How to be an MBA "leader amongst leaders"

By Laura Counts

 As one of the dozens of clubs and organmgzations that students in the Full-time Berkeley MBA Program can get involved with, the MBA Association student government is the one that touches on the most aspects of the student experience. From class-wide social activities to communications to academics to building future alumni connections, MBAA leaders take on highly visible roles. In many ways, the MBAA is the glue that holds a class together.

MBAA Group Shot

The 13 outgoing officers in the MBAA Class of 2018 were an exceptionally diverse group that set four specific goals for themselves:

  • Advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion within all aspects of student life
  • Fostering a community that is truly global
  • Redesigning communications with students at the center
  • Normalizing a culture of self-care

Several MBAA officers took a few moments to talk about why they joined student leadership, why they set those four goals, and what they got out of it.

Students profiled:

Paul Norton, VP of Communications (1st row, 2nd from right), is a student in the MBA/MPH joint degree program. He came to Haas because "its academic strength in healthcare, culture of redefining what success means in business, and location in the Bay Area were perfect for someone looking to make big changes in the healthcare industry."

Gabriela Belo, VP of International (2nd row, 2nd from right), is a management consultant from Brazil. She decided to come to Haas because of its culture, and to dive deeper in the tech industry.

Mark Angel, VP of Admissions (1st row, 2nd from left), worked as a management consultant in Charlotte, NC, and for a protein bar startup, RXBAR before pursuing his MBA. An undergrad biology major in undergrad, he came to business school to supplement his work experience with business fundamentals. "However, I chose Haas for the community. Grounded in the Defining Principles, it truly is unparalleled. After Haas, I will be returning to management consulting, but as a much more open, intentional, and thoughtful leader."

Adrian Williams, VP Social (1st row, 3rd from left), is originally from Atlanta, but came to Haas via New York City—where he plans to return after graduation to work in investment banking. He chose Haas "because of its Bay Area location and the incredible level of civic engagement that I felt from the student body."

Kenny D'Evelyn, VP of Alumni (1st row, 3rd from right), grew up in Evergreen, Colorado. Before attending Haas, he worked as a management consultant for Deloitte in Washington, D.C, helping big donor organizations like the UN and the World Bank align their talent with their mission.

Haas Courtyard_Ed Caldwell-1.jpgAbove: The Haas courtyard. Photo by Ed Caldwell.

Why did you want to serve in an MBAA leadership role?

Paul: "I saw a huge opportunity to rethink the way we share information at Haas, a huge challenge that almost every organization is struggling with as new tools emerge more quickly than we can keep up with the changes. I also really liked some of the other people running for officer positions and thought it would be a fun team to work with."

Gabriela: "I realized the potential to give back to the community that welcomed me so well."

Mark: "The previous year's VP Social told me she joined the MBAA to learn what it meant to be a 'leader amongst leaders.' I connected with that sentiment and ultimately chose to run to figure out what that meant for myself. More specifically, helping people find a sense of a community in a place has long been a passion of mine. VP Admissions was the perfect fit."

Adrian: "I've always been enamored with culture—how it's created, and how people interact with and consume it. I found that being VP Social provided an opportunity for me to help shape Haas culture and the experiences of my classmates."

Kenny: "I saw the MBAA as a very practical way to help refine and maintain our culture and to give back to my classmates."

Berkeley Haas Orientation Week Diversity Panel.jpgAbove: A diversity panel during MBA orientation week last August. Photo by Jim Block.

The MBAA has always had a VP of Diversity (a role held by Erin Gums in your class), but you also made diversity and inclusion part of everyone's role. Why? And how was it part of your role?

Gabriela: "Because we understood that diversity manifests in different shades and perspectives and that this is not only the role of VP of diversity, but also all other VPs and students. An example of something we did was to work as a group to create a 'Hot Topics' session about immigration, in which international students shared their stories and why they want to migrate to the US."

Adrian: "This was a part of everyone's role quite simply because in some way, all of our roles touch this very important issue. For me specifically, I've been intentional about creating environments that are inclusive of all in the Haas community (and their families). Because I can't see in my blind spots, this has also meant that I'm continuously processing critical feedback from classmates to make the environment more diverse, equitable and inclusive. A cople of things I did as VP of social: Kidsloween, which gave an opportunity for the kids of Haas to show off their costumes and enjoy pizza, and activities; and Soundboard, a chance for Haasies to tell stories through music in the courtyard."

Mark: "Diversity is for everyone, and inclusion makes an organization better. Ensuring Haas has a diverse student body population is essential to cultivating global leaders seeking to solve tough problems. Admissions has a key role in making sure groups are represented in each incoming class. One thing we did was to revamped the admissions phone-a-thon' process to ensure students who reported interest in affinity clubs were connected with current students in those clubs more directly. We are currently partnering with student-led Race Inclusion Initiative and the executive director of admissions to coordinate a workshop on how to improve recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students.

Kenny: "Having a primary goal about diversity confirmed our commitment to Berkeley becoming the leader in inclusive business education. We wanted to help put systems in place to prepare Haasies to lead diverse, inclusive teams and to demand that their organizations reflected those same values. As VP of Alumni, that primarily meant making sure the diversity of our alumni was represented in our on-campus panels and networking events."

Students bond during orientation week.jpgAbove: Students in the Class of 2018 at an Orientation Week event.

Your MBAA leadership team also set a goal of "fostering a community that is truly global." Why was that of top-level importance?

Mark: "Almost 40% of Haas is international. This community represents a unique opportunity to engage with and learn from other cultures—something we have not done a great job of in the past. We want to further make connections across cultural differences to better understand one another, broaden our perspective, and best prepare ourselves to lead in an increasingly global world. One thing I did from the admissions perspective was to add more money in my budget to help fund coffee chats internationally—something we hope to launch for this winter."

Gabriela: "It is of top-level importance because Haas brand has a tremendous potential to be more explored outside of the Bay Area. Also, when students are signing up for an MBA program at a top global business school, they are willing to have an experience that encompasses the global challenges that executives face. Some things we did were to program initiatives to increase the contact between international and domestic students, such as the buddy program, and the international 'consumption function' and dinners. We also gave more support to students that are organizing international trips to their home countries. Another mark of last year was to create the Africa Business Club."

Running in the Berkeley Hills_copyright Ed Caldwell.jpg
Above: Running in the Berkeley Hills. Photo by Ed Caldwell.

Another MBAA priority was to "normalize a culture of self-care." Why is this so important?

Paul: "In my role of VP Communications I spend a lot of time thinking about how to prioritize the information that students get. The goals of the MBAA around diversity, equity & inclusion, fostering a global community, and normalizing self-care served as great anchors when figuring out what to prioritize in messaging the MBAA sent out."

Mark: "We realized many of our classmates, particularly in the first year, had put taking care of themselves on the back burner. In many conversations, people talked about how they had stopped working out or weren't cooking healthy food at home as much anymore. That was a problem—business school is busy, but so will our work lives. We need to learn how to prioritize ourselves in order to be successful."

Kenny: "Getting an MBA should be transformative, but if you're too stressed to enjoy it that won't be the case. The work members of our group have done around this—especially Tiff—has helped me prioritize taking the small but important chunks of time I need to reflect and just be still."

Gabriela: "Prioritizing selfcare is important because b-school is overwhelming and learning how to prioritize and stay healthy physically and mentally can be challenging."

What have you personally gained from your MBAA leadership experience?

Gabriela: "So much! I learned the challenges of managing an organization with super-talented people and a turnover of 50% every year! Dealing with the short-long term trade-off is critical. Also, it is really gratifying to work with the program office, to collect feedback from students and implement changes. I am so honored to serve this amazing community, and I am really grateful for this opportunity."

Paul: "Number 1: Learning how to work with large, diverse teams with widely varying opinions and experiences. I have never had the chance to work with a group of people that had such varying experiences and perspectives and will always be grateful for that. And number 2: Getting to know an amazing group of people that I may not have otherwise crossed paths with. All of us run in slightly different circles in terms of our academic, career and social lives and the MBAA has served as a chance to bond with a group of people I may not have otherwise known."

Adrian: "My role on MBAA leadership has been an incredible opportunity to work closely with my classmates that are truly leaders amongst leaders. I'm grateful that I've been able to engage in challenging conversations, solve complicated problem and just have fellowship with this group. The VP Social role itself has been a stretch, indeed, and I would've never imagined that coming to business school would mean that I'd be managing social programming and budget for more than 500 Haasies!"

Learn more about the full-time Berkeley MBA community.

Posted on January 4, 2018
Laura Counts
Laura is a senior marketing and communications manager at Berkeley-Haas. As a former journalist, she finds no shortage of interesting stories to tell at Haas. As a Cal alum, she loves being able to walk to work through redwood groves along Strawberry Creek.