H@H Ep 22: On this episode of Here@Haas, EWMBAA co-President Anna Lee joins Ray to talk about her incredible path from Korea to Iowa to the east coast to LA and finally to Haas. Anna tells us how she has been able to bond with her classmates through student leadership & class trips, and how that gave her confidence to successfully pivot into a business development role at Apple. Finally, Anna talks about the perks and drawbacks of being a commuter for the first half of her MBA journey.
On the EWMBA Association – “It gives students a place to voice their concerns, to explore their leadership potential, to meet and come together and challenge each other in ways that we otherwise would not be able to challenge ourselves in.”
“Whatever you want to see happen on campus, we want to be able to lead with you and make that dream or that vision a reality.”
On the Haas network – “I’ll say the biggest thing that Haas gave me was, of course, my classmates and confidence.”
“This community really fosters an environment for developing areas where you can become more successful.”
On commuting – “You’re not alone…there are so many commuters. Flying in these planes with you week by week, you get so close to them and it’s so fun just going through the same things that everyone else is going through.”
00:00:28] Ray: Welcome to the podcast, Anna.
[00:00:30] Anna: Hi Ray. So glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:33] Ray: Let’s start by having you tell us about where you’re from and your background.
[00:00:39] Anna: I was actually born in South Korea, tiny little town. But my family and I moved here to the States when I was about maybe three or so. And my dad, he is an engineer by training and he moved us over to Iowa of all places.
[00:01:01] So I lived in Iowa for 10 years during my preschool and elementary days. And I think my family, when we were there, we spent a lot of time trying to get acclimated to the culture and the new country and the new environment. So, struggles there but my parents did and I feel very lucky for this, my parents did what they knew the best, which was, I want the best for my kids, let’s have them focus on academics and everything. Of course, it’s a story you’ve heard before.
[00:01:36] Ray: Right. It sounds familiar.
[00:01:38] Anna: Exactly. So, my parents, my mom raised us. She was stay at home. She brought us to all the practices for tennis and swimming and everything and violin and piano lessons, of course, when we were growing up.
[00:01:52] Ray: You did it all!
[00:01:52] Anna: Well, some stuck with me and some didn’t but eventually we ended up moving to the East coast and I grew up the rest of the way in Connecticut.
[00:02:04] I actually ended up going to UConn. So, I was a Husky for my undergrad experience and it was fantastic. And it’s funny because when I was looking into undergraduate programs, I was actually considering art programs and art degrees because many of my scholarships actually came from those types of schools.
[00:02:26] But I did a lot of exploring in my undergraduate career. I started as a pre-pharmacy major, looked at engineering, ended up at actuarial science and then went back to engineering and back to actuarial science.
[00:02:41] Ray: For listeners who don’t know, what is actuarial science?
[00:02:45] Anna: You know, that’s a good question. And I think it really depends on what field you’re in, but essentially, you’re taking a look at risk, right? So that’s a common word that you’ll see paired with actuarial science. So, for instance, in health insurance, which is where I worked for eight of my previous years, actuarial science is essentially looking at what are our revenues?
[00:03:13] What are our costs? Let’s try to get them aligned in the way that we want and look for. For example, if there’s a certain target loss ratio that we want to hit, let’s say 85%, what do we need to forecast in our revenues? What do we need to forecast in our costs to hit that 85% and what do we do to make sure that we’re getting the revenue that we need in order to cover our medical or benefit expenses?
[00:03:44] Ray: Right. So, after graduating with an actuarial science major, tell us about what you did before Haas and how that led you on your journey here.
[00:03:56] Anna: There’s a lot of space between when I graduated from UConn and when I started Haas, but I’ll tell you about my first job after college. I actually ended up working at a Bath and Body Works for a couple of months as a seasonal employee. And the reason was that I was a late major change to actuarial science, so I didn’t have any exams under my belt.
[00:04:20] And a lot of employers that are looking for new hires typically look for students who have passed a couple of exams already. So, I was working toward that the summer after I graduated. And I really liked studying at coffee shops and bookstores and I always feel bad when I go and sit at these places and don’t at least purchase a cup of coffee or tea.
[00:04:50] Ray: Very nice.
[00:04:51] Anna: So, I was there until I passed my first exam. And for those who don’t know about these actuarial exams, they’re similar to other types of careers where you have to get your certification and these exams lead toward your certifications or your letters as they say.
[00:05:08] So finally, I passed my first exam and I started applying to jobs and I began my career as an actuarial analyst at a small Medicaid insurance company out in Virginia Beach.
[00:05:21] Ray: Nice.
[00:05:23] Anna: After a couple of years, I actually moved out to California, not because of a job opportunity, but because I really want it to be out on the West coast.
[00:05:33] I couldn’t explain it. Something about the sunshine, right? Sometimes you just have to follow your heart.
[00:05:38] There was thankfully a job opening at my company, which was actually acquired by a larger health insurance company called Anthem Blue Cross. You may have heard of it. You might be ensured by it. And I stayed out in California from the beginning of 2014 through the end of 2019 in Southern California, near Los Angeles.
[00:05:59] Ray: Yeah. So, when you were out in Los Angeles, what led you to think about doing an MBA and why Haas?
[00:06:10] Anna: Every single year since I’ve been in Southern California, more or less, there is a group of friends who I often go rock climbing with. And every single year we do a backpacking trip, couple of days, maybe four or five days, usually Eastern Sierra type or Northern California.
[00:06:29] But we just all pack our backpacks, put our tents in there, everything we need and go out into the wild and it’s the best time. So, it’s a trip that I look forward to every single year. And on one particular trip, there was a friend of mine who invited someone that I had never met before. As you would with someone you’ve never met before, you want to get to know that person.
[00:06:54] So she had been hiking very quickly in front of me and it was very hard to keep up with her because I’m not as in shape as I’d like to be. But once we got to a flat level ground where we were just walking and I could catch my breath, she had started asking me questions. Hey, what are you up to?
[00:07:17] What do you like about your job? Do you like the people that you’re working with? What do you do outside of your work when you’re at home and you have a lot of free time? And I was telling her, you know, I think the field of actuarial science and these teams of actuaries that I’ve been working with, I want to know more because I think it gets so detailed that I often find myself lost in those details and I don’t really know what’s happening in the big picture. So, I think I’m going to apply to business school. And, I’m studying for my GMAT right now. And she told me, that’s great. I did a graduate program recently and I had to study for those exams and I said, that’s wonderful, but what kind of a degree program did you get into? And she said, I also did an MBA program. And at the time I knew that I wanted to be a part-time student because ROI considerations, the fact that I could still be at work and go to school at the same time, apply the learnings from class directly to work the next day. So, I knew it was a part time program that I wanted and I was applying to only UCLA Anderson as well as Berkeley Haas.
[00:08:34] And this woman that I had met on the backpacking trip, she said, I did my MBA at Haas. And, I knew it was one of the two schools I was considering and she just said the most wonderful things about the program, how the people in her classes were some of the smartest people she’s ever met in her life. How it inspired her to change her own career.
[00:08:58] And I just felt so inspired by the fact that we were out in this beautiful place; I don’t even know where we were. We were hiking up a mountain and then finally catching her breath to get some water. And she, we had just reached this peak and she was telling me about Haas, and I knew at that moment this is the school I want to get into.
[00:09:17] For me, Haas wasn’t really about changing my career or anything specific like that. It was really about the people I just really wanted to fill my mind with and fill my environment with people that have these brilliant ideas. I just want it to be in that environment.
[00:09:33] So I knew Haas was the right place for me when this woman that I was doing a camping trip with was telling me about her classmates and her experience. I just wanted the same for myself.
[00:09:44] Ray: Yeah. That’s very inspirational. Not to mention the fact that perhaps you go to Haas you can maybe catch up to her in terms of the hiking.
[00:09:54] Anna: Exactly.
[00:09:54] Ray: All right, Anna, so you’ve gone through most of your second year here at Haas, so you’re almost two thirds of the way through. What are some of your highlights so far?
[00:10:07] Anna: I really did come here for the social experience and for the people and I think I got exactly that. I mean, as everyone will experience, you will get so close to the classmates in your cohort and I experienced the same and I’m so grateful for that. And that by far is the biggest highlight. And some of the key moments that I remember here are, one, I remember signing up for a Haas Boats during my first year. Did you do Haas Boats?
[00:10:41] Ray: I didn’t do it last year, but I’m hopeful, you know, if this shelter in place passes that we can get something going this year.
[00:10:50] Anna: I hope so too. It was a really great experience. I remember Harrison man from our year, posting information about this weekend trip up in Shasta Lake where three houseboats were reserved. And this was a tradition that full time MBA students always participated in year after year. And this was the first year that the EWMBA students would be participating.
[00:11:16] And I didn’t know what was going on. There were a lot of emails coming my way, and I just went on a whim and put my name down and signed up for it. And it turned out that that was probably one of the best decisions I made because it was toward the beginning of our very first year and it made me feel very close to a lot of our class and I’m forever grateful for that. And it really encouraged me to get involved more in the community in other ways than just social. And I think that’s why I feel so excited about doing things like the cohort representative program that I participated in my first year, as well as the EWMBA association.
[00:12:00] It’s always so amazing to have these opportunities to connect with not just the classmates in your cohort, but classmates from other years and other programs as well as other cohorts. This has been definitely one of the biggest things that has contributed to me being able to meet people and being able to connect with others.
[00:12:22] And I feel very grateful for that.
[00:12:26] Ray: Yeah. I think what you mentioned was a great example by yourself and by other students of just going beyond and contributing, whether it’s outside of their classroom at houseboats or being an academic cohort rep.
[00:12:42] What are some of the benefits for our listeners out there that are either prospective first year students or interested in a leadership role? What are some benefits of being an academic cohort rep?
[00:12:57] Anna: So, I will say one thing about myself here, I’ll preface this with, I was a commuter for most of my time at Haas and I really wanted to do something that would keep me accountable, keep me involved. And this cohort representative position was perfect for that. I was always afraid knowing that I would be a commuter coming in. That somehow I wouldn’t feel as connected to my classmates and somehow I would feel that I wasn’t as involved as other people could be but that’s completely not the case.
[00:13:31] I was a commuter and in fact three of the four cohort representatives from my cohort were actually commuters from Arizona, Washington, and LA, which was me. That’s the other thing. You get to go through this cohort representative process not just yourself but with 15 other people. So, for those who are not as familiar with the cohort representative program, there are four cohort reps, as we call it, academic cohort reps and social cohort reps, also abbreviated as ACRs and SCRs. So, there are two of each and each cohort making a total of four per cohort or 16 per year. So each month on a Sunday, we will all get together and meet with a couple of wonderful people from our program office and talk through some of the concerns that students are having as it relates to social events or any academic concerns that people might be bringing up.
[00:14:33] And we get to talk through it together. So, you get to collaborate, first of all, with not just students, but with people from the program office who again are so wonderful. Being able to get that insight from how the program office is thinking. It really helps you to appreciate how much work and how much energy and how much effort they really are putting in to make our experience so great.
[00:15:00] And I think that has made me appreciate this experience at Haas so much. I’m very grateful for that. And then as a cohort representative, you do get that exposure to people, not just in your own cohort, but to people in other cohorts as well.
[00:15:17] I guess what I’m trying to say is that my appreciation for the cohort representative program not only stems from the fact that you get to meet a lot of other people but it was a really good stepping stone in paving the way for other opportunities as well, right? Through that I learned of clubs that many people were involved in that I didn’t even think to join before. There was this EWMBA association that I probably would have just gloss over in all of my email and all of the emails that everybody gets. And being able to see that kickoff in person helped me find that desire to be involved in other ways than just the cohort representative program.
[00:16:04] Ray: Right? And I think being part of the cohort, the ACR, the SCR program, like you mentioned, gives you great perspective, right? Because a lot of times students were not aware of a lot of happenings at the university level that affects Haas. I think this year we had a number of events all the way back dating to I think October.
[00:16:29] There were some power outages that we had to deal with as a school and meeting with the administration really gives you that perspective that, Hey, this is bigger than just us. You know, Haas is just one part of Berkeley. And I think you bring up a great point and it gives you a big picture view going from I guess the micro version that we see as students to a more macro level of the goings on in Berkeley and at the university level.
[00:17:01] I’d like to pivot to the EWMBA association executive team. Tell us about I guess just the executive team, the purpose, and also what it serves for the EW program.
[00:17:19] Anna: I’m really grateful for the EWMBA association and the fact that it exists because it gives students a place to voice their concerns, it gives students a place to explore their leadership potential, it gives students a place to meet and come together and challenge each other in ways that we otherwise would not be able to challenge ourselves in.
[00:17:49] Right? So, the executive board exists and that consists of the two co-presidents, the executive vice president, our EVP of finance, as well as our EVP of marketing and communications. And then there is a team of about 30 or so amazing VPs of various committees, social impact in our program, in our class relations, as you know, social academics, alumni relations, career management. There are so many different ways that you can go and our purpose really is to make sure that all of these different areas where students take an interest, we cover them and we give students a voice and whatever you want to see happen on campus, we want to be able to lead with you and making that dream or that vision a reality.
[00:18:44] Anna: I think the reason I’m so excited about the EWMBA is because there have been so many great people involved in it in the past.
[00:18:56] So the most recent executive board, Arthi, Amare, George and Ryan Colligan, I think were really wonderful at bringing everybody together. And I think the reason I am involved is because of people like Ryan Colligan, who was one of the co-presidents for last year. He’s not only a great leader, but he encourages other people to be leaders as well.
[00:19:23] I don’t think I would have run for this position if it weren’t for him. You know what I mean? I think that this community really fosters an environment for developing areas where you can become more successful. And I feel forever grateful for people like him and people like the rest of the VPs that were on the board last year that allowed this to happen, not just for me but for so many other people in so many different ways.
[00:19:49] Right? That’s how I became interested in running for this particular role with the heed my co-president, who was just wonderful. We were both cohort reps and acts our first year and he was just one of the best VPs of health and wellness for last year as well. So, I’ve worked with him quite a bit before and it’s a pleasure to be great to be working with him again.
[00:20:11] Ray: Yeah, I think you highlight a great point in terms of within our cohort, within our classes, within really even our program. There are a lot of students whether it’s during class or at clubs or extracurricular activities that are very encouraging and in my experience the students are very collaborative, versus the image of business school that is very competitive and very cutthroat at a lot of other programs. And this just not the case here at Haas. All right. So, I want to switch into talking about your career and what you’ve done here in your two years so far in the program. You mentioned working for Anthem, but recently you actually just switched jobs and joined Apple. Now you work in business development. So, tell us a little bit about how that transition went and what resources kind of aided you during that process.
[00:21:19] Anna: Absolutely. And let me just start by saying I don’t think I was ever confident enough in myself to imagine that this could possibly happen for me. So, the fact that it has, I just feel eternally thankful for this and for Haas because I don’t think it would have happened without this great community.
[00:21:41] The faculty, the staff, the classmates, of course. And just the confidence that you build from being in an environment like this.
[00:21:49] But being in this environment, you see your friends, you see your classmates pivoting into their dream careers all the time and you start to think, wow, maybe this can happen for me.
[00:22:01] Maybe I should be taking all these classes that really invigorates my mind, things that I’m truly interested in. And of course, you want to do that when you enter an MBA program. Right? But it was really the strategy class that I took and this was the strategy class that I took with professor Greg La Blanc in fall of last year.
[00:22:22] He gave us really good frameworks in terms of thinking about how we want to look at an industry, affirm a company, a sector, and organization. Funny when I think about it now, but it just seems so in tune with the way I think now that it’s crazy to think I didn’t think about organizations and firms in this way before. And, that really inspired me to look for positions that were more strategy-related or overall business-related.
[00:22:55] And when I saw this position open up at Apple, I decided to go for it. I felt that I had the confidence to apply my learnings from the classroom and really take them into the workspace. I’ll say the biggest thing that Haas gave me was, of course, my classmates and confidence.
[00:23:15] Ray: Right.
[00:23:16] Anna: A lot of the learning that you do is not just from the classroom and from your readings and from your case studies, but they’re from the way you see your classmates handling things so elegantly, the way you see your classmates handle things in such a poised way, you learn just by being around them.
[00:23:35] Ray: Right. It rubs off on you.
[00:23:38] Anna: Exactly. Exactly. So when I was younger, I remember interviewing for an internship position and the interviewer told me a story about how she plays volleyball every Thursday night, and she’s really bad but her team is really good and she just feels not that great every time she’s spiking or whatever it is that they’re asking her to do during a game.
[00:24:03] But she told me and I stay on the team because being with people who are that good just makes me want to be better. And that’s exactly what this program does for me. And it, again, it gave me the confidence to go for a position that I didn’t think I was, I would ever go for before.
[00:24:23] Something that I didn’t even consider after seeing so many of my classmates just go for their dreams. Not only is it tech that they’re going into, but it’s entrepreneurship. It’s going into investment banking, consulting, doing the rigorous OCI, on-campus recruiting process, and just doing things and taking this time to explore what they haven’t been able to do before.
[00:24:48] And it’s just this environment. It makes you want to do what you want to do, right?
[00:25:00] Ray: How did that conversation go in terms of persuading Apple into giving you an opportunity to work in business developments after working primarily most of your career in actuarial science?
[00:25:11] Anna: Sure. I think there are several different ways that you can approach this, right? So first I’ll talk about the transition and the transferable skills, right? I think this is applicable to anybody transitioning to any position. Yes, I was working with teams of actuaries for a very long time, but even though I didn’t transition into a team of actuaries, there are learnings from my experience in the insurance industry that are helping me in my current position today.
[00:25:47] For instance, being able to synthesize information as actuaries and as people on teams of actuaries, you are looking at data all the time and it’s not that you can just pull all this information into a flat file format and dump it into Excel and do a pivot table.
[00:26:06] I think those are great skills to have, but you need to do that deep analysis and really determine what exactly is it that we’re looking at? Well, what I need to say when I’m presenting to senior management, all of those skills transfer anywhere. They’re so important to take with you wherever you go.
[00:26:24] So those I believe are transitioning really well for me, as well as bringing a unique experience from somewhere outside of the current company I’m in. I think not only am I learning, but I think it’s good for anyone to see how others work and how others think coming from a different space. So, certainly that’s something that’s happening here and I’m learning. I’m learning so much at my current position.
[00:26:55] It’s insane and it’s challenging and it’s rewarding all at the same time. But anything that you do, you’ve grown from it and you’ve learned from it, and it’s something that you don’t just shed behind you and move forward from. It’s something that you take with you. Right? So, I would say being able to speak the language from detailed into high level is certainly something that has been helpful for me.
[00:27:26] Ray: Thanks for sharing that.
[00:27:27] And I think a lot of people coming into Haas are either explorers or pivoters, so this is really great for them to hear that you don’t have to have it figured out when you come to campus. You can take your time to explore here. You can get motivated by your classmates. There’s a lot that can go on in the two or three years that you’re here, depending on what program you’re in.
[00:27:53] Ray: Alright. I want to wrap this up. We have some lightning round questions.
[00:27:58] First, what are some of your favorite books or podcasts?
[00:28:04] Anna: Ooh. Favorite podcast is easy. OneHaas. Absolutely.
[00:28:09] There’s no other answer. I’m actually more of a book reader. So you’ve, you may have heard of the book the seven.
[00:28:20] Ray: Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.
[00:28:23] Anna: Yes. So, you may have heard of this book, the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People and that same author, his son actually wrote a book called the Speed of Trust. And it’s something I pick up and read every couple of years. I think it just contains some good frameworks that I like to look back on now and then. And I think it’s useful for everyday, whether you’re in business school or at work, or in person with your friends, family, whoever it is that you’re talking to.
[00:28:53] Ray: What was the first job that you worked?
[00:28:57] Anna: I actually worked at a nail salon that my mom opened up when I was a teenager. It was a really exciting moment for her and I’m so proud of her for doing this because she spent her entire life raising my older brother and myself. And we finally got to a point from living in a 700 square foot apartment in Iowa to a place in Connecticut where she was able to fulfill her dream and open up a business, which was this nail salon. I helped her out in my teenage years by being the welcoming receptionist for her for a couple of years.
[00:29:36] Ray: Wow. Very nice. Did you get any, let’s just say, troubled customers?
[00:29:41] Anna: I did not. Everybody was great and to this day I still don’t know how to paint a nail.
[00:29:49] Ray: Well, it’s okay. I think you’ve moved on to a few other jobs now. All right. And lastly, tell us about your favorite and least favorite parts of being a commuter?
[00:30:04] Anna: Ooh. Let me start with the best part, which is that you’re not alone. There are so many commuters flying in these planes with you week by week. You get so close to them and it’s so fun just going through the same things that everyone else is going through. Like collecting so many Southwest drink coupons, being on the same flight without knowing it app only and only finding out after you get off the plane.
[00:30:32] It’s just so fun getting to know people in a different way than just the classroom. That’s absolutely my favorite part. Least favorite part is probably when the schedule for the airline changes every quarter. And let’s say a 7:30 AM flight moves to 5:40 and you have to wake up super early in the morning. Painful but worth it because again you get to be with the same people that you’re cracking all these jokes with every single week. So very bearable.
[00:31:03] Ray: Right. And I’m surprised that those drink coupons are still being given, you know, MBA students. Alright, Anna, it was a pleasure having you on the podcast today.
[00:31:13] Anna: Thank you so much for having me. This was so fun.