haas classmates
The Berkeley MBA for Executives gave her what she needed and more. In addition to core classes, she chose electives that supported her evolution at work where she found herself on unfamiliar ground overseeing an institutional investment portfolio of non-real estate assets and helping form a private foundation.
She also took advantage of the program’s access to classes outside the EMBA curriculum. She audited a nonprofit governance class and added real estate electives offered through the Evening & Weekend MBA program. Reaching out to experienced Haas classmates in tech, banking, VC firms, and real estate gave her a “trusted sounding board.”
When her job called on her to advise a distressed start-up, she used what she learned in Turnarounds, an intense week-long elective that requires analyzing several dozen case studies that taught her to “take a broken company, form an investment thesis, identify key fixes, and strategize a profitable exit. It honed my strategic, operational, negotiation, and presentation skills. You deploy the whole MBA curriculum.”
It’s been a few years now since Chantalat graduated with an MBA, and she still draws upon it every day: from tactical skills to leadership. Just the other day, the CEO delivered the highest compliment to Chantalat and the chief of operations, who manage the company’s day-to-day business.
“You two run the company so well for me now,” he said, “I have time to do all this fun business.”
Chantalat replied, “Thanks for letting me get an MBA.”