Berkeley-Haas is everywhere. Like most things these days, “everywhere” means beyond the Bay Area, beyond California, and yes, even beyond the United States of America. I am studying here in Barcelona, Spain, and I was lucky enough to be able to travel a few weeks before my semester, including the Capitol city, Madrid. I browsed through the @Cal Alumni directory to find a few dozen Haas alumni in Madrid!
I sent out a handful of emails and got a quick response from Javier Rapallo. Across the Atlantic, over 10 years after his MBA, Javier agreed to sit down. We decided to meet and chat at the Deutsche Bank location in Madrid, (my old and worn Cal t-shirt made me slightly underdressed … Go Bears!).
In a few sentences, Javier has had an exciting career in finance. He started off at Merrill Lynch after graduating from his university in Spain. He then left in 1998 to pursue his MBA at Haas until 2000. He took a Vice President position at Credit Suisse First Boston for 5 years, and has been working as a Managing Director at Deutsche Bank since 2005. Now you have the who, what, and the when, check out the Q&A for the why, and the how (meet me at the bottom for a wrap-up!)
Why did you decide to do an MBA?
Well, I went to junior high school in the United States and I really liked that experience. I was in a small city called Yarmouth, in Maine very close to Portland. It was an interesting experience because it was a small town, and everyone was so familiar. I also did some traveling with my family around the US. My father wanted to see the missions in California, which are very related to Spanish history. After all of this, I had always had the desire to return to the States and study. I did my undergrad studies here [Spain], and began working at Merrill Lynch. I chose to do an MBA because three years after I started at Merrill Lynch it seemed like they were going to eliminate my group at Merrill Lynch in Spain. A combination of those two factors as well as my lasting desire to study in the states again made an MBA seem like a good solution.
Why did you decide to do your MBA at Haas?
Well first the question was where. Would it be the west coast or the east coast? I applied to 4 MBA programs and was accepted at Berkeley and Columbia. From a strictly financial perspective, Columbia made sense. It was in NY, and most European banks do business and recruit there. The problem with the East Coast and NY was that I knew that the people there were a bit colder, or reserved. That was much different from my way of being, which I knew would match up well with the lifestyle and people in California, and at Haas.
How were your first days, weeks, and months here at Haas?
The first thing that I noticed was how soon people leave home in the States. In Spain, it was common to live in your parents’ home through university and into your early career. In my case, I had lived with my parents my entire life (with the exception of my year in Maine) up until going to Haas at age 27. It was a good wake up, and a time for me to begin my own life. I was glad that I had spent time in the States, as well as having spoken English at work, because the language transition was not very difficult for me.
When I was in Maine in 1987, many people actually did not know a thing about Spain. Still today there are many preconceptions of Spain. Here it’s not just Sangria, Siestas, and Paella. We combine many things, of which these are only some. We are not an imbalanced society culturally or financially. We are still feeling that crisis as is much of southern Europe, and things were clearly better 5 years ago. However, everything in life is relative, and I think that the big picture is that Spain as a country has made large gains over the last 30 years. Now there are many local Spanish companies that are more important internationally every day. We have also had large gains in infrastructure, quality of life, health, and education. Spain is still a fantastic country with many cultures, friendly people, and a unique style of living.
You live and work here in Madrid, how is it as a business city?
Here in Spain, as you know, Madrid is the capitol of the country. For that, much of the important business is started here, and also there is political power concentrated here. In relation to the crisis, Madrid has done relatively well. A recent article estimates that over 10,000 businesses have moved from Barcelona to Madrid since the crisis started, mostly due to taxes. The business climate in Barcelona for example is a bit tougher to start and maintain a business. It is known historically as a city where more modern and trendy companies are run. Now in our time of crisis, it can be cheaper and easier to run your Spanish business from Madrid.
What are some Spanish business customs and tips for readers who end up doing business here some day?
Like every country, much of the customs depend on how serious the company is. One typical custom for Spanish businessmen is ordering the “Menú del día” (menu of the day), which is basically an all-inclusive meal. It will be 8 or 10 Euros, and you eat a small salad, a main plate, a drink, and coffee at the end. It is typically here in Spain to order that at lunch as it can be quick, but it is usually good quality food.
Another thing you guys should know about Business in Spain is that we are very open people, and we care about the family and life of our co-workers. Sometimes I have lunch with junior members of the team, or the other way around, with other seniors, without forcing it, it just happens. As far as titles and hierarchy go, it is rather flat here in Spain, and you will end up interacting at all different levels. At least this is my experience working at an investment bank. For more traditional, larger companies or for some old fashioned family controlled businesses, that may be less so.
In the United States, there is always a lot of international workers in big companies, is it common to have employees work in Spain from abroad?
After my MBA, I went to work in London, and on our floor, we had a lot of internationals. I was from Spain; we had people from Germany, Italy, France, India, Australia, and Americans. However that was London, which is a financial capitol, and is not dissimilar to New York or Hong Kong in its level of internationality. Here in Spain there is less of that, but it is still very important for us. I had a colleague from France working on the team as an analyst and I think that his perspective supported the team a lot. We currently have a couple of junior analysts from India spending a four-month rotation at our office. Same thing, I think it helps the team broaden its perspectives.
Language skills are also very important in the world today. For example, many of our clients speak English so it is good to have English speakers on our team. That said, we are a services company doing business in Spain, so international workers really need to have excellent Spanish skills as well. As is the case in my company, I think that most mid-to-large sized companies here in Spain are going to have international business and workers.
How much connection do you see with your MBA curriculum, and the work that you are doing now?
A class that still really stands out in my mind was negotiations. This was a really memorable and enjoyable class, which was very related with what I do now. Other coursework that is still valuable to me today was valuation work, analysis of business plans and management improvement amongst others. Aside from specific examples, a big benefit of my MBA was learning different ways of thinking and approaching problems, as well as working in groups. In the Haas MBA program there are many opportunities to work on teams and challenge yourself to think critically, which I think has really helped me since being at Haas.
Apart from the coursework, and many great personal experiences, I still remember vividly the cigar and whiskey tasting charity event with Rich Lyons. That was a lot of fun and an experience I would have not expected to enjoy in the US! It is a nice memory of ‘work hard play hard and for a good cause!’
(Mr. Lyons: I think we should discuss implementing these charity events at the undergrad level? -Nathan)
What is the most important of the 4 defining principles for you (challenge the status quo, beyond yourself, student always, confidence without attitude)?
I really like confidence without attitude, as I try to live that in my own life. I noticed the value when I was at Haas and I like how this defining principles is evident across faculty and students. That said, all four are outstanding principles and important in education and business. These principles are another way that Haas is special and all four are stressed in and out of the classroom at Haas.
Haas is an incredibly diverse place. Just to walk around you are likely to hear many languages being spoken, and see many cultures represented. Semester-to-semester, and class-to-class, you find yourself running into countless international students. The MBA program this past year boasted 37% international students, representing 41 countries, and an average TOFEL score of 111 (TOFEL is an English language exam and 111/120 is a very high score). What an impressive group!
Javier is a great example of someone who came to Haas bringing with him his international work experience, his culture and his language. It is clearly evident that he got a lot out of it, and doing this interview is a great example of what he is putting back into it. Our culture is truly self-perpetuating. The contacts we have access to both in our classrooms, and in our alumni directory are rich beyond belief, we just need to take advantage of them.
Javier, from our readers and myself, thank you so much for doing this interview. High-level executives are known to be tough to reach (at least from the undergrad view) and you were very gracious to host me on short notice and for a long, rich conversation. It is an amazing example of “beyond yourself,” and I hope that I can replicate it myself one day for some eager undergrad. I hope to cross paths with you again, (hopefully with better Spanish, and maybe with appropriate attire), until then, GO BEARS!