2016 Best MBAs: Jen Fischer, UC-Berkeley Haas

Jen Fisher Berkeley

Jen Fischer

 
University of California – Berkeley, Haas School of Business

Age: 30

“My true ambition is to become the Head of People of a Fortune 500 company that truly understands the importance of looking after its employees. I am a fervent advocate for investing in people so that the business can thrive. Far too often we find that large companies still sideline the need to support and develop their employees.”

Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada and Wellington, New Zealand

Education:

  • University of Puget Sound, BA in Business Leadership
  • University of Canterbury, BA First Class Honors in Finance and Accounting

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? ANZ New Zealand Bank, Trade and Supply Chain Finance Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? Dimensional Fund Advisors, Santa Monica, California

Where will you be working after graduation? This decision is in progress!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School

  • Graduate Student Instructor, Leadership Communications
  • Berkeley Leaders Fellow, Founding Facilitator and Coach
  • Net Impact, Co-President
  • Principal, $2.5m Haas Socially Responsible Investment Fund
  • Investment Club, VP of Academics
  • Creator and Facilitator, ‘Well, That’s Inappropriate’ – an event on managing micro-aggressions
  • Consultant for Social Impact Metrics, Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation
  • Researcher for Responsible Investing Proxy Voting, UC Berkeley Endowment
  • Volunteer, Women in Leadership Conference
  • Berkeley Board Fellow, Global Community Monitor

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am very proud that I was able to help execute the pilot program called the Berkeley Leaders Lab in my second year.

During business school, I heard this mantra that ‘people don’t leave organizations, they leave managers.’ It highlights the necessity of employing good managers to retain talent and to inspire excellent performance. In my experiences prior to Berkeley-Haas, I have felt the different impacts of good and bad managers, and yet I was unable to pinpoint the exact features that made one good and the other bad. All I knew at the time was that bad managers were simply the worst.

Only a few weeks into the MBA, my eyes were opened to all the intricacies that make management such a challenge—namely, everything that was taught in our Leading People class. I became acutely aware of the value of having exceptional interpersonal skills. I also began to realize that it is a lot harder than I had previously thought. Aren’t we all good at listening, communicating, and interacting with others? The answer is definitely not. But why not?

Practice. It turns out that we do not practice enough. Going to class and becoming aware of the importance of interpersonal skills is the first step. Learning to execute these skills when times get tough is the next. In my first year at Berkeley-Haas, there was no formal channel through which we could practice and hone these skills even though it clearly was so important to becoming an effective leader. It was also evident that this type of learning had to occur outside the classroom.

The pilot Berkeley Leaders Lab aimed to provide a structured forum for MBAs to practice their interpersonal skills, and truly dig deep into supposedly easy skills like listening and giving feedback. Not only did I gain significant personal satisfaction from leading and facilitating these labs, but I also learned immensely from launching the program.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Throughout my professional career, I had done well and received rapid promotions. However, my proudest achievement was a seemingly insignificant moment: Going against my initial instinct to stay quiet at a crucial moment, I chose to speak up and represent my wider team. The organization I was working for had gone through yet another restructure, and this time several of us had to reapply for our jobs. Uncertainty was high and morale was low.

The general manager formally addressed our office to proceeded to explain how well the restructure had gone. In a flash of bravery, my hand shot up with a question: “Looking back on the difficult decisions that you had to make during this restructure, would you have done anything differently?” He chuckled; “Not really, would you?” My heart was racing. “As one of the employees who had to reapply for their job, I found this a very difficult time and I would have appreciated more transparency.” He didn’t have much to say in response, but when I got back to the office, I had never received so much praise and pats on the back. I felt like the office hero.

Favorite MBA Courses? Leadership Communication, Power and Politics, and Negotiations

Why did you choose this business school? I made up my mind to attend Berkeley-Haas as soon as I arrived on campus. My partner and I had flown to SFO on a red-eye and had not slept for 24 hours due to horrendous travel delays. When I entered a classroom as a visitor, I was asked to say something interesting about myself. I told the story of how I became stranded only 12 hours earlier and had to ask a police officer to transport us back (in the caged backseats) to the airport to catch our delayed flight. The entire class erupted into applause and cheered my efforts in getting to the school! In that moment, I knew that I had to join that supportive and caring community. It was clear that these MBAs LIVED the core values of the school. During the class, I was further impressed by the overall level of engagement of the students and the professor who knew the students’ backgrounds and deferred to their expertise for the discussion.

What did you enjoy most about business school? The community—hands down. I cannot fully describe how wonderful it is to be surrounded by friendly, ambitious and vibrant individuals, including everyone from the students to the faculty and staff. It is what I have cherished the most here, and it’s what I will miss the most once it is all over.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? I came to business school expecting to make new and meaningful friendships. Luckily, that happened! The surprising part has been who I have become friends with. My closest connections are with people who I would have never otherwise met, and who are strikingly different from me.

What was the hardest part of business school? Myself. The hardest part of business school was the whisper of self-doubt that would enshroud my thoughts like a dark haze. During the first semester, I became highly adept at debasing myself in private while simultaneously projecting a strong front. Pushing through those challenging few months, I learned more about myself and my capabilities than I had over the prior five years.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was still an undergrad! I have always been studious and loved participating in thought-provoking discussions covering many subjects. I also had this inner calling that I was going to help overturn the business-as-usual model, and I knew an MBA would help me do just that.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…swallowed by the system, living a settled life, no longer aspiring to shake up the business world.”

What are your long-term professional goals? My true ambition is to become the Head of People of a Fortune 500 company that truly understands the importance of looking after its employees. I am a fervent advocate for investing in people so that the business can thrive. Far too often we find that large companies still sideline the need to support and develop their employees. My impact will be to show the significant return on investment that comes from effective people management.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I’m flattered to think that I’m already considered a success! Certainly, it has been quite an achievement for me to have flourished during the MBA experience. For that, I have a great many people to thank. Most of all, I must thank my father. He saw me through me the most challenging times at business school and demonstrated through his actions how to help someone with empathy, active listening and without judgment.

Fun fact about yourself: In 1998, I won an international art competition hosted in Japan. The trouble was that my teacher submitted my work in secret and she couldn’t remember which piece she submitted. We never managed to find out, and I never got it back.

Favorite book: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Favorite movie: Pride and Prejudice (The BBC rendition which I have watched religiously every year since its release in 1995).

Favorite musical performer: Ladi6—you may have never been to New Zealand, but her music will make you homesick for it.

Favorite television show: Rumpole of the Bailey—it’s a throwback to the 70s and typifies the humor of my upbringing.

Favorite vacation spot: Observation Point in Zion National Park in southern Utah is my favorite place in the world, and I’ve been so moved as to paint the view from that peak.

Hobbies? With the right inspiration, which usually comes from hiking in Zion National Park, I love to write poetry and creative stories. I also take great pleasure in dabbling with several different artistic mediums.

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

“I first worked with Jen as her MBA career coach. She sparked my curiosity during our first session. There, I observed her wrestling with a tension faced by so many of our students: do we undertake self-development in the service of our careers or do we undertake our careers in the service of our self-development? In that session, she explicitly aspired for the latter. From that moment, we dialoged to uncover the toughest challenges she would face in pursuing her self-development. Then, over the course of her MBA program, I saw her engage those challenges for herself, as well as inspire others to face the toughest challenges in their own lives. Whether it was about pursuing her own development, setting the vision and strategy for Net Impact, or facilitating conversations and feedback as a Berkeley Leadership Fellow, Jen has shown herself to be a leader in the very sense that we care about at Haas: redefining how we do business by embodying our Defining Principles.

Without question, in her role as Co-President of Net Impact, Jen turned around that organization, which was at risk of falling apart. The members of Net Impact have career interests involving social impact, and they perceived a lack of support for their career development in this area. Jen reframed the issue around the members’ toughest challenge: defining “social impact” in a personal way. Social impact occurs across industries and functions, and even takes the form of a mindset. Reframed in these terms, the organization mobilized. Jen set the stage for them to partner with other student organizations in hosting industry speakers who have a social-impact mindset. She also laid a foundation for partnering with my team to create career development sessions that focused on values exploration and discovery. This work received praise from our Institute for Business & Social Impact as well as the MBA Program Office, as it brought us all into closer partnership with each other.

In parallel to her work with Net Impact, Jen stepped into one of our inaugural Berkeley Leadership Fellow roles in the Fall 2015 semester. In this role, she facilitated discussions with two study groups, gently highlighting when they spoke using observations versus judgments, encouraging them to name their feelings about the issue as well as their underlying needs or beliefs relative to what was happening at the time. From this work, her students reported feeling more comfortable navigating and resolving conflict. As in the other examples, Jen mobilized herself and her students to face one of their toughest challenges: furthering their own self-development while building the culture at Haas. I see this as the mark of a leader.” —
Michael G. Katz, Director, MBA Career Advising & Programs, University of California – Berkeley, Haas School of Business

DON’T MISS: CLASS OF 2016: THE BEST & BRIGHTEST GRADUATING MBAS