Making business school work for MBA partners and families too, part II

By Susan Petty

At Berkeley Haas, our MBA community is made up not only of students, alumni, and faculty, but of partners, spouses and families as well.

We sat down with six MBA partners and their Berkeley Haas students to find out what it's really like to balance family and personal relationships with an MBA program. 

We met our first three couples in Part I of this series. Now, let us introduce you to three more Berkeley MBA couples:

Couple #1: Berkeley Executive MBA student Sally Allain and Richard Allain

Berkeley MBA for Executives student Sally Allain with husband Richard

Sally and Richard Allain met in San Diego (and, as one might expect in sunny Southern California—in a beach bar). Sally joined the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, and she and Richard work together to pursue two full-time careers—Richard is an Officer of U.S. Marines and an F/A-18 Aviator; Sally is the Director of External Alliances, Immunology, Janssen Research & Development—as well as raise two children.

What do you enjoy about being a couple at Berkeley Haas?

Sally: My fellow classmates really do embody the Haas Defining Principles; they are some of the most genuine, friendly, giving individuals, and this resonates strongly when we’ve had opportunities to include our spouses. There have been numerous occasions when our partners have been invited to attend evening or weekend events, whether at Berkeley or during our immersion weeksThese events have been a great opportunity for our partners to meet and connect, and made our class cohort experience even more personal. 

Richard: I have been welcomed to several social events sponsored by Haas. They have proven great experiences providing the opportunity to talk informally with the eclectic group that is Sally’s cohort. Each has been memorable in a different way.

Why did you decide Berkeley Haas was the right fit—for both of you?

Richard: Sally had been considering an EMBA Program for years, but we had to find the right time to balance both of our professional lives, as well as our two children.  

Sally: Haas’ EMBA schedule of in-residence at campus every three weeks was a big draw for me, enabling the balance of school, family, and my added work travel commitments. In-residence also allows me to be fully committed to class while also connecting and networking with my classmates.

What’s hard about juggling a relationship and an MBA program?  

Sally: Balancing it all—a career, my relationship with Richard, two young children, and the EMBA Program. It’s a great exercise in juggling priorities for me, but I also have to remind myself that the EMBA Program is a short time period for me to be slightly selfish for my career growth.

Richard: With high expectations comes exceptional commitment. We are both pursuing graduate degrees currently and have two very active children. Maintaining a sustainable balance among these priorities and finding time for one another has proven challenging at times, but we continue to work through it while recognizing how this is a unique time.

What advice would you give to a couple with one partner considering an MBA program?

 Sally: It’s a continual give and take on both of our personal and professional time. You both have to be committed to this time for the person in the program to succeed, which also translates to my husband spending a lot more of his time on household and children responsibilities than I can. It’s a period where I have had to put time I would have spent with friends ‘on-hold.’ You just can’t do it all.

Richard: Begin with an honest discussion of the commitment required to fully realize the opportunity offered by Haas. There will be trades. Making sure you give your supporting spouse their own time ‘off’ is also really important.

Couple #2: Full-time MBA student Peter Shearer and Lauren Civeillo

Full-time Berkeley MBA student Peter Shearer and wife Lauren Civeillo

Lauren Civiello, a speech therapist, and Peter Shearer, who will finish the Full-time Berkeley MBA Program this spring, met in D.C. Peter was stationed in the Navy and was looking for a change in career path, which led him to Haas. Upon acceptance to the program, the two road-tripped across the country to begin their next chapter: As a Berkeley Haas couple.

What do you enjoy about being a couple at Berkeley Haas? 

Peter: The small class size allowed me to get to know a lot of different people and not just the ones in my cohort. There’s an open environment toward partners, and a large percentage of people who came to Haas with a partner, so classmates respect and welcome that. Partners can travel with the group and come to lots of events.

Lauren: The first couple of weeks were very involved and everyone is a part of everything. There was always someone to hang out with or something to do; there’s never a dull moment. The social aspect of Haas was very enticing and that was part of the program’s culture from the start.

Why did you decide Berkeley Haas was the right fit—for both of you?

Peter: When I came out to visit Haas, I knew we’d be happy here and that it would be a good fit for both. When I came to Days at Haas, the person I interviewed with had a partner at Haas, as well, and we had a candid conversation about it. I loved the people I met and it was just a gut feeling.

Lauren: The environment we’d be in was important to us, and we love this part of the country. In terms of Haas itself, we were coming from a Navy community, where they really foster relationships, and I got the sense that Haas would be similar in welcoming spouses and kids. I had conversations with other partners before we even got out here!

What’s hard about juggling a relationship and an MBA program?

Peter: Business school is a huge life change, and for a partner it might be doubly difficult. We made a move across a country to a new apartment, went to just one income, had different schedules, where as before we were both 9-5. It’s a big change in lifestyle.

Lauren: There were so many academic and social events at first. It’s a lot all at once, and for working partners, you find yourself on a different schedule than [the student]. But it gets so much easier after first semester.

What advice would you give to a couple with one partner considering an MBA program? 

Peter: Going into the program, discuss what both of your expectations are. I’d encourage people to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible and to include your partner. Experience as much as you can.

Lauren: Although it can be a lot, take advantage of treks, weekends, and events. I’ve made lifelong friendships through Peter being in this program. Also, make time alone with your partner, even if it’s as simple as morning coffee together.

Couple #3 Berkeley MBA for Executives student Alphonsus (Alf) Cheng and Emma Cheng

Berkeley MBA for Executives grad Alphonsus Cheng with wife Emma and family

Recent Berkeley MBA for Executives grad Alphonsus (“Alf”) and wife Emma originally met as teenagers, but they didn’t date until meeting again as adults. Nineteen years and three kids later, Alf is the Director of Pharmacological Sciences Operations at BioMarin Pharmaceutical, and Emma is a Principal Human Resources Business Partner at Informatica. While Alf pursued his Berkeley EMBA, the couple balanced two full-time careers, along with a full house.

What do you enjoy about being a couple at Berkeley Haas?  

Alf: That the Haas community extended far beyond the classroom to significant others, spouses, children, and parents. We knew we’d made the right choice when we found ourselves in this new extended community of diverse individuals (diverse in any way you can describe us) who were at the same time incredibly like-minded in how welcoming they were of our existing communities.

Emma: The “Spouse Panel” during the orientation had helped set the stage for what to expect from the spouse’s perspective. It helped me understand that I, too, had a role in this program, not as the student—but more importantly, as the student’s support system. I was mentally prepared to support Alf in any way I could so he could dedicate the necessary time and energy to the program.

Why did you decide Berkeley Haas was the right fit—for both of you?

Alf: I knew that if I were to spend the time and money to get an MBA, it had to be from a renowned program and it had to be local, so that helped narrow my choices. When it came down to the details, several things were key to our decision to choose Haas: the block schedule, the program's duration and most importantly, the defining principles.

Emma and I have talked a lot about the impact of corporate and organizational cultures on success. We’ve also shared with each other our admiration of certain leaders in our professional past and present and talked about the things that made them such great leaders in our eyes. As parents, we also make every effort to instill core values in our children that are also important to us. When I first laid eyes on the Haas Defining Principles, I was almost beside myself….they very precisely describe the characteristics we most admire in our leaders and those we hope to impress upon our three crazy children.

What’s hard about juggling a relationship and an MBA program?  

Alf: Keeping things balanced was great in principle, but did not always happen in execution. Difficult choices were made on a daily basis on where to spend what precious little time I had; school, career, relationships or Alf time. As you’d expect, my own time was the first to go, but the balance between the remaining three was a very dynamic exercise and really forced me to consider the bigger picture.  You have to prioritize your relationships, figure out how to best nurture them and then do it efficiently.  You have to put things in to perspective about when it’s important to spend that extra hour prepping that case versus spending some much needed alone time with your spouse or children.

Emma had to cover for me in so many situations—with the kids, with friends and family, with chores….you name it. I was often worried about her ability to keep sane. Turned out she was similarly worried about me holding it together, given the number of my waking hours I spent doing schoolwork in addition to staying engaged at work.  There was no way I could’ve even done half of the program had I not had her full buy-in and support.

Emma: Looking back at the 19 months of the program, the challenge that comes to mind is missing Alf’s presence and involvement with our little family on a daily basis. That left a huge gap in our family, but it was comforting to know that it would be a temporary gap and we’d have Alf back in no time. But I believe the kids and I quickly managed to get used to the idea that he would not be around as much for family parties, events, basketball practices, etc. We set the expectations with the kids early on so they were prepared and had answers to their questions. Alf printed out the 2014 - 2015 EMBA schedule and tacked it on the wall in our den so the kids could see exactly when he would be in block.

What advice would you give to another couple with one partner who is considering an MBA program?

Alf: This will sound very cliché, but communication is key. Communicate your commitments and expectations so there are no surprises. In addition to the coursework, I was also appointed as one of two student Vice Presidents of Admissions. Emma and I discussed this decision at length and what it would mean for both her and I and we both bought into the idea.  Another good example of communication was with our crazy personal and professional schedules.  Emma and I started calendaring each other, combining our work Outlook with our personal calendars so nothing was left to memory. It’s worked so well that we continued to do this after the program.

Emma: Get to know the other spouses in the program. That was a benefit in that I really felt a sense of involvement in the program. I enjoyed meeting the students in Alf’s class and getting to know them and their families. It was nice to have Haas events open to families/children to attend as it allowed more opportunities to more deeply connect with his classmates and their families.

If you'd like to get a feel for how an MBA program might work with your family life, compare the schedules, duration, and more of our three Berkeley MBA programs.

Compare Berkeley MBA Programs

Posted on February 12, 2016
Themes: MBA Benefits
Susan Petty
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.