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July 13, 2009

Interview with Haas Class of 2010 MBA Student

One of the Japanese members of Class of 2010 at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business was kind enough to answer my questions. Prior to starting Haas in Fall 2008, he worked as a management consultant for five years. He is married with no kids and has both an undergraduate and graduate degree in engineering.

Question: So, what did you learn during your first year at Haas?

Answer: I learned mainly three concepts that I hadn’t known in my previous professional/personal life. First, I acquired fundamental business skills in finance, MOT (management of technology) and global management in classes. Second, I gained some tastes of Silicon Valley ecosystem including global technology firms, venture capitals, and entrepreneurs, through not only various Haas opportunities but many local events. Third, I experienced something I wasn’t interested in before through special classes, such as learning politics by participating at Washington D.C., and conducting social non-profit consulting project in Zambia.

Question: What part of the program have you liked the most? The least?

Answer: I like the most about the very high freedom of choice in the program. Haas effectively leverages faculty from local business people belonging to its fulfilling EWMBA and executive MBA courses, as well as the other prestigious UC Berkeley departments such as engineering and law schools. Therefore, Haas can provide enormous opportunities of classes in various industries and functions, considering the small size of class, 240 students per year. Also, Haas system allows students to customize curriculum very flexibly. For example, if you want to launch start-ups or working with local venture companies rather than joining classes, there are bunch of ways to minimize classes and maximize time for your own business.
I daresay the weakest feature of Haas program is, in general, lack of rigidity. Compared to what I’ve have heard about other top schools, I feel it is very easy at Haas to graduate with “decent” grades, due to many safety-nets for left-behind students, too cooperative faculty/staff/students, basic principle to trust student as business people, and the liberal Berkeley culture. Therefore, I don’t recommend Haas for people who expect business school to train students strictly. I think Haas provides only a place to learn and fully delegates how to use the opportunity to the students, since it chooses relatively mature students and treats them as professionals. Thus, passive people can learn nothing at Haas.

Question: I know you worked hard to organize the Haas Japan Trek. Can you tell my readers about it?

Answer: Haas Japan Trek is a student-organized trip in order to show business, history, and culture in Japan. Our Japan Trek this year was from March 21 to March 27. The first Japan Trek was in 2008. Unlike other treks at Haas or some of the other business schools’ Japan Trek, students do not get credits, nor do professors join it. Thus Japanese students produce everything including gathering requests from participants, scheduling, arranging visitors, negotiating about logistics, asking for sponsors, etc. Personally, I think Japan Trek was a great opportunity for Japanese students to deeply consider the role of Japan in the world, to actually promote our country, and to profoundly network with classmates. Please see the details at http://groups.haas.berkeley.edu/japan/Japantrek2009.htm.

Question: How would you describe the culture of Haas?

Answer: I would describe three cultural characteristics: welcoming diversity, confidence without attitude, and encouraging new actions. 39% of students are international and two-thirds can speak more than one language. Then, unlike ordinary US citizens, no students are arrogant. Everyone is helpful each other since all the 240 students have different purposes and think differently. New trials are always welcomed and supported. Maybe admission office carefully chooses such people from more than 4,000 applicants. In addition, students often evolve their mind in the following environmental factors
  • Bay Area’s warm weather and atmosphere
  • Super liberal city of Berkeley
  • State university: selection of faculty and program seems deep rooted to the public
  • No open grade policy

Question: Do you actually have any time for clubs? If so, which ones are you active in?
Answer: I belong to following 6 six clubs, although I don’t actively take leadership in any of them. DMEC (Digital Media Entertainment Club) /EA(Entrepreneurship Association) produce many events to know digital media technology/local entrepreneur and venture capital. HTC (Haas Technology Club) and Finance Club introduces tons of recruiting information and events for tech/finance companies. Pacific Rim Club is networking opportunities for students from the Pan-Pacific area. Wine Club produces tasting events, winery and wine bar visits monthly.

Instead, I was actively dedicated to the following two opportunities. One was UC Berkeley business plan competition. Three Haas students including me (lawyer, investment banker, management consultant) supported a local entrepreneur to enhance her business plan. Then, in order to gain some funding, we entered the competition as one of more than 80 teams. Although we lost at the semifinal, developing business plan together, and making a pitch in front of real venture capitalists were very exciting experiences. The other was launching JGRB (Japanese Graduates and Researchers Society at Berkeley), in order to network local Japanese researchers and graduates students at 36 departments at Berkeley. See http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~jgrb/index.html

Question: How has the financial crisis impacted life at Haas?
Answer: Many negative impacts occurred after the financial turmoil. I think the biggest one is the decrease of job opportunities in not only financial/consulting but technology sectors. The effect of shrink in financial industry is limited at Haas compared with other business schools, since not so many students aim at the financial sector. However, this downturn also affect seriously in the Silicon Valley area. International students are in fiercer competition for jobs because companies which recently lay off workers or are financially supported by government, tend to hire U.S. citizen only. Also, the opportunity of scholarship and students loan shrinks. In addition, the fee and tuition will increase significantly due to the worse financial status of the State of California.

One positive impact is that lots of special lectures occurred right after the turmoil. For example, our dean was the chief training officer at an investment bank. Then, he started “Dean’s speaker series” and invited many leading business people and professors in the financial industry and governmental sector. I felt happy to take time to observe what was going on in the financial turmoil as a MBA student.

Question: Do you have any specific advice for those considering application to Haas?

Answer: I recommend applicants to consider “why ONLY Haas can develop you.” I think admission officers wouldn’t accept if they imagine “this person suits better at other schools than at Haas”, no matter how the applicants are brilliant. I think the best way to tackle with this matter is a campus visit. If it is difficult to visit, try to gather as many information as possible from internet, alumni, and current students.

Question: What are your favorite MBA related blogs (English or Japanese sites)?
I don’t know any particular interesting MBA blogs in general, but here are Haas related blogs:
Berkeley MBA Student Blogs
Haas Japanese students/alumni blogs

Question: Anything else you would like to tell us?

Answer: Since one of Haas admission officer said to me that the decrease of Japanese students is not preferable, I think more opportunities are available for Japanese students. So, please be prepared and I hope more Japanese students get tickets to Haas.
I want to thank this member of the Haas Class of 2010 for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find another Q&A with a Haas student here.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

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