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Defining Principles

A chat with Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business at Berkeley.

June 12, 2013

I had the pleasure of talking to Rich Lyons, Dean of the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley, at an AACSB conference recently. 

As two alums of U.C. Berkeley, we had a great time talking before Rich’s presentation. It was during that discussion we realized that we had both been at the most exciting game in college football – “The Play” in 1982 (shorter version here) – which was Rich’s last Big Game as a student and my first. 

What struck me from Rich’s conference presentation was what he said about the Berkeley-Haas defining principles they had developed to better communicate the school’s unique culture, which are:

  • Question the Status Quo.  We champion bold ideas, take intelligent risks and accept sensible failures, speaking our minds even when it challenges convention.
  • Confidence Without Attitude.  We make decisions based on evidence and analysis, giving us the confidence to act without arrogance and lead through trust and collaboration.
  • Students Always.  We are a community designed for curiosity and lifelong pursuit of personal and intellectual growth.
  • Beyond Yourself. We lead ethically and responsibly, take the longer view in our decisions and actions, and often put larger interests above our own.


For me, these defining principles ring true.  Unlike a lot of company mission statements and university values statements, these defining principles really do sound like the school I remember and, as Rich assures me, the Berkeley of today.

As Rich explained it, many of the words they used were verbatim phrases from the students, faculty, staff, alumni and recruiters they spoke with over the year-and-a-half process of developing the principles.  For example, Confidence Without Attitude was one recruiter’s response to the question about what set Berkeley/Haas students apart from other business grads her company hired.  And anyone who knows anything about the school knows that Question the Status Quo is a defining attribute of Berkeley itself.

Since the principles were developed in 2010, the school has announced them to alumni and taken steps to integrate them everywhere from making admissions decisions, teaching students, and hiring and promoting faculty and staff. 

Haas’s defining principles – and the process by which they developed them – provide a great example of a school looking inward to define its unique fingerprint and using this knowledge to chart its future success


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