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Our guest today is Peter Johnson, Assistant Dean of the Full-Time MBA Program and Admissions at Haas School of Business. He has been on the admissions team almost continually at Haas since 2004, becoming the director in 2006 and the Assistant Dean of Admissions in 2012. Welcome, Peter!
Can you give us an overview of the full-time MBA at Haas? [1:30]
It’s a traditional two-year full-time MBA, with an internship between the first and second year. We’re located in Berkeley, which if you’re not familiar is 12 miles NE of downtown San Francisco.
We have a special focus on developing entrepreneurial leaders who can make a positive impact on their organizations. We’re one of the smaller programs in the top-10 – we just welcomed an incoming class of 252 students.
Haas’s mission is “leading through innovation.” What does that mean, practically, to students? [2:55]
“Purposeful differentiation” is what makes organizations successful. We give students a strong b-school foundation (fundamentals of management, etc), plus opportunities to explore areas of specialization – an understanding of the changing dimensions of business and changing technology, so that they can explore ways to become entrepreneurs (or intrepreneurs, within established organizations).
You don’t become successful by doing what’s always been done – the key is to bring new ideas into your organization.
How does Haas take advantage of its connection to UC Berkeley and Silicon Valley? [5:35]
When people talk about Silicon Valley, they’re really talking about the Bay Area innovation ecosystem, which encompasses San Francisco and the whole area, both established tech companies and disruptive startups. We have faculty and adjunct lecturers who come from that environment; we know what those companies are looking for in employees.
We are on the Berkeley campus, and we’re fully part of the grad environment there. We have ties with engineering, etc. One example of that is our Clean Tech to Market program, where our students work directly with students in the sciences. Another collaborative project is the Blum Center for Developing Economies – our students work with students from Public Policy and other programs.
What does “global focus” mean at Haas? [8:30]
Cases in class connect to a global focus; businesses’ growth strategy is a global strategy.
Some things that are most impactful are experiential, such as our International Business Development Program. Through this program, over half of our full-time students work on a project for an international company or organization – they spend a semester on the ground in Berkeley and then go overseas to produce a deliverable for the client company.
Students can also spend a semester abroad with a partner school, and can go abroad during breaks. We also offer joint programs in business and International Area Studies.
“Leading Through Innovation” – what does it mean to applicants? [10:50]
People assume it means they need to be planning to launch a startup, but that’s not the case. We’re looking for people who challenge the status quo – who can become innovative leaders.
We have a course called “Problem Finding/Problem Solving.” We’re interested in students who are interested in developing themselves as this type of leader.
And what does the mission (“leading through innovation”) mean to alumni? [14:37]
You’re connected with a network of people who have a similar “innovation” skillset. Fellow alumni can become partners for cross-company collaboration or entrepreneurial activity.
A lot of alumni come back and talk about what it’s meant to them in their career. Hearing stories of how people put these skills to work is really meaningful.
What’s one of your favorite stories? [16:25]
There are so many, but I think of Chris Barton, the founder of Shazam – the app that identifies a song and provides links to purchase it.
They developed this technology a while ago, in the early 2000s. It works really well in the smartphone era – but when they first launched, they needed the phone company to provide a number to dial (you would call in, play the song, and the service would identify the song). It was clever, but there was no direct link to the purchase of the music, and it wasn’t easy to use.
But in the smartphone era, it connects to how you purchase the music, and the company is successful. You have to have a lot of vision for that kind of stick-to-itiveness.
Can you give more examples of experiential learning at Haas? [20:20]
Beyond the International Business Development Program I’ve already mentioned, we have a number of opportunities.
There’s the Haas at Work program, where teams of students work on solving problems for businesses (similar to the international program, except US businesses). In the Clean Tech to Market program, students work with scientists and engineers to figure out how to bring a new technology to market. Basically, they’re taking skills learned in class and using them on the ground.
We also have the Lean Launchpad program for students with entrepreneurial ideas – there’s an entrepreneur in residence to help develop the idea.
Social Sector Solutions provides consulting for non-profits. And our Board Fellows Program trains and places students on the boards of Bay Area non-profits.
Those are just a few of the ways we give students the opportunity for experiential learning.
What are some areas Haas students can specialize in? [23:05]
It’s diverse: finance, marketing, clean tech, real estate, entrepreneurship, global management.
We offer joint programs such as the JD/MBA, and one of the more popular ones, the MBA-MPH (a lot of students in that area are going into biotech, managed care, etc). It really depends on people’s individual goals.
We see our role as helping people develop in the direction they want to go.
Can you pass out of some required courses? [24:40]
Yes, and the core only takes up about 40% of the total units (mostly in the first year). And you also take some electives in the first year.
What’s coming down the pike at Haas? [25:20]
We have a new building opening soon – a soft opening in the new year, and fully open in the next academic year. It’s entirely devoted to student-focused space (event space, meeting space, core classrooms). And that added space will allow us to grow our program. We expect to increase our class size to 275 next year and 300 in 2018.
We’re excited about expanding the class – it will give us critical mass for some new initiatives, and help us create a larger pool to attract recruiters.
We also want to strengthen our core principles:
1. Challenge the status quo
2. Confidence without attitude
3. Students always
4. Beyond yourself
We’re going to spend more time talking to students intentionally about how you think about these principles as a leader – the broader implications of what you do in your career.
Based on the Accepted Selectivity Index, Haas is the 3rd most selective b-school in the country. Do you anticipate the acceptance rate increasing when the class size goes up? [33:25]
The application rate has been increasing, and we expect that to continue. I don’t expect it to get easier to get in.
How is Haas adapting to changes in recruiting? [34:35]
You’re right that the opportunities are expanding in ways that people wouldn’t have envisioned a few years ago, and it creates challenges for career management.
Our top three areas are tech, management consulting, and financial services. But if you put those together, it’s maybe half the class. So there’s a huge diversity.
Companies are doing less formal on campus recruiting. So our Career Management has transitioned to help students find the right opportunities.
We’ve extended our staffing – hiring more industry experts and business development specialists. We maintain relationships with companies and help them see the value that an MBA brings.
In such a rapidly changing environment, this requires constant attention.
How can applicants show they fit? [38:05]
Strong academics are the first step (GPA, GMAT/GRE).
What makes people uncomfortable is the essay or interview question: why do they want the MBA and why Haas – too often people are looking for the one “right answer.”
We’re looking for people who are self-aware enough to articulate their goals and why our program is right for them.
Start early: get the GMAT/GRE out of the way. And then be introspective about the process. It takes some effort and thought.
What’s the worst advice you’ve heard given to MBA applicants? [41:10]
“Tell them what they want to hear.” It results in an application that doesn’t reflect what the applicant believes or values, and they fall apart in an interview. If you’re not passionate about the goals you’ve stated in the essay, you won’t be able to talk about them passionately in an interview, and the application won’t make sense.
One of the things we spend time with students on is how to articulate their story and goals: it’s not just valuable to business schools, but also to employers. The people who are able to articulate that well are the people who get the job they want.
What advice do you have for applicants? [45:40]
Get standard stuff out of the way early.
Allow plenty of time for essays.
Give yourself plenty of time to think about your motivation and goals.
Why did you leave Haas, and why did you come back? [46:35]
I wanted to develop my own skillset, so I went to work at Central European University in Budapest. It was a different set of challenges – there, I also worked in student and academic affairs.
Then, I was fortunate to come back to Haas in the Assistant Dean role, combining my former role with some of the work I did while I was away.
Sometimes you need to stretch yourself a bit to grow. I’m thrilled to be back at Haas.
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