Noa Elan’s career has unfolded a bit like the title of the Grateful Dead album – what a long strange trip it’s been.
Her journey has taken the 2014 Berkeley Haas MBA grad from compulsory duty in the Israeli Air Force to the marketing of Downy fabric softener to Tel Aviv housewives, followed by a PR stint at Burning Man on the playa at Black Rock Desert, and now to her dream job now as a marketing manager at Lyft, the newly public ride-hailing company.
Noa credits her remarkable odyssey to the Defining Leadership Principles at Berkeley Haas and just as importantly, the student and alumni services the school provides. But the adventure almost didn’t happen.
“My husband and I had quit our jobs and were vacationing on a beach in India trying to decide which business school to attend,” she says.
They’d both been accepted to Berkeley Haas as well as to another well-known business school on the East Coast. At first, they seemed evenly torn between the two.
“We sat on the beach and said, ‘Let’s flip a coin.’ It came up in favor of the East Coast school. We were doing high fives and cheers when we stopped a moment and said, ‘Hey, you want to try flipping again?’”
They did and it came up in favor of Berkeley Haas. But the real decision actually had been made before that.
“We visited both schools and the moment we arrived at Berkeley, we felt instantly that it was really special,” said Noa. “There’s something magical about Berkeley: the faculty house, the Campanile, the energy, the hippies on the street. It’s bigger than the business school. This university has changed the world.”
And then there were the Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Student Always, Beyond Yourself. “In a way, because of those principles, Berkeley chooses you as much as you choose it,” she says.
But Berkeley is a long way from Tel Aviv where Noa worked for Procter & Gamble creating advertising campaigns for Tide, Dawn, and Downy detergents and softeners.
“I feel grateful that my first career was at P&G because they really understand marketing,” said Noa. “But I knew the future was technology. Everything was happening around that. I wanted to be around hyper growth, a place of learning and development and education.”
Berkeley also brought new insights into marketing.
“I’ll never forget Professor Don Moore's courses about decision making, focusing a lot on framing, biases, and overconfidence,” she says. “I feel lucky that I got to study with one of the key global researchers on the topic of organizational behavior.”
Besides the coursework, Noa threw herself into activities, like the Digital Media and Entertainment Club. There she and a fellow student put on a conference about how technology was shaping people’s lives.
“The conference experience made me want to explore live events,” Noa says, “because I really enjoyed creating experiences and bringing people together toward one shared goal.”
That led to her Burning Man internship, the annual event in the desert that celebrates art and self-expression, especially if they involve spectacle and fire. After graduation, the Haas Alumni Network and the Career Management Group gave Noa a further boost by introducing her to the CEO of BottleRock, the Napa Valley music, food, and wine festival.
“A lot of the power of Haas is in its communities and the people they connect you to,” says Noa. “And I’ll be forever grateful to Tenny Frost, head of Alumni Relations. No one can say no to her.”
Noa describes her voyage into live events as “epic,” but she adds, “I didn’t see the meaning or the long-term path.” So she returned to her dream of technology. “I stayed ‘non-traditional’ – that’s part of the Haas DNA – it’s just that now I’m doing it in a traditional techie role.”
Noa ended up being a bit of both. “I've been obsessed with Lyft since before it was in the market,” she says. “I met the CEO, Logan Green, during a speaker series in my first semester and fell in love with the vision.”
Lyft was “my dream company whenever I thought about recruiting,” says Noa, who is senior marketing manager at the firm which went public in late March. “Lyft is technology. It’s part of the new economy. And you can do crazy stuff – like the founders once wearing beaver and frog costumes in public when they were marketing. I can be creative here, as well as flex my business and people skills.”
As the latest stop in Noa’s long strange trip, she says, “Lyft is where I was meant to be.”