The Berkeley-Haas EMBA: Turning ‘Advancers’ Into ‘Switchers’

Katherine Crowley, EMBA director, and Mike Rielly, handing out roses to spouses at the EMBA 2014 graduation dinner. Photo by Jim Block

Katherine Crowley, EMBA director, and Mike Rielly, handing out roses to spouses at the EMBA 2014 graduation dinner. Photo by Jim Block

P&Q: What does your partnerships and networking with Stanford and Wharton look like?

Rielly: We’ve gotten together, both on a social and careers basis. Our EMBA ‘15s were the first to reach out to Wharton’s EMBA program in San Francisco,  when we invited them to our healthcare panel here in Berkeley.  Then we had a three-program career event at Wharton that also included the Stanford MSx program and was centered on entrepreneurship. We’ve had some unofficial happy hours, and we’re now looking for a date in early 2016 when Haas will host another three-program career networking event.

We are three of the best schools in the nation, all right here in the Bay Area. We each have a lot of confidence in who we are, we decided to drop the gates, and it’s been a great way for our students to enlarge their personal and professional network.

I’d like to get back a little more to what makes our program unique. First, let’s look at Silicon Valley Immersion Week, which is led by Professor Toby Stuart, who also runs the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship. As we were developing our new EMBA program, Toby suggested a unique blend of curriculum, company visits, guest speakers and high level networking, which we put into action for Silicon Valley and for our other immersions. As a result, 15 members of our first cohort of 68 students have launched startups since graduation from the program. Now that’s significant, and when we talk about experiential learning as potentially transformative, that is what we mean.

Second, I’d like to emphasize our commitment to community. Our residential program plays a key role, as do the immersions, as well as a robust robust schedule of social and business networking events.

We also organize activities with the other MBA programs at Haas, the Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA programs, with whom we stage three cross-program events per year: the Dean’s scotch tasting; a football game and tailgate; and the Grapes of Haas, a celebration of the more than 100 Berkeley-Haas alumni who are vintners in California’s wine industry.

Our EMBAs are creating amazing connections among themselves, with other students at Haas, and with our alums. We love seeing these deep connections, which will support them personally and professionally for the rest of their lives.

P&Q: So, how, if at all, is technology impacting the program at Haas?

Rielly: We aren’t planning to replace in-class learning or immersions or social events. We are committed to the on-campus, in-person experience, if you will.

Having said that, technology helps students stay connected to faculty, and with each other, and we have some preferred platforms for virtual office hours and between block connections that need to happen.

Also, as I think I’ve mentioned, EMBAs by definition have to compartmentalize very well to be successful and we are committed to helping with that and a lot of that comes from technology solutions.

P&Q: What trends have you noticed so far among the applicant pool and those who actually enroll?

Rielly: I love the continued diversity of the population of our student cohort. Our admissions team does a great job of attracting different personalities, work backgrounds, interests—a nice mix of poets and quants.

I suppose if you’re looking for something more specific, we’re finding those who enroll really embrace Haas’ defining principles: question the status quo, confidence without attitude, beyond yourself and students always. We build these defining principles into the admissions process and as a touch point when applicants show interest and visit campus. As more candidates get to know our program, and when we go head to head with our competition, we look for candidates who identify with our strong culture, defining principles and our deep sense of community.

P&Q: Have you noticed any trends in what students are looking for in the Haas EMBA program?

Rielly:  Yes. A majority of our students enter as advancers, which is a career management term, i.e. to advance within their industry and job, stay in their zone, yet advance more rapidly. As they join the program, they are hit hard with question the status quo, and with potentially transformative immersions, and with such diversity of experience and thought in the classroom. And sure enough, many advancers become switchers, entrepreneurs, explorers, or laterals.

Of the 15 EMBA ’14s who graduated in December and have launched startups, I’d be surprised if more than five were thinking along those lines when they entered the program.

Our EMBA ‘15s are taking new venture finance now with Maura O’Neill, and they took a class survey where 82% said they were planning to launch new ventures within one to three years. Whether 82% actually do that, we’ll see, but anything close to that percentage is mind bending.

We are excited and intrigued and supportive of all our students, advancers, switchers, entrepreneurs, explorers and laterals. But your question was about trends, and we’re seeing a continued move toward entrepreneurship. Having said that, entrepreneurship is one of the things Berkeley, Berkeley-Haas, and increasingly our EMBA program, are known for, so that’s likely feeding the trend.

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