Shoe Designer Finds Berkeley EMBA a Perfect Fit for Her Business


Shoe designer and Berkeley EMBA alum Martha Davis

For Martha Davis, shoes are not solely about fashion. As an industrial designer, she has always valued the unique balance of function and form in footwear, but turning her passion into a business has given her a whole new perspective on the lifecycle of a product. And as a student in the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, Martha has what she's learned at Haas to expand the vision for her company—beyond the product, and into possibility.

Designing Her Career

With a degree in sculpture from the Rhode Island School for Design, Martha launched her career in industrial design (designing, among other things, the dial-pack birth control packaging for Johnson & Johnson) and then, with a move to San Francisco, in tech consulting, helping companies like Razorfish and Autodesk with design and marketing.

In 2009, she took the leap to pursue a new path that had always been a passion: shoes.

"I wanted to design my own product and see it through, which you don't really get to do as a consultant," she says. "I'd always appreciated fashion as a consumer, but had never done any fashion design. It struck me that footwear was unique and actually required a lot of utility like any other product. I also saw that there wasn't a lot of innovation going on in footwear- with materials, manufacturing or design."

Enrolling in a trade school technician program in Milan, Martha learned the mechanics of footwear, and gained the essential foundation she needed to launch her own footwear company, Martha Davis Shoes.

Building a Brand and a Vision

While she was confident in her design eye and ability to produce a beautiful product, Martha realized she was missing a crucial piece for the long-term success of her business: an understanding of the business model around the product. "Designers are taught to be really creative and innovate all the time, but I was missing the business language and understanding of the bigger picture. Every designer should really have that language. It's so important to the success of what you do."

While Martha has been extremely successful with the product side of her business, the Berkeley EMBA has given her a larger perspective on her business as a whole.

"I've always been interested in the product (the design, the functionality, the look and feel), but until launching my own company, I never had a chance to get involved in the system around it—the business around the product. Now I see that the product is just one piece of an ecosystem. Haas gave me the ability to evaluate and strengthen the business as a much more compelling offering."

Applying Berkeley-Haas Experience to Her Own Business

The program’s immersive learning experiences have also been helpful, with the Silicon Valley Immersion Week offering insights into innovative business models with unique profitability and scalability. "The week exposed me to founders at many different types of companies. All of them spoke about the importance of balancing a need for capital, while also putting together the right kind of deals, so that you’re able to maintain a certain amount of control in your business."

Another source of inspiration has come from the Haas community, including her peers and guest speakers. Even those who are coming from very different career pursuits have proven to be valuable resources for Martha. "The work of classmates in totally different fields can actually apply to my own industry. You don't realize how rich and relevant other perspectives and experience can be to the work you’re doing until you start reaching out and growing those conversations."

Hearing Jagdeep Singh, Founder & CEO of QuantumScape, speak during Silicon Valley Immersion Week on how to structure a sustainable business with ethical practices has influenced her own desire to revisit the customer relationship side of her own—an opportunity she's excited about.

"I think there's an opportunity to create a deeper relationship with my customer based on what they need, want, and on what brings value to their lives. For me, in addition to financial metrics, success is creating a long-lasting relationship with our customer base that continues to provide them value."

Fashioning The Future of Martha Davis Shoes

As she applies her experiences and lessons from Haas to her business, Martha is excited about the future of her company, and her role within it. "I know my business will shift going forward to reflect the intersection of design, fashion, and technology and that I will shift to focusing more on the business model than the product."

For Martha, Haas was the perfect fit. And in true Haas style, she continues to go beyond herself, asking, "What else can my product be? How can my brand empower my customers more?” With an EMBA from Haas, Martha knows she’ll find the answers.

Think Haas could help you turn your passion into meaningful work? Download our free Ebook, Finding More Meaningful Work, to learn how to approach your next career move, and how Haas can prepare you for success.

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About The Author

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.