Today we have John Bolaji, MBA, Master of Engineering candidate at UC Berkeley. Aside from being a Consortium Fellow, he is also Co-President of The Black Business Student Association here at Haas.
John comes from a Nigerian family. He is good at Math and Science, and coupled with his passion for science fiction and technology, he went to MIT and studied Mechanical Engineering. However, John wanted to explore other industries other than tech and engineering. He worked as a Consulting Analyst in Accenture and then a Project Manager at McMaster-Carr, where he got to experience real management and leadership experience.
In this episode, John shares his reasons for pursuing the new joint master’s degree in business and engineering, joining different resources inside and outside of Haas, and taking on leadership roles to promote positive changes in the world, especially for people of color.
On being exposed to management and leadership experience early in his career
“It offered me some really interesting and unique leadership opportunities that I was really happy to get and confirmed for me that the leadership and management aspect is where I want to be in terms of my career, in terms of how I’m contributing to the world. I think that’s where my natural abilities and skills lie.”
The role of MLT (Management Leadership for Tomorrow) in his business school application
“I definitely have to give a shout out here to MLT. That’s another organization that helps prepare black and brown students to transition to business school. What I did was MLT MBA Prep. It’s essentially a large group of people kind of going through the MBA application process. So, a lot of people have MBA application consultants. This is like a similar version of that but it’s a much larger community and it’s focused on uplifting black and brown students and indigenous students. And that was 100% the most impactful part of my preparation and application process. MLT was really the first intro to this world and I can’t thank them enough for how the preparation process, the coaches that they give you, access to the networking with schools that they give you, is all very impactful. And on top of all of that, it just creates such an amazing community of people who are going through the same process at the same time.”
On choosing business schools
“Every business school admissions process is different for everybody. And I think, more so than any other professional school, there is a strong emphasis on prestige, rank, business school, name brand, and all those different things, and that definitely influenced my thinking a lot. But I’d say my advice to people is that everyone’s business school application journey will be unique. The prestige and name brand definitely have some effect in certain areas, but you can think of other things like the school, culture, fits, geographic location, student size; all those different things will have a much larger impact on your experience.”
Why he joined different programs inside and outside of Haas
“I did this intentionally, but I really overloaded myself. I was trying to hone in my focus and my prioritization. I was like, I’m going to sample everything and put as much on my plate as I can. And then I’m going to see what sticks essentially. Because you only have so much time, and at the end of the day, you end up prioritizing the things that you find important, and the things that you don’t find important will fall off the wayside.”
A piece of advice from John
“It’s going to be tough, but don’t be afraid to push your boundaries and get outside your comfort zone. I feel like that’s a very cliche piece of advice, but the way I’d frame it is, it’s a lot easier to get comfortable and stay inside your comfort zone without even realizing that you’re in your comfort zone. You might think you are pushing your boundaries when in reality, you’re just slightly turning to the left or slightly turning to the right. And when I say completely change everything that you thought your boundary was, if you can go to the opposite end of the spectrum and test it out to see how far you can go and how far you think the spectrum even is, you might realize there’s way more in the middle than you thought or it’s not as far as you thought that this thing that you thought was super radical really is not that radical. And maybe you can even go further and get closer to finding something even better for you than you thought could be possible on this side of whatever spectrum you’re thinking of.”
- Management Leadership for Tomorrow – MBA Prep Program
- Black Business Student Association
- Haas Consortium Fellowship
- UC Berkeley’s MBA/MEng program
- Haas Tech Club
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Chris: Welcome to the OneHaas Podcast. I’m Chris Kim. Today, we have John Bolaji, MBA, Master of Engineering candidate at UC Berkeley. John is a Consortium Fellow, an engineer, and former consultant, and a leader of the Black Business Student Association here at Haas. John, welcome, and great to have you on the show.
[00:22] John: Thank you so much, Chris. I’m really excited to be here.
[00:24] Chris: Absolutely. John, we usually start these podcasts by going over folks’ background. So, some of the details, you are currently an MBA and also a Master of Engineering candidate here at UC Berkeley, is that right?
[00:35] John: Yes.
[00:36] Chris: Wow, that’s awesome. You did your undergrad at MIT, studying mechanical engineering. And then, also before you came to Haas, you worked in consulting at Accenture and also at the supply chain and logistics company, McMaster-Carr. Along with being an MBA here at Berkeley Haas, you’re also a Consortium Fellow, which is super cool. Could you share a bit about your story? Where does your story begin, and did you know that you were going to do all these cool things when you were a kid?
[00:58] John: It’s interesting that you asked that. I don’t think I knew exactly how I would get to this point. I think I always thought I would do cool things, but I didn’t know what the cool thing would be. It’s actually part of the reason that I ended up at MIT. It’s a very strong engineering school. And when I was in high school, and even now, I’ve always been really, I won’t say obsessed, but very passionate about science fiction, sci-fi, the future of technology and all those things. I looked at what I was good at in school, math and science for the most part. And I looked at what kind of jobs that were available to me being good at those things. And then I looked at what kind of things I wanted to actually work on in the future in relation to my passion about science fiction and technology. And so, that all coalesced around, “All right. It sounds I’m going to be an engineer.”
I also didn’t mention this before, but my parents are Nigerian. I come from a Nigerian family. And there’s a joke in Nigerian culture where Nigerian kids can only be one of three professions, either a doctor, a lawyer, or engineer. And I’ve got two older brothers, one’s a doctor, one’s a lawyer. And so, the natural kind of outcome for me was, “Yes, I’m going to be an engineer, I guess.” And it all kind of worked out that way.
And then I started at MIT. I was very happy about getting into such a great school. It’s oftentimes, I think, just really a blessing and opportunity because there’s so many people who are qualified to go to a school like that. They only have so many seats. So, it was really a blessing for me. And while I was at MIT, I studied mechanical engineering. It was a very broadly applicable discipline of engineering. There’s a lot of different disciplines in engineering where you get a little bit more down a focus track, like aerospace engineering, it’s similar but it’s very focused on planes and rockets. And so, if you don’t want to work on planes and rockets, it’s not as applicable. So, I chose mechanical because it’s still very real world-focused in terms of building physical things that you can actually see, feel, touch, as opposed to what was really popular at the time, and still as popular, software engineering. I think those things are great, but I always thought more about the technology that you can actually see and use and a physical impact on your life.
And at MIT, I really enjoyed my time there. It’s a great institution, but as I was going through the time, I realized that engineering—I realized that it might not necessarily be for me just in terms of the day-to-day life of what an engineer does and what it looks like. Obviously, I finished my degree, and I went through it. But it’s around, I think, my junior year, I did a few internships—oil and gas, other hardware companies. And then I did an internship in consulting. And I was thinking about all my options, what I want to do going forward. And I was still always interested in tech, but I also wanted to explore what are the other industries and job paths available to me after graduation. And so, I didn’t think I was going to go down the routes of engineer directly after school. So, I was like, “Let me think about some other things.”
And at the same time, I was really involved in a lot of the engineering leadership programs and courses at MIT. So, that was a little bit more of an early introduction to what the business school type person is. It was a lot more focused on engineering and technical leadership, obviously, because MIT has got to do everything with an engineering tinge to it. But that was really my first understanding of ways that I could be a part of the future of technology, without necessarily being a hardcore engineer myself.
And all those experiences really are like, “You know what? What might be a good suggestion for you is to look at what are the other industries and roles that are out there. And then maybe sometime in the future, you can come back to engineering.” And that’s how I ended up going into consulting after graduation as opposed to a lot of the other engineering disciplines that my classmates went into, working at Apple, and Google, and Amazon, and all those things. I went into pure business play side of consulting, and I really enjoyed a lot of my consulting experience. And I got a chance to travel. I really like to travel and see different geographies. When I was growing up, we moved around a lot. So, I don’t really have a hometown that I claim, and I’ve lived in a lot of different places. That’s the life that I’m used to. And I really want to continue that and see what else is out there and sample a lot of different things.
And consulting was really good for that for me. About two years after I started consulting, I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the long-term path for me. And I also knew that going in that I was going to do something that I’m going to use as sample and test a few different things. And after two years of doing it, I think I got that experience. And I was like, you know what? I think I’m right to move on to something else. Coincidentally, I also happened to be on a really tough project at the time. Everyone knows about the consulting lifestyle. And I was reaching the peak of it, I think, in terms of the long work hours and a little bit of the burnout. And at that time, this other company, McMaster-Carr, reached out to me and said, “Hey, we think you’d be a good fit for our management leadership rotational program.” And again, I’ve always been interested in this stuff. And I was looking for more opportunities to do that. And around this time I was also thinking how can I continue to build my career in such a way that I continue moving up. And business school have started becoming attractive to me at that time. And this felt like a really good opportunity for me to continue to test that theses and also get some better experience on my resume for business school. So, I took the offer, and I ended up staying at McMaster-Carr for about three years. And it was a really good experience. It was very different lifestyle from the consulting world. It was a lot more closer to a 9:00 to 5:00 chiller work hours. You’re not traveling all the time. So, I really got a chance to stay and explore the city of Chicago, which is where I was at at that time.
[06:32] Chris: Oh, wow.
[06:33] John: And it was really nice to go through the rotational aspects, see different parts of the company. And what was the most attractive about it to me was they offered you the opportunity to have real management and leadership experience at a very early stage in your career. So, when I joined McMaster-Carr, I was about two years out of undergrad. And six months after joining—and this is typical for people that go through that program—I was already supervisor of my own team of analysts and people working on things. So, this is me, what, 23, 24-year-old that’s a leader of people who’ve been working in this company for 10, 15 years, doing all these different things. And it offered me some really interesting and unique leadership opportunities that I was really happy to get and confirm for me that the leadership and management aspect is where I want to be in terms of this thing. In terms of my career, in terms of how I’m contributing to the world, I think that’s where my natural abilities and skills lied.
And some of my experiences, both at MIT and the leadership programs at the company, pushed me in the direction of this is where I should be. And at the same time, it also solidified—and I’m also probably going to get a business school degree out of this because that’s just how you continue to develop your career, when you choose to go down that route.
[07:45] Chris: One of the things, John, that really stick out to me is you have the mix of different skillsets that, especially employers today, just love. You have the technical background, you have in-training, and then you have the consulting and strategy, the analytics. It’s a huge win. And I know you mentioned you were a little bit intentional in terms of really being thoughtful in terms of how your career was developing. But even before you came to Haas, I know we talked about career and professional development, personal development a ton. Were you already thinking about those things? And how did that transition from, “Here’s the start of my career,” to, “I’m thinking about business school. How do I think about where I want to go or what do I want to do long term?”
[08:27] John: I’d say I definitely was cognizant of it and thinking about it all the time. And what I would really owe that to is I had a lot of good mentors and support system and people showing me the ropes, telling me how it is that people typically progress through these things. So, that was, I think, a really big impetus for me to, say, start exploring those options and figuring out, “So, if this is what you think you want to do, have you thought about how you get to the next step? Have you thought about how you get to the next stage?” And that was what really set me on the path of business school. I always knew it was an option, talking through the different—but I didn’t think it was necessary. And to be fair, I probably still don’t think it’s “necessary”. But in talking to my different mentors, both in my family, through my school connections, also my peers, that just helped me solidify and make it more attractive.
I’d also say I like to enjoy life. I think I’m a fun, loving guy. So, hearing about some of the experiences that you can have in business school, taking time off from work to be able to travel and do these different things, that was also really attractive to me. So, not just from a career perspective, but from a lifestyle perspective, it felt like a really good evolution for what I was trying to do.
[09:38] Chris: Did you leverage any resources as you were thinking about where you wanted to go to school? And how much did that come into play as you’re going through the application process?
[09:47] John: Yes, 100%. I definitely have to give a shout out here to MLT. That’s another organization that helps prepare black and brown students for transitioning to the business school, both into the business school world. There’s a few different levels of it. So in the undergrad, they have MLT career prep, which helps you transition into the professional working world. What I did was MLT MBA Prep. It’s essentially a large group of people going through the MBA application process. So, a lot of people have MBA application consultants. This is a similar version of that. But it’s a much larger community, and it’s focused on uplifting black and brown students and indigenous students as well. And that was 100% the most impactful parts of my preparation and application process. So, once I had decided on going to business school, everyone that I knew in my professional networks in that world, they all said, “You got to do MLT.” And my consortium was also in the conversation but they’re on slightly different timescales. So, MLT was really the first intro to this world. And I can’t think of enough for how the preparation process, the coaches that they give you, access to the networking with schools that they give you, is all very impactful. And on top of all of that, it just creates such an amazing community of people who are going through the same process at the same time.
I think just this last weekend, I got back from a ski trip in Breckenridge—
[11:14] Chris: Oh, wow.
[11:13] John: —where it was organized by the business school at Dartmouth. So, the Tuck Black Business Student Association. And a lot of people there were people that I met in MLT originally. And so, it was almost like a nice big reunion of people who I hadn’t seen in such a long time. And I just know that community is going to be something that continues to be really strong and impactful in my life as I go forward, not just in business school, but beyond.
[11:38] Chris: I know everybody loves Haas when they come here, but was Berkeley the only school that you were thinking of? Or how were you thinking about your career longer-term as you were going through that process or selecting process? Or what kind of advice did you get when you were selecting schools as well? I know for folks who might be thinking about coming to Haas, some of those things might be important as they’re thinking about coming here.
[11:56] John: Those are all really good questions and all, definitely related. I’d say, for me, it goes back to this idea that, when I was younger, I always wanted to work on technology. I always wanted to work on what the future look like. But I also realized throughout that process that it might not be me being an engineer and actually being in solid works and building these things, or being in the lab prototyping them. There is other ways that I can be a part of that while still using my engineering knowledge. As I remember thinking about what it felt like to work in the engineering leadership programs and being a part of those where, yeah, you’re working on some technical stuff, but you’re also adding this additional layer of management on top of it. It made me think—and this is at the time I was still at McMaster-Carr—which was, like I said, a well-run company, and it taught me a lot about how to run a business, but the work that they were doing and the actual industry that they were in wasn’t necessarily what I thought I would spend my life working on.
And so I started thinking about, “I want to get back towards the technology side of things. I want to get back towards the building technology, but I still don’t want to be an engineer, specifically.” I want to maybe work with engineers and work with people who are doing close to development process of different technologies, without necessarily building them myself. And so, that made me start thinking about, again, what are the careers? What are the roles? What are the things that could look like?
And obviously, people always talk about PM, and product management, and all those different things. And those were some options to me. But I was also, again, still very interested in the hardware side of things. There’s not as much PM. PM, I think, is very software dominated in terms of how it actually plays out at different companies. So, I still had to think about that.
And when it came to start looking at schools, I had these criteria in my mind where I wanted it to be a school that was strong in the tech world, without necessarily having a specific role attached to that. I also had spent a lot of time in Chicago at this point. So, I was five years in Chicago. So, there was really good business schools in Chicago and Kellogg and Lewis. But, again, I like to live in different places, sample different things. I had spent five years in Chicago. Also, I was applying in 2020. The pandemic was still in its most scary phases, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. And I just felt like now’s a really good time for a change. So, initially, I almost didn’t apply to any of the schools in Chicago. I ended up applying to Kellogg, because they also have pretty strong placements at tech, and that was something I still valued. And then, I also applied to Stanford and three other consortium schools. So Berkeley, of course, Yale, also, and Michigan Ross. So, in total, I applied to six schools with that criteria of strong in tech, but also different from Chicago. That was some of the important things. And I also applied to Wharton. It also has a pretty large contingent and the Wharton in the Bay program. So, there’s some adjacencies to tech as well. And every business school admissions process is different for everybody.
And I think, going back to the question about advice, I think, more so than any other professional school, there is a strong emphasis on prestige and rank and business school and name brand and all those different things. And that definitely influenced my thinking a lot, but I’d say my advice to people is everyone’s business school application journey is going to be very unique. And there is more similarities across business schools than not. I think there are certain factors, and there are certain areas that the prestige, I wouldn’t say rank, because rank in my opinion doesn’t really mean too much, but prestige and name brand definitely has some effects in certain areas. But I think it’s very often overstated for people who aren’t as familiar with the world.
There’s a lot of people who go on to business school to start recruiting in tech or recruiting for consulting or recruiting for banking and stuff like that. And I’d say that there is really in those specific areas, especially the bigger the companies, there’s a lot less difference than there are similarities. There is definitely going to be some firms or something that might only recruit from Harvard or might only recruit from Stanford or something like that. And if you know that you want to work at one of those, then you know what steps you have to take. But outside of those few situations, there’s a lot more similarities than there are not. And you can think of other things, like the school culture, fits, geographic location, student size. All those different things I think will have a much larger impact on your experience. And so, for me, when I was looking at these schools, the ones that I listed, there are obviously difference in geography, difference in class size. So, I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted out of the program, except outside of the fact that I knew I wanted to get back into tech.
And so, there was a lot of decisions that I had to make as the applications went out and as the admissions started rolling in. And it ended up coming down to the three schools, Berkeley, Yale, and Kellogg, that I was choosing between. And I remember that, at this time, for a week, every single school was on top for one day. I was like, one day, Berkeley was my top choice. One day, it’s Yale. The next day, it’s Kellogg. And I just kept on rotating through because they all offered such a different things. And it made it difficult because I was interested in all the things that they offered.
But at the end of the day, and again, this goes back to why it’s all very unique, the reason that I chose Berkeley really came down to the fact that it was on the West Coast in the Bay. So that was important because I’d never lived there before, and I like to experience different things. And also I want to get into tech, and the Bay is a really good place to be in tech. Even the people that are coming out of Kellogg that are going to tech, they’re eventually going to the West Coast. That was something that I wanted to experience for myself.
And that was really the most important part. Obviously, money was a factor. And so, I got pretty good scholarships from Berkeley through the Consortium. Yale, as well, gave me a pretty good scholarship. And even Kellogg gave me some money. But Berkeley gave me the most, and that was also a factor. It’s really nice to not have to worry about paying back huge substantial amount of loans after school is done, because in my mind, it really opens up your potential employment opportunities because you don’t have to worry about, “All right, am I going to be making enough to pay back my loans or not,” or whatever it may be. So, that was also a smaller factor. And the reason that I was choosing between Yale and Berkeley on the money side, again, Berkeley is just top notch when it comes to tech placements. And being in the Bay, it felt like, even though I had been rotating through the options, at the end of the day, after I chose Berkeley, I was like, “You know what? This is an easy choice in hindsight.” This is capturing all the things that I wanted. Kellogg, obviously, was really close because it’s a great school and they have some of that name brands that you almost get the best of both worlds. But because I knew the things that I wanted to get into, in terms of technology recruiting and startup recruiting, they’re more similar there than they are not.
Plus, five years in Chicago winters, I was ready for some California type weather. Even if it’s not LA Bay, the Bay definitely beats out Chicago every season of the year, except for maybe summer. So, I haven’t spent a summer in the Bay quite yet, but I’ve heard good things about it. We’ll see what that looks like for me.
[19:00] Chris: Yeah, definitely. I feel like that’s one of the secrets that people don’t realize. It’s you want to go to school somewhere, but you also might want to enjoy living there. And so, the Bay is one of the best-kept secrets, I think, when it comes to that.
[19:13] John: And I’ve really enjoyed exploring it now. And, again, the reason that I like to explore and be in different areas is, I treat it as an opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zones. Thinking about if I had stayed in Chicago, stayed at Kellogg, my life would be very similar to what it had been for the last five years. Where out in the Bay, I now have access to beaches, and not that Lake Michigan doesn’t have real beaches. It’s still fun in the summer, and I’ll die on that hill, even if it’s not a real “beach.” The access to the mountains, I’m really interested in becoming a lot better skier. And those are the things that are very difficult to do logistically outside of this area. I’m just getting a chance to really not just develop myself professionally, but on a personal level, I think I just grow the most and learn the most when I push myself into new unfamiliar environments. And that’s something that I’ve been really been getting out of this process so far.
[20:03] Chris: What was it like when you got to campus? You’ve hit the ground running. You got involved in school and leadership, but you still have gone through the pandemic as well. What was that like? You got accepted. You’re coming to Haas. And then you get here, or you start your MBA experience. What was that like?
[20:20] John: That is, I wouldn’t say stressful time, but obviously a lot going on. And I left my job in McMaster-Carr in July of the summer beforehand. And it was very tough, as I’m sure people from the Bay know, to find housing while not being in the Bay. And I had actually talked to someone through a mutual friend who was from the South Bay, who was interested in coming to Berkeley. So, we talked on the phone, and he ended up deciding to come to Berkeley. I’m not going to say based off of my conversation, but as a joke, I’m the reason that he’s here now. As he was deciding whether to go to Berkeley or not go to Berkeley, and he had asked me, “Hey, do you want to live together? I’m here in the Bay. I can help find the spot.” I actually got really lucky with that in that my current roommates now are people who are from the Bay, where I was able to find it. So I was able to land with a place already settled. And I was like, “That’s one stressful thing out of the way. So this will be easy to start off with, right?”
There was still a lot going on when I landed. I think the first night that I got to Berkeley, I went to a really fun block party in downtown Oakland, met a few, they’re now second years, at that block party. And it was automatically or instantly building that Berkeley network and those Berkeley connections. And it really solidified in my mind, this is the place that I want to be. This is the place that is going to be good for me. There’s so much for me to explore here, so many people to meet, so many connections to make, and networks to build. And when the classes started, I actually didn’t intend to do the M.Eng. dual degree. When I first applied to schools, it was one of my criteria that I wanted to find the school that has really good resources outside of the business schools. And so, Berkeley’s a great university, has a great engineering program. Because I knew I wanted to get back into tech, I thought that would be really attractive.
And then, when I got accepted, they sent an email saying, “Hey, do you want to also apply to the M.Eng. program?” And I was like, “You know what? Sure, I think I will.” And I didn’t really think I was going to get accepted, first of all. And then, I didn’t really think I was going to do it. Then I ended up deciding to do it. And I know it was a little bit off-the-cuff, but I appreciated the experience so far. There’s obviously things that I didn’t expect coming out of it, and there’s things that I’m still navigating and trying to figure out. But what it has been really good for, and why I bring it up and talking about what it was like to start this whole process was it instantly showed me the world outside of Haas. I think there’s a lot of really great resources outside of Haas. And again, because Berkeley is a great university, and the College of Engineering is really good. And a lot of people will end up finding out about those in their second year, or much later on. Whereas, very early on, I knew, “All right, here’s all the things that are available to me.”
Obviously, it made the time management side a little bit more difficult. It just puts a little bit extra on your plate. And I didn’t mind that because, when I started out, one of the things that I wanted to do was, even though I know I had this theses about, “I want to get back into tech,” I’m also here to explore all the options. And even in my essays, I wrote about how, in the short term, I want to get into tech. I want to work in either big tech or small startups that are focused on consumer hardware and these things like that. Long-term, after I build up this expertise, VC is somewhere that I could see myself and helping founders, and early stage founders, and founders of color, and all these different things with my expertise that I’ve gained through business school and through that work experience. And so, at this time, it’s like, all right, there’s a lot of different ways that I can start exploring these things. So, even though I’m planning on recruiting for tech, let me go ahead and join the VC club, and let me go ahead and join the Berkeley StEP program.
I started working with M.Eng. students who are working on their own startups right now. Those were just some of the few resources that I initially put on my plate. And what I ended up doing was—and I did this intentionally, but I really overloaded myself. And I was like, “All right, I’m going to sample everything. I’m going to put as much on my plate as I can.” And then, I’m going to see what sticks essentially. Because at the end of the day, you only have so much time. And you end up prioritizing the things that you find important, and the things that you don’t find important will fall off the wayside. And so, I’m now reaching the stage where I think things are starting to fall off the wayside. And I was trying to hone in my focus and my prioritization, but it was really helpful early on being able to say, “I did all this. I experienced all this. Here’s why I fall off the radar. Here’s why it’s not as high on my priority list.” And I think it’s also helpful because I’m pretty involved with the admissions process in terms of both in my MLT network, the consortium network, and the BBSA, Black Business Student Association.
I have people reaching out to me to get my experience and to get my understanding of things. And because I’ve sampled so many different things, I might not be doing this anymore, but I can tell you about the Berkeley StEP program, or Lean LaunchPad, or all these different things. And I can tell you what it’s like to be a dual-degree student in the M.Eng. program. They allow me to be more helpful to people who are also following the same path.
[25:19] Chris: That’s awesome, John. You brought it up. You’re one of the leaders of BBSA, the Black Business Student Association. Can you talk a bit about how you decided to take on a leadership role, not just be a member of the organization or club, but really take on a leadership role, and have that front and center as part of your experience at Haas?
[25:38] John: I think for me, and I talked to a lot of second year students about what it looks like to be a student leader and what about the responsibilities and all those different things, and a lot of the advice I got and also kind of like pass along is only be a leader of things that you’re truly passionate about. Because it’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a lot of work. It’s time-consuming. And going back to that idea of sampling a whole bunch of different things and seeing what sticks in your prioritization, it should be really high there. It shouldn’t be an afterthought if you want to give them the experience as a club leader that you are planning on giving people.
And the reason that I decided to really pursue the leadership specifically with BBSA was, it’s honestly this idea of be the change you want to see in the world. So, going back to my time at MLT and that community and thinking about the different schools, I was really excited about Berkeley for a lot of reasons. But one thing that always came up in discussion or conversation was Berkeley is not very diverse. The school doesn’t have a lot of black students, has no black and brown students. It was not really known as a safe place for black people. And because I said I moved around a lot, I lived in suburban Ohio, I lived in Northwest Texas, I lived in a lot of different places where I was only the black person around, and my family was really the only black people around, that didn’t scare me a lot, but it did make me sad for students who felt that was more important to their experience. That would still have a lot to gain from coming to a school like Berkeley. But now, they’re intimidated by the fact that, “You know what, this might not be a place for us. This might not be a place for me.”
And so my vision, me and my co-president, Monica Shavers, we talked a lot about this as we thought about what we wanted BBSA to look like, was we want to change this perception. We want this to be a place that people no longer consider unsafe for black people, or unattractive to black people, or don’t have that high diversity numbers and things like that. And obviously, a lot of that is within the Diversity Admissions Office and the Admissions Office in general. There’s only so much we can control as students. But I think a lot of it does start with creating that community. And I think one is just correcting misperceptions. There are a fair number of people here, especially percentage-wise, when you look at how small our class size is, this is something that I ended up doing, is comparing to places like Wharton and Ross. They have very large student body populations in general. So, an absolute number of people, they’re going to cross more demographics in an absolute number, even with similar percentages.
So, one is correcting this misperception. And then, two is building on the good work that I think Berkeley has done in the past years. I think there was a few years in the past where Berkeley really did get this rep for being not diverse, where they had very small black and brown student populations. And they’ve definitely been building past that. And we just want to make sure that we continued building that progress. And the progress has been made before we got here. The class above us did a great job of making sure that we felt welcome and included. And especially, given now, they were virtual for their first year. I really give a lot of props to them for being able to put in the infrastructure that we needed to have the success that we’ve had this year, in terms of building that idea of community.
And again, going back to the question of why would you do something like this? It’s so I can have that change. And now, as I look at the incoming first years and the students that are trying to come in here, and hearing about what are the perceptions that they have about Berkeley, I can already hear in the language that it started to change. There’s still people who have questions like, “I’ve heard about the community at Berkeley, and what it looks like for black and brown students.” And I’m happy now to be able to say, “You know what? What you heard was true in the past is not true this year.” I can point to different things that we’ve done. I can point to different events that we’ve had and different resources that we’ve built to say that, “Hey, this is no longer the case, even if it was in the past. And in some cases, it was never the case. You just hear things, but this is no longer the case, or it was never the case. And I’m not going to lie to you and say that, just because of that, Berkeley is the school for you. But I don’t want that to be a negative consideration in your mind as you think about what schools to attend and what are the important criteria that you think Berkeley is missing out on.”
[29:52] Chris: I’ve noticed even during my time at Haas, it’s really changed, I think, overall for the positive. And it could be other business schools, too. It’s something you feel. You just feel it on campus. I don’t know if other people have that experience. It’s just there’s a different feel and it’s feels even more welcoming. And maybe it’s because of the pandemic, people just realizing we have to come together and really just be a place where everyone can feel like they can have an awesome time, and I don’t know. It’s been cool to see as part of that process.
So, John, I know you’re going through classes and getting things done. What are you up to now? And what are some of the things that you’re thinking about for the future, maybe, while you’re still at Haas and then also post-MBA as well?
[30:33] John: Definitely, even do I peeled off a lot, I think I’m still up to a good amount. So, between club leadership of the BBSA, event planning, and making sure that all the committees are supported and know what they need to do, and setting good visions and goals for people, and then helping them execute, that’s a big chunk of the time. And we had a lot of events over Black History Month that really took a lot of my time and focus. Not that black history is over, but Black History Month, as it’s recognized in the US, is over now, and we’re not having as many events related to that, there’s time for me to focus on a few other things.
In addition to the core classes that I’m taking that I’m really enjoying this semester, I also have my engineering class, which is a project-based class. It’s not in the systems engineering department, and the class I’m taking right now, it’s really interesting one where it combines a lot of statistics and behavioral economics in order to figure out how do you build essentially a model to help determine and inform how different consumers make decisions. And I find it really interesting. It’s actually a very popular class amongst people who are interested in policy, because you want to design and develop and implement some kind of policy in order to affect consumer decisions or affect consumer behavior. What are the things that you can quantitatively do to understand how you should develop that policy?
For me, what I’m trying to do after school and this summer, I’ll be at Apple doing supply chain stuff and working on some of their hardware teams, which I’m really excited about. But long-term, I do want to work on that consumer strategy and my consumer products and the strategy around how those products get built and developed. And I think there’s a lot of overlap in terms of, if you can quantitatively understand to some degree what are the drivers that help people make decisions, I think that it can only help you inform your product design choices and your business design choices, your supply chain choices. So, I find that class really interesting, both for what I’m doing right now. It’s definitely, I’d say, tougher than my MBA classes. So, it takes a lot of my time. But it’s also pretty interesting and something that I think will help me, going forward.
So, between the engineering, the core classes, the leadership stuff, I’ve also been traveling a ton. I was traveling a lot last semester. It’s been fun. It definitely added to the amount of things that I had to do in a time management. It felt like everyone wants to get married now because the pandemic is allowing people to have their large gatherings and stuff. So, I traveled three times last semester for wedding. I’m traveling a few times this semester for weddings, which again, I love being a part of them. I love celebrating my friends and family who are having such a momentous occasion. Actually, so many of them are on the East Coast, and flying that coast to coast life can be tough. But in addition to, like I said, the black ski trip that I just got back from a little while ago, it has been a lot of fun trips that we’ve got planned, both for my own personal stuff. And one of my friends is organizing a spring break trip to Dubai and Egypt that I’m really excited about.
[33:38] Chris: Wow.
[33:39] John: So, more travel on the horizon and stops. And I’m excited about that. And then, I think the last class that I’m taking. Actually, I’m taking two more classes in addition to that. Haas Impact Fund is one that exploring things outside of direct tech management career paths. It’s essentially my first experience with the VC world and how that all works, but still has that positive impact focus on it. And it’s been really fun. We’re starting to reach out to companies and talk to companies and leverage our own personal networks to figure out, “Hey, who needs to raise money?” And that’s been something that’s been really cool because, actually, I got two older brothers, I’m talking to the people in their networks, and say, “Hey, I’m raising money at my school. You guys know all these people who are founders and entrepreneurs. Let’s make those connections happen.” And I’m really seeing how I am one of the spokes in the network that can lead to someone ended up getting a check from Berkeley, which I think is really cool.
And then I think content-wise, my favorite class so far has been this media class that I’m taking. I think it’s the only media class in Haas specifically. The professor is super interesting, always brings in really awesome guest speakers into the discussion around media and technology. And I think media is such a broad term, and it encompasses so many different things. The business models that enable it, the impacts on society, the devices that we consume it through, all these different things are all topics of discussion in the class. And so, I’ve been really enjoying how that class has been playing out. So, that’s what’s on my plate, academically and professionally.
And this summer, I’ll be at Apple. So, I’m done with the recruiting side. And that’s really nice to not to worry about. Again, I got that through the consortium. So, I was done with it really early on. Another really great plug for the consortium. You can mention it’s an awesome program. And I can only agree, because it’s taken away so much stress from my life. But this summer, I’ll be excited to stay here in the Bay, continue exploring it outside of the confines of a class schedule. People always like to joke—not really necessarily joke, but talk about how different it is, your time management needs are, when you’re working versus when you’re at school. So, I’ve been traveling in time. Like I said, business school, not necessarily toughest academically, but just time management makes it so difficult to do things. You always need to be working on something almost or you always need to be doing something in order to be making progress.
This summer, I’ll have a job that ends at a certain time. I’ll close my laptop. And then on the weekends, I’ll be free to do whatever I want to do. And I met a lot of people this weekend that are going to be from other business schools coming to intern in the Bay and tech and across different industries. So, I’m really excited to put on different events and introduce people to, at least, what I’ve learned about the Bay and continue to build those cross-school connections.
I think my thesis for getting back into tech is still in play in terms of what I’m going to be doing after I graduate. We’ll see how the Apple role goes this summer, and if it’s something that I think is attractive as a long-term or at least full-time option after graduation. But I’m definitely open to exploring other ways of being in the tech world. I’m really interested in consumer hardware, so I can’t think of a better place to be than Apple. But in terms of the roles, maybe it’s something a little bit more strategy-focused versus supply chain and operations and stuff like that. So, I think there’s definitely a lot of room for me to continue exploring even once I start full-time recruiting. And afterwards, I think I plan on being in the Bay for at least a couple of years. My entire family is on the East Coast, so I got that gravitational pull away from here. But in the meantime, the things that I want to work on, it’s no better place to work on than here. So, those are a lot of the things that I’m really excited about.
[37:18] Chris: That’s awesome. John, we have a tradition on the podcast where we do a lightning round towards the end, just some fun questions, quick-answer questions. And before we end today’s podcast, we’d love to do a lightning round with you. And then, we’ll be done.
[37:32] John: Sure thing, I’ll go as fast as I can.
[37:36] Chris: Well, supposed to be fun, sometimes controversial, but maybe not. So, the first question, you mentioned that you are avid traveler, so what’s one place that you would recommend? Or what’s one of your favorite places to travel when you have time?
[37:49] John: That’s an easy one, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro. I went there for a bachelor party, and it really combined a lot of the great things about places like Miami and Europe that are much more affordable. So, beautiful city, beautiful place to be, beautiful people. I love it all.
[38:05] Chris: Oh, man, that’s going on my list. What about this one? What’s one of your favorite memories so far in the MBA program?
[38:12] John: That’s a good question. I got so many of them. But I would actually say it started just before the program. I got here before classes started, and it’s actually my birthday at the end of the summer.
[38:21] Chris: Oh, wow.
[38:22] John: And in Chicago, I like to have a lot of fun birthday festivities, my network there. And obviously, I didn’t have a big network here yet. But the Haas community, when they found out it was my birthday, and literally my first weekend, made it a really fun experience. And everyone was buying me drinks and that kind of fun thing. And it wasn’t something that I expected to have on my third day in the Bay Area. But it was, again, one of those experiences that showed me I’m in a place that’s going to be really good for me.
[38:48] Chris: John, what’s a one piece of advice that you’d give to someone, either personal or professional base?
[38:54] John: It’s going to be tough, I’d say, definitely don’t be afraid to push your boundaries and don’t get outside your comfort zone. I feel like that’s a very cliche piece of advice. But the way I’d frame it is it’s a lot easier to get comfortable and stay inside your comfort zone without even realizing that you’re in your comfort zone. You might think you are actually pushing your boundaries, when in reality you’re just no. Slightly turning to the left and slightly turning to the right. And when I say it completely change everything that you thought about what you thought your boundary was. And if you can, go to the opposite end of the spectrum and just test it out to see how far you can go and how far you think the spectrum even is. Then you might realize, “Wow, there’s way more in the middle than I thought here,” or, “It’s not as far as I thought. This thing that I thought was super radical really is not that radical. And maybe, I can even go further. Now, I’m getting close to finding something that is even better for me than I thought could be possible in this side of whatever spectrum I’m thinking of.”
[39:50] Chris: And last one, what’s one thing that gets you excited about the future?
[39:54] John: In times that we’ve been living in, it’s easy to be pessimistic about the future. And I think that’s something that we’ve all experienced over the last few years, and even ongoing right now as we think about what’s going on in the world. But to keep to the optimistic note of it, one thing that gets me excited is we did make it through this process. And I’m not taking that lightly. And there was a lot of people that we lost over the last few years through the pandemic, through different conflicts that are ongoing. And it’s really both sobering to think about what it took for us to get this far, but also what makes me optimistic that there’s going to be a lot of challenges that we have. We’re more resilient as a society and as a species than I think I thought we were. Of course, that’s yet to be seen. And I’ll keep my realistic tinge about it.
But I’m happy that there is a lot of, I think, renewed focus on changing things for the better, given what we’re going through. And if we can sustain that momentum and other “be” moments, and a lot of times I think strong historical or strong societal impulses, they’re a little bit fleeting. I think this is going to be some of the most sustained change that we’ve seen so far in our society. And that makes me excited because I think it will help unlock a lot of social value for us as a people, for marginalized people, especially. And just before it’s like, keep on doing that work. And I’m excited that, I think, there is a lot of people who are very inspired to do that work now.
[41:23] Chris: John, it’s been great to have you on the show. Want to just wish you the best of luck this summer, as well all the best in everything in the future as well.
[41:33] John: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a real pleasure. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you today.
[41:37] Outro: Thanks again for tuning into this episode of the OneHaas Podcast. Enjoyed our show today? Please remember to hit that Subscribe or Follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate you giving us a five-star rating and review. You’re looking for more content? Please check out our website at haas.fm. That’s spelled H-A-A-S.F-M. There, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts. And until next time. Go, bears.