Just one month after a prominent Stanford professor called out his business school and others for a culture that emphasized “booze, cars and houses” over learning and ideas, a 24-year-old Stanford MBA has been charged with drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter.
Zachary Katz, a first-year MBA student in the Class of 2015, was driving an Infiniti sedan in the wrong direction on Highway 101 around 3:40 a.m. when the crash occurred, according to the California Highway Patrol. He crashed into an SUV taxi cab near San Francisco Airport, killing one person and injuring two others.
The incident, involving a highly promising student whose resume includes degrees from Harvard and Cambridge and a work history with Genentech, is something of a wakeup call for Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Katz, according to his LinkedIn profile, was “hoping to create and commercialize medicines in disease indications with high unmet need.” He now faces up to ten years in prison for his charges.
Only a month ago, Jeffrey Pfeffer, a long-time professor of organizational behavior at the school, said publicly that he believes MBA programs have essentially become two years of vacation and partying for twenty-something students, a chance to have the college experience they may have missed when they were undergraduates.
THE PARTYING AT STANFORD BEGINS WITH A TUESDAY NIGHT BAR SCENE
At Stanford, wrote Pfeffer in an essay published by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the partying atmosphere began with an event called FOAM (Friends of Arjay Miller, a former Ford Motor senior executive and dean of the school). “As sort of a joke, a group that originally called itself the 11 Percenters and then became known as FOAM began with a Tuesday-night bar scene—since there are no classes on Wednesday. Some students thought it would be cool to go to Las Vegas on a Wednesday during the winter quarter—hence, Vegas FOAM—with a Tuesday-night departure, and some people dressed in costumes. Then people began going to the Sundance Film Festival—a majority of the student body now make that trek. And, of course, there are the ski houses and ski weekends, the rental houses in tony Atherton and Woodside that some second-years live in, the various charity fundraising balls, and the numerous other events and trips that I can’t even keep track of.
“If and when business schools become more like many of their professional school brethren—where status comes primarily from academic/professional accomplishment, not from who can hold the most liquor or put on the best show—not only will less wealthy students no longer be disadvantaged, but the culture will change for the better—from booze, cars, and houses to ideas,” he added. The essay was written after a New York Times story on Harvard Business School that reported widespread partying by MBA students.
BOOKED ON CHARGES OF VEHICULAR MANSLAUGHTER WHILE INTOXICATED
Police said that Katz had been hospitalized since the collision in South San Francisco early Saturday, but was taken to the San Mateo County jail late Wednesday. He was released two hours later on $250,000 bail.
Katz was booked on charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, drunken driving, having a blood-alcohol content of .15 or higher, and driving on the wrong side of the road, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Mike Ferguson.
The crash killed Pedro Juan Soldevila, 62, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who was ejected from the taxi by the force of the crash. Katz’s first scheduled appearance in San Mateo County Superior Court is set for Nov. 12.
A Stanford spokesperson told Poets&Quants that the crash was an “incredibly tragic and isolated accident.” She said it “had no connection to Stanford or Stanford GSB, and therefore we have no involvement in the legal process as that is the role of authorities in that jurisdiction. Any student alleged to be involved in an off-campus crime has the right to due process through the court system.”
The Katz tragedy follows the accidental drowning death last year of a 31-year-old Harvard MBA student only days before he was to graduate. The Harvard student, Nathan Bihlmaier, had been out drinking with classmates. An autopsy later showed that Bihlmaier had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit for driving when he fell into Portland Harbor and drowned.
HARVARD, CAMBRIDGE AND STANFORD PEDIGREE
Katz, by all accounts a superb student with “a wicked sense of humor,” came to Stanford Graduate School of Business after a two-year stint with Genentech and a venture capital pre-MBA internship with Burrill & Co. in the Bay Area. He graduated from Harvard College summa cum laude in 2010, with a major in history, biochemistry and English literature. During his Harvard years, he landed summer internships with Booz Allen Hamilton and J.P. Morgan. After Harvard, Katz went to the University of Cambridge where he graduated with distinction with a master’s of philosophy in bioscience enterprise.
A hiring manager at Burrill endorsed Katz on LinkedIn with highly flattering praise. “Zak is a very talented and sharp individual with commendable work ethics,” she wrote. “He exhibited deep insights, creativity and a high level of professionalism during his venture internship. His broad and in-depth knowledge of the life sciences sector coupled with his ability to apply it to analyzing diligence investment opportunities for the venture team ranked him as one of the top performing interns. In his short tenure Zak was a great team player and the quality of his assignments was always top notch.”
A brief biographical sketch of Katz on a Stanford-related site said that he is originally from New York. “Zachary has always enjoyed studying the intersection of the biological sciences with its societal and humanistic counterparts, ranging from ethics to law to economics. Outside of work, you can find him playing the cello, doing community service, playing tennis, or trying to conquer a word puzzle of some kind,” the text read. “He will inevitably make a bad pun in class, causing you to groan.”