2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: D’Juan Wilcher, UC Berkeley (Haas)

D’Juan Wilcher

University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“Courageous and empathetic; committed to service and civic leadership.”

Hometown: Gary, IN

Fun fact about yourself: I have swum with sharks.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Indiana University, Bloomington; BA in Spanish; minored in business

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Travis Manion Foundation; Director, Midwest Programs

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? N/A

Where will you be working after graduation? Associated Bank; Senior Vice President – Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Chicago, IL

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • 100 Black Men of Chicago; Mentor to first-generation undergraduate students
  • Vice President of the 4th Ward Advisory Council; Chicago City Government
  • Lieutenant Commander (select) in the U.S. Navy Reserves
  • Co-Vice President of Philanthropy (EMBA Student Association at Haas)
  • Co-Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (EMBA Student Association at Haas)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of making the connection between philanthropy, diverse representation, and equity for my cohort. COVID-19 unveiled many hard truths: women were negatively impacted, especially Black women, more so than any other group. Many women were forced to drop out of the workforce to care for their children, balance work, and homeschool their children, and put their educational pursuits on hold as a result of the pandemic. My cohort wants to be proactive and work toward ensuring cost is not the prohibitive factor of attending a Tier 1 institution. I am incredibly proud of that shared sentiment.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?
I worked for a nonprofit whose mission was to teach youth about character and leadership. In 2020, we were able to put our theoretical skills to practice. In Chicago, food instability has long been a significant problem, and was exacerbated by the pandemic. My team and I organized monthly food drives and delivered food to the most vulnerable Chicagoans. With few resources, relatively little experience in food delivery but a great deal of fortitude, and a desire to help the community, we were able to supply two-weeks’ worth of food to 4,000 families. That is approximately 165,000 lbs. of food.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose this school because it was a phenomenal culture fit. The leader I aspire to be in the world is the prototype that Haas builds. I think it is important to state that I wanted an MBA because it appeared that it was key to career advancement. I had to evaluate, however, my motivations for taking this next step in my career. Initially, I thought that the choice was binary: money or influence for social impact. However, Haas has shown me that those two things are not mutually exclusive. This combination offers a competitive advantage in the leadership sphere because so few aspire for both–the good of capitalism and the need for social impact.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The pandemic has impacted how we would normally interact with one another and therefore traditions have changed as well. For me, “Question the Status Quo” became a regular occurrence. My classmates and I took control of what our experience looked like. For example, final exams are typically administered on the final day of classes. However, we advocated for flexibility because we wanted to maximize our classroom instruction period and time with professors and classmates because exams can be taken at any time. Advocating for a schedule change made it easier for students to take exams when it was best for them, within a given window. I believe we have created a model for students and alumni to follow for years to come.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why?
I would work hard to overcome the imposter syndrome. At times I felt like a duck in water: graceful above the waterline, but pedaling furiously below. Imposter syndrome is emotionally draining and reduces the bandwidth you have available to engage meaningfully with your colleagues, professors, and course materials. I think it is important to acknowledge, especially in competitive programs, that everyone is professionally impressive. Students are the masters of their own professional domains. As soon as I acknowledged the value I brought to the cohort, I was able to shed the emotional weight and leverage my knowledge and experiences.

What is the biggest myth about your school? “Haas is a school with a bunch of hippie-do-gooders.” Haas is chock-full of brilliant folks who care deeply about doing work that positively impacts the world. What is often left out of the story is that the folks who prioritize social impact also do very well for themselves, and work to ensure others do well also. Without question, Haas is a premier program that is in a class of its own in many respects.

What surprised you the most about business school? The broad application of business. The MBA is often labeled as a generalist degree, but what I have learned is that the education I am receiving is essential to any professional leadership aspiration.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? When I visited Haas, I made it a point to be authentic, rather than presenting who I thought the school and the students wanted to see. I engaged in conversations about politics and race with the students in after-class events that, in other spaces, would be tense and avoided. Our mutual ease of engagement was the sign I needed to see from current students and apparently what they had hoped to see from me.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Valery Telfort. He has presented a clear vision for his professional future and is often the voice of reason within the cohort. I find him to be intentional, poised, and disciplined. Moreover, there has never been a time, in any Zoom meeting, where we have seen him without a sport coat and a fedora. To be a father of five, a consummate professional, and carrying the same load academically as everyone else, he pulls it off with aplomb.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit?
COVID has been incredibly disruptive. Part of the value of an MBA program is the ability to engage with classmates and grow your network, which has been tough to do. Normally, students would be able to convene and give undivided attention to their studies and class sessions. That was virtually impossible for many of us, especially those with young children. The silver lining is that we were a live-action case study on how to navigate the unknown. Should we choose to defer? Will COVID be temporary and have a minimal impact on our experience? Will our relationships blossom as they would under pre-COVID conditions? The reality is none of us knew, and yet we committed to the process and to each other.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? In true Haas fashion, I must ask, why must I choose one? I am the product of my community, my environment, and my experiences. To me, this is an important acknowledgement because I believe that every interaction we have with people has the potential to change our lives and theirs.

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

  1. Work at a successful startup from seed stages to exit.
  2. Serve in a key leadership position in government, preferably the Department of the Navy or State, so that I can influence policy and question the status quo.

What made D’Juan such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?  

“D’Juan Wilcher exemplifies a Berkeley Leader through his embodiment of the Haas Defining Leadership Principles within the academic setting and beyond.

Within the classroom, D’Juan consistently models inclusive leadership, recognizing and leveraging his capacity to catalyze change on a personal and systemic level. He challenges the status quo with thought-provoking perspectives and personal anecdotes, deepening the conversation with his contributions.

In his student leadership role of VP of Philanthropy, D’Juan has encouraged his classmates to go beyond themselves and contribute to efforts that will further diversify our EMBA program and strengthen our leadership training around equity and inclusion.

D’Juan has created space for his classmates, our faculty, and our program to recognize, acknowledge and consider broader implications of power and privilege that are not explicitly evident but are always at play. Our EMBA Program, and Berkeley Haas, is better for D’Juan’s courageous leadership and tenacious drive for creating a more equitable and inclusive institution.”

Emma Daftary
Executive Director, MBA for Executives Program, Berkeley Haas