For Richard Golfin III, the journey to a UC Berkeley Haas EMBA began with a mistake.
As chief compliance and privacy officer and head of legal affairs at Alameda Alliance for Health, Golfin managed a large staff and had a demanding schedule. He needed an executive MBA program that would allow him to both show up in the classroom and still have energy for his work team. He narrowed his search to the programs at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and at Yale’s School of Management.
He clicked on a Haas advertisement to connect with someone to discuss admissions, and he showed up to what he thought would be an informal informational meeting in a hat and hoodie. He soon realized two things that could have been cringeworthy but turned out to be defining factors in his decision: First, he was in fact meeting, in his hoodie and hat, the head of Haas’ EMBA admissions. Second, that was his official interview for the program.
“To get in, even though I was in my pajamas, made me feel like this was the laid back ‘question the status quo’ experience I was looking for,” Golfin, aka RG3, tells Poets&Quants. “If you accept me in my hoodie, then you are accepting me for me. I was all about that experience, 100%. So far, Berkeley has been true to form. As far as my classmates – suits or sweats – we all belong here.”
A MARRIAGE WITH COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL
A deeply connected, collaborative cohort is one of the calling cards of Haas’ EMBA, according to both students and staff.
The program began 20 years ago as a unique partnership with Columbia Business School, bringing together the faculties and strengths of two top-ranked business schools. Together, the two powerhouses created an executive MBA that was a sort of West Coast meets East Coast, Silicon Valley meets Wall Street, says Elizabeth Stanners, executive director of Haas’ MBA for Executives. While it was Haas’ first EMBA offering, it was one of several such offerings for Columbia.
It enrolled its first class in May 2002. In the 19-month program, students traveled back and forth between the two schools. For years, it ranked highly in the major EMBA rankings, but fell from 13th to 22nd in the Financial Times in 2011.
In March 2012, the two schools jointly announced that they would end the partnership the following year, and Haas would launch its first stand-alone EMBA in 2013.
Haas’ dean at the time, Rich Lyons, told Poets&Quants that the partnership “served both sides very well and was still attracting top students. But like all partnerships, (it) wasn’t evolving as quickly as either side of the partnership was evolving.”
At the time of the split, there was no guarantee that Haas’ EMBA would continue the same level of success. The Wharton School had moved into its backdoor a year before the partnership, in 2001, opening a San Francisco campus backed by Wharton’s global reach and reputation. Between 2001 and 2012, Wharton had graduated about 800 EMBAs from its West Coast campus compared to about 600 from the Haas-Columbia partnership.
Still Haas had its own cache, amassing 10 years of EMBA experience, as well as the strength of its full-time and part-time MBAs. Its evening and weekend MBA ranked second in U.S. News & World Report in 2011 and its full time program ranked ninth in P&Q’s ranking. Its reputation for tech, entrepreneurship, innovation, was world renown.
“We were very grateful for the partnership with Columbia. We actually learned a lot. It was a great way for us to enter this space. But we really wanted something that was closer to Haas,” says Jamie Breen, Assistant Dean of MBA Programs for Working Professionals. “And let’s be clear, (the split) was a risky decision.
“Wharton is a direct and highly valued, formidable competitor, but that really wasn’t part of this. This was about, How did we really want our executive MBA program to be perceived and to operate? It has turned out what we think continues to distinguish us against Wharton is our culture and our highly collaborative nature.”
A CAMPUS VIBE AND CLOSE COHORT
A decade after the split, Haas has managed to put its brand stamp on its stand alone executive MBA. Students embrace the campus culture of UC Berkeley, the first campus in the UC system with 14 colleges and schools, more than 350 degree programs, and a ranking among the world’s best universities.
“There’s nothing that gives you that same energy of having 43,000 students running from class to class and being a part of a number of workshops and sessions,” Stanners says.
It’s also located in the heart of the premiere hub for entrepreneurship and innovation in the world, and all the resources that brings to an ambitious executive.
Today, the Haas EMBA is a 22-month, cohort focused program spaced over five terms. Its enrollment has remained remarkably consistent, between 70 and 72 students, throughout its run. (The 2024 cohort is a bit larger at 76, because every student the school enrolled ended up coming, says Breen. To accommodate, the school had to use a different classroom than past EMBA classes.)
“We’re actually bound by our classroom size which is about 74 seats. That means sticking to our current size or creating another cohort. With our faculty size and bandwidth, one cohort is what we can handle, at least at this point,” Breen says. “We like our size now.”
Cohorts study together for the first three terms before specializing their program with electives for the final two. The school sells the tight-knit, collaborative, non-competitive feel of its cohorts as a key differentiator.
For Fiona Baker of Mountain View, Calif, Haas EMBA ‘23, it was one of the deciding factors.
“Haas has a strong culture of inclusion and altruism that radiates throughout the faculty, staff and students,” Baker tells Poets&Quants. In the very first weeklong immersion on authentic leadership, students broke into small groups to share their personal stories and leadership experiences.
“It was amazing how quickly we were able to build psychological safety and trust by sharing our authentic selves, and that attitude has persisted through the program,” says Baker, a strategic sustainability science program manager at Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).
“I have no doubt that the relationships that have supported me through the program will continue well beyond graduation.”
NEXT PAGE: Inside the Haas Format + Will Haas Jump on the Online Bandwagon?
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