The Great Global MBA Experiment: A Defining Moment in My MBA Journey

Summit Collage

Michael Nurick, MBA 14, was among these 60 MBA students from around the world selected to attend the First Annual MBA World Summit in Hong Kong.

By Guest Blogger Michael Nurick, MBA 14

Michael Nurick

Michael Nurick, MBA 14, presents his talk, “What Rockstars Can Teach Us About Leadership.”

What would happen if you brought the best MBA students from around the world together in one place to exchange ideas and forge lasting relationships? That was the question Thomas Fuchs, Yannick Reiss, and the rest of the team at Frankfurt-based networking company Quarterly Crossing (QX) sought to answer with the First Annual MBA World Summit in Hong Kong.

QX designed a rigorous application process consisting of essays, resume reviews, and invitation-only interviews. Out of more than 2,000 applications, QX selected 60 MBA students from around the globe to attend the summit fully sponsored by the summit’s corporate partners: Henkel, BASF, among others. Three months after beginning the process myself, I learned that I was one of those lucky 60 and would be the sole representative from Haas. I was thrilled, but with no precedence for such an event, I had no idea what to expect!

The summit began with a welcome reception at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, which boasts stunning views of the striking Hong Kong skyline.  I was nothing short of impressed by the other MBA students in attendance. Everyone had his or her unique stories to tell and ambitious goals to achieve.   But reminiscent of the Haas culture, everyone exhibited a sense of humility and honor to have been lucky enough to be a part of this event. The excitement in the air was palpable, and we couldn’t wait for the official events to begin.

The first full day of the summit was dedicated to the goal of sharing ideas. Eighteen of the 60 student attendees were invited to host Summit Leadership Sessions, hour-long seminars on a topic of the student’s choosing. The goal of my session, titled “What Rockstars Can Teach Us About Leadership,” was to convey key leadership lessons I had learned during my years as a performing musician, using vivid storytelling to translate those lessons to a management context.

One such story touched on a topic that Haas’ own Lecturer Cort Worthington has designed classes around: authenticity. As a musician, maintaining authenticity is a constant struggle between staying true to your artistic expression and tailoring your music for market success. I’ve witnessed this struggle firsthand during my seven years as the guitarist of Nine Leaves, an innovative band of hip-hop artists. Despite a loyal fan base and strong reviews, we were often told that our music wasn’t mainstream enough, but we weren’t willing to change. Our music was best when it came from our hearts, and our fans could tell the difference.

I also shared stories about famous artists such as ?uestlove and Sara Bareilles who struggled with maintaining authenticity but came to the same conclusion: Authenticity enabled them to best connect with their audience. In a management context, that same connection can both motivate and inspire a team.

The second day of the summit was dedicated to forging relationships, while enjoying all Hong Kong had to offer. Through excursions to the big Buddha, a junk boat cruise around Hong Kong harbor, and a long night out in Hong Kong’s famous Lan Kwai Fong, the 60 of us grew closer together through a shared and remarkable experience.

Before I knew it, the experience was over, but I was left with incredible memories and a renewed vigor to continue pursuing my ultimate goal of using my skills developed at Haas to support the careers of fellow musicians through innovative music businesses. More than that, I can now say that I have a friend in every major city across the globe thanks to my MBA counterparts. As MBA World Summit alumni, we’ll have the opportunity to reunite every year when QX admits a new batch of top global MBA talent into the network. And I plan to be there, promoting Haas and supporting the future success of this great global MBA experiment.

Haas Undergrad Seeks (and Finds) Spanish Perspective

Javier Rapallo, MBA 00

“Berkeley-Haas is everywhere,” wrote Nathan Tudhope, BS 14. Tudhope is in Spain this semester and, while in Madrid, looked up Haas alumni and found a few dozen of them. He connected with Javier Rapallo, MBA 00, managing director at Deutsche Bank. In this Q & A on the Haas Undergaduate Students blog, Rapallo discusses his junior high school experience in small-town Maine, business customs in Spain, and Confidence Without Attitude as the most important of the Berkeley-Haas Defining Principles. Though he adds, “All four are outstanding principles and important in education and business.”

“Javier is a great example of someone who came to Haas bringing with him his international work experience, his culture and his language,” wrote Tudhope. “It is clearly evident that he got a lot out of it, and doing this interview is a great example of what he is putting back into it.”

Cuban Business… Relational over Transactional

By Guest Blogger Kyle Rudzinski

Eddie Onaga, Lindsey Schatzberg, Fanzi Mao, Christine Tringales, Chao Li, Vivek Girotra, and Michael Larcher (all MBA 14) at a "casa particular" overlooking Havana

Eddie Onaga, Lindsey Schatzberg, Fanzi Mao, Christine Tringales, Chao Li, Vivek Girotra, and Michael Larcher (all MBA 14) at a “casa particular” overlooking Havana

A border security agent approached me and began asking questions. As the Spanish speaker in our group, I stepped aside while my friends passed through customs. I didn’t know what to expect; we had just landed in Cuba.

After an interrogation on every detail of our excursion, I began to get a little nervous, especially since we only knew where we would be staying that night. The remainder of the trip had a loose itinerary, but with one goal in mind – to learn about Cuban business firsthand and to identify opportunities for future businesses as the country continues to slowly open. Yet, after a half hour of chatting, it became clear the agent, Rosa*, would cause us no immediate trouble.

Navigating Cuba

The “CubHaas” independent study trek mirrored the Berkeley-Haas innovative leader curriculum as we navigated uncertainty and influenced without authority. For 10 days 12 classmates and I delved into Cuban culture, experiencing the trip of a lifetime.

From Havana’s cultural hub to Viñales’ rural mystique to Trinidad’s colonial tradition to Playa Jibacoa’s picturesque white sands, one thing about Cuba became readily apparent – its people are the nation’s greatest resource. Well-educated (99.8% literacy and 17.5 years of expected schooling), healthy (infant mortality rate lower than the U.S. and average life expectancy of 79 years), and equal among genders (many women ran businesses and both men and women claimed equality in education and financial opportunity), Cubans approach business with a distinct attitude. They do more with less. They’re genuinely entrepreneurial. Business is refreshingly relational rather than purely transactional. They always maintain “The Cuban smile” (when things go wrong, they don’t cry over spilled milk) despite individual economic limits imposed by a socialist economy.

Chao Li, Eddie Onaga, and Michael Larcher (all MBA 14) ride through Old Havana in the back of a 1958 convertible.

Chao Li, Eddie Onaga, and Michael Larcher (all MBA 14) ride through Old Havana in the back of a 1958 convertible.

Everywhere we went – except for the highly trafficked tourist areas – Cubans warmly welcomed us, answered our questions, and sought to do everything they could to help us in our journey. From renting “particulares” (cars from private citizens) to taking us into their homes after arriving at 1:30 AM, the composed demeanor with which Cubans lived in the face of so much economic adversity was simply remarkable. Nobody ever complained despite making $30 a month, having a low financial ceiling unless they participate in black markets, and often struggling to make ends meet. Never frantic or stressed, they are proud to be Cubans and proud to find ways to help friends. That’s how their businesses operated.

Tobacco leaves from an organic farm in Viñales hang dry before rolling

Tobacco leaves from an organic farm in Viñales hang dry before rolling

For instance, we arrived at a delicious paladar (home restaurant) in Viñales at 10 PM. Chatting with our waitress, Anita, we slowly built trust and a relationship. She secured us casas particulares (families licensed by the government to serve as bed and breakfasts) and an expedition the following day through Cuba’s unique organic black tobacco fields where we met with farmers to discuss their commerce. Anita also knew of families with casas particulares on the other end of the island in Trinidad for our other travels. With fixed prices from the government for casas particulares, Anita claimed she did not receive portions of the income. Instead, she helped us only after she felt comfortable with us and felt willing to connect us with others in her network. This happened throughout the trip.

Cuba is a seemingly a tightly interconnected network where people know people. The relationships we established made or broke future opportunities and transactions. Despite a need for additional income, in the instances where we did not invest in trust, Cubans would not extend as much aid. To them, the transaction of payment for service was not sufficient. What mattered was the relationship.

While the part of the Cuban economy we experienced was highly relational, it did not come without drawbacks. Prevalent “island time” required patience, especially given the MBA preference for highly efficient operations.

There are obviously times in which a transactional relationship may be what two parties need more, but the importance of relationships to doing business in Cuba surprised us all and served as only one fascinating experience from an absolutely incredible trek.

*Cuban names have been altered to protect identities.

Haas Alumnus, Food Entrepreneur Alejandro Velez, BS 09, to Compete on The Bachelorette

Alejandro Velez

Alejandro Velez/Photo by ABC

Alejandro Velez, BS 09, co-founder of Back to the Roots, a company that sells kits to grow gourmet mushrooms from coffee grounds, will show off his romantic side in the upcoming season of The Bachelorette, which premieres Monday, May 14.

Velez will be one of 25 bachelors vying to win the heart of Emily Maynard, a young full-time mom who appeared on the 15th season of The Bachelor and whose fiancé died in a plane crash in 2004. An Inside Scoop SF blog post on Velez points to his appearance on the show as proof that urban farming has reached “its inevitable culture apex.”

Velez, originally from Medellin, Colombia, and co-founder Nikhil Arora came up with the idea for Back to the Roots while still at Haas, after hearing Lecturer Alan Ross speak on the potential to grow gourmet mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds.

By the end of last year, the company had used 1 million pounds of coffee grounds, primarily from Peet’s, for its $19.95 home mushroomgrowing kits, which have been featured in Sunset Magazine, Oprah, and the New York Times.

Velez’s competition on The Bachelorette includes a biology teacher from Nova Scotia, Canada; a race car driver from the Netherlands; and a fitness model from Chicago.

Read more about Velez on The Bachelorette website.

Read more about Back to the Roots in the latest Berkeley-Haas magazine.

Haas Undergrad Competes in Miss World

Victoria Pham, BS 12, will compete among a record 120 contestants in the 2011 Miss World pageant Sunday, Nov. 6 in London. The event will be broadcast live from Earls Court starting at 9 a.m. Pacific Time on E! and is expected to be seen by over one billion viewers in 168 countries worldwide. It can be watched live on

Pham, in her second year of undergraduate studies at Haas, won the national title for Vietnam on August 21 and will represent that nation at Miss World. She is already in London, competing in fitness and talent portions of the competition, as well as visiting Cambridge, Edinburgh Castle, and the London Eye.

On her Miss World profile, Pham says her future ambitions are to graduate from Berkeley-Haas and to “find a job that allows me to exercise my creativity and determination in business while still staying committed to my passion for community service and charity work.” Her personal motto? “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Best of luck, Victoria!