A company’s culture plays a huge role in developing its workers and its leaders. Through the Berkeley-Haas Full-time MBA Program, Stephanie Fujii, who was the program’s first assistant dean of the Full-time MBA Program and Admissions, has advocated for the power of positive culture. During her time at Haas, she helped to develop strong leaders and instill their communities with a sense of inclusivity and belonging.

An Interest in Culture

Fujii has spent her career focused on human capital and leadership development. She’s worked in the Berkeley-Haas Full-time MBA Program Admissions and other nonprofits for more than 12 years. She’s recently taken the skills she learned at Haas and transitioned to building a successful business as an Executive Coach and Leadership Consultant.

Fujii, who was born-and-raised in Berkeley, attended Brown University where she graduated with a degree in cultural anthropology. She became interested in this field after accidentally taking a class her freshman year that made her realize that, while she saw the world as socially constructed, there were many different ways of looking at the world. She found the idea so fascinating that she declared cultural anthropology as her major.

When she was young, Fujii was convinced that being an actor was her true calling. But her dreams were crushed after she met with a casting agent who told her that there just weren’t many roles in Hollywood for someone who looked like her. Although devastated, she didn’t stop acting and continued to perform. She was eventually cast in A Christmas Carol at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

She used that experience, of being rejected because of her appearance and then discovering the joy of performing with a theatre group, in her admissions essay for Brown. Fujii says she really put her heart into that essay, and she only told that story in her Brown application. She later learned that this essay had an impact on John Brown, the member of Brown admissions who presented her application to the admissions committee.

Growing Leadership with Haas

Fujii has the distinction of being the first assistant dean of the Full-time MBA Program and Admissions where she oversaw both the full-time MBA admissions and the full-time MBA program office at Haas. Prior to this appointment, Fujii, an alumna and nine-year veteran at Haas, served as executive director of Full-time MBA Admissions.

While working at Haas Admissions, she helped refine the admissions process every year, including moving to an online evaluation system and reducing the number of application rounds from four to three. Under Fujii’s guidance, the Admission team also worked hard to determine what qualities and behaviors they expected to see in applying students.

They started to figure out what types of questions they could ask that would help them learn more about how somebody does or does not embody those desired qualities. Part of this process was integrating the school’s Defining Principles into the admissions process.

This turned out to be a very powerful experience for prospective Haas students. The program attracted individuals who recognized their own values mirrored in the Haas culture. And this built on the community, team, and organization that Fujii wanted to create for the Haas students.

Making the Call

Before Fujii went into admissions, she was on a different career path altogether. So when she was offered the opportunity to go back and work with the Haas admissions team, she agreed, but thought she’d only stay there for a few years. However, she found the work so rewarding that she ended up staying at Haas for ten years. She thoroughly enjoyed her experience there, especially being able to select who would be part of the Haas community.

She vividly remembers getting the acceptance call when she was first admitted to Haas and how much it meant to her. So when she became the Admissions executive director, she asked to be the one to make all the calls welcoming new members into the Haas family. She says making those calls was one of the highlights of the job.

An Emphasis on Culture

Fujii has very strong feelings about the role culture plays in the human experience. To her, culture is a reflection of how we see the world around us and how we see our place in that world. Culture helps us to prioritize what’s most important. She feels that a defined culture is essential to any organization because it offers guidelines for how to behave and how to treat each other.

The Power of the Haas Culture

Defining a culture can be challenging, but there’s something unique about the culture at Haas. Dean Lyons has created and articulated a set of very clear values and Defining Principles that make up the community’s mindset. These four values are: 1) being confident without attitude, 2) to be a student always, 3) to question the status quo, and 4) to be beyond yourself. These are principles that Fujii recognized in every one of her classmates. The culture at Haas is unique not because of any one of these Defining Principles, but because of all four of them together.

Four Principles Embodied

For the Haas Admissions team, these Defining Principles offered a very clear guide when discussing how people embodied, didn’t embody, or had the potential to embody Haas principles. Fujii realized that she and her team needed to ask themselves about the qualities and behaviors that they expected to see from somebody who was a “student always.” It’s not just about learning. It has more to do with being curious about the world around you and having a willingness to leave your comfort zone and try something new.

And that approach applies to each of the Defining Principles. She was able to bring together people with very diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, but they all shared the same core values. She felt that even though Haas students may be different and may disagree, through these four Defining Principles they all hold themselves to a certain way of behaving and treating each other. And that’s what makes Haas more than just a group or a team. This attitude embodies the entire Haas community.

2020 and the Pandemic

Fujii says that 2020 was a transformational year for her. Fujii is an upbeat, positive person, so it was a very challenging year for her. During a year filled with racial injustice and a highly contentious election, she’s experienced a whole range of emotions she normally tries to avoid, like rage, anxiety, heartbreak, helplessness, and depression.

But she found purpose in those emotions. Through her work as a coach, she saw her job to create a space for people to feel all those emotions and work through them all.

Throughout the pandemic, she has continued coaching and working with people. She’s pleased and thankful that she’s been able to walk alongside people who are working through how the global pandemic is impacting them as well. Many of the people she works with have had their entire lives turned upside down.

And it’s paid off. Fujii has seen how resilient and adaptable people can be. She’s seen people who would have resisted change before 2020 who have become more open to it. She’s seen how the pandemic has resulted in people considering what’s really important as she’s helped them re-examine their lives and think differently about how to live them.

Lessons Learned from Lockdown

While the year has been challenging, it’s also been one of transformation. To help people weather their stormy lives, she’s had to learn how to deal with her own feelings and then push them aside so she could focus on helping others. The whole experience has proven to be a tremendous time of learning how to be more fully engaged, a lesson she’s grateful for.

She’s also learned, firsthand, to see the possibility of people, finding inspiration in seeing people step into their potential, take risks, and try new things.

As a lifelong planner, someone who appreciates structure and goals and achieving, she’s had to let go of these essentials of an organization that were once so important. Her experiences through 2020 have taught her the beauty of surrender, that it’s okay to just let go, take a leap of faith, and trust herself.

Building an Inclusive Culture Pays Dividends

Stephanie Fujii has always been interested in the power of culture. She enjoys working with others to help develop their values and recognize those same values in others. From first-hand experience at Haas, Fujii knows that a set of well-defined shared values goes a long way to establishing a culture and community that all members will embrace.

Building a culture is hard work. But when done right, it can be a powerful force for attracting like-minded, talented team members with a set of well-defined shared values. Fujii has spent an entire career working to find, select, and educate individuals who not only contribute to a team but help it grow.

To learn how a well-built culture functions, or even how to build your own, look into the Full-time MBA Program at the Haas School of Business.

You can learn more about Fujii and her experiences at Haas by checking out her appearance on the Haas podcast.

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