2022 MBA To Watch: Yoko Masuda, UC Berkeley (Haas)

Yoko Masuda

University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business

‘Third-culture kid’ passionate about building partnerships to accelerate innovation and sustainability in the consumer goods space.”

Hometown: Tokyo, Japan

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve moved 12 times and between country borders six times throughout my life! I’ve lived in California, North Carolina, New York, Tokyo, Shiga, and Singapore – all such different places, each with its own charm!

Undergraduate School and Degree: International Christian University (Tokyo, Japan) Bachelor of Arts; Major: Public Policy, Minor: Sociology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked at Kirin, a leading Japanese beverage company, in their Singapore office as an accounting & finance manager supporting business development in Southeast Asia.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? I interned at Pilot 44, a consulting firm working with large consumer goods brands on their innovation strategies in San Francisco.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will work at Kirin.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • VP International; MBA Association (Full-Time MBA Student Government) – Championed international student voices in a year when we represented only 20% of the student population, almost half of a traditional 40% due to the pandemic.
  • Co-developer of Global Leadership Speaker Series – Developed a student-led weekly class in Spring 2021 to learn from business leaders with cross-cultural leadership experience.
  • Japanese prospective student support – Acted as the first point of contact for all Japanese prospective students (30+ students) to connect them to current students and support their admissions process.
  • Japan Trek Planning – Supported corporate sponsorships for Spring 2022 Japan Trek (which was unfortunately canceled due to the pandemic.)
  • Southeast Asia Business Conference Planning Committee – In charge of operations for the conference Haas is co-planning with Stanford GSB for Spring 2022.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work our MBAA (Student Government) team accomplished throughout the year and to have been part of a team who led our class by example by constantly maintaining a positive and inclusive attitude amidst a hectic year of uncertainty and unexpected changes. We were fully virtual for the first half of our term and our biggest challenge was figuring out how to create a sense of community and inclusivity within the constraints of COVID regulations. Our team worked on initiatives, such as successfully implementing an online networking platform and hosting events for current and admitted students, negotiating for small in-person club meetings, creating Slack guidelines to improve communication, and developing new mental health programming.

In the second half of our term, we had to re-learn our roles with the switch to in-person, and welcome a new class of students to a campus we had never been on. As VP International, I designed and facilitated two global DEI events, influenced professors to add global perspectives into core courses, paired all admitted international students with current students for outreach, and supported fellow classmates with visa troubles arising from the pandemic.

Throughout our term, we saw and heard from students who were understandably frustrated with various aspects of the online, then hybrid, then in-person experience. While it would have been easy for us to become discouraged at the many things that were beyond our control, every person on our team maintained a collaborative relationship with the administration and kept a positive attitude while pushing for change. I am immensely proud of this thought leadership and resilience that our team exhibited, and it is one of the biggest learnings from my MBA experience.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At Kirin, I was part of a team developing funding strategies for global investments. Each transaction involved multiple stakeholders in different countries and currencies, and I ran various scenarios to make recommendations on the best structure of a transaction and then executed the transfer of funds. My most memorable project was an investment in New Belgium Brewing in Colorado, as it would support the future growth and expansion of the iconic brand and signified a big step into the US craft beer market for our company. I get excited whenever I see Fat Tire beer on the shelves now and see my classmates drinking it!

Why did you choose this business school? I was struck by how current and other fellow admitted students at Haas were interested not only in succeeding in the current business environment, but in re-shaping the business landscape in their industries to be more sustainable, more equitable, more inclusive, more innovative. I was constantly energized after talking to alumni and students. They seemed genuinely interested in learning about what I was passionate about and in helping me make the best decision for myself. When I told my interviewer that I was debating between schools, he sent me a full comparative analysis of the two schools over the weekend—and he was a partner at a major consulting firm! I saw the Defining Leadership Principles, Question the Status Quo and Beyond Yourself, reflected in these chats. I was interested in learning how large companies could partner with startups to create scalable, innovative and sustainable solutions, and was convinced that I would be able to pursue these interests in a supportive culture that would inspire me to push my boundaries.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Lucas Davis, who teaches Energy and Environmental Markets, a deep dive on the energy market based on microeconomics. Every class, students conduct a presentation on an issue of their interest. Davis’ passion, genuine curiosity, and knowledge on any topic discussed has been unmatched – from energy use in crypto, to the inner workings of wind turbines, to the impact of fossil fuel combustion on the healthcare system. Having no background in the industry, I was intimidated at first, but his energy (!) has been contagious. Classes are a great mix of presentations and discussions that help us understand basic concepts while learning about the upcoming challenges in the renewable energy industry.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Every month, MBAA or another affinity club hosts a Consumption Function where MBA students gather in the Haas courtyard to enjoy food and socialize around a certain theme. My favorite event was the International Consumption Function, where students hosted tables to share their local cuisines. As VP International, I had the honor and challenge of organizing the event, which had a great turnout of over 450 students and their families enjoying food and drinks from 13 countries. It was great to see each group of students proudly decorating their tables and playing music from their regions, especially after a year of not being able to socialize in person. My previous company also sponsored beer and I loved being able to share Japan’s Kirin Ichiban as the main beer of the event.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Many people advised me to carefully think about which extracurriculars matter to me and not overcommit my time, given the abundance of opportunities during the MBA. I followed this advice too diligently and was overly cautious of taking on commitments, waiting for the perfect thing to come along. Luckily, I found my place on the MBAA hoping to develop my skills as a leader, and don’t regret a single thing about it. But if I were to change one thing, I could have dipped my toes in other activities at the beginning of the year, even if they weren’t the perfect fit for my interests at the time.

What is the biggest myth about your school? There is a perception that a smaller class size limits the breadth of your network, but Haas is part of the greater UC Berkeley network which has a wide reach across industries. I connected with the head of innovation at a large CPG company through a UC Berkeley BS grad, and worked on consulting projects with students from Public Policy, Environmental Science, and Energy & Resources programs. I have found such connections to be just as helpful as the MBA network. At the same time, the smaller class size at Haas has rewarded me with deep connections with my classmates, giving me the best of both worlds.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised by how far classmates are willing to go to support each other to succeed in the program, whether it be academic, professional or personal challenges. In addition to sharing study materials before exams, my classmates constantly share job openings, interview questions, and company information with each other; I found my summer internship through my roommate who had networked with the company and thought it was a perfect fit for me. Additionally, when I was juggling a family emergency at one point, my friends went above-and-beyond to support me in every capacity: taking on classwork, helping me find a therapist, checking in on me every day, and making sure I was eating and taking care of myself. Business school is a whirlwind of experiences and can be very overwhelming, so this support system has been crucial to my success. I think this has also helped me become a better leader and co-worker. I am now more conscious of the support others may need both inside and outside of the workplace to succeed professionally.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I spent time reflecting on big events and decisions in my life and understanding what underlying values had motivated me to make those decisions. I also talked to family, close friends and co-workers who knew me well to get outside perspectives on my strengths and weaknesses. This helped me craft my story with personal and professional anecdotes to show how the MBA aligned with my past, current, and future self. It also helped me realize which Defining Leadership Principles I identified with most and I shaped my essays around my pursuit to challenge the status quo. 

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have such admiration for all of my Haas classmates, but the one I admire most is Lucas Coelho. Lucas is fully present and passionate in all of his pursuits, working on Berkeley’s accelerator Skydeck as a Venture Capital Fellow, planning the ‘Brazil at Silicon Valley’ tech conference, and making sure to surf or snowboard every weekend. Whenever I talk to him, he is excited about a new startup and reaching out to people to learn more about the space. Even amidst his busy schedule, he doesn’t hesitate to spend time helping a classmate, whether it is explaining class content or offering career and life advice. He is also one of the most easy-going and positive people I know and can make any gathering a fun one. From his passion to giving back to his home country Brazil to his commitment to his friends and family, Lucas embodies all four of the Defining Leadership Principles and I admire his approach to his work and life.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father most influenced my decision to pursue the MBA. When I graduated from college and started working in 2013, he asked when I would be pursuing a masters’ degree and listed some potential degrees, including the MBA. I dismissed the idea at the time because I didn’t recognize its potential in accelerating a career in a Japanese corporation. But as I started looking for new growth opportunities in my career, I saw how the global network and expertise my father attained through his master’s degree in law shaped his career, and the seed he planted started to grow.

He and my mother, who defied expectations for Japanese women of her time by joining a global investment bank as one of few women hired for a non-secretarial job, have always encouraged me to be the best version of myself I could be, including not letting gender stereotypes (especially prevalent in Japan) get in the way of my professional goals. I saw the MBA as the best degree for me to build on my past business experience and develop my general leadership skills, and my parents’ unwavering support has been a great source of strength through this journey.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? 

  • Lead a partnership or open innovation initiative between large consumer goods companies and startups in sustainability
  • Work in Europe

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic led me to re-examine my priorities in my career choices. Prior to the pandemic, I viewed my personal and professional life in separate capacities, with career at the forefront and center. Now I see my career through the larger lens of balance with other aspects of my life like well-being, mental health, and proximity to family. Experiencing a strict lockdown in Singapore, then remote learning, and a virtual internship in the US, I have become more sensitive to changes in my level of energy and productivity. I have realized that the environment I work in is just as important as the type of work I pursue, and am now more conscious in pursuing a workstyle that will help me maintain my mental health and stay as productive as I can be. Additionally, the pandemic made it difficult for me to travel back to my family in Japan and I am much more cognizant of the trade-offs involved in pursuing a career that will take me abroad.

What made Yoko such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Yoko contributed deeply to the experience of her classmates and emerged as an effective student leader during the very difficult challenges created by the COVID pandemic.  She not only advocated for student needs and concerns, especially of our international student community, but was an active partner in creating and communicating solutions.

Well into the summer before her first year, it was unknown whether or not we would be in-person, whether or not students would succeed in gaining entrance to the US, and how we would support students with remote learning.  She persisted, and was able to enter the US, and provided advice and support to other students.

After enrolling, she was elected to represent the international community as VP International of our MBAA student government. In that role, she met regularly with me (via Zoom) to surface international student concerns and challenges in the remote environment. To help concerns be better heard, she initiated a series of small group-discussion sessions over the course of several weeks with international students, our Career Management Group, the Academics team, the Student Experience group and myself. This created a valuable opportunity for us to directly understand the challenges of our international students and led to new programming being implemented.

In addition, she went above and beyond her role by leading her fellow classmates, professors and the MBA and greater UC Berkeley administration to plant a tree on campus in memory of a classmate who tragically passed away during her first year. The tree- planting ceremony brought the community together after a tumultuous year.

Yoko has been a leader in her class and an advocate for her classmates, and is a wonderful example of our Berkeley Haas Defining Leadership Principles, especially Confidence without Attitude and Beyond Yourself.”

Peter Johnson
Assistant Dean, Full-time MBA Program


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