Bidding for Spring

It’s a pretty chilly morning, but that’s not why I’m thinking about spring…it’s actually time to bid for spring semester classes!

After the first year of all-required core classes, your schedule becomes (almost) completely wide open. Since the Berkeley MBA is a general management degree, there are no set classes for concentrations. This means you can go as broad or as deep as you want, in whatever interests you.

This semester, I took negotiations, strategic brand management, and Problem Finding / Problem Solving (a required 1-unit design thinking course) and as I look to the options for the next semester, I’m realizing how few classes really remain. Since each semester is 6 units, and most classes are 3 units, I really only have 6 more classes to take, so I need to pick wisely!

I find so many classes appealing, it’s actually really hard to decide. As a second year, I get 1,500 points to allocate to my first choices of classes – third years get 3,000. There are two rounds of bidding for spring – so if you don’t get into the classes you want the first round, you get another chance for the second round. Plus, most classes have an add/drop period once the semester starts, so you get a third chance to get in off wait lists as well. The amount of points required to get into a course varies each semester, depending on what’s offered and student interest, so it’s hard to know exactly how to bid. But I was able to get into my classes on the first round last time, so I’m hoping my luck will hold for the spring!

Tonight we have a presentation on electives during the dinner break – so we’ll get to hear from various professors about the classes they’re offering – so we can decide wisely. I already have some thoughts on what I want, but I’m definitely keeping an open mind!

-Jennifer Caleshu

Experiential Learning

One of the highlights this year so far is the interactivity of my courses. For Problem Finding / Problem Solving I took a Learning Styles Inventory which indicated I am a concrete learner (as opposed to abstract). This basically means I learn through hands-on experiences, as opposed to observation. So, the more I get to actually try new things as I learn them, the better!

In Problem Finding / Problem Solving with Professor Sara Beckman, we’ve been using Design Thinking techniques to try different frameworks. This often involves Post-Its (see my Information Map above). I particularly like how the large format (my map is approx 3 feet x 4 feet) and temporary nature of the post-its encourages you to “play” with concepts. There’s something very freeing – and qualitatively different – from typing on a computer. It’s messy, and less ‘final’ – and even though in this case it’s not necessarily something you’d share with others because it’s too messy – it still helps me visualize connections and make new insights that I may not have had without it.

In Negotiations class with Professor Holly Schroth (which yes, is as great as everyone says it is!), we actually practice negotiating every. single. class. This is absolutely a discipline you can’t learn without doing, so each week we’re given a case and a role to play. Some of the cases are between two people, others are multi-party. You have to be very well prepared – the rule of thumb is that you prep five times as long as the negotiation is supposed to take. This week, we’re working on a ‘shadow negotiation’ which means we connect with other class members outside of class to “pre” negotiate before the actual negotiation – it’s both part of the prep work by learning what’s important to your negotiating partners, and actively influencing them by sharing what’s important to you. It’s been very illuminating to try on the roles and practice your technique live, and with immediate feedback, each week.

In Strategic Brand Management with Professor Lynn Upshaw, my team just turned in our Customer Experience Audit. We picked a brand (Gap in our case) and analyzed their brand position, customer touchpoints, and marketing strategy and made some recommendations. It’s been very illuminating to look at a brand in real time – one of the comments we made in our paper was how so many of the postings on Gap’s Facebook wall are of fans posting pictures of their children in Gap clothing. And yet, it seemed Gap wasn’t participating in that outpouring of loyalty – no ‘likes’ or comments on the photos. And lo and behold, today Gap posted a photo album of their favorite fan photos! So it’s nice to see an insight acted upon (even if Gap had no idea we made the insight.)

– Jennifer Caleshu

Guest Post: South African Seminar in International Business

Jennifer: Here’s a guest post from Jamie Aaronson (2013) who spent two weeks in South Africa for the Seminar in International Business. These seminars are designed to introduce the participants to the culture, history and business environment in various countries. Each 3-unit course is a combination of lectures and seminars at Haas, a one or two week study tour of the regions of interest and a major research project undertaken by each participant.

Safari sunrise on Pilanesberg Game Drive

I’ve just returned from my first Seminar in International Business (SIB). We visited Johannesburg for one week and Cape Town for the second, meeting with local and global businesses from McKinsey South Africa to ‘Silicon Cape’ entrepreneurs. Throughout, I was struck by the excitement surrounding Africa’s untapped potential as an emerging market.

Companies like Standard Bank, one of the big 4, were piloting new programs to reach the previously unbanked. One of the most interesting programs was a bank shop initiative in which informal branches were set up throughout Africa via small grocery shops already in place. These ‘Bank shops’ were on the heels of M-PESA, which, similar to PayPal, had successfully moved banking mobile via text-enabled money transfer. One entrepreneur used a phrase that particularly struck me – ‘In Africa, airtime is currency’ – implying that money and connectivity had literally converged into one.

Lerato (LoveLife) dancing with Soweto restaurant musician
Lerata (LoveLife) dancing with Soweto restaurant musician

Despite these emerging trends, it is clear that Africa still struggles with incredible resource and infrastructure constraints particularly around Internet, water, food, housing, and power. It is hard to imagine a thriving business economy when something as ‘low-tech’ as a Webinar, as we heard from one business owner, is simply avoided due to unreliable connectivity.

Two inspiring individuals we met were Fred and Loreta. Loreta was a young woman from Soweto (Johannesburg township) who could not afford university, but was rising up as a community leader within LoveLife, the AIDS prevention organization. We met Fred at a billionaire’s dinner party (just your everyday SIB); he had started the African Leadership Academy to identify and groom future leaders across the continent.

In addition to business meetings and networking events, we made time for Robben Island, the Apartheid Museum, the Mandela house, wine tasting, and safari game. While on Robben Island, we had the privilege of meeting one-on-one with Ahmed Kathrata, one of eight anti-Apartheid activists imprisoned with Nelson Mandela.

Shark Dive
Mike Romano, Jamie Aaronson, Joseph Rehrmann & Jason Lin on Great White Shark Dive, Capetown

We closed with an awards dinner (a.k.a. classmate ‘roast’) complete with traditional food, dancing, and music. Then we were let loose for one last weekend in Cape Town to shark dive, surf, watch rugby, and hike Table Mountain. The hike turned into extreme rock climbing but we luckily made it down the mountain with no more than a scratch. All in all we had an amazing trip learning about the business climate, BBE (Black Economic Empowerment) affirmative-action movement, union relations, government, culture, and the historical end of Apartheid in 1994, less than twenty years ago. As a student visitor, my hope for South Africa is that it will continue on a path of improved socio-economic conditions through effective leadership and sustainable policy enactment, enforcement, and implementation.

And…we’re back!

Well, some of us are anyway! The elective classes began on Saturday for 2nd and 3rd year weekend students – they begin tonight for the evening students. This means the first-years don’t have the campus to themselves anymore (have fun parking!) and it means you’ll be hearing more from us bloggers!

Personally, I spent the summer working and on vacation (no school!) but I am actually looking forward to getting back to class. Now that the core is done, we have almost 100% free-choice on our courses. This semester, I’m taking 7 units (a full-load is 6):

  • Problem Finding / Problem Solving – This 1-unit course is a new requirement for the program, and you should definitely go back and read Tim’s post on it from last year. Though I’m taking most of my courses on evenings, this one class is for five weeks on Saturday mornings, so I started it this weekend. I’m super psyched – it’s held in the architecture studio, not in Haas, so it’s a completely different feeling. We began by learning about the results of our Learning Styles inventory we took – I found out I’m “Accommodating” – which means I tend towards requiring concrete rather than abstract delivery methods to learn. I want to dig in and just try stuff, rather than observe and analyze. Interestingly, most MBA students tend to fall into the “abstract” half of the quadrant. We also got to go through a whole cycle of design thinking, including post-it note brainstorming and rapid prototyping using duct-tape and construction paper. Quite the shift from the high-tech Koret classroom where we spent every class last year!
  • Strategic Brand Marketing – This 3-unit course meets Tuesdays, so you’ll have to wait to hear more about it. But we do have homework going in (What do you think the most powerful brand is?), so while it’s more qualitative than quantitative, I’m going to have plenty to do.
  • Negotiations – This 3-unit course on Thursdays is very highly-rated with Professor Holly Schroth at the helm. Evidently we practice negotiating every single class. Amusingly, I also learned that our text book is Getting Past No and the textbook for the weekend version of Negotiations is Getting To Yes. Ha!

Well, more to come as we get into the year. And I’m looking forward to hearing what my fellow bloggers are taking! It’s shocking to realize, but even though I have 2 years more in the program, there are really only about 8 courses total to take once the core is done!