Berkeley EMBA Experiential Learning: Q&A with Asst. Dean Mike Rielly

By Susan Petty

Mike Rielly, assistant dean for the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, is recently back from Brazil, the International Field Immersion for the class of 2015. We caught up with him to talk about immersions just as he and his team prepare for one in Washington, D.C. for that same class and the Silicon Valley Field Immersion for the 2016s.

Berkeley MBA for Executives Program Head Mike RiellyYou’re back from Brazil and deep into planning another set of immersions. How are these learning experiences important to the Berkeley EMBA program?

Executive MBA students seek a high degree of engagement in their education, with a strong preference for experiential learning, which allows them to apply learning in real time and real world settings outside the traditional classroom. We’ve made a deep commitment to this, delivering 25 percent of our curriculum experientially—through five immersion weeks that happen at the end of each term.

But our commitment is qualitative as well as quantitative.

How do you ensure quality?

We start by partnering with rock-star faculty, and focusing on high-level and highly relevant curriculum, company visits, speakers, and networking opportunities.

We also execute these programs completely in-house, which is unusual among executive MBA programs, in order to make them uniquely Berkeley-Haas and to ensure best-in-class delivery of our unique blend of immersion components.

Taken together, these experiences offer transformative engagement and learning within the business and culture of global hubs such as Washington, D.C., Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, and of course the San Francisco Bay Area, including Silicon Valley and Napa.

In what ways are these immersions transformative?

We’ve now had two classes go through Silicon Valley Immersion Week, which brings to life for students the core capabilities of entrepreneurs as well as the demands, benefits, and risks of launching or working at a startup.

Inspired by what they learned and experienced in Silicon Valley and throughout the program, 16 of 68 students in our class of 2014 have launched new ventures—23 percent of the cohort. We’re already seeing a similar trend for the class of 2015, which completes study in December. Many of these students have told us they had never before considered such a deep entrepreneurial path.

Berkeley EMBA students at Google

At Google during Silicon Valley Immersion Week



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Just what happens on these immersions?

As Professor Toby Stuart, who leads our Silicon Valley Immersion Week says, “The right experience will never be forgotten, and it has an impact on the decisions that people make in a way that is much more profound than anything that happens solely in a classroom setting.”

We want not just the educational content, but the learning environments to make that kind of impact and to reflect the business and culture of our destination. In Brazil, for example, led by Professor Flavio Feferman, the curriculum focused on sports marketing, entrepreneurship, and global market venture.

What are some ways in which students learned about sports marketing?

We were in Rio following the 2014 FIFA World Cup and ahead of the 2016 Olympics. Our students met with Leonardo Gryner, Deputy CEO of the Rio 2016 Olympic Committee, and with executives from sponsoring companies of both the World Cup and Olympics, such as Flavio Camelier, vice president of Coca Cola Brazil.

We visited Maracanã Stadium, a semi‑religious moment for a lot of our students who follow football (soccer)! There we had a private tour and met with Marcelo Hargreaves da Costa, marketing and commercial director of Odebrecht, the company that manages the stadium’s marketing rights. Marcelo underscored for us what this facility means to Brazil, to the world of soccer and to companies who align with the stadium for marketing purposes.

On a private tour of Allianz Parque with Luis Dix, marketing superintendent, of global financial services firm Allianz Brazil, we learned how his company uses sports to infuse its brand with energy and character.

With sports marketing an increasingly significant portion of marketing budgets worldwide, our students learned about methodology, opportunities, and activation strategies from high-level executives at blue chip companies that are investing heavily in sports. It was eye-opening and will likely factor into future marketing decisions—one way or the other—for our EMBAs.

Why was Brazil a good match for entrepreneurship?

Brazil was the right place at the right time. Having gone through Silicon Valley Immersion Week, it was really interesting for this class to see the much younger entrepreneurial culture and ecosystem in Brazil. We visited four accelerators that were among the first five in the country.

Fabio Coelho, CEO, Google Brazil

Fabio Coelho, CEO, Google Brazil

On the corporate side, the week started with a fascinating, and at times personal, presentation and Q&A with Fabio Coelho, CEO of Google Brazil, followed by a high level multi-national panel on market entry, and then a session with Eduardo “Duda” Hernandez, creative director from WMcCann Brazil, the number one advertising agency in Brazil.

In six days we connected with a total of 40 VIP speakers and panelists, in various settings, all of them sharing insights that help our students think and act more strategically around global challenges and opportunities.

What were some of the cultural experiences students had in Brazil?

Flavio arranged for the students to visit two NGOs, both focused on getting kids off the street and into constructive activities, one around ballet and one around football. These were very emotional experiences, with our students playing a lively pickup soccer match with the kids at Bola Pra Frente, and hearing from passionate dance teacher and Ballet Santa Teresa founder, Vania Farias, about what motivates her to carry on in the face of often very difficult circumstances, i.e. a lack of support and funding.

Our students have since rallied to raise funds on behalf of both organizations.  

We organized optional excursions to soccer matches in Sao Paulo and Rio on both sides of the immersion, as well as a presentation and tour with one of Rio’s most engaging city planners—Flavio Feferman's father. Last but not least, many of our students extended their visit in order to further explore Rio, Ilha Grande, the Amazon, and other amazing Brazil destinations.

What’s next for the classes of 2015 and 16?

Both classes are in the field in December, with the 2015s in D.C., and the 2016s in Silicon Valley.

In Washington, students spend the week with Professor Laura Tyson, an expert on trade and competitiveness who has served as an economic advisor to Presidents Clinton and Obama, in order to increase understanding of how Washington intersects with business and vice versa. We look at key policy areas including financial market reform, healthcare reform, and climate change.

This will be the class of 2015's last week together before graduation. We can’t share our schedule quite yet, but the access and venues that Professor Tyson has arranged are amazing (Students in the class of 2014 met with Fed Chair and Haas Professor Emeritus Janet Yellen, for example). One thing I can share is that the EMBA 2015's final dinner as a cohort will have an international flair—it’s taking place at the stunning Italian Embassy and will be co-hosted by P rofessor Tyson and Claudio Bisogniero, Italian Ambassador to the United States.

For Silicon Valley Immersion Week, with Professor Toby Stuart, the big change this year is that we are moving a significant portion of the week into San Francisco and the East Bay—as the valley’s ecosystem moves north. 

Toby will again teach his curriculum at Google and Airbnb, plus one other venue we will soon finalize, and small groups of EMBAs will visit founders at 28 of the region’s hottest startups. The week will finish at the St Francis Yacht Club, where over dinner we will celebrate a number of Berkeley-Haas entrepreneurs, as well as the completion of another transformative field immersion. 



Topics: Academics  |   Experiential  |   MBA for Execs
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.