H@H: Ep 5 – Host Paulina Lee interviews Geoff Easterling (FT MBA ‘21). Geoff’s journey is rooted in his military service starting with choosing West Point for his undergrad. Learn how Geoff went from West Point, to the Army with a tour in Afghanistan, ultimately ending up at Haas after 7 years of service.
On choosing Haas – “My boss at West point was a Haasie and he was one of the smartest, kindest, most humble people I’d ever met. And I was like, if this is the kind of person they’re making it Haas. This is the place for me.”
On leaning on and learning from others:
On getting involved as a student leader – “I’ve always felt a need to give before I take, and I get so much out of being at Haas. I tell people this all the time. It’s genuinely the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I can’t think of a better way to give back to this community that’s already done so much for me and will do so much for me for the rest of my life.”
[00:00:00] Paulina: This is here@haas, connecting you to Haasies from full-timers to EWs to EMBAs and the professors that change our lives. I’m Paulina Lee and this week on here@haas, we are joined by Geoff Easterling from the full time MBA program, class of 2021 and MBAA president. Welcome, Geoff. Thanks for coming on the show today.
[00:00:26] How are you doing?
[00:00:28] Geoff: I’m well, finding new ways to enjoy myself at the house that I didn’t know I had.
[00:00:35] Paulina: I’m doing well. Thank you. So, just a little bit of background on you. You grew up in Maryland and you studied at West point. Would love for you to tell us about your journey between West Point and Haas?
[00:00:47] Geoff: Yeah. I grew up in Maryland and always wanted to fulfill my parents’ dream, seeing me go to college. So I played football growing up and I got a full ride to West Point in it there. I kind of found this love for leadership.
[00:00:59] So once I was commissioned, I became a field artillery officer and I was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, deployed to Afghanistan and really saw firsthand, how special it is growing up in the United States, how special the American soldiers are. I really wanted to give back more to the United States.
[00:01:14] Although I think serving in the military is one of those special opportunities to give to the United States, I thought there was a more home-focused approach that I wanted to take with my life. So, I switched my career in the military to be an admissions officer at West Point; focused on diversity admissions for students who are underrepresented or go to under-resourced schools on the West Coast.
[00:01:34] My boss there at West Point was a Haasie and he was one of the smartest, kindest, most humble people I’d ever met. And I was like, “This is the kind of person they’re making at Haas. This is the place for me.” I applied and thankfully everything turned out well. My fiancé goes to a school we’re not going to talk about. She was a year in front of me.
[00:01:53] So it worked out well for our relationship as well.
[00:01:56] Paulina: Oh, that’s great. And it’s great that you both ended up out here, or did you meet her out here?
[00:02:01] Geoff: I met her at MLT management Leaders for Tomorrow, which is a tremendous organization that helps underrepresented minorities, particularly African Americans and Latin X people, get into MBA processes and build their career trajectory.
[00:02:13] She was the first person I met. And everyone’s like, “You’re gonna fall in love.” I was like, no way. Literally as soon as I walked in the building, I was like, that’s the woman. I’m in love with her. It’s over.
[00:02:22]Paulina: I love it. What a power couple as well.
[00:02:25] Geoff: She’s the brains of the organization.
[00:02:29] Paulina: Well, first off, thank you for your service to the nation. I did want to kind of dig into a little bit more about your time in the military. Are there any defining moments during your time between graduating from undergrad and deciding that you wanted to come to Haas, that you would identify?
[00:02:48] Geoff: There’re really two that come to mind while I was working at West Point, and also while I was in the army. I’ll start with the army example. When I was an executive officer, which is the second in command of a company. You’re really in charge of all the logistics, making sure the commander’s orders get executed.
[00:03:03] I kind of came into a pretty dysfunctional organization. I had a soldier who’s a Moroccan immigrant, always wanted to be in the military like her grandfather. But she was too small to be in the Moroccan army, so she immigrated by herself to the United States to be in our army so she could still serve. She just worked so hard at everything. And although she was a private, which is like the lowest person on the totem pole, she took everything so personally. I really came to rely on her and see the strength and people that everyone expects to look at the officers of the more experienced person.
[00:03:34] You need to look at everyone in their potential. And through our time together, she helped me look like I knew what I was doing more than I probably did, and I started putting her in front of the people that could promote her. Come about a year later, our company is doing much better, her work and the work of a lot of other noncommissioned officers and soldiers.
[00:03:49] Then I put her forward to become an officer. So now private has come full circle and become a Lieutenant and is now replacing me. And she’s also serving at Fort Hood. It really helped me see the impact that somebody can make by just believing in the people that work with them. And then at West Point, when I was doing diversity admissions work, I had a student who was displaced by hurricane Katrina. His family left the Southern United States and moved to Idaho. He had to drop out of high school to help support his family financially, and he just kept grinding and kept pushing. And the day he passed his GED, he applied to West Point and called me. Most people who go to West Point are straight A students, never had to struggle a lot academically, but he had to struggle.
[00:04:31] These are the kinds of people that we need to invest in. I saw that there’s an opportunity to do that. Find people that need to be invested in. It kind of inspired me to get a business degree and hopefully find an avenue in educational space increasing access for those who need it.
[00:04:46] Paulina: Those are two really great stories. I think they also bring to life this idea of leading from any position. I think the other thing it reminds me of is people who have a chip on their shoulder and the work ethic they’re willing to bring in the different perspectives they can bring into the workforce.
[00:05:04] And you’ve also, just in general, had a lot of impressive leadership roles. Whether it’s through your time in the military or leading here at Haas. You talked a little bit about a mentor who steered you toward Haas and to business school. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
[00:05:21] Geoff: Yeah. I always wanted to get a business degree. When I left the military, my father was a career business person. One of his regrets is that he didn’t have an MBA, the connections and the network. I want to be like my mom, I want to be like my dad; people who really had an impact in our community. When I was deciding where I wanted to go, my whole family’s from the East coast. A lot of the East Coast names really drew me in, but I was sat down by Kendrick Vaughan, who was a Haasie, who was my boss. He’s class of ‘16 and he really illuminated what it meant to be a Haasie and what it meant to go beyond yourself.
[00:05:51] And during, I think a Black Lives Matter march in Oakland, he was at Berkeley. It was easy for me and my classmates and so many people felt empowered to just walk down to Oakland or walk down to Berkeley where there was a way that we can make an impact in our community. That might not necessarily be the case at some other places.
[00:06:08] It’s so connected to the city of Berkeley. It’s so connected to the East Bay, so connected to all of the Bay area, and I want to feel that neighborhood-like feel. Honestly, I just want it to be like major Vaughn. I’ll follow him over here and see how it goes.
[00:06:23] Paulina: I love that. I think Berkeley has done a great job and just staying connected in the community. And I think one thing I’ve noticed within the Haas community is just the passion for social impact and the community. I think that was probably one thing that surprised me when I came to campus. When you came to Haas, was there anything that surprised you?
[00:06:44] Geoff: Coming to Haas, I think the biggest thing that surprised me is not just how intelligent everyone was, but how kind they were. And I know that sounds something I should have known ahead of time probably, but when I had an opportunity to speak with people; I majored in sociology.
[00:07:00] I’ve been doing this army thing. I have no idea what a standard deviation is and the way that people would bend over backwards to help me, the way that no one expected anything in return. I’ve always been quite cynical or skeptical of the business world and people always having what’s in it for me, and I’ve always been so surprised by the EW, the EMBA, that masters of financial engineering, everyone just wants what’s best for the person next to them.
[00:07:26] It’s surprising and refreshing. It reminds me of the connection that I felt in the military as well.
[00:07:32] Paulina: Kind of one big family.
[00:07:34] Geoff: One Haas.
[00:07:35] Paulina: Exactly. Speaking of going beyond yourself, you are recently elected MBAA president. Congratulations.
[00:07:44] Geoff: Thank you.
[00:07:46] Paulina: Would you like to say a little bit more about why you decided to run for president?
[00:07:51] Geoff: Yeah. I’ve always felt a need to give before I take, and I get so much out of being at Haas. I tell people this all the time. It’s genuinely the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life than any community that I’ve ever been a part of. Whether it was West Point, the military or what I did before, undergrad, I felt like if I’m going to get something out of this, I’m gonna get a degree.
[00:08:12] I’m gonna get great friends and have great experiences. I owe the community something as well. I felt the best way for me to give back, hone my skills, provide some of my passion to an already passionate community, and direct all the passions that I felt. It’s been an unbelievable learning experience and when I saw the other people that were running and the kind of leaders that I would get to interact with, I can’t think of a better way to give back to this community that’s already done so much for me and will do so much for me for the rest of my life.
[00:08:41] Paulina: Do you have any big goals for the year? Is the term typically a year?
[00:08:44] Geoff: Yes. From January to January, we had some big goals that I think we can still accomplish despite the transition into online classes and some of the disruptions that happened. One, we wanted to make Haas more accessible and create a greater sense of inclusion for everyone and kind of lean into the fact that not everyone wants the same thing; that the way they socialize it out of the way that they experienced in MBA.
[00:09:09] Two, we wanted to really cement the Haas legacy and what it means to be a Haasie, not just in the full time MBA, but across MBAs. It’s been great working with Vahid and Edgar cross it, and now Renee Reynolds across the MBA programs on what it looks like to be a One Haas network, and to bring in some of our alumni support, and to standardize the experience.
[00:09:30] Last was to organize some of the ways that we display and give information to the community. We have so many passionate people that have built so many incredible platforms, but I think having a smooth transition of how we talk every single time, where we store information, how we make sure it’s done safely, could benefit our community.
[00:09:47] We’re hoping to continue to work on those things despite how we’ve gotten a little bit different in our schedule, but I still think there’s time to make some real impact.
[00:09:55] Paulina: Totally agree. It’s definitely been an interesting second half of the academic year. Just an interesting 2020 in general.
[00:10:03] Geoff: Absolutely. What a time to be a leader like all Haasies are and see how we’re going to navigate this as a team.
[00:10:10] Paulina: Definitely. What would you say has been your biggest takeaway from your first semester at Haas?
[00:10:16] Geoff: Biggest takeaway in my first semester is that there’s a way to do good through business, and I think that was really illuminated through two classes.
[00:10:26] I didn’t expect to be really excited about accounting K as my instructor and operations with Terry Taylor. Those are both things that seem like they’re so kind of rote and just you do the same thing and there’s no way to be creative and no way to help others through this process. And they really illuminated how exciting accounting could be, how easy it could be to manipulate accounting, to make your firm look better than it is, which will have long term ramifications or to be diligent and conservative and really make sure that you’re providing maximum value to your client and honesty to your stakeholders and operations. The examples that Terry Taylor brought that highlighted such diversity and richness of culture, whether it was women’s hair products in Brazil or Tesla, I don’t know.
[00:11:14] Everything that I learned there was, we can see the whole world through an operational lens and an accounting lens, and these aren’t just cost cutting measures. They’re ways of making a real impact on people’s lives.
[00:11:25] Paulina: For me it’s been very similar. You go into a class with these preconceived notions of what you think you’re going to take away or what you’re not going to take away.
[00:11:36] And I think that’s one thing that Berkeley has done a great job; hiring great professors because they add a whole nother layer to the class that you never expect.
[00:11:46] You’re a Skydeck venture fellow. I’m honestly not that familiar with the program. Can you tell me a little bit about what Skydeck is and how you got involved.
[00:11:58] Geoff: Skydeck venture fellow is a new position in a new kind of venture fellowship that they’re running during the school year. Skydeck is an incubator and startup program that was born in Berkeley, but now has an international footprint, focused on taking small ideas, great founding teams, mostly surrounding the UC Berkeley community and international founders and getting them connected to the resources that they’re going to need. It’s founded in this very simple mission of UC Berkeley – provides all the talent and education to make all these great founders. We should help them get to their highest goals, but we should also find some way to include the UC Berkeley experience throughout.
[00:12:39] We’ve had an excellent cohort that we just brought in as a venture fellow with my job to source. I was focused on the internet of things in England and Denmark, so I got to really expand, who I was calling, what I was learning about how the world works. For people that are interested in VC or entrepreneurship, Venture Fellows is a great place to start. If you want to launch your own product, Skydeck says bring us your moonshot.
[00:13:04] We’ll take any idea seriously. At least give it great consideration and some great resources behind it.
[00:13:10] Paulina: What drew you to apply as a fellow?
[00:13:12] Geoff: I felt very privileged and very lucky to come to business school with two job offers that I considered exciting and I was like, I’ll do some more recruiting, but I’ve heard of this VC thing.
[00:13:23] I don’t know that much about it. It’s not a role where you traditionally see people of color or people from the military. But it sounds exciting talking to people and finding the ways to create shared value, which has been something that’s very important to me. I was like, I’ll apply and just see what happens.
[00:13:38] Maybe I’ll learn something. Maybe I’ll get told why you’re not qualified for this. And one of the things that was really fantastic when I met with the team at Skydeck, I told them that same thing. I think there’s a lack of diversity here. I think more ideas coming to the table can create greater impact for both the communities that you’ll hire, but also for the people that you’re able to source.
[00:13:57] And they agree. What can you do for us and what can we do for you? And has been this beautiful symbiotic relationship. Some were happy I applied, but really it was just my own moonshot. I want to try something that I’ve just heard of but don’t know much about. I appreciated that they look past just my resume.
[00:14:13] Paulina: Are you the only veteran within the fellowship currently?
[00:14:17] Geoff: Yes. There’s only 10 of us right now. We’ll see how it matriculates in the future, but for the time being, I am.
[00:14:24] Paulina: It’s great that you’re able to provide that diversity to the group and bring a different perspective.
[00:14:29] How would you say your military experience has shaped you through your Haas experience? Have you noticed certain things you learn from the military that have shaped who you are and shaped how you exemplify certain skills differently from any of your classmates?
[00:14:49] Geoff: I think there’s so many parallels between military service and business or operational performance and I’ve heard that throughout my military career.
[00:14:59] I heard that from my mentors that had gotten out or stayed in and I didn’t really believe it. It’s been interesting, especially seeing my peers in the veterans’ group were launching their own startups and have incredible jobs and have incredible work life balance that I’ve never seen. And it’s their ability to root in.
[00:15:15] I’ve been stressed before and I’ve been trained to overcome that stress, but also their ability to be really humble and say, Hey, I don’t know what I’m doing. Can you help me out? And again, Haas makes it easy to do so because the people, the community, the friends that I’ve made are always there for me. I think that ability to say, Hey, I don’t know what I’m doing and laugh it off and then get back to work has been incredibly important.
[00:15:39] So more of a mindset than a specific set of skills has been helpful in this transition.
[00:15:45] Paulina: I think that’s huge because it’s a muscle you have to exercise. That humbleness, that willingness to say, I don’t know what I’m doing and I need help and to also not take yourself too seriously, is so important.
[00:15:58] Geoff: Yeah. Confidence without attitude.
[00:16:00] Paulina: Exactly. What would you say is the defining leadership principle that you most identify with?
[00:16:05] Geoff: I most identify with Question the Status Quo. I think there’s something so important about thinking about the next step and not just how to improve what you’ve already been doing. Everything is so bolstered when the status quo is questioned. Even if you go back to the same plan that you had before, it’s been tested. It’s been vetted, you’ve thought of alternatives, but a lot of times questioning the status quo creates this whole new possibility for helping others or growing your brand or just making work more fun.
[00:16:36] Paulina: As we think about the upcoming year, we’re a month away from closing out 1920, your first full year of business school, but just crazy, you have a year left in your overall MBA experience.
[00:16:51] What are your biggest plans or goals when essentially a year and a month from now you’ll be graduating?
[00:16:58 ] Geoff: The most important one is that as soon as we can safely come back together, we find some way to really celebrate how much we’ve all missed each other.
[00:17:06] But the other really important aspect of the next year is to really rebalance the sense of community that we’ve had to digitally do, but can only be captured in person. Some of that will be exciting events, but some of that will just be seeing somebody in the quad again. I plan on getting on consulting once I get out of here. Honing the correct classes, make sure that I feel prepared to do so. But the biggest thing is making sure that this memory for me, but more importantly for the community, is something that they can look back on. That was a weird disruption, but the rest of the time was out of this world.
[00:17:42] Paulina: I think what’s been great is just seeing the Haas communities still come together digitally through the different initiatives that all the different programs are doing and that now we’re trying to connect the dots between all the programs too.
[00:17:55] So I think even though we’ve had this disruption, it’s so great to see us still bonding together as a total community.
[00:18:01] Geoff: Absolutely. And it’s inspiring every day. Whether it’s Masterclass, which is an excellent program that was set up by some of the second year MBA or just people finding ways to just call each other or have a digital dance party.
[00:18:17] The creativity with such a new tool in such strenuous time. It’s all inspiring and I’m struggling to keep up, but I’m excited to keep up.
[00:18:26] Paulina: Yeah. There’s such great energy coming out of it. I love it so much. So you said that you’re interested in going into consulting after graduation. What draws you into the consulting field?
[00:18:38] Geoff: Consulting just really speaks to my ADD, my lack of focus. The idea of going to the same firm every single day seems like it’d be very difficult for me after being in the military where you move jobs every year and a half and you can be on a different unit. You could be in a different place in the world.
[00:18:56] I think there’s something very special about that, feeling grounded in your team, feeling that you can handle yourself anywhere. Also, long-term, I want to find my way back into the public sector, whether that’s in a leadership position or starting an education-focused company to improve college access.
[00:19:12] And I think it’s such a broad base of experiences, both on the private and public side where I can see what’s worked, I can improve things that haven’t worked for some of the best and brightest in the United States or across the world. It’s really exciting. I think consulting gives me that very wide base until I figure out what I want to do.
[00:19:32] Paulina: Kind of a nice exposure across different industries, keeping it fresh, but still sharpening that skill set that you need to kind of apply to the public sector. That’s great. We’re also in that time of year where potential admits are finding out whether or not they got accepted into Haas. What would you tell them on why they should choose to come to Haas?
[00:19:53] Geoff: Life is short and you should be as happy as possible.
[00:19:59] Making your MBA decision, you only get two years where you’re kind of taking a break and focusing on yourself and the things that you’re most interested in and passionate about. I think no matter where students go, one, be happy that you have this opportunity to get an MBA. The IQs will be similar to the things that you’ll learn; will be kind of similar across programs.
[00:20:16] You kinda gotta level that out. One thing that I say is like a lot of programs are focusing on that EQ emotional quotient now. And I think there’s a lot of programs that do that well, Haas included. Maybe that narrows your list a little bit more on things that you can actually objectively define.
[00:20:32] But I think the thing that Haas takes to the next level is a focus on people being happy, feeling safe, feeling like they have the emotional tools and the mental tools to make as much joy as possible while learning this. And I call that our happiness quotient. And I think Haas the highest happiness quotient of any school that I looked at, any school that my partner looked at, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
[00:20:55] So I hope people join us. I hope people come and they’re excited to be happy and join this really, really fitted in bespoke community where everyone feels like the person to their left and right was chosen to be just with them and to be a part of their life forever. Because that’s how I feel.
[00:21:11] Paulina: That was very well said. I agree. I think I’ve been pleasantly surprised and perhaps it’s because of, to your point, it’s this time in our life where we selfishly focus inward in order to become better leaders and therefore make a bigger impact on the community once we graduate. What do you think you’ve been most surprised in terms of learning about yourself?
[00:21:33] Geoff: Honestly, I think I’ve learned that I’m not the best at saying no. I’m trying to find ways to more carefully still protect and take care of the things that I need to take care of and the people that I need to take care of, but also recognize that in order to do that, I have to say no to some things that may be exciting, maybe helpful to some people, but detract from the people and the things I care the most about. Also make some space for myself.
[00:22:00] One of the things that I realized after leaving the military that there’s not a lot of privacy. You’re just somebody who’s always asking you for something you have to ask you before you can leave, etcetera. And I think I missed that structure, but I also realized that I don’t need it. And trying to find ways to give myself that privacy and that lack of structure before I go back into another structured organization has been really important to me. And something I’ve been working through a lot.
[00:22:20] Paulina: Yeah. I think there’s a book that’s popular out there right now, and I’m probably gonna butcher their title, but it’s like basically how to do nothing and then appreciate doing nothing. So that’s kind of what it reminds me of. It’s finding that space for yourself. Because sometimes a lot of your best ideas come out or a lot of that self-reflection happens in order to get that personal growth.
[00:22:42] Geoff: Absolutely, and I’m gonna have to look up this book about being comfortable doing nothing. It sounds exciting.
[00:22:47] Paulina: I know. I’m the same way. Cool. Well, we’re going to transition into some rapid-fire questions. What would you say you are enjoying most about shelter in place or quarantine?
[00:22:58] Geoff: I’ve never had an opportunity to live with my fiancé so enjoying getting to spend more time with her. We just got a puppy; so quickly it became a part of our family and we’ve so much enjoyed our time together.
[00:23:13] Paulina: That’s great.
[00:23:14] Anything that you’re binging on Netflix or reading at the moment?
[00:23:18] Geoff: I never finished Harry Potter, which is always offensive to so many people. I tried to finish it three times. I just finished book 6. I’m not going to lie, a little bit emotionally wrecked right now. We’re going to see how it goes. I haven’t watched very many movies, but it’s been a lot of board games and Harry Potter for the past couple of weeks.
[00:23:38] Paulina: I’m going to +1 on that. I love Harry Potter. From all Harry Potter fans everywhere. I appreciate that you’re reading through the series. What board games have you guys been playing?
[00:23:49] Geoff: There’s a Disney theme board game which is 10x more painful to your family and relationships than Monopoly called Villainous, where you play like a Disney villain and you’re trying to like beat the protagonist and all the other Disney villains are stopping you.
[00:24:04] It’s very complex over the top. I don’t know where we found this game, but it’s great. And then Ticket to Ride, which is a training, building kind of exercise, and you’re trying to build the longest route and build routes from certain cities to other cities, again, with other people stopping you in the way.
[00:24:18] Those have been the big ones. We have a running leaderboard of who’s won the most games and I’m at second place right now, and I’m still kind of grumpy about it.
Not competitive at all.
No. Board games are not for fun. They’re for winning. Just kidding.
[00:24:31] Paulina: Right. No fun. Only winning, only strategy.
No, it’s been great, it’s been fantastic.
That’s great. Since we’re on a podcast, are you an avid podcast listener? Do you listen to any podcasts?
[00:24:44] Geoff: Absolutely. I would say most of my podcasts revolve around business and sports. So around the NFL podcast and my most listened to, one, I love Recode Decode with Kara Swisher and Haas alumni Scott Galloway, The Prof G Show. You also just launched, then I think I have a bunch of random storytelling type ones. I kind of stick to the prime meridian things everyone else is listening to like Serial, etcetera.
[00:25:12] Paulina: I think S tan was my favorite. I listened to it almost two times through.
[00:25:17] Geoff: It’s amazing. Astound really got me through my last days when I was stationed in Oklahoma because they just fit the theme so well. It’s amazing podcast. Amazing storytelling.
[00:25:28] Paulina: Totally agree. What are your top three songs on Spotify right now?
[00:25:32] Geoff: I am not sure, but I’m going to guess. I’ve been listening to a lot of Drake lately.
[00:25:38] I think it’s very good, like emotional music for me. So, somebody from Drake, I think there’s a song Satisfied from the Hamilton soundtrack that I’m obsessed with. Anytime I’m working out, I listen to Defying Gravity from the Wicked soundtrack. My fiance is a huge musical person. I keep trying to act like I don’t like them but there’s some jams….
[00:26:00] [00:26:00] Paulina: Yeah, I’m surprised and impressed because I also love Broadway.
[00:26:03] So the fact that you say you love Wicked and Hamilton on your top sentence, plus points for me.
[00:26:12] Geoff: I’m glad. I’m always embarrassed by it. I wasn’t in the gym. I know that I’m listening to West Side story right now. I’ve enjoyed branching out from the things I listened to before.
[00:26:24] Paulina: Love it. Thanks, Geoff for coming on today. Hope you have a great rest of the weekend.
[00:26:30] Geoff: Thanks so much for reaching out to them.
[00:26:32] Paulina: Thanks for tuning in to here@haas. Know a Haasie that has a story to tell. Nominate them on our website, onehaas.org. And if you enjoyed this week’s episode, please subscribe and leave us a rating and review and at the very least share this podcast with one other Haasie.