2018 Best MBAs: Liz Koenig, U.C.-Berkeley (Haas)

Liz Koenig

University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“Teacher, storyteller, and change maker fighting to advance racial equity. Always learning; usually laughing; often snacking.”

Age: 31

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Fun fact about yourself: Owing to a freak accident involving an infomercial mandolin slicer, I only have nine fingerprints.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Yale, BA in English and Psychology

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I taught 8th grade and led the English department at a public middle school in San Francisco. Before that, I led the teacher leadership development team at Teach For America in Richmond, Ca.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Boston Consulting Group (San Francisco)

Where will you be working after graduation? The Bridgespan Group (San Francisco)

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Founder and Co-Facilitator, Dialogues on Race
  • VP Academics, MBAA
  • Co-Chair, Race Inclusion Initiative
  • Co-President, Education Club
  • Recipient, Haas Leadership Scholarship and Ray Miles Award
  • McKinsey Emerging Scholar

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I developed and launched Dialogues on Race, a student-led seminar where diverse groups of Haas students have meaningful conversations about identity, power, and advancing racial equity. Since August, our team of six facilitators has led four 10-week seminars with over 50 of our classmates. I’m proud of the thoughtfulness, responsiveness, and persistence it took to recruit an incredible team, attract interest from nearly a third of our class, and bring the idea from its infancy into its first and second iterations. It’s been incredible to see students emerging from the class with conviction and clarity about the role they want to play to address racism in their personal and professional communities. Alumni of the class have organized and led their own dialogues over dinner, worked with Haas to organize workshops about diversity and inclusion, and even stepped up as the next generation of Dialogues on Race facilitators.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m most proud of the teachers I trained, the leaders I managed, and the students I taught in my career before Haas. It’s been incredible to see them go on to do amazing things—leading schools, running TFA regions, and, pretty soon, graduating from college. They are brilliant and courageous and the leaders we need, and I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to help them see and reach their potential.

What was your favorite MBA Course? Large Scale Social Change with Nora Silver. The class examined social movements from Anti-Apartheid to the Arab Spring to identify the key levers that create social change. My biggest insight was about leveraging non-institutionalized efforts to change systems from the outside in. The #MeToo movement provided a real-time case study about the power of external forces to catalyze change when institutions fail to self-regulate, leaving me with some important reflections about how best to advocate for racial equity in the systems and organizations I’m a part of.

Why did you choose this business school? I knew that I wanted to go to a school with a strong focus on social impact, and I was drawn to Haas’s “Beyond Yourself” ethos and innovative, optimistic culture. The opportunity to stay in the Bay Area sealed the deal.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Haas is deeply rooted in our Defining Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. It’s also a place that is driven by the passion and initiative of its students. As you prepare your application, consider the ways in which you have leaned into these Defining Principles, and how you might leverage your experience and passion to contribute to the community here.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I leaned in hard on extracurriculars, which definitely meant I had less time for spontaneous weeknight happy hours or weekend wine tastings. Now that I have more free time in my final semester, I’m trying to spend as much of it as possible with the incredible people I get to call classmates.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Om Chitale, my partner in crime in launching and co-facilitating the first iteration of Dialogues on Race. Om was patient, steadfast, and fearless, and working alongside him inspired me to pursue more of those qualities in myself. But my admiration for Om extends far beyond our collaboration. He is deeply rooted in his values (equity, community, and love, to name a few), and better than anyone I know at aligning his time with the things he cares about most. He is transitioning into education, and his commitment to seeking out and amplifying the voices of teachers and students (check out his project, Teachers of Oakland!) has been awe-inspiring.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I was starting to think about the role I might want in a school district, and I thought an MBA might give me the skills I needed to add value. Lida Jennings, the Executive Director of TFA LA, was the only person I knew with an MBA, but she was one powerful data point supporting my hypothesis that people with MBAs can do amazing things in the social sector.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…the dean or principal of a middle school.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? 

  • Write a memoir in the style of Tina Fey.
  • Get a tattoo—preferably one that I don’t immediately regret.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As someone who listened, who made them laugh, and who made change that lasted.

What is your favorite movie about business? It’s not a movie, but for a while I was obsessed with The Biggest Loser as a parable for adaptive leadership. Getting people to abandon habits and beliefs they’ve held onto forever in favor of new and terrifying ones is, to me, at the core of good leadership and change management, and I learned a lot (both good and bad) from the Biggest Loser coaches. As an added perk, I find that watching someone else do an insane workout gives me almost the same sense of accomplishment as engaging in one myself.

What would your theme song be? For the song essay in my Haas application, I wrote about “The Show Goes On” by Lupe Fiasco. My college roommate sent it to me on a mix CD during my third year of teaching, and it instantly became my morning commute anthem. Lupe sings in praise of my students, and of the teachers who are not scared to tell them “that the world is theirs.” Every time I hear this song, I’m reminded of my commitment to create spaces and systems that allow students to thrive, overcome, and make their voices heard.

Favorite vacation spot: Honestly, anywhere with a beach where I can read, drink frozen rum drinks, and eat cheap but delicious food. This year, it was a tossup between Akumal, Mexico, and Ko Pha-ngan, Thailand.

Hobbies? I’m always juggling half a dozen books and podcasts, and discussing them over bagels, tacos, or drinks is one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday. I also spend way too much time dreaming up home improvement projects that never quite make it off the ground.

What made Liz such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Liz is a leader, and has been influential in our program because she’s smart, fearless, and willing to put in the hard work to make change happen. Her work with the student-initiated “Dialogues on Race” seminar has helped our students learn how to have difficult conversations about race and gender and how to effectively lead in diverse environments.

A survey led by MBA students in the Race Inclusion Initiative in 2016 found that while 90 percent of their classmates believe that understanding racial dynamics is a key component of effective leadership, less than half say they are comfortable talking about race. Liz drafted a plan to push classroom discussions on race even further. That became “Dialogues on Race,” a ten-week seminar aimed at creating a safe space for students to develop better skills for engaging in these conversations in their careers and lives. In an interview at the time for our school’s news website, Liz said: “The ability to reflect on identity and power is a core competency, certainly for being a leader of any kind, or a manager of human beings.”

While seemingly swamped with co-curricular activities, Liz successfully transitioned her career from teaching to management consulting, ultimately foregoing offers from top management consulting firms to accept an offer from the Bridgespan Group, which allows her to pair consulting with her passion for social impact. I can’t wait to see the impact she’s going to have in her post-MBA career!”

Pete Johnson
Assistant Dean, Full-time MBA Program and Admissions

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST: CLASS OF 2018