The Early Beginnings of Responsible Business at Berkeley Haas

Our tradition of educating UC Berkeley business leaders on social issues dates back over 100 years.

The school’s first female instructor, Jessica Peixotto, strongly influenced Walter A. Haas, Sr.’s views on social welfare and public affairs during his time as an undergraduate in the early 1900s. Haas Sr., BS 1910, for whom the school is now named, often said later as CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. that the company “owes responsibility to the communities in which we do business.”

In 1959, the Berkeley business school dean Ewald Gether formally introduced a class in corporate social responsibility and business environment, pioneering a new field of study on the UC Berkeley campus. “The course became a model for other leading business schools and was instrumental in the emergence of the business and public policy field at Berkeley and nationally,” recounted Earl F. Cheit, UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor, who helped to launch it.

Summit in Berkeley and Growth of Social Impact

Pioneering in the field, Cheit received a grant from the Ford Foundation to hold what became known as the Summit in Berkeley in 1964. He invited leading researchers in the United States and abroad to write essays on subjects that would inform the work in the area of social and political environment of business.

Throughout his lengthy Berkeley career, Cheit did many things to strengthen the business school’s identity in social impact, supporting the work of professors such as Dow Votaw and Edwin Epstein. “People have done such great work over the years,” Cheit said. “And I’m delighted when others think of Berkeley and Haas as a place of social impact and social change.”

Expansion of Social Impact at Berkeley Haas and IBSI

As the first female dean of a major U.S. business school (1998-2001), Professor Laura Tyson revitalized the school’s efforts in the area of social responsibility. In 1999, a group of Berkeley Haas MBA students launched the Haas Social Venture Competition and Tyson was one of its first champions, working to raise funds and establishing partnerships with Columbia and London Business Schools to grow it into a global competition.

Tyson also formed the Forum on Corporate Philanthropy, inaugurated by an event in 2000 with actor/philanthropist Paul Newman and secured funding from Newman and Haas alumnus Michael Homer, BS 81, to expand the Forum into the Socially Responsible Business Leadership Initiative (SRBLI).

Dean Rich Lyons (2008-18) more formally integrated social impact into Berkeley-Haas culture with the launch of the Defining Leadership Principles, building on a long legacy established by his colleagues. IBSI fully embraces several of the principles “Question the Status Quo” and “Beyond Yourself” as foundational to its mission and core to its work with students and faculty.

Building on this rich history, Berkeley Haas is uniquely positioned among business schools to continue its influence in the field and create leaders committed to the intersection of business and social impact. Today, over 80 percent of full-time MBA students engage with IBSI courses and activities during their time at Haas.

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