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COBE Success Story

Certificate of Business Excellence: Trailblazing Smarter Cities


COBE Alum Carla Mays, Entrepreneur 

A graduate of the Berkeley Certificate of Business Excellence program, Carla Mays talks about her work urging policymakers and business leaders towards smart city solutions.

Carla has a vision for cities of the future. An entrepreneur and public policy expert, she works to untangle some of the most pressing challenges facing people in metropolitan areas like the Bay Area and beyond. Where most see obstacles -- systemic inequality, the digital divide, lack of political will for change -- Mays sees creative opportunities to bridge business and government in ways that improve lives for all citizens. 

“My work is defining a new space for economic development, merging infrastructure design and economics into applications for smarter public policies,” says Mays. “I’m specifically focused on the digital transformation, looking at how people and communities have access to technology and public services and where the opportunity gaps for citizens are happening.”

Recognizing early on during the dot-com boom that the digital divide perpetuates social and economic inequality, Mays is dedicated to making businesses and governments work better together at building city infrastructures that encompass smart energy grids, mobile technology, transportation, and other public services that are accessible to every citizen. Encouraged by the proliferation of technology advancement in robotics, AI, big data, and mobile platforms, Mays wants to ensure that these advancements are not the sole purview of profit-seeking businesses, but put to work in our cities and towns. “So often,” says Mays, “we are eager to jump on the quick new tech solution -- ‘let’s create an app for that’ -- but these solutions only benefit a subset of the population. What good is that new app to citizens who can’t afford mobile phones?”

When it comes to the complexities of issues facing metropolitan areas, Mays doesn’t need to look further than her home. “San Francisco, as we know, is facing some very negative growth associated with the digital divide,” she says. “You have a tech industry boom that benefits a small population; meanwhile, there is increased poverty, homelessness, and gentrification.” It’s a microcosm of global economic bifurcation, when technology and access to the knowledge economy is accessible to only a portion of the population, leaving huge swathes of individuals without entree to broader labor market.

The solutions to which Mays aspires are public-private partnerships toward economic development that facilitate young entrepreneurs and small businesses. Mays champions policies and business models for cities that are technologically efficient, environmentally friendly, support the day-to-day lives of all citizens, and have economic mechanisms that support growth of new small businesses. Mays says there is a lot to learn from governments abroad who are besting the United States at building and rehabbing cities of the future. “Canada is really showing us something,” she says. “They are stepping up and making serious investments into their people, giving them the proper support and capitalization for citizens to find educational opportunities and build new businesses.” 

Charting a New Path

Mays’ business acumen and career in public policy led her down an unconventional path, but one that ultimately equipped her with the insights she puts to work today. In 2008 she hit the campaign trail for Obama travelling 37 states, having conversations with constituents from bankers to farmers about the policy and business issues affecting them. Years later, she won two national hackathon contests by designing new mobile apps that address affordable housing and prevent voter suppression. Recently, Mays founded Mays Civic Innovation, a consultancy for businesses and city leaders, where she counsels clients on the latest thinking in smart city policy and technology applications. Mays blends her public policy expertise with entrepreneurial acumen and focuses that toward solving some of the most complex challenges facing economic development in cities. 

“Other executive programs teach you how to be a middle manager; the Berkeley Haas mindset teaches you: ‘I’m going to create something; I’m going to lead that.’” 

Carla Mays, Certificate of Business Excellence 2014 graduate.

In 2013 when she felt that her career was reaching a plateau, Mays looked for a new door, one that would help expand her network and hone her leadership skills. “I needed the Haas community specifically, because I was out there mentoring entrepreneurs, talking about the work of Henry Chesbrough and Steve Blank -- I needed the direct access to those ideas,” she says. “I couldn’t just go to any business school because my whole work was about questioning the status quo -- ‘why do things like this, when it could work this way?’ Other schools were just too traditional.”

Mays graduated from Executive Education’s Berkeley Certificate of Business Excellence program in 2013, after completing a chosen curriculum fusing management, innovation and entrepreneurship executive programs. She credits the program with taking her career out of a plateau and into her current global trajectory. 

“Being part of the program meant everything to me,” says Mays. “My mindset is different. The kind of work that I’m doing has been elevated. My thinking is not the same thinking I had before. Other programs teach you how to be a middle manager; the Berkeley Haas mindset teaches you: ‘I’m going to create something; I’m going to lead that.’”

Carla Mays truly embodies the spirit of Berkeley and the Haas Defining Principles. Berkeley Executive Education is proud to call her alumni of the Berkeley Certificate of Business Excellence program.

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