Jamie Breen found her way into the EMBA orbit quite by accident – a serendipitous event that led to a second chapter in her professional career.
“If anyone would have told me years ago that I would be in educational administration, I would have said no way,” says Breen, assistant dean, MBA for Working Professionals, at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley).
After living in the consulting world for the majority of her career, in 2013 Breen accepted an invitation to teach a short elective course on the business and culture of consulting for EMBA students at UC Berkeley.
At the time, the Haas School, which previously offered a jointly designed EMBA Program with Columbia Business School, was establishing its own Berkeley EMBA for Executives Program. After completing the course, Breen agreed to stay and help the program with its ongoing development.
“I wound up being absolutely captivated by the school and the community,” says Breen, who was named associate director, MBA for Executives Program, after working on a contract basis with the program.
Her time at Haas marks the start of a second distinct career path. Her first led her to business and the corporate world.
She discovered her interest in business during her time at Harvard University as an undergraduate. “I went to college thinking about getting a PhD in American history, particularly in colonial history,” says Breen. “While I was in college, I took an economics course and got interested in it.”
She decided she could study history on her own, and instead majored in economics and government, and with an eye on a business career, entered the MBA Program at New York University after graduation. With her MBA in hand, she joined American Can Company as a financial analyst.
The job proved a great training ground. “I did everything from financial processes to new product development, evaluating markets and costs, to financial planning,” she says. “It exposed me to a number of different aspects of business.”
As part of the job, she worked with consulting firms, and in a twist from the more common scenario of client firms hiring consultants, the consulting firm of what was then Coopers & Lybrand hired her.
Very early, she recognized the importance of change management, continuing that focus throughout her career in consulting and higher education. “Fairly quickly I learned there are many well-designed processes, but they will fail if people don’t embrace them.”
She spent most of her consulting career at Accenture, serving as managing director, financial services, before she entered higher education. She led change management projects, managed operations for a group of consultants, and also developed and delivered a course on change for Accenture.
Breen now applies her expertise in change management to the benefit of UC Berkeley EMBA students. For example, she led the addition of electives in areas such as finance, strategy, and entrepreneurship. The Hass School bolstered its career management efforts for EMBA students by further integrating career development into the curriculum, supporting students as they explore new paths, and offering them the tools to build lifelong career management skills.
The program also emphasizes experiential learning – students spend 25 percent of their time in immersions that take place over five terms. Those immersions give them firsthand exposure to business and allow them to apply their newly found knowledge to projects.
All of these initiatives require investments, new processes, and some changes as well. The program continues to push the boundaries to enhance the EMBA experience. “We are always looking at how do we give EMBA students as much as we possibly can in a very accelerated, very time-constrained program,” says Breen.
Avenues under current consideration involve collaborating with executive education and reaching out to colleges across the campus in an effort to give EMBA students greater access to all the UC Berkeley offers. In addition, the program has been discussing how to best leverage current and emerging technologies.
Breen turns to another source for inspiring and innovative ideas – EMBAC colleagues. She attended her first conference in 2014, only a few weeks after she began working with the program. It was love at first experience.
“I was struck at the incredible networking, the degree of collegiality and sharing that was going on, and the genuine nature of it,” she says. “These are people who really do share ideas.”
She quickly saw the benefits of increasing her involvement. She began presenting at conferences, hosted a regional meeting, and served on the conference planning committee for the 2017 EMBAC Conference. In 2018, she was elected to the EMBAC Board of Trustees. Her contributions to the council and the industry support her desire to make life as rich as possible for EMBA students.
Helping EMBA students – professionals who juggle professional, personal, and educational pursuits on a daily basis – translates into rewarding and important work for Breen.
“The people you get are fundamentally interesting. They are the kind of people who will lead and change the world.”
Breen also shared the following insights:
- My hobbies include: “Hiking, scuba diving, skiing, knitting, cooking, reading.”
- My favorite city is: “London, Zurich.”
- I'm most proud of: “My team.”
- I'm reading: “A P.D. James Adam Dalgliesh mystery.”
- I'm passionate about: “Developing people, trying new things, taking calculated risks.”
- My next project is: “Working on a joint degree for our part-time program.”
- You may not know that: “I design sweaters and other knitting projects and can my own jam.”
- When I think of EMBAC, I think of: “Collaboration and a wonderful group of people.”