2016 Best MBAs: Dan Fishman, UC-Berkeley Haas

Dan Fishman Berkeley Haas

Dan Fishman


University of California at Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“Dan Fishman made my job easier. And a joy!”

Age: 29

Hometown: La Canada, CA

Education: Georgetown University (School of Foreign Service), Bachelors of Science in Foreign Service

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? The Philanthropy Roundtable, Director of K-12 Education Programs

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015?

MBAs Across America

MBAx Fellow

Where will you be working after graduation? Startup TBD

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School

  • President, Berkeley Haas MBA Association (student government)
  • Co-founder, Hot Topics (organized discussions led by MBA students on challenging issues such as race, class, religion)
  • Co-founder, Berkeley Leaders Lab
  • Fellow, Consortium for Graduate Study in Management,
  • Admissions working group member, Race Inclusion Initiative
  • Graduate assistant, Navigating the Human Pathway (a new course bringing together a dozen+ undergrads and a dozen+ volunteers 65+ years old to design solutions for aging-related challenges)
  • Board member, Alpha Public Schools (public charter school network)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Over the past year, I was part of a team of six professional staff, students and faculty who developed and piloted a new leadership program for all first year MBAs. While this pilot had a rocky start, it was a chance for us to get scores of core faculty members, Haas leaders, and students together to decide what values and skills we believe every Haasie should command when they graduate. It also challenged us to determine: If we only have a finite number of gatherings, lectures, and simulations to develop “the Berkeley leader,” what qualities do we want that leader to embody? What culture do we want our own to carry forward after Haas, and how do we practice for this, rather than merely talk about it? We’re refining how we get to this point, but jumping out and doing this has had a cascading effect on program culture and academic coursework. It has also allowed us to bring 241 more Haasies into the effort to build a program that reflects this vision.    

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I worked for The Philanthropy Roundtable, I had the opportunity to help visionary philanthropists dramatically improve the educational course of their cities.

In San Antonio, a combination of factors—including strong philanthropic leadership and huge unmet demand for quality school options—allowed me to support and learn from a cadre of generous citizens who were in the process of dramatically expanding the number and variety of high-quality public school options in the city. I provided these philanthropists and other civic leaders—a core of 6 individuals, alongside a broader group of 200—with guidance to attract, support, and grow the highest-performing school networks (five additional school networks committed and three broke ground by the time I left). Through three conferences and site visits over two years, I also helped them build a much larger consortium of citizens dedicated to supporting this effort, which has now raised over $35 million. Thanks to this effort, the schools flocking to San Antonio include some of the nation’s very best public charter schools. Thousands of students already have exponentially better school options, and tens of thousands more will in the coming years.

 Favorite MBA Courses? Entrepreneurship, which affirmed for me that you don’t need to have a genius IQ or flying-car technology to start a thriving business that can improve the life of your customers and turn a healthy profit. While many of the cases we explored dealt with heavy-hitting companies like AirBnB, the discussion that I remember most was about a regular Joe who decided to start his own board game company. He partnered for virtually everything he needed to develop, produce, and sell a new game, which went gangbusters. This class, and in particular this case, made clear that successful entrepreneurship rests on resilience, work ethic, and hustle.

Why did you choose this business school? I really struggled with the decision to go to business school. The cost is high, and the opportunity cost even higher. I also wondered about the practicality of more classroom education. Ultimately, however, I decided that in order to accomplish what I want to in my life, I needed a much broader set of abilities, and more disciplined thinking. I also wanted a program that would embrace someone with a non-traditional background as an equal. Haas offered all this. Business isn’t just good at Haas—it’s meant to be a force for good. I was sold when I came to visit and saw students living out our four Defining Principles (Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself) in pursuit of this end.

What did you enjoy most about business school? Having an unending supply of free tee shirts again! Perhaps more importantly: beginning to understand the complexities and nuances of business challenges I thought I understood. For example, I believed I had a decent command of how incentives influence use of our healthcare system before Haas. However, taking Haas courses on healthcare systems with our dual MBA/MPH students made me realize there’s vastly more than meets the eye when it comes to health care utilization incentives. Of course, I’ve immensely enjoyed social life at Haas. I love my classmates and the friendships we’ve formed over the course of two years.

What was the most surprising thing about business school?  How much the personal and political worldviews of professors and classmates shape the business school experience, but how little of this is directly addressed. In many ways, business school is an apolitical space, so students don’t grapple with the political views that drive their opinions about the world we live in. This leaves us in strong shape to found and steer businesses, but in poor shape to navigate the waters of public policy. This was a major shift for me after spending seven years in Washington, DC.

 What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? Be able to compose a 30-second eulogy encapsulating the difference you made with your life. I’ve found Haas to be much more fruitful as I’ve become clearer on the big, meaty problems I want to solve through business. If you don’t have that sort of clarity yet, it’s harder to suck the marrow out of your two frenetic years at Haas, and it will be harder to make a case for why you belong here.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…enough people I trust assured me it wasn’t a live-action version of The Wolf of Wall Street.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…working with schools and organizations to ensure they’re preparing high school students to be career-ready, as well as college-ready, by the time they graduate.”

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? This summer, my MBAs Across America team and I worked with an Iraq veteran and army helicopter pilot named Kevin McManus. Kevin decided he wanted to start a small business in his spare time. With the help of his wife and daughters, he opened up a recycling and scrap yard just off his base in Alabama. He employs a half dozen locals and provides the town and base with a valuable service. He gets up before 4 a.m. every day to arrive at base and train new pilots, then heads over to the scrapyard around noon and works until evening to support his customers and employees. This is backbreaking work. With his crumbs of spare time, he leads a church youth group. Kevin’s work ethic, integrity, and commitment to his community are unparalleled. I admire Kevin tremendously because this is exactly the sort of pillar of a community an entrepreneur can and should be. (Kevin also let me fly in a helicopter simulator, which Elon Musk never did. Kevin 1: Elon 0.)

What are your long-term professional goals? I came to business school because I wanted to focus on three challenges: creating good, upwardly mobile jobs for harder-to-hire populations like ex-offenders; helping develop more economic opportunity on and around Native American reservations (I was a teacher on a reservation); and changing the way seniors age. I want to tackle each in turn. As such, my goals are to develop companies that create lots of well-paid jobs for employees. I want at least one of these to directly help seniors live more purposeful lives as they age. I plan to start with this senior piece as soon as I graduate.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I’m not sure how much I’d say I’ve found success just yet, but I’d very much want to thank my parents for their unflinching love and their support of whatever career it is I choose to pursue. I’m also deeply grateful to my previous boss, Adam Meyerson, for patiently teaching me how to discern substance from hype, earn the trust of believers and skeptics alike, and be a servant leader.

Fun fact about yourself: I was an extra in the Adam Sandler box office bomb Little Nicky. You can just make me out during the scene where a giant bucket of chicken runs through a crowd of onlookers (that sentence wasn’t a typo). This is both the high and low point of my film career. Note that I’m still waiting on a call from Christopher Nolan to play opposite Michael Cane in whatever movie Christopher Nolan is making next.   

Favorite book: This is a tie: Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman and Unbroken by Laura Hillebrand

Favorite movie: Forrest Gump

Favorite musical performer: Florence and the Machine  

Favorite television show: Friday Night Lights (I coached high school football while with Teach for America – this reminds me of what I loved about the team.)

Favorite vacation spot: Wherever I can get to with a backpack and a beer

Hobbies? I love to run and am trying to get back into rowing. I really enjoy helping my family with agricultural projects around our farm, and drive down to see them every chance I get. I travel often, visit every history museum I can, and love to read historical and biographical books.

What made Dan such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“Dan Fishman made my job easier. And a joy! As the president of our student government, he was a tremendous partner to me in representing student interests and being a thought partner in initiatives and decisions we wanted to share with the broader student community. Whether working with me on strengthening our culture, or working with his peers to launch “Hot Topics”—a community event to bring people together to discuss difficult, emotionally charged issues—Dan was a natural leader who commands the respect of his peers because of his thoughtfulness, grounded perspective, transparency, genuine care for others, and passion and drive to make our program the strongest possible experience for students, faculty and staff. He has a wonderful ability to see all perspectives and empathize, which makes him a credible and inspirational leader. He was also fearless in having the difficult conversations with classmates in service of the greater good. I greatly appreciated his incredible level of self-awareness and understanding of where he could add value and where he needed to ask for help. It was rewarding and educational to observe and experience.

In addition to his role as MBAA President, Dan worked closely with me and other administrators to develop and launch a new program for incoming students to develop softer leadership skills and create a space for reflection during an overwhelming transition. Dan played a critical role in helping us shape the program, in particular how and who we selected to be the second-year leadership fellows to guide first-years throughout the process. As with any start-up or pilot initiative, Dan was able to contribute and be a leader because he was able to move forward even though there was great uncertainty. This is because he understands the larger vision and embraces ambiguity. He embodies our values and culture and is a role model who makes me proud to be a part of this community.” — Stephanie Fujii, Assistant Dean, Full-time MBA Program & Admissions, University of California at Berkeley, Haas School of Business


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