“You have a lot to learn.”
Most leaders consider that a compliment. From Abraham Lincoln to Steve Jobs, they pictured themselves as students first. After all, they viewed the world as ever uncertain and evolving. In response, they listened and experimented, endured the criticism and pursued daily improvement. They remained curious, open, and hungry, facing their fears and finding their voices, treating every day as a new opportunity. Over time, they not only adapted to change — they anticipated it.
At the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, MBAs follow four Defining Leadership Principles, a set of expectations that guide how students interact and reflect the deepest aspirations of the Haas culture. Among the most popular principles, you’ll find Students Always — an embrace of “diverse perspectives” and a life-long commitment to “personal and intellectual growth.” It is a principle that resonates with the Full-Time MBA Class of 2023, a community that defines itself by innovation, impact, and inclusion. That includes Matthew McGoffin, a U.S. Army Special Operations veteran who most recently worked in venture capital.
STUDENTS NOW, STUDENTS TOMORROW, STUDENTS ALWAYS
“I’ve held a variety of leadership roles in the military, which required constant learning. To me, curiosity and a love for learning go hand-in-hand with humility and empathy—all essential qualities for bringing out the best in oneself and others. A quick learner with integrity and perseverance can thrive in ambiguity and accomplish almost anything.”
His classmate, Erin Brock, is equally bullish on being Students Always. “I love asking questions and learning new things,” writes Brock, who most recently headed up policy and advocacy for a state association of food banks. “I often find myself approaching new problems by learning as much as I can about the subjects and context. I also believe that one person can never know everything, especially given the unique backgrounds we all carry; I think the ability to be constantly learning, asking questions, and expanding one’s viewpoint is key to being a thoughtful and impactful leader.”
For the Class of 2023, the Defining Leadership Principles enabled them to join a group who shared their values and purpose. For Sandra Cuevas, that meant Beyond Yourself — a principle anchored by acting as organizational stewards who “take the longer view in [their] decisions” and “put the collective good above [their] own interests.” Hence, the Haas curriculum leans heavily on ethics and innovation. Always look towards “the heart of what’s next,“ be it climate change or machine learning, Haasies are devoted to using a tool to increase access and reduce inequalities.
“I have always felt most energized when I could contribute in ways that benefit others, such as working on financial inclusion programs, raising funds for disaster relief, or developing a sustainability consulting portfolio to enable private clients to achieve positive impact,” Cuevas shares. “I want to surround myself with individuals who seek positive impact beyond themselves and also inspire and mobilize others to drive change. I am convinced that social impact and business are interconnected, and I am looking forward to exploring this intersection at Haas.”
QUESTIONING LEADS TO CREATION
The Haas program is also predicated on Confidence Without Attitude, which emphasizes using empirical evidence as the basis for “act[ing] with humility” and “foster[ing] collaboration by building a foundation of empathy, inclusion, and trust.” This ability to exert influence using evidence and empathy feeds into the final Defining Leadership Principle: Question The Status Quo. This is hardly a surprise considering Berkeley’s counterculture vibe and the region’s history of technological innovation and entrepreneurial daring. This principle had been a guiding force for Jordan Bell long before he stepped foot on the Haas campus. An Oakland native who most recently served as a financial examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Bell has long been bucking convention in the field.
“Historically, working in finance has had many barriers of entry for persons of color such as myself,” Bell notes. “By empowering underrepresented communities through financial literacy and other financial skills development programs, we have seen increased representation at leading investment banks, technology firms, and other global Fortune 500 companies. Witnessing these changes in workplaces has been surreal. However, this is just the start. Leadership and innovation will lead the charge. This mission keeps me motivated and my quest to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce will continue during my time at Berkeley Haas.”
That Question The Status Quo spirit is behind the success of Nga Le in professional basketball. Despite being 5 feet tall, she jokes that she is the “loudest fan in the stand.” In fact, Le has built three professional basketball operations in Vietnam. That started at the XLE Group, where she spent a decade working in functions like customer service, marketing, events, and operations. Notably, she helped launch Vietnam’s first pro basketball team, the Saigon Heat. At the same time, she partnered with the NBA to start the country’s Jr. NBA program, which teaches basketball fundamentals to beginners. However, her biggest achievement may be helping to found the Vietnam Basketball Association. Managing a 30-member team as the league’s COO, she recruited a dozen players from Vietnamese communities outside the country to boost the level of play in the fledgling league.
“Not only did these overseas players deliver competitive and exciting games, but they also helped contribute to the development of basketball in their home country,” Le explains. “Moreover, these players became stars in Vietnam and inspired many young kids to play basketball.”
How impactful were Le’s efforts? Let’s just say Le will easily clear the first ballot when Vietnam someday opens a basketball hall of fame. “These initiatives have transformed basketball from an unknown sport to the second most popular team sport in Vietnam (after soccer) in 10 years,” she adds.
PRACTICING THE PRINCIPLES BEFORE HAAS
You’ll find the Haas Defining Leadership Principles echoing across the careers of the Class of 2023. Charlie Yates, a project manager, practiced Beyond Yourself in response to George Floyd’s death by partnering with other managers to create a company diversity council.
“In direct collaboration with the executive team, the council oversaw all internal and external diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts. Taking a stand and then participating on an executive-facing team to lead all DE&I efforts at a 10,000+ person company served as an accelerator to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace and in making critical decisions that can inform the mission, trajectory, and values of an organization.”
By the same token, Edson Flores developed Confidence Without Attitude amid COVID-19, when his company shuttered their Manhattan headquarters. In response, Flores decided to take his career into his hands — providing a sense of direction to anxious peers along the way.
“I stayed with my company and became very proactive in improving my knowledge of the business and became the “go-to” person for many business leaders,” he writes. “I raised my hand to lead impactful projects and developed meaningful relationships with senior management, earning their commitment and trust. I received a promotion after my first year, something that seemed unlikely during my first few months. Admittedly, I would have preferred a smoother path, yet there is great utility in the skills I learned while steering my career in periods of extreme uncertainty.”
HIGH CLIMBS AND DEEP DIVES
That’s just a snapshot of what the Class of 2023 has achieved. At Google, Maryam Adewumi oversaw the budgets for the artificial intelligence and machine learning teams, who were responsible for areas like quantum computing and Google Translate. Melissa Kong spearheaded development for Teach For Malaysia, which included running over 100 events. That said, Sheetij Ghoshal made his impact in biomedicine as the third employee at Glysantis, a nanoparticle technology platform.
“I helped take the technology from a research project to a pre-clinical drug candidate for the treatment of ovarian cancer. I wore many hats, including building out the scientific team, supervising contract research organizations, and leading business development efforts at international conferences. Over the course of my time with Glysantis, I helped the organization raise in excess of $4 million in equity and R&D grants. I was also named an inventor on two patent applications for my technical contributions to the nanoparticle platform.”
The Class of 2023 is equally impressive — if not intriguing — outside the office or classroom. Looking for connections? Jordan Bell once hosted President Bill Clinton at a campus dinner. Curious about unique hobbies? Well, Edson Flores scales volcanoes. Rather than summiting, Matthew McGoffin prefers diving.
“I recently discovered freediving, and can only describe it as a truly transformational experience,” he writes. “I was able to dive—with no gear—54 feet below sea level to get up close and personal with a shipwreck in the Caribbean; it was awe-inspiring.”
This year’s Haasies also includes musical talents. Sheetij Ghoshal, an aficionado of electronic music, has seen his work published by independent record labels. Studying abroad, Charlie Yates sang in an operatic group, while Melissa Kong embraced singing and acting after tearing up her knee playing rugby.
“I joined a local musical theater community school in 2016. I went from being terrified of singing on my own to overcoming my stage fright and growing as a performer and human being through the support of this wonderful musical community.”
Next Page: Interview with Assistant Dean Peter Johnson
Page 3: In-Depth Profiles of 11 Berkeley Haas First-Year MBA Students