Happy Pride Month! To celebrate, Mark Buchanan joins the podcast to talk about his work in LGBTQ advocacy and community empowerment.
After graduating from Haas with a degree in finance and accounting, Mark spent 22 years at Apple as a finance and sales executive. But now, he runs Buchanan Advisory, where he helps diverse leaders reach their full potential.
Mark and host Sean Li discuss Apple’s one-of-a-kind culture, how coming out helped Mark in his professional life, and what people can do to be a better ally this Pride month.
*OneHaas Alumni Podcast is a production of Haas School of Business and is produced by University FM.*
Why Mark decided to leave Apple and start Buchanan Advisory
It was a journey about how to help develop people and help develop leaders and help people find a voice to be better leaders. And so that really inspired me after I left Apple to start another chapter of how can I give back and help others be successful? So that’s what led me to starting Buchanan Advisory was, I think I can help other leaders be more successful and focus on diverse leaders, focus on the LGBTQ+ community and really help them be successful, and be a mentor, a confidant, an advisor, and help people reach their full potential.
On the importance of being your full, authentic self
The more I came out and was comfortable being myself in front of everybody, the more empowered I was and the more happy I was, which actually helped me in my professional career as well.
How to support and be an ally to the LGBTQ community
I think learning and being a student of DEI and belonging is important for all allies. And I think participation, you know, with Pride Month coming up, it’s an opportunity for allies to learn, celebrate, be a part of it. And I think the more people are willing to be open minded and learn about the community, the more a better ally they can be, and be self-reflective.
Why an organization like Openhouse SF is so needed
There’s still a lot of adversity for the LGBTQ+ community who become seniors. Some of them feel like they have to go back into the closet because there aren’t enough elder care services or communities that are accepting of LGBTQ plus seniors, believe it or not.
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
[00:00] Sean: Thank you for tuning in to the OneHaas Alumni Podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And this month, we’re celebrating Pride Month with a privilege of hosting an incredibly influential individual who has and continues to make significant contributions to LGBTQ+ advocacy and community empowerment.
Joining us today is Mark Buchanan, a former Apple finance and sales executive and currently an executive coach and advisor at Buchanan Advisory. There, he is dedicated to helping diverse leaders reach their full potential. And personally, he’s focused on making the world a better place for the LGBTQ community and has dedicated his life to promoting inclusivity, understanding, and acceptance. Last but not least, he’s a Berkeley Haas undergrad alum.
Welcome to the podcast, Mark.
[00:50] Mark: Thank you, Sean. Thanks for having me today.
[00:53] Sean: Mark, we like to start our podcast episodes with hearing your origin story. So, let’s start there. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? How did you grow up?
[01:02] Mark: I grew up in the Bay Area. I grew up actually in Cupertino, part of Silicon Valley. I’m the youngest of five boys in a large Irish Catholic family. My dad was an IBM salesman, and then he decided in mid to late career to become a financial planner. And then my mom, while she was raising five boys, she decided to go back to work to help make ends meet and became a contract negotiator for NASA and help negotiate supercomputer contracts. So, an amazing story, dealing with adversity in a male-dominated tech field and really made some great inroads, which was an inspiration to me.
[01:42] Sean: Wow, that’s amazing. Growing up in Cupertino, was that before Apple?
[01:47] Mark: Actually, it was right when Apple was founded in the mid-’70s. And I remember as a kid, being enamored by Apple, being in the community, and actually when I was in high school, I thought you could get a job at Apple by putting a resume in an inbox down on Bandley Drive in Cupertino. Never heard back from them back then.
[02:09] Sean: That’s so funny. You were at Apple for, I think, over 22 years, right?
[02:14] Mark: Yeah, that’s right.
[02:15] Sean: Did you get much interaction with Steve himself?
[02:19] Mark: No, I didn’t. I’ve been on an elevator with him, and I know there’s a lot of stories about what Steve’s like on an elevator. But he was very kind. And I do have a funny anecdote, though. I remember, early career, seeing Steve cross the street and I was turning right. He was walking. I was in the front. And then the car behind me honked because I wasn’t going because I didn’t want to hit Steve. And Steve looked at me, thinking I was honking at him and gave me evil steer. And I’m trying to say, “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me.” That’s just my funny Steve story. But of course, I have profound respect for what Steve created.
[03:02] Sean: My Apple fanboy would just stop at that because I could ask you a million questions about Apple. But back to you, Mark. What’d you go to Haas for?
[03:12] Mark: When I was in high school, I looked a lot of different schools. And I was accepted to University of Santa Clara and Berkeley undergrad, and I thought I was going to go to Santa Clara. And then, I went to, I think it was Cal Day back in the day, but I went to campus. In just half an hour into it, I knew this was the school for me. Just amazing history, free speech movement, the most beautiful campus in the U.S., amazing culture, and it just made me go to Berkeley.
And then, I applied to Haas because I wanted to be a business person. I was in the mid-’80s. Business was very popular in the mid-’80s. I was fortunate enough to get into Berkeley Haas in my junior year.
[03:56] Sean: What did you decide to study there?
[03:58] Mark: I studied finance and accounting. So, I have a funny story. Our commencement speech was done by Ivan Boesky.
[04:06] Sean: Oh, really? That was your year?
[04:09] Mark: Yeah, that was my year.
[04:10] Sean: Wow.
[04:11] Mark: And I don’t know if I’m proud of it or not, but it’s infamous. Of course, that’s the speech that coined the phrase, “greed is good,” which made us all wince, of course, back then. But it was a piece of history in the ‘80s, and it was interesting.
[04:24] Sean: That’s so interesting to hear. I’ve heard much about the speech. I studied finance as well and know Ivan Boesky very well. I don’t know him personally, but I actually worked for his nephew.
[04:37] Mark: Oh, wow.
[04:37] Sean: And I’ve read Den of Thieves and all those books. It’s crazy. I guess, what was being in the audience like, listening to this guy who ended up in jail a few years later?
[04:48] Mark: Actually, when you’re at a Berkeley… it was the business school Berkeley commencement speech for the MBAs and undergrads. And I don’t think anybody really expected it. People didn’t know who he was, really. And then, of course, when he got up there, I think people were just really shocked. I know my parents were like, “Wow, this guy doesn’t sound like somebody who would be at Berkeley,” of course. But it was interesting that it became part of the movie, Wall Street. It did represent the ‘80s pretty well.
[05:14] Sean: That is interesting. All right. So, coming out of Haas, where did you work?
[05:19] Mark: I worked for a consulting firm, at a litigation consulting firm called Petersen & Company, but it’s not around anymore. Focused on forensic accounting. So, I did that for three years.
[05:30] Sean: I see. And then that led you to Apple?
[05:32] Mark: No. Then, I went to work for Gap. That’s when I knew I had to work for a company where I believed in their product and what they did. Gap, at the time, was one of the most fastest-growing apparel retailers in the country. And it was an amazing place to work back in the ‘90s.
[05:49] Sean: I see.
[05:50] Mark: That’s when I had the opportunity to, first, do an international assignment. I was able to get an assignment in Gap Japan when Gap was just starting stores in Japan in the late ‘90s, which was an amazing experience, professionally and personally,
[06:06] Sean: So, I have to ask, what brought you ultimately to Apple?
[06:10] Mark: It was 2000 or late ‘90s. I saw that Steve had come back to Apple. And this amazing colored iMac came out, and I thought, “Wow, that seems pretty cool. Maybe there is something turning and changing at Apple.” Then I saw the Think Different campaign, and that was inspiring. And I thought, “Wow, I think there’s something new there.”
I did get a call from Apple. And when I was actually looking for a new type of experience and I wanted to do something new, then I went to work at Apple. And a lot of friends and advisors said, “What are you doing leaving Gap? It’s such a great company, why would you go to a company like Apple? Are they even going to be around?”
And, I said, “Hey, I think there might be something here, of course, I didn’t know.” I enjoyed every minute of it. Probably, after the first six months when I thought, oh gosh, I don’t know technology, even though I grew up in Silicon Valley, it was a whole new world for me. But then, the culture clicked with me. And I knew it was the right place to be.
[07:09] Sean: I just quickly Googled this. To think that Gap has a $2.8 billion market cap and Apple has a $2.7 trillion market cap, that is quite amazing. Can you share with us a little bit of your time at Apple, 22 years? What was it like there?
[07:31] Mark: As I touched on the culture, I think one of the most amazing things about Apple, which I think is the best company on the planet, was the culture that Steve instilled in the company and the executive team. It was a culture of innovation. The customer and the product were utmost importance. Innovation was key. We were the underdog, and we were trying to figure out how we’re going to make sure that innovation leads to great products, which was an incredible journey.
I worked in finance. And finance was one of the highest respected teams at Apple. Steve often would say, “If it weren’t for finance, Apple wouldn’t be around, because the CFO, previous CFO, helped save the company when Apple was losing billions in the late ’90s.”
And so, it was a really great experience. And finance was a partner to the business. And I just enjoyed that part. It was an area I worked in the education market when I first joined, which can’t get any more excited about helping students learn and teachers teach with 21st-century learning. And with the wave of mobility devices, it was just a great place to be.
[08:43] Sean: Before we started this interview, I told Mark that your work probably impacted my life significantly, growing up, because I was a product of one of those initiatives that you worked on with educators. My father is an educator. He actually has his PhD in reading language arts. And they had a contractor, university had a contract with Apple to get all these Apple devices and whatnots. And I just remember growing up using Apple’s products. And it was only until, I think, 10 or 20 years later that I realized how privileged I was to have access to such amazing products, and a lot of software, too. There was so much software dedicated to education — all the interactive reading, books, professional development. There was just so much that I didn’t realize that I had access to, that I think in many ways influenced and inspired me to do what I do today.
[09:45] Mark: No, that’s amazing, Sean. And that’s what Apple employees, that’s why our eyes light up, is those stories, just hear them day in and day out. And that’s what gets you excited to come to work in the morning every day, is to see that happen. So, I’m incredibly grateful and appreciative of the journey at Apple because I felt like I could do my life’s best work there.
[10:07] Sean: Well, thank you. Sometimes, you wouldn’t think people in finance can make that impact, right? Mark, my next question is, how did you end up starting Buchanan Advisory? What’s your personal journey?
[10:22] Mark: So, I believe strongly, and I think it’s a phrase Steve often quoted, was the journey is the reward. If you listen to his commencement speech at another university, which I won’t name, he talked about a concept of connecting the dots. You can connect the dots looking backwards, but you can’t connect them forwards.
But it’s interesting to go back and see how your journey is all about connecting dots and how grateful you are for those dots and how they connect. So, if I think about my career that we just started to talk about, I went to Apple because I thought there was something interesting going on. I got excited about the culture. And then, I had the opportunity to go to Japan and be with Apple Japan, which was an absolutely amazing experience.
My husband is Japanese. We got a chance to be in his culture. And I was there, and it was just a wonderful experience, being able to have an impact on the Japan business.
And part of it was really understanding and being immersed in the Japanese culture, which was a fantastic experience, an amazing team. And I loved every minute of it, and I learned so much from that experience.
And then, my journey took me back to the U.S. I eventually decided to take the leap from finance into sales because I just loved the business so much and I thought, “Hey, I’ve had a successful career. Why not try being closer to the business because I love being close to the customer and going into a sales role?” So, I ran the commercial channel for Apple the last five years.
And when I think back on those dots that I connected with, it was a journey about how to help develop people and help develop leaders and help people find a voice to be better leaders. And so, that really inspired me after I left Apple to start another chapter of, how can I give back and help others be successful? So, that’s what led me to starting Buchanan Advisory, was I think I can help other leaders be more successful and focus on diverse leaders, focus on LGBTQ+ community and really help them be successful, and be a mentor, a confidant, an advisor, and help people reach their full potential. I’m enjoying every minute of it.
[12:51] Sean: Don’t mind me asking, did you meet your husband in Japan while you were in Japan?
[12:54] Mark: Yes. So, I did, yes. 26 years ago when I was with Gap, I met my husband in Japan, which was an amazing experience. So, I have a lot to be grateful for for my Japanese experience.
[13:08] Sean: That’s really wonderful. What was the LGBTQ community like when you guys met? It feels like to me that Japan has always been more open. And we know Japanese culture has a very conservative culture, but in this regard I always got the sense that they were very open. Is that true?
[13:25] Mark: No, that is not true. Actually, Japan, it’s getting better, it’s getting a little bit better now, but 25 years ago, it’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” type of a culture. And people aren’t comfortable being out at work and school. There’s a very small area within Tokyo where you can be your true, authentic self. And it was a bar area back in the ‘90s. There’s more efforts. I think gay marriage is now legal in Tokyo. I might be wrong on that. And gay marriage is not legal from a national standpoint. So, there’s still a ways to go, just like a lot of countries.
[14:04] Sean: I see. I remember when Tim Cook stepped up as the CEO of Apple. It wasn’t even that long ago, but it feels like, at that time, people still made a big fuss about the fact that he was openly gay. What kind of impact did that have in the broader community? I know you were at Apple, so I don’t know if you would know what kind of impact it had, but I felt like there was an impact to have the CEO of this major company come out. And I wonder what kind of impact that had in the LGBTQ community at that time.
[14:42] Mark: I think there was a wave in the 2010, 2020 decade — a wave of more expression of people being out. And I think Tim’s intention was all about the reason I want to come out, is to help somebody be themselves and feel comfortable and safe. And the fact that he’s a very influential leader could help somebody. And so, I do think that was a very important moment, like many famous or influential people who’ve come out and declared who they are. So, I do think that was an important statement he made.
[15:19] Sean: I think that’s amazing, because Apple being one of the… being the most valuable company in the world.
[15:28] Mark: Yeah, yeah.
[15:29] Sean: That’s really great. How has the LGBTQ community evolved over years?
[15:34] Mark: For me, I came out later in life, relatively speaking, as you might find today, in my early 30s. And so, my 20s were in the closet, so I couldn’t be my true, authentic self. It impacted me, personally and professionally, just I didn’t know it at the time.
But I think the amazing trailblazers, I stand on their shoulders for opening doors and making people feel comfortable and safe and secure being their true, authentic selves, really was a huge wave that started with Stonewall. And one of the other watershed moments was when gay marriage was passed in 2015, which allowed myself and my husband to get married. My husband’s Japanese citizen and allowed him to be married just like anyone else and be able to stay in the United States.
And so, I think that wave of acceptance in doing what’s right for fighting for equality is an important moment and journey for the community. And there’s still a long way to go, especially what you’re seeing in the news and what’s happening in the States today. And it’s important that we all stay passionate about doing the right thing for equity, equality, inclusion, belonging. It’s so important to the community. And that’s what motivates me today to do what I can to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and the intersectionality with many other communities, the BIPOC community. I think it’s really important.
[17:14] Sean: You’ve mentioned just now, before you came out in your early 30s, you had said something along the lines of life was more challenging
[17:24] Mark: Challenging, yeah.
[17:24] Sean: How so?
[17:25] Mark: I think, when you restrain yourself and mute yourself and turn down the volume on yourself, it is confining, constraining, and it doesn’t make you feel good about, as you see other people who are able to do that. So, that’s a challenge, of course, in your personal life.
And of course, it was a journey for me. I do not have any regrets on my journey. It is what it is, and I wouldn’t be who I am today with the way my journey went. But I do know that the more I came out and was comfortable being myself in front of everybody, the more empowered I was and the more happy I was, which actually helped me in my professional career as well.
And I think that’s something that we have to have empathy for because there’s many people still that aren’t able to be their true, authentic selves. I look out for people like that and try to help.
[18:27] Sean: That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing that.
[18:29] Mark: You bet.
[18:30] Sean: And you’re absolutely right, there’s still ways to go. I remember having a conversation with a family member not too long ago. We have two young kids. And I just made a comment that, for me, I didn’t even think twice about. It was just, I was like, if my son turns out, we find out that he’s gay, then it’s not a big deal. We’ll love him and support him no matter what.
[18:55] Mark: Mm-hmm.
[18:55] Sean: And I forgot exactly what the family member said, but it was something along the lines of, “Well, if you don’t encourage it, then they wouldn’t turn gay,” as if it was something likt they didn’t understand that, if someone’s gay, they’re born gay. It’s not a choice, not something that can change.
[19:17] Mark: Exactly, yes.
[19:19] Sean: And it shocked me for a moment, just even hearing that, because I guess for as long as my wife and I have been parents, we always just said to each other, we’re like, “Whatever and however our kids end up being, we’ll love them for who they are.” I think even that, both of us, being children of the ‘80s and the ‘90s, I should say, I want to say it is a learned experience and a learned skill to learn that acceptance. I think, naturally, we’re born to be accepting.
[19:46] Mark: That’s right.
[19:47] Sean: But I feel like the decade that we grew up in, especially in the Midwest, for myself and my wife, it was not very open and accepting in those ways. There were a lot of crass jokes that were made, growing up. And just to think back that we were even a part of that felt embarrassing, to be honest. And to just completely make this shift now to today where we are not only understanding, but we’re completely accepting because of the impact of, I think, the culture at large.
[20:19] Mark: I agree with you. And I think it’s something I realized I can’t take for granted. Because I’m an optimist, a positive person, and the wave of marriage equality made me a little complacent. It made me think, oh, we’ve reached a point of acceptance, and you just know that you think it’s something you can’t give up on, you know that you can’t get too comfortable with. And you have to keep fighting for what’s right. And like I said, equality, equity, liberation for all, no exceptions, period.
And I think that mindset, and thank you for being a good parent, and I think we all need to keep focused on that. I’m a white gay male, so I have more privilege. And my story is still easier than somebody who is a member of the BIPOC community who is gay. So, I’m learning that you have to have empathy, because I actually had it easier than a lot of other people who are in similar positions. And I think that’s another area that we need to continue to champion, is rights for everybody and equity for everybody in the LGBTQ+ community.
[21:39] Sean: I guess on that specific note, what are some challenges that LGBTQ+ individuals still face today? I know that’s a very loaded question.
[21:49] Mark: I think most of it you’re hearing in the news a lot. I think there’s fear in the community with the, I don’t know, 4- or 500, 600 bills out there that are against the community or at least parts of the community and things like that.
And I think that makes people uncomfortable, especially younger people trying to come at terms with who they are. And I think that’s something we need to keep focused on. So, I think that’s probably the biggest challenge.
And then, the positive side is there’s still a lot more very positive developments in acceptance in people. As younger generations mature, I think there’s a lot more acceptance in championing of rights for the community.
[22:33] Sean: And in what ways can ally support and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community effectively?
[22:41] Mark: I love that question, Sean. I think allyship is so important. And I think learning and being a student of DEI and belonging is important for all allies. I think participation. With Pride Month coming up, it’s an opportunity for allies to learn, celebrate, be part of it.
And I think the more people are willing to be open-minded and learn about the community, the more a better ally they can be and be self-reflective. So, I think that’s it. I think it’s that simple. It sounds simple, I know it’s hard, but I think allyship is extremely important. And I think it’s key to the evolution for the community we’ve seen so far.
[23:29] Sean: So, Mark, I want to take this time for you to share a little bit about other things you’re working on, what initiatives or organizations that you’re a part of that are currently supporting the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ individuals.
[23:44] Mark: In the last year, I became a board member for an organization called Openhouse. It’s based in San Francisco. And Openhouse is an organization that provides low-income housing and community support for the LGBTQ+ senior community. It just celebrated their 25th anniversary. We had an incredible… we have a gala every year called Spring Fling. Ad that was held a couple weeks ago. And we honored Nancy Pelosi, who was a major champion for our community. She attended. And that was really special.
And the reason that this organization exists is that there’s still a lot of adversity for the LGBTQ+ community who become seniors. Some of them feel like they have to go back into the closet because there aren’t enough elder care services or communities that are accepting of LGBTQ+ seniors, believe it or not.
[24:38] Sean: Really? Wow.
[24:39] Mark: And it’s a really powerful community in terms of support. And it makes me happy to see what we can do to support that community. And there’s still so many members of the community that we haven’t been able to address that we are focused on doing.
And then, I just recently became a mentor for an organization called StartOut, which is focused on providing mentorship to LGBTQ+ startup founders. I’m coaching a startup called Social Walk. It’s based in Chicago. It’s former MBA students from University of Chicago. They’re a group, and I’m excited about that. It’s a great network to really help startups be successful. So, I’m enjoying that, too.
[25:25] Sean: Since we’re on that topic, what are some good resources for LGBTQ+ leaders and entrepreneurs?
[25:34] Mark: StartOut is a great organization. There’s an organization based in York called Gaingels, G-A-I-N-G-E-L-S, which is a venture capital fund, which is seeding LGBTQ+-led startups, which is an organization I’m also part of. I think, if I were a founder, I would seek out those resources and organizations. And probably, there’s many others that I don’t know of. I think getting that mentorship from people in the community can really help startups thrive.
[26:10] Sean: Mark, any other things that you want to touch upon that I didn’t bring up?
[26:14] Mark: Just some words of wisdom, hopefully, for the Haas community is, I love the principles that Haas has. I think, if you live by those principles, I think that’s a really great foundation to be successful. It’s what motivates me to do what I do. If I think about them… I’m trying to remember them. Question the status quo, confidence without attitude, be a student always, and being beyond yourself, I think those are incredible. I just love going to the school and seeing the banners with those statements and those principles. And I think the more the Haas community can live by those principles, the more successful you’re going to be.
And I would just like to throw out there that, if anybody who’s a student at Haas and needs some mentorship, I’m open. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn. Or, you can also fill out the contact page on buchananadvisory.com.
[27:09] Sean: It’s amazing. So, to wrap up the interviews, we love to ask some fun questions. What do you like to do for fun, Mark?
[27:17] Mark: Well, it’s interesting, I just was singing karaoke last night at home. We have a home karaoke system. I think my years in Japan helped me. Now, just because I sing karaoke doesn’t mean I’m a good singer. I won’t subject you all on this podcast to that singing, but it’s a lot of fun. I specialize in Frank Sinatra, for some reason. I don’t know why. And I love doing it.
[27:41] Sean: I love big band.
[27:44] Mark: I love traveling. I love theater, music, hiking, and walking. And I’m also starting out bird watching. We’ll see how that goes.
[27:54] Sean: It’s funny, I heard from my brother that bird watching is actually very exhilarating. He does it.
[28:00] Mark: Yeah, it’s very cathartic and therapeutic.
[28:03] Sean: I’m also a huge Sinatra fan.
[28:06] Mark: Oh, great.
[28:07] Sean: I don’t know how I got into it. I just remember, throughout college, that’s all I listened to, was Sinatra and Bennett and [crosstalk 28:15].
[28:15] Mark: So, we’ll have to do karaoke sometime.
[28:18] Sean: I would love it.
[28:20] Mark: That’s great.
[28:21] Sean: All right. Well, thank you so much, Mark, for coming on the podcast. It was a pleasure having you today.
[28:24] Mark: Absolutely. It’s a privilege being here.
[28:30] Sean: Thanks again for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas Podcast. If you 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.