So much to start with…

Dear World, here starts my blogging life as a Berkeley MBA student! It has been already almost 4 weeks since I arrived in the Bay, and in this time there have been countless “wows!” escaping from my mouth. The most important activity has been Orientation Week, which took place between August 15th and 19th. O-week was packed with presentations, games and other tasks to ensure we got to know the school, our cohorts and our study groups. It was tons of fun, too! We had scavenger hunts, happy hours, cohort olympics and a Community Impact day in which we all did volunteer job at a local community. Not to mention the epic, 80’s-themed finale party…

However, my favorite picks from O-week have to be the amazing speakers that we had the privilege to hear from, in particular Biz Stone (co-founder of Tweeter) and Tom Kelley (IDEO GM). I think their presentations truly embodied the fascinating ocean of innovation, entrepreneurship and brilliant ideas that the Haas School of Business swims in…A combined 3 hours of wisdom in a nutshell: you can manufacture opportunity if you think like a traveller, cross-pollinate from everywhere and ask the right questions.

Like Ben, I also went to Outside Lands, I saw my first ever MLB game at the Oakland Coliseum, and literally ended up crawling in San Francisco’s mission district after a great afternoon of discovering local food and drink spots with classmates. Socially speaking, there have been an incredible amount of activities going on…

Another one of my favorite recent activities! After discovering a local Spanish produce shop and buying a 12-servings paella pan, I had a big group of fellow Spaniards over today to enjoy some jamón, tortilla, vino tinto and, of course, paella! First of many for sure…

I was gladly surprised to see how many of my classmates know/are interested in Spanish language, so I started a skills-exchange group in which I teach conversational Spanish and our classmate Abby teaches us the principles of yoga. Talking about win-win situations! Hopefully in the future some of the other participants will teach us some of their amazing skills: karate, juggling, salsa dancing, slacklining…

All settled in!

It’s been 3 weeks since I arrived in Berkeley from Sydney, and it has been an amazingly jam-packed and fun couple of weeks settling in. There is so much to do exploring both Berkeley and the Bay Area in general – I can see now that I am going to be doing a lot of weekend trips to nearby destinations like Napa Valley, Point Reyes, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and so on in the coming months!

My first 2 weeks involved Math Camp (Accounting and Finance refresher classes to make sure you’re up to speed for the semester) in the morning. I was pleased to discover that the professors for Accounting and Finance were both energetic and made the lectures entertaining – I never thought I’d enjoy learning accounting! :-) My afternoons were spent exploring Berkeley (or San Franciso) – there is so much more to Berkeley than I initially realised. There is the slightly quirky and unique Telegraph Ave area where tie-dye reigns supreme, as well as the cute areas along College Ave in Elmwood and Rockridge, Shattuck Ave in downtown Berkeley with its bars, and of course the Gourmet Ghetto restaurants of north Berkeley. My wife, Jacqueline, and I were happy to find a nice little apartment on College Ave in Rockridge so I’ll be biking to class! In the evening, the socialising with my new classmates really got underway. They are a fun and diverse bunch, and we had a great time trying out the different bars around town, as well as playing some sport in the parks. One afternoon about 40 of us even went on a Taco Pub Crawl around the Mission District of San Francisco, which was a great way to see a cool part of the city. In amongst all of this, we also had the chance to visit Facebook in Palo Alto, and the GooglePlex in Mountain View.

Last weekend was the Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park, which quite a few of us went to. Although it is a 3 day event, I only went on the Saturday and it was awesome. There was gourmet food and wine, it was a beautiful sunny day, and we rocked out to Ok-Go, Arctic Monkeys, The Roots, Girl Talk and many more late in to the night!

The past week has been taken up by Orientation Week, and it has been intense! Each day there were presentations on everything from the career search to setting up your computer to scavenger hunts around campus – the list goes on and they kept us busy. We also had talks from Biz Stone of Twitter fame, and Tom Kelley from Ideo, both of whom were very engaging and spoke about there experiences and how they are ‘Students Always’ and ‘Challenge the Status Quo’. Biz has actually just been named Executive Fellow at Haas which is exciting. In addition to the presentations, a couple of highlights from the week were:

  • ‘Cohort Olympics’ which involved the 4 cohorts competing in Olympic sports like cupcake eating and slosh ball;
  • An Eighties themed finale party with more spandex then I’ve ever seen and an amazing cover band; and
  • Tailgating at the Coliseum before watching an Oakland A’s baseball game.
Overall, the past three weeks have been incredible, and I am excited to get into class which starts next week


Ben B.

A refuge

As a resident of New York City for over a decade before I arrived at Haas, I should have been well accustomed to the high-octane level of activities during O-Week… but man, these people never slow down!!! The “laid-back” reputation of Berkeley might need to be rethought in relation to Haas students… I was thoroughly impressed by my new classmates who managed to go out every night of the week after a packed orientation itinerary created for us by the valiant second-years (most of whom seemed to be still finishing up summer internships in whatever waking hours they had when they weren’t concocting competitive and/or costumed trials for us). Nursing a bad cold myself (it was going around – what do you expect when you start shaking hands with 240 people who just arrived from all over the world?), I took it easy until the big Friday night extravaganza. “If only our mothers could see us now,” I joked to my seatmate on the Pirate Bus (“Arrrrgggggghhhh!”) as I applied a skull & crossbones stick-on tatoo to my bicep — not an easy task when wearing an eyepatch, I’ll assure you, though liberal quantities of PBR from a can might have made me less fussy about the resulting crookedness…

One feature of the Bay Area that I’m beginning to enjoy immensely is the close proximity of natural beauty — when you just need to get away from it all and recharge. In stark contrast to the raucous fun of O-Week, I found peace and solitude at Muir Woods. Peering up, up & upward toward the tippy-tops of the giant redwood trees, I was pleased that “The Cathedral” area was designated a quiet zone. Yes – a refuge…


First blog ever

I haven’t been this tired in a while. Orientation week (O-week) was an absolute blast; meeting the 239 individuals who comprise the Haas MBA Class of 2011 was an exhilarating yet exhausting time.

Being from the East Coast, I was not sure what to expect from Berkeley. The unbelievable diversity among the Haas students has really impressed me. My classmates come from all over: U.S. Naval Captains in China, an AIDS initiative fellow in Africa, plus plenty of Consultants from all over. One of the O-week activities was a mini case competition. We broke out into teams of 5 and representatives from HP evaluated our solutions to business challenges facing their firm. Although no one in my group had a technology background, the business insights we were able to generate really impressed the judges.
Outside of the classroom, we enjoyed social activities. My favorite was the cohort olympics, where we spent an active afternoon playing various games. Although I lost the cupcake eating competition, it was a fun way to get to know the rest of the class. For me, the students make the school, and the people here have been so welcoming to my fiancee and me.
Classes start on Wednesday, I will let you know how it goes.


5 things I learned in Math Camp and Orientation

1. The iPhone is really cool. It’s crazy how many people have them and how much stuff they can do. Example: we were at a party (a common occurrence during orientation) and a song came on that everyone liked but no one knew. what do you do? download a program, put the iPhone up to the stereo and snap … the iPhone tells you the name of the song and artist. dope.

2. Get proud. Everyone wears Cal gear and has a lot of pride in Cal everything … it’s great after attending undergrad at a place where the football stadium won an award for having the best view of the mountains … not for the football
3. maybe finance and accounting won’t be too scary. Although the profs said our 3 day course in math camp will likely be covered in the first hour and a half of class, so far it actually makes sense.
4. Life is busy. even before we have real work there are so many things going on
5. This is going to be a lot of fun. The people and opportunities are fantastic and everyone wants to have a good time.


An uncanny ability to eat cupcakes

The ropes course was worth it. Mainly due to my awesome classmates and the xylophone. The xylophone is a horizontal ladder consisting of alternating narrow boards and pieces of rope getting wider and wider spaced apart, all suspended 50 feet in the air. You climb to the top with a partner and the object is to get to the other side remaining in physical contact with your partner and not using the wires on the sides.

I’m not afraid of heights. However, this took everything to a new level. Tony, from France, and I became quick friends clinging (well, admittedly, I was the one clinging) to each other stepping across thin air aiming to land on a frayed, skinny piece of rope and stay balanced.

We made it.

Orientation (O-week) started Monday. Wow. Now I am really impressed. Haas has apparently pulled out all the stops. We have had terrific food, excellent organization, numerous outstanding speakers, brief and efficient orientation meetings, a reception 2 sessions with our study groups to work out our group dynamics, a personal performance by the UC Berkeley marching band, a lectures on the case study methodology and a case study class discussion, facilitated by our faculty. Today is Tuesday.

We started off with a full-on multi-media show put together by Brad Kittredge, one of our talented second year O-week chairs. The room suddenly went black, music started. Pictures and video, all set to music commenced.

Now, about the speakers.
Richard Lyons was the first to take the stage yesterday (8/18/08). What an amazing pick for a dean. He was incredible. He weaves anecdotes seamlessly into his talk. He is dynamic, he is funny, clear, smart and pithy. Wow.
Bob Haas gave an inspiring talk. It turns out the Levi company, through Mr. Haas, is an amazingly progressive company.
My favorite pieces of advice:

Express your personal values in a way that make a difference.

Be out in front on issues you know in your heart of hearts is the right thing to do.

I’ve never seen on any of our employees’ tombstones, “I sold a million pairs of jeans.” Be a good partner, be a good parent.

Priya Haji spoke at our reception. She commanded silence in a room of tired, excited, networking first years. She is doing beautiful work, I’m sure she sleeps well at night. As a family physician, I can relate. She had a lot to teach us. I just wish my feet hadn’t been hurting so much by the time she turned up to speak.

Tom Kelley, author of The Ten Faces of Innovation spoke this morning. This man raised the speaker’s bar, if that is even possible. Basically, I’ll be borrowing both of his books (yes, we have no money now) to read immediately. In my spare time.

From Kelley:

The supreme achievement is to blur the line between work and play

Arnold J. Toynbee

You’ve got to find the problem to solve.

I’ve been to my favorite sushi restaurant 400 times.

I’m not sure who discovered water, but I’m sure it wasn’t a fish.

vous ja de

Vous ja de is looking at what you see every day with new eyes. The reverse of deja vous, so to speak, seeing something new with the recognition of having seen it before. I have the distinct sense that Kelley’s ideas will change my life. Now, isn’t that awesome, in the truest sense of the word?

I belong to the Axe cohort. Apparently Rumana is great with baking cupcakes. She somehow got quickly roped into a cupcake contest that demands an (and I’m quoting) ‘uncanny ability to eat cupcakes.’ More on that after thursday. Our Axe chant contains something about ‘give them the axe, axe, axe. Give it to them in the neck, neck, neck.’ Is this the right time to remind people that I am a doctor?

The one deficiency in orientation surrounds the topic of family. There is no mention of children, no pictures, no discussions. It is somewhat isolating for me, and I imagine for other parents. I know I’m not the typical MBA student, but diversity is consciously celebrated in our school. Interestingly, Pete Johnson mentioned every country present in our class, some of the amazing and various talents and diversities amongst us, interesting stats about GMAT, honors, scholarships, % of women degrees (I did get a shout out for being a primary care physician), but again, nothing about our students with families and children. Don’t get me wrong, I feel complete support at Haas in every way, including any help I might request surrounding family and children, but I think that true acceptance and equality will come when students in my position are recognized and discussed publicly. It feels a little ‘in the closet.’ There are real issues I’m facing as a parent student that are as important as my academic orientation and getting to know my classmates such as daycare, transportation, support networks, local resources, financial implications, parent partner support.

Everyone is completely ‘impressed’ that I have 3 children and am doing an MBA. I guess we student parents, especially student mothers, will have truly arrived when people are a little less impressed. When things change enough that it is a little less impressive.