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From Engineering to Aida—Mixing Business with Romance
Cheryl and Christian Valentine, both MBA 91, came from engineering backgrounds to study finance at Berkeley-Haas and went on to work in project finance for Bechtel after graduation. In 2000, Christian started his own investment company, Walnut Capital, in their hometown of Walnut Creek. Cheryl serves as a trustee for the UC Berkeley Foundation. They have been generous donors to Berkeley. Cheryl and her father endowed a chair in the College of Engineering, and now, through a gift to the Campaign for Haas, she and Christian have established a chair at Haas in management of technology.
Q: Why did you decide to earn MBAs and choose Berkeley-Haas?
Cheryl: I went to UC Berkeley as an undergrad in the College of Engineering. I worked for Allied Chemical, which later became General Chemical, out in Pittsburg, California. The company was going through a lot of management changes and restructuring, so that sparked my curiosity in an MBA. I was on the board of the Engineering Alumni Society at the time, so I was meeting with the dean, and I thought it would be a good idea [to return to Berkeley].
Christian: I grew up in the shadow of Stanford, where I went as an undergraduate. I received degrees in electrical engineering and in history. I then worked for four years in Silicon Valley for Sierra Semiconductor. I was managing computer networks. At that point in time I realized that I'd gone about as far as I could and decided to return to school to get an MBA. I wanted to stay in the Bay Area, and because of my past involvement with technology, I wanted to go to a school that had a focus and strength in that area.
Q: How did your paths cross in school?
Cheryl: There were a number of core classes that the first-year MBAs took, and we were in those classes together. I joke because he had season tickets to the opera, and there were five performances over the school year. He took a different girl to each one. I was Aida. We took BART because it was after the earthquake, and there was no way to get across the Bay Bridge. It was very romantic.
Q: What role has your Berkeley education played
in your career?
Cheryl: It taught me how to think, how to analyze a lot of information, to find the problem, and formulate solutions. My project engineering was all about that, and it wasn't really any different when I went into project finance and development.
Christian: It's a set of tools and ways of evaluating situations that's slightly different than what you get in engineering. As engineers, we both approach things from an engineering mindset, and there are certain tools within business analysis that are different from that. Those are the areas where we arguably were thinner before going to business school.
Q: Which of the Haas Defining Principles do you feel
Cheryl: Question the status quo. Berkeley is starting to do that as a campus in a big way. They're starting to look at issues that corporate America has looked at for a very long time. They're doing that in response to the budget cuts, but I would argue that they should be doing that in any event because they have world-class faculty, they have world-class students—they need a world-class operation to support the campus.
Christian: We have three teenagers. Questioning authority is what they're all about!
Q: Your gift to the Haas School supports an endowed chair. What inspired you to make that gift?
Cheryl: I have been quite involved with UC through the Berkeley Engineering Fund, the Engineering Alumni Society, and the UC Berkeley Foundation. My father is also a mechanical engineer from Berkeley, so my father and I created a distinguished professorship in mechanical engineering.
Christian: Here at Haas, Sara Beckman's class got us focused toward supporting management of technology because we're both engineers and it's the techier side of the business school. Plus, we thought it would be nice if we could do something together for the business school because that's where we met. –Carinne Johnson
Cheryl and Christian Valentine, MBA 91