Berkeley Leaders challenge convention, offering new thinking for the new economy
For Wolfgang Stehr, EMBA 16, the stakes were as high as they could get.
As the division chief of pediatric surgery at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland—one of six Level I pediatric trauma centers in California—Stehr operates on some 20 children each week. From one-pound preemies to 200-pound teenage gunshot victims, each delicate surgery requires him to successfully choreograph his medical team in a complex operating-room ballet.
But things were breaking down. Not with the level of care provided patients, but with the respect and concern members of the medical staff afforded one another. Egos reigned, tempers flared, and resentments—even from a miscommunication in logistics such as scheduling—began to build.
So with the strong support of hospital President Dr. Bert Lubin, Stehr, then enrolled in the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, turned to his Haas leadership lessons—specifically a Leadership Communications course taught by Lecturer Mark Rittenberg—for help.
What happened next so transformed Stehr and his team and improved the hospital’s operating room environment that it’s being adopted by other hospitals across the country.
Stehr’s story is just one example of how the unexpected and often quietly heroic solutions championed by leaders trained at Berkeley-Haas are changing the face of business, creating new movements with impacts far beyond just one company’s success.
A core class for all MBA students, Leadership Communications teaches four cross-cultural principles for human connection developed by the late Dr. Angeles Arrien: show up and choose to be present, pay attention to what has heart and meaning, tell the truth without blame and judgment, and be open to outcome not attached to outcome.
Stehr became convinced that he needed to focus on how doctors and nurses interacted with one another to effect significant change. “By the end of [Mark’s] class I was so inspired by the work, how it made me think about my colleagues, and even how I felt about the world,” says Stehr. “I wanted to break down silos in the hospital and create a better experience for the patients and staff.”
Indeed, research has linked better communication among health care teams to better patient care; a 2015 article in the Columbia Medical Review found that good communication can reduce the length of hospital stays and create more positive patient health outcomes.
Stehr convinced hospital administrators to give Leadership Communications a try, and a total of 25 doctors, nurses, and staff members kicked off a three-day pilot workshop run by Rittenberg’s Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute.
Berkeley-Haas Professor John Morgan says his role as a teacher is to facilitate a transformation process, “to make students something even more marvelous than when they got into Haas.”
Rittenberg, a former professional actor who founded the Coaching Institute, uses theatrical activities to build bridges and develop respect among groups. With Stehr’s colleagues, he focused on developing “the heart and mind of a leader,” by getting staff to engage with each other. Participants were asked to share what they most wanted their colleagues to know about them, what holds them back, their biggest dreams for themselves at work, and what they wanted to be remembered for at the hospital.
They also explored the difference between verbal and nonverbal communication, everything from a person’s tone of voice to eye contact to facial expression—all factors that can impact communication in the OR, where it’s critical to be calm and present.
Chris Newton, trauma director at UCSF Benioff Oakland who works in the OR with Stehr, called the workshop phenomenal. “A small percent of the core staff here did this, but those core people are changing the culture of our little world overnight,” he says. “It was the simplest things that made the biggest difference: How you talk to each other in the hallway, how you solve a problem, how you see other people and walk in their shoes. The workshop gave us the opportunity to reclaim our old humanity.”
The hospital has since sent a total of 60 people to two Leadership Communications workshops.
Stehr and Rittenberg have taken the leadership message on the road, most recently speaking to doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and to 700 pediatric surgeons at a Miami conference. The pair plans to continue spreading the word at hospitals about how valuable authentic communication can be for staff and patients.
It is Stehr’s vision to use Rittenberg’s work to help UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals become the leaders in communication and connection among staff and patients.
“We can revolutionize health care through trust and connection with each other,” Stehr says. “This can be as powerful as any new procedures, treatments, or antibiotics, and the health care arena is ready for this next step.”
Not all business degrees are created equal, and at Berkeley-Haas, that has become apparent through our Defining Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself.
“A Berkeley Leader is someone with a combination of vision and empathy.”
—Professor John Morgan
“When Berkeley-Haas codified the Defining Principles—traits that have always been a part of our school and culture—we explicitly stated what kind of leaders we want to put out into the world,” says Dean Rich Lyons, BS 82. “Our aim is to create an environment that stimulates and supports impacts that will outlive you, make the institutions you’ve been part of better, and make the people whose lives you’ve touched better.”
It’s this compassion to improve the future that drives Berkeley Leaders, and their ambition, infused with the Defining Principles, catalyzes innovative responses to our fast-changing society. Berkeley Leaders succeed by knowing how to lead high-performing teams that are diverse and inclusive to get to better outcomes.
The ability of Berkeley Leaders to redefine how we do business, Lyons says, manifests in ways large and small. “We help redefine how the team around us gets work done together. We redefine the way we meet customer needs with a new service. We redefine the sense of purpose that the people around us feel in the work we do together,” he says. “At whatever level, and in whatever way, Berkeley Leaders contribute to getting this done. It adds up to solutions for the 21st century economy.”
Professor John Morgan, who researches leadership, says that Berkeley Leaders stand out because of their introspection and concern for the broader impact of a business idea or solution. “A Berkeley Leader,” he says, “is someone with a combination of vision and empathy.” Someone who can go beyond the problem-solving mindset that data and analytical tools engender and have broader insight. “A Berkeley Leader is not so much posing a question but observing a problem no one else has observed and working to solve this with a team,” Morgan says.
Lisa Jones, BS 85, the program manager of the CDFI Bond Guarantee Program in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is one alumna leading a sea change at the community level. An expert in international finance, Jones had spent much of her career advising pension funds and other deep-pocketed investors on opportunities in emerging markets abroad. Why, she often wondered, weren’t these same investors willing to bet on downtrodden communities at home, with similar risks and a clear payoff in terms of job and infrastructure growth?
“It didn’t make sense to me,” says Jones.
Then came the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 and Jones’ starring role in a massive, first-of-its-kind effort to revitalize the country’s poorest communities. Since the initiative began in 2013, the federal government has issued $1.1 billion in guaranteed bonds for the sole purpose of spurring low-cost loans to small businesses, nonprofits, daycare centers, health care facilities, and other organizations in low-income neighborhoods throughout the United States.
Lisa Jones, BS 85, helps low-income communities gain access to investment capital. For her work she won the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal. In government circles, the award, given by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, is the equivalent to winning an Oscar.
Jones’ overarching goal for the CDFI Bond Guarantee Program has been to pave a clear path for community-focused lenders to access capital markets. This has been no small feat for many reasons, including that many of these lenders, some of which got their start in church basements, weren’t accustomed to following Wall Street norms, like filing quarterly financial statements.
But Jones’ leadership is producing results. Starting in 2015, Standard & Poor’s began rating a handful of these community-based lenders for their creditworthiness. In 2017, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Inc. and the Reinvestment Fund successfully priced public general obligation bond issues for $100 million and $50 million with Standard & Poor’s ratings of AA and AA-, respectively.
“As I learned at Berkeley-Haas, it’s all about having the vision and the skills to create something that will make life better for the people you serve.”
—Liran Amrany, MFE 04
While the bond program has been hailed as a game-changer for community development, Jones herself has been recognized for her pioneering work. Last fall, she received the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal awarded by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. In government circles, it’s the equivalent of winning an Oscar.
“We’ve built a foundation for capital markets to understand the risks and rewards of investing in these communities,” says Jones, who also holds an MBA from Wharton. “We’re starting to see the rewards of that.”
Across California, millions of dead and dying trees dot the Sierra Nevada wilderness. They’re a fire hazard in forestland managed by cash-strapped federal agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, which in FY2015 used more than half of its budget to battle wildfires.
Chad Reed, Leigh Madeira, Zach Knight, and Nick Wobbrock, MBA 15s, co-founded Blue Forest Conservation, which is developing the Forest Resilience Bond.
But a quartet of MBA alumni from the Class of 2015—Zach Knight, Leigh Madeira, Chad Reed, and Nick Wobbrock—is looking to improve the landscape with Blue Forest Conservation (BFC), a San Francisco-based startup that deploys private capital to restore overgrown forests to a healthy density, thereby helping to preserve California’s watersheds. “If there’s more spacing for snow to fall and stay on the ground, we’ll have better snowpack that will last and it will melt more slowly,” says Wobbrock.
BFC is, in fact, developing one of the first outcomes-based securities in the environmental space—the Forest Resilience Bond (FRB). These environmental investments accelerate forest restoration while creating social, environmental, and financial returns for stakeholders, such as the U.S. Forest Service, water agencies, and power utilities, who repay investors based on the environmental benefits they receive.
“This is an enormous challenge and opportunity,” says Knight. “We have about three times the biomass that should normally exist [in our forests].”
If successful, this environmental-impact bond, currently supported by the Rockefeller, Packard, and Fink Foundations and in partnership with Encourage Capital, World Resources Institute, and American Forest Foundation, could serve as a new public-private partnership model for environmental sustainability.
For co-founder Reed, who also works as a manager in structured finance and risk management at TerraForm Power, BFC is a lifelong passion. “I devoted most of my time at Haas to finding ways to employ different financing mechanisms to serve social, and especially environmental, common good,” Reed says.
“I can’t imagine a career outside of this space.”
Writing and reporting by Kim Girard, Amy Marcott, Krysten Crawford, Andrew Faught, Diane Fraser, and Mike Rosen