Posts by Jon Pfeffer

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Oct 12, 2017 by

Haas Hosts Discussion With Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao

berkeley ellen pao

Ellen Pao, the Kapor Center for Social Impact’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, spoke at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business last week, discussing her tumultuous time as Reddit CEO, her new book, and the difficulty women face in business culture.

The Berkeley Forum and Asian-Americans@Haas co-hosted the discussion, which was moderated by Berkeley sophomore Shaina Zuber.

Prior to her much-publicized stint with Reddit, Pao, a Harvard Business School MBA graduate, worked for law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, WebTV, and several Silicon Valley companies, including BEA Systems. She joined Reddit in 2013 as the head of business development and strategic partnerships, and quickly filled in for the recently-departed CEO Yishan Wong in late 2014. She and the company had a mutual agreement for her resignation the following year.

Last month, she released “Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change” (Spiegel & Grau), which chronicles her unsuccessful 2012 gender bias lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, as well as her time in Silicon Valley and with Reddit.

Pao discussed her seven years as a junior partner at Kleiner Perkins as a way to touch upon a number of topics related to how we need to work together to level the playing field for women and people of color.

“Throughout my career, there would be little things I noticed but brushed off,” she noted. Pao argues she was routinely excluded from communication, meetings, and decisions.

“Despite evidence showing that the women’s investments were doing better than the men’s, none of the women, who seemed to have more education and work experience, received promotions,” she recalled.

Pao says her colleagues distanced themselves from her and avoided in-person contact during the lawsuit. However, she did receive encouraging private messages that commiserated with her battle and confirmed the company’s sexist culture.

Pao emphasized “the importance of workplace relationships in career-building.” She concluded, “Everyone has a voice. There is a systemic problem where people are not being included. And we need to change the whole system so everybody gets included fairly.”

You can read more from the Pao interview here.


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Oct 12, 2017 by

How Rutgers Encourages Startups to Combat Sexual Misconduct

rutgers sexual misconduct

As Silicon Valley startups continue their apocryphal rise, an avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations has emerged. Rutgers Business School recently discussed the issue, arguing that high-ranking figures in the industry should sign a “No Go, Bro” clause, putting pressure on investors and board members to actively combat any and all misconduct.

As more and more victims of sexual misconduct publicly speak out against their perpetrators, and the Cosby’s, O’Reilly’s, Ailes’, Weinstein’s, and Trump’s of the world are forced to shed the cloak of darkness, the pressure is on for other industries outside entertainment and politics to address toxic work environments that silently condone harassment.

This is especially true in Silicon Valley, where recent high-profile sexual misconduct cases like Social Finance CEO Mike Cagney, UploadVR’s Taylor Freeman, and the recent suit VC firm Benchmark filed against Uber’s Travis Kalanick suggest an end to investor passivity.

The article outlines specific ways that investors can use its decision-making process to affect change from the top. For starters, boards need to establish clear guidelines regarding workplace culture, behavior, and ethics. When abuses of power are built into the very fabric of a company, it becomes easy to normalize misconduct.

Investors need to incorporate contractual language to prevent touchy-feely CEOs from walking away unscathed from a situation in which they misbehave.

“Before making a big investment in a startup, investors should use their power to require CEOs to sign a clause under which they forfeit a large proportion, or potentially all, of their stock, if fired for misconduct, including reasons such as sexual harassment and misrepresentations to investors.”

Ultimately, consumers need to send a clear message to the investors and boards of the companies we patronize that they have to “have to get beyond old-boy and young-bro Silicon Valley psychology [and] exercise their leverage to deter value-destroying misconduct.”

You can check out the entire Rutgers Business School article here.

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Oct 9, 2017 by

Zipcar Founder and MIT Sloan Grad Robin Chase Offers Entrepreneur Advice

zipcar mit robin chase

Last month, Zipcar founder and “Peers Inc” author Robin Chase, ‘86, spoke at MIT Sloan‘s Women in Management’s Push for Parity Week, offering three incredibly valuable lessons to those in attendance.

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Oct 5, 2017 by

What Exactly Does Stanford Know About Humor?

stanford humor

There is a rarefied power in humor, or at least there is in certain sections of the business world, and, possibly, comedy. The Stanford Graduate School of Business recently highlighted standout professor Jennifer Aaker and Lecturer Naomi Bagdonas, who created the first ever Humor: Serious Business class at Stanford GSB last spring.

Bagdonas, in an interview with Gentry Magazine, explained that her class is about “the power (and importance) of humor to make and scale positive change in the world, and also to achieve business objectives, build more effective and innovative organizations, cultivate stronger bonds, and capture more lasting memories.”

She elaborates: “Laughter makes us more physically resilient to the tensions and stressors of corporate life. It releases oxytocin, which facilitates social bonding and increases trust. When people laugh together at work, relationships improve, and people feel more valued and trusted, mitigating the effects of these workplace stressors.”

Aaker explains that around the age of 23, many people seem to fall off a “humor cliff” and become more solemn and severe, as if growing into oneself means restricting the possibility of fun.

Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas / Photo by Jack Hutch

“We go to work, and all of a sudden we’re very important, and we’re very efficient, and we’re no longer allowed to leave the house in sweatpants or count ice cream as a food group,” she said in the interview.

Aaker adds that many workplaces contribute to this self-perception. It’s no joke that “workplace stress — fueled long hours, job insecurity and lack of work-life balance — [was linked to] at least 120,000 deaths each year and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs.”

Bagdonas’ goal is to use the course to “instill a mindset that taking your work seriously doesn’t mean you need to be serious all of the time. In fact, being serious and being humorous can be in service of each other. The right balance of levity and gravity gives power to both.”

Read the whole Gentry Magazine interview with Aaker and Bagdonas here.

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Oct 5, 2017 by

How An MBA Degree Can Land You a Job at Pfizer

mba job pfizer

MBA grads looking to make headway in an ever-expanding field with massive growth potential should look no further than healthcare and pharmaceuticals. There’s a reason more and more business school graduates have begun to pursue pharma over more tried-and-true post-MBA paths like real estate, consulting, and finance: the pharma industry offers a myriad of opportunities. There’s an almost inexhaustible supply of interesting problems to solve while earning boast-worthy salaries.

When it comes to major industry players, Pfizer is one of the undisputed global pharmaceutical leaders. Many of its products have burrowed their way into popular consciousness—both figuratively and literally. Lipitor, Viagra, Zoloft, Xanax, Advil, ChapStick, Preparation H, and Robitussin are iconic brands unto themselves.

Below, we’ll take a deeper look into exactly how MBAs can gain a foothold at Pfizer.

Why Do MBAs Love Pfizer?

Pfizer’s name brand recognition just so happens to correlate with a stellar internal reputation among employees, both past and present. Forbes, Fortune, LinkedIn, CareerBliss all consistently rank Pfizer as one of the happiest, most employee-centric, and/or most in-demand employers in the American pharma space.

In an interview with the Stevens Institute of Technology blog, Pfizer Senior QA Manager Bill Mestrandrea, a Stevens MBA alum, spoke of the deep camaraderie that he has with his fellow MBAs at Pfizer, comparing it to a “band of brothers.”

He elaborates: “We’re all in it together. I’ve met people from other departments who my work influences, and they’ve influenced my work as well. It gave me a better understanding of the network within Pfizer, and how it all comes together to form one company, always working in support of our patients.”

An anonymous former Pfizer employee took to Glassdoor to extol the company’s virtues: “If you can keep up with the fast pace and are not overly sensitive, Pfizer is a great to work. Everyday is an adventure and the benefits are excellent.” An anonymous Technical Specialist in the New York branch lauded Pfizer’s “great gym, clinic, cafeteria, and day care” in a Forbes profile.

Payscale reports that MBAs earn an average starting salary of around $121,000. Pfizer prides itself on a competitive compensation and benefits package that rewards employees “based on the contributions they make to [the] business.”

The company offers a number of in-house health and wellness programs, including health and disability insurance, medical screening, free or reduced-cost vaccinations, discounts on Pfizer products, and nutrition and fitness counseling. As part of the benefits package, Pfizer also offers access to colleague-directed retirement funds, company contributions to retirement financial vehicles, life insurance, and financial planning education.

Working at Pfizer

If there’s a common thread that runs through day-to-day life for all MBA grads at Pfizer, no matter their function, it’s that they’re all expected to move quickly and keep up with the constant demand. Pfizer is sympathetic and has sought out solutions to help acclimate first-year MBAs—namely, its Summer Associate Program, which has placed alum in full-time roles for the past 15 years.

Pfizer’s 10-12 week Summer Associate Program recruits and provides “first-year MBA students from top-ranked business schools … with a variety of unique experiences that will serve to develop and broaden critical skill sets and competencies as they progress their development towards leadership roles within Pfizer.”

Students are assigned challenging projects within Consumer Marketing, Corporate Audit, Corporate Finance, Global Procurement, Pfizer Consulting & Execution, and Pharmaceutical Marketing. By the end, Summer Associates “gain a wealth of valuable industry knowledge, networking opportunities, and life experiences.”

According to Pfizer, “MBA Summer Associates receive an industry competitive salary, housing support options and the prospect of conversion to a full-time opportunity upon the completion of their MBA degree.”

Jane Scholl (Columbia Business School ’12), whose healthcare resume stemmed from a desire to “improve the lives of others,” discussed the way her 2012 internship led to a position with the Marketing Rotational Program the following year:

“Though I only spent three months with Pfizer during the summer, I was treated as a valued member of the team rather than an intern. I was encouraged to share my thoughts and ideas even if they differed from those of other colleagues. I worked on meaningful projects that contributed to the business, and some of my recommendations were implemented before the end of the summer.”

Oindrila Sardar (Chicago Booth ’11), a Senior Manager at Pfizer’s Established Products Marketing Platform, discussed the relationship she had with the rotation managers during her Summer Associate internship:

“My rotation managers have played a critical role in my development with weekly one-on-one meetings and their insightful project guidance. They have been receptive to my interests and have matched them with meaningful assignments Throughout my rotations I have worked with cross-functional colleagues from many areas of the company which has helped me further understand Pfizer and its structure. I have been surprised by the high level of trust and responsibility given from the very beginning.”

Landing a Job at Pfizer

It’s pretty straightforward: Pfizer’s Summer Associate Internship is a surefire way for MBAs to get hired. In fact, 16 out of its recent 25 summer associates were extended full-time offers. That said, there’s plenty of recruitment that takes place outside the sacred intern space.

In the fall, Pfizer aggressively targets top MBA programs, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast close to its New York HQ. The company is interested in drawing from a pool of diverse and competitive first-year applicants, especially those with a taste for finance, marketing, global supply, and general management. Although previous pharma experience will make your application more competitive, Pfizer is equally interested in applicants with compelling reasons for a career change.

Interviews begin in January and run until March. Pfizer sometimes conducts group interview sessions in which four or five applicants discuss issues with staff members. This process is designed to understand which folks will make a meaningful contribution to a Pfizer culture with many distinct and occasionally contentious points-of-view.

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Oct 2, 2017 by

Boston University Consumer Study Finds Positives in Geo-Targeting

boston university study consumer

It’s been written that traditional direct mail coupons are a “lose-lose scenario” for two competing brands as they effectively negate the possibility that one company can profit over the other. Beyond the profit margin, coupons are out-of-time, out-of-place propositions that don’t take into account our busy, mutable schedules.

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