Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Nga Le, U.C. Berkeley (Haas)

Nga Le

University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“A sports entrepreneur, a women empowerment activist, a yoga lover, and a happy mom-to-be.”

Hometown: Hue City, Central Vietnam

Fun Fact About Yourself: I worked in the professional basketball industry, even though I am only 5 feet tall. Indeed, I am the loudest fan on the stand. Also, I teach yoga to my friends and I love to eat.

Undergraduate School and Major: Foreign Trade University, HCMC, Vietnam

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: ASEAN Basketball League (ABL); Strategy And Planning Director

Berkeley Haas is founded on four Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. Which principle resonates most with you and why? The principle that resonates most with me is Question the Status Quo. In 2016, I, along with two other colleagues, helped establish the Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA), Vietnam’s first professional basketball league. Our goal was to develop the league into a highly-competitive, sports entertainment platform. The industry norm and thinking at the time was to develop Vietnam’s local players for the league, but many of the players lacked the skills to deliver highly-competitive and exciting games for the audience.

After a lot of research and discussions with industry experts, I proposed that we recruit Vietnamese players from the U.S. to play in the Vietnam league. This would impact the whole budget planning and operations of the league.

The coaches and I flew to the U.S. and organized tryout camps. I reached out to local Vietnamese communities and attracted more than 100 Vietnamese players to the camp in Orange County, CA. Some of them even played in the NCAA. The coaches selected and invited the 12 best Vietnamese players to play on six teams in the VBA league.

I’m pleased to say that our efforts paid off. 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. Moreover, these players became stars in Vietnam and inspired many young kids to play basketball.

What word best describes the Haas MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far and why? Authentic. I found it easy to connect and share with classmates and alumni. We talked about our shortcomings and differences. We also felt confident to respectfully discuss our different viewpoints.

Everybody has an open-minded attitude and cares deeply about each other’s stories. I felt very comfortable reaching out to others for help and they did their best to support and connect me to the right resources.

Aside from classmates and the Defining Leadership Principles, what was the key part of Berkeley Haas’ MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I realize that there’s huge potential for applying technology in sports, especially in enhancing audience experience and player performance. At the same time, many sports teams in Asia desperately need a holistic platform to engage and connect with their fans more efficiently.

My long-term goal is to integrate technology into the sports industry in Asia and look for opportunities where I could help a sports tech startup expand to the Asia market. In the short-term, though, my goal is to obtain an MBA and work in the U.S. sports tech industry for 2-3 years to understand the market and what is missing in Asia.

Haas is the best school to help reach my goals. It’s in the heart of California, the hub of innovation. Many of my favorite companies such as NEX Team, Fitbit, Strava, Zepp Labs, Playpass, and Zone7 are based in the Bay Area.

In addition, many courses offered at Haas will help me develop my leadership and technology skills, including Leading People taught by Professor Don Moore. I watched a video about the course on Haas’ YouTube channel and was very impressed. I also believe that the course, Design, Evaluate, and Scale Development Technologies will give me a strong understanding about technology and how to scale emerging sports technology in Asia.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Berkeley Haas? The Haas Sports Business Club is still relatively small compared to other clubs in the school. I would love to be part of the leadership team and help grow its membership. I would connect the club to sports organizations in Asia and the U.S. that I have connections with, such as the ABL, the NBA Asia, The BigEast Conference, and the LAFC. The club could help these organizations with strategy, research, or planning projects that would benefit those organizations. It’d also give the club members hands-on experience and help them build a network.

Also, I am looking to join a women’s leadership club, where I could learn more about women empowerment and help organize programming events.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I had the privilege to lead and build three basketball initiatives from scratch that transformed basketball in Vietnam. When I worked for the sports organization XLE Group, I helped launch Saigon Heat, the first professional basketball team in Vietnam. I also collaborated with NBA Asia to launch Jr. NBA, a youth basketball development program.

After serving seven years at XLE Group, I joined the Vietnam Basketball Association (VBA), the first professional basketball league in Vietnam. I served as the operations director for two years and was later promoted to CEO in my third year. At VBA, not only did I get the chance to sharpen my leadership and management skills as I had to manage a team of 20 to 30 people, but I also learned how to problem-solve and manage relations between all stakeholders including, the board of directors and team owners.

These initiatives have transformed basketball from an unknown sport to the second most popular team sport in Vietnam (after soccer) in 10 years.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? The pandemic allowed me to slow down, self-reflect, and understand myself better. At the same time, it forced me to be self-motivated and more disciplined. Career-wise, it helped me realize how important it is to integrate technology into sports and bring new sporting experiences that only technology can provide.

COVID-19 also helped me realize the value of life. I appreciate every moment that I share with my family and friends. I am more responsible with my health and I constantly remind myself to have balance in my life.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? I realize that there is a massive potential for applying technology in sports. Sports technology is still an emerging industry, and I want to find those opportunities and build on them.

My goal is to work in the sports tech industry in the U.S. and eventually find a way to integrate these sports technologies into the Asian market. Obtaining an MBA will give me a solid foundation to achieve that goal.

The MBA would provide me with a strong understanding of international business practice, knowledge about technology management, and connect me to a strong global network that can give me access to the industry.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford GSB, USC Marshall, UC Davis GSM

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Berkeley Haas’ MBA program? The application questions are designed for you to reflect on your life and to demonstrate how your contributions and achievements have made an impact on your community and beyond. Be vulnerable, reflect, and share your true self. Remember all the hardships and achievements that got you to where you are.

DON’T MISS: MEET THE BERKELEY HAAS MBA CLASS OF 2023

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