Berkeley Haas Culture Runs Deep

The Defining Leadership Principles resonate throughout our school. They build community, enrich learning, inspire groundbreaking initiatives, and produce the kinds of leaders our recruiters want.

Why Berkeley Haas Culture Thrives

Culture expert and Haas Professor Jenny Chatman explains

The Defining Leadership Principles, which started as a way to articulate a distinctive Berkeley Haas brand aimed at prospective students and recruiters, tapped into the source of pride among all members of the community.

“It’s rare that a culture would take hold this completely, this quickly,” says Prof. Jenny Chatman, PhD 88, an expert on organizational culture who helped Dean Lyons develop Haas’ initiative. “I knew it would give us leverage externally, but I’ve been impressed by how it’s taken such a strong hold, particularly among our students, giving them an identity that is meaningful.”

Chatman has analyzed the relationship between culture and performance in hundreds of organizations and found that three key elements are needed to deeply embed a culture: relevance, authenticity, and flexibility. Here, Chatman explains how these elements apply to Berkeley Haas and our Defining Leadership Principles.

Relevance. The behaviors you’re promoting must connect with your organization’s goals.

“If these four Defining Leadership Principles didn’t help our students prioritize their behaviors to be successful, they wouldn’t be useful. … I see students using them to identify and distinguish themselves as Haas students compared to Business School X.

“The Defining Leadership Principles also lengthen and intensify our connections with our alumni. There are so many ways they help and support us, and this gives us a language and set of attributes to connect with them.”

Authenticity. People need to see you following up with real practices, not empty language.

“We are selecting students based on these qualities, and they are also self-selecting. … If they didn’t come in understanding the Defining Leadership Principles as well as they might have, then they certainly understand them by the time they leave. We’re seeing people transform.”

Flexibility. Cultural norms must adapt over time.

Chatman found that companies with cultures that are both strong and adaptive reap the biggest financial returns. Interestingly, the worst performers aren’t firms with persistently weak cultures—they’re companies with strong, rigid cultures.

“Haas will have to continually update and clarify the behaviors associated with the Defining Leadership Principles. That said, the dean defined these in a way that’s pretty lasting. When one of your principles is Question the Status Quo, it’s built in.”

Teaching the Defining Leadership Principles Builds Stronger Leaders

beyond yourself

Lecturer Brandi Pearce with Alvaro Sanchez-Apellaniz and Leonardo Moraes, MBA 15s, in the Innovation Lab

Students are admitted to Berkeley Haas based on how they exemplify the Defining Leadership Principles, and Haas culture is reinforced once they matriculate. The Teams@Haas curriculum, which was developed using the Defining Leadership Principles in concert with scientific research, teaches MBA students how to lead within teams and drive innovation.

For example, students learn how to have the Confidence Without Attitude to share ideas with conviction but also be receptive to the suggestions of others. Or how to foster a dynamic of Students Always, creating space to debate and integrate feedback that optimizes the collective wisdom of the group.

“The Defining Leadership Principles are critical in cultivating a team climate that encourages balanced communication, a safe environment for risk-taking, and effective coordination—key collaborative dynamics needed for teams to produce innovative and creative joint outcomes,” says Lecturer Brandi Pearce, PhD, who spearheaded Teams@Haas. The curriculum, now in its second full year, is woven throughout the core full-time MBA program, from orientation to study groups to projects with outside clients in experiential learning courses.

Along the way, students receive guidance from professional development coaches who help them practice questioning the status quo so they don’t merely discuss ideas that support their biases. Or how to go beyond themselves to cultivate empathetic behavior that encourages the interpersonal risk-taking needed to realize the team’s potential.

“Over time, students become independent in using the tools and leading teams,” says Pearce. “Collaboration is more than a buzzword—it involves a specific skill set that can be taught.” And given that much of the work done in organizations today is via teams, the curriculum makes students valuable to employers.

Principles Drive Gender Equity at Haas


Gender equity advocates Ryann Kopacka, MBA 16; Jesse Silberberg, Catherine Andresen, and Katie Benintende, all MBA 15; and Haas Adjunct Assoc. Prof. Kellie McElhaney.

The Defining Principle Confidence Without Attitude drew Katie Benintende, MBA 15, to Haas. “When I arrived, I realized that wasn’t just marketing material, that Haasies really are a unique bunch of business students,” she says. “And the lack of attitude helped give me more confidence in my academic and extracurricular endeavors.”

One of those endeavors focused on gender. “My female classmates were the most impressive, driven group of women I’d ever been around,” Benintende says. The trouble was, there weren’t enough of them. The full-time MBA Class of 2015 was 29 percent women, down from 32 percent the year prior. So Benintende, along with female and male classmates, set out to make Berkeley Haas a leader in gender equality.

Working with admissions staff, they reached out to newly admitted women by enlisting female faculty, senior administrators, and high-profile alumnae to make personal calls and hold on- and off-campus events.

Their efforts succeeded in a big way, with a record 43 percent women in the full-time MBA Class of 2016—a nearly 50 percent leap from the previous year and the highest among top 10 business schools nationwide.

“We will never be the same business school as a result of these students who questioned the status quo,” says Dean Rich Lyons. “They started questioning, and they saw it through.”

Adjunct Assoc. Prof. Kellie McElhaney championed the project along the way and helped the students design an independent study to conduct research and determine other courses of action. In Spring 2015, MBAs launched the Haas Gender Equity Initiative, focused on academics, student culture, and admissions. “Our goal is to institutionalize this work,” says Sydney Thomas, MBA 16. “We have seen how receptive to change everyone is, at all levels of Haas. I don’t think we would have gotten this far, this fast, without that.”

Berkeley Haas Culture Stands Out Among Employers

Dean Lyons and career services staff meet frequently with recruiters to ensure that Berkeley Haas grads learn the skills that will set them apart from other MBAs. Though evidence is anecdotal, they often hear that Haas culture is a differentiator. “Many MBA recruiters say that the Defining Leadership Principles are the values they are looking for in new hires,” says Julia Min Hwang, the assistant dean of MBA Career Management Group and corporate engagement. “The embodiment of these principles help our students to stand out in the interview process and to succeed in their respective roles.”

Here, a sampling of recruiters who say that the Defining Leadership Principles line up with what they’re looking for in top candidates.

Culture Foreshadows Success

Rob Jacoby, MBA 04

Rob Jacoby, MBA 04, principal, Deloitte Consulting, leading the Haas MBA recruiting efforts

“Not only are the Defining Leadership Principles a great fit with Deloitte’s values, they connect almost perfectly. Haas alums come in with a shared sense of cultural expectations, and they are very successful in terms of tenure, promotion, performance ratings—all as a function of cultural compatibility.”

Recruiters Eye the Haas Edge

Susan Hollingshead

Susan Hollingshead, chief administrative and people officer, Sungevity, Bay Area solar energy company

“We’ve had a 100 percent success rate with Haas students and grads so we decided to focus our recruiting effort on Haas. Haasies have a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude we don’t see from all B-school grads. They have an appropriate confidence needed for true leadership, strong backgrounds, and know the field well and can lead through that knowledge.”

Leaders Have Strong Principles

Cory Wiltbank, MBA 10

Cory Wiltbank, MBA 10, senior HR manager, global leadership and learning, Accelerated Leadership Program, Intel

“[Haas culture] is a great fit for our leadership development program. We hire leaders out of the best business schools in the world. Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself really show up well in the Haas candidates and personally make me proud to be associated with the Berkeley Haas community.”

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