Making space and making a difference as an entrepreneur through acquisition

By Jenny Clare

When she heard Dean Ann Harrison speak at an event in Chicago in 2019, Adilene Dominguez, MBA 24, was just starting to research MBA programs. Instead of talking about the average salaries earned by graduates, Dean Harrison invited anyone in the audience “who wants to change peoples’ lives” to come talk with her.

Adilene was the first person in line. “No matter what I do, taking space and making space for others in my community will always be primary in my life. I don’t need an MBA to increase my earning power. I want an MBA to prepare myself to pursue social justice,” she said.

From her childhood experience growing up as the child of blue-collar workers in Waukegan, Illinois, and her tenure at the medical device manufacturer BD (Becton Dickinson), Adilene knows that the healthcare sector offers ample opportunities to close gaps in access and quality. In an article she wrote for Haas Voices, Adilene outlined her original MBA thesis to design a start-up that could “provide equitable healthcare for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. As a Latina, I feel a responsibility to represent and to advocate for all of the Latinxs who are not represented now.”

As she settled into her Evening & Weekend MBA classes and gained insights into business concepts that were new to her, Adilene began considering whether launching a start-up was really where she wanted to go next. “Just getting here to Berkeley Haas was a tremendous leap of faith for me, and for my family,” she said. Despite an undergrad degree in biochemistry, “I didn’t want to go into bench science or research. I wanted to lead an organization, to develop both services and people. For that, I needed an MBA.”

It was coincidence when her classmate, KC Loy, MBA 24, shared his textbook for the class Search Funds & Entrepreneurial Acquisition. “I didn’t even know what a search fund was, but I immediately realized that it was ‘entrepreneurship through acquisition’ (ETA)—in effect raising funds to buy an existing company, preserving the founder’s legacy and ultimately taking that business through its next stage of growth. At its core, the ETA model is how Latinx businesses have operated for centuries. When a grocery store owner or a landscaper or the owner of a laundromat gets ready to retire, the business typically is sold to another family member or a community member who maintains the legacy. Plus, this approach really suits my desire to lead, to lift people up, and develop their skills.”

Adilene jumped right in, signing up for the elective Turnarounds, taught by Peter Goodson during her first summer. After two months of reading and preparation, during one week in the classroom, Adilene said, “you learn everything about turning around a business, starting with the idea that the best turnaround is the one that didn’t actually happen. That is, in many ways, what should happen in a good search-fund acquisition: the purchase of a good business.”

In a packed schedule, Adilene doubled down on electives that would prepare her to lead a search fund and, eventually, a company. “At one point,” she said, “I was taking classes Monday and Wednesday evenings and on Saturdays, and I had a full-time job at BD. I may not have gotten much sleep, but I got to know my classmates and made a lot of friends who supported me in big and little ways.”

Her electives included Private Equity & Venture Capital, taught by Chris Puscasiu in the MBA for Executives program and Private Equity Creation, co-taught by Peter Goodson and Sam Snyder, a principal at Greyrock Capital Group. Adilene both deepened her knowledge of private equity and was able to graduate early. Now, instead of finishing up her degree, Adilene is actively fundraising.

Extending her networks beyond Illinois was another reason Adilene chose Berkeley Haas. It was important to be in a “mission-driven environment, in the hub of innovation,” she said. “And to be in a top MBA program at a university that strives to become a Hispanic-serving institution in the next 10 years.” Although she is now back in Illinois—she knew she would need “the security of being closer to family during my funding round”—her Berkeley Haas connections remain a firm foundation. Those include people she encountered through the Private Equity and Finance clubs. In fact, Adilene and Menanteau Moolman, MBA 24, led the way for a new student club. “Originally, entrepreneurship through acquisition was one of the pillars of the Finance Club. Establishing ETA as a separate entity was critical to give Haas talent access to resources and internships and the ETA community,” she said.

Adilene also mined the Haas Alumni Network (HAN). Early on, at the encouragement of Justine Roades, her career advisor and executive coach Jessica De Anda, Adilene discovered that “it really is true that you can call a Haasie anytime and get a response.”

She counts two graduates who are thriving in ETA sector as valued mentors: Josh Harrington, MBA 11, now CEO of Eldex Corp., and Chris Pickett, MBA 13, who recently acquired the Mass Group. “Chris and I have monthly check-ins and Josh, who is a legend already in the space, actually let me shadow him on the job.” she said.

It’s easy to imagine future Hassies shadowing Adilene on the job and benefiting from her mentorship. She says she dreams about this, “because I want to make sure Latinx entrepreneurs read my story and know that they belong, that they too can take the leap of faith and be a CEO.”

Interested in having an impact through your own career? An MBA from a top business school can help you grow your network and leadership skills so you can take the next step towards a fulfilling career.

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Posted on January 19, 2024
Jenny Clare
Jenny is Senior Associate Director of Admissions for the Berkeley MBA Programs for Working Professionals. She hopes these blog posts provide you with useful insights into the Berkeley MBA experience and answer questions you may have about the MBA in general.