MBA student takes family business to next level
Dan La Berge had lived in the for-profit world for his entire career until a back injury took him out of it for three years.
His path back to work ultimately led to Antioch University Santa Barbara’s MBA program, which interested him because of its focus on nonprofits and socially-focused businesses.
Holding an undergraduate degree in managerial business administration, La Berge’s experience was in consulting and newspaper publishing.
When he suffered a ruptured disc in his back, he went into a deep depression.
“It was a dark period,” he said. “I was in a hole.”
He opted out of surgery in favor of physical therapy, at that point returning home to Santa Barbara from San Diego.
“I rehabbed my body, mind, and future,” he said. “I systematically built things up.”
He worked with a personal trainer as part of his rehabilitation. The experience was so life-changing he decided to become certified as a trainer himself, which led to his starting CDE Fitness, a mobile fitness service specializing in post-rehabilitation, exercise modification and nutrition.
Today, he only maintains a few key clients to allow him to also run the household.
He and his wife, Robin, are parents to three children: Hudson, 9; Lilia, 6; and Lukas, 3. They were Lukas’s guardian when his mother was killed in a motor vehicle accident. Adoption is planned for the future)
“He’s a daily reminder of the impact you make in a child’s life,” said La Berge.
His wife, Robin Unander-LaBerge started Mothers’ Helpers, a non-profit group dedicated to helping new moms who need baby items to care for their babies. The company gathers and receive baby items to give to new moms or moms-to-be.
La Berge initially served as a jack-of-all-trades for Mothers’ Helpers, founded nine years ago.
“I was a day laborer – I would deliver and fix things,” he said.
As the organization began to take off, La Berge took over as executive director to use his business skills to grow the brand.
“I didn’t know about the nonprofit world,” said La Berge. “I thought I’d explore it when our little girl went to kindergarten – but then (Lukas) came into our life last year.”
When La Berge made the decision to enroll in Antioch’s MBA program he had missed the deadline. The director of the program was so struck by La Berge’s story, she made it happen.
“She said, ‘I’m getting you into this program,’ “said La Berge.
The first year of his 18-month program has been challenging.
“I hadn’t been a student for some time and our lives are so incredibly busy,” he said. “I didn’t have time for an educational endeavor, let alone an MBA. Plus childcare is expensive and transient.”
La Berge likes that his student cohorts are also non-traditional.
“These aren’t full-time students – they are parents, employees – all dealing with different stressors on their lives.”
They, along with faculty, provide him with a support network like no other.
“I have a sounding board of respected individuals and I know their projects as well as my own,” he said. “If I come back in two years I can still get the support I need from them. It’s a built-in resource that doesn’t end.”
He also has the “ever-loving support” of his wife, Robin, who is also his proofreader. “I Couldn’t do this without her.”
“She’s holding the family together,” he said.
La Berge’s MBA concentration is nonprofit management and strategic planning for social businesses.
“It’s unique because most strategic planning is structured around for-profit businesses,” he said. “Nonprofits are unique. They can’t afford to be wasteful because they may lose a grant or major donor. They can’t afford to lose favor because can be near impossible to come back from that.”
NGOs and efforts in Third World countries, he has learned in his MBA program, have spent trillions over the years to improve the lives of the disadvantaged.
“A lot of money gets wasted because these organizations are not creating effective solutions,” he said. “Creating sustainable solutions should be the Number One goal for a nonprofit. The organization needs to have a solid structure to ensure its future.”
It was very important to La Berge that his Antioch courses are taught by business professionals.
“The program is in a constant state of evolution and innovation because of that,” he said.
He has been taught to be a complete thinker as opposed to a linear problem-solver – the latter characteristic of more traditional programs.
“I’m reading PhD-level thesis work from the greatest in societal thinkers,” he said. “I’m learning about globalization, philosophy, history. I’m given ideas that expand my beliefs and perspectives. They challenge them and break them down. I’m being taught how to step back and create a better solution.”
He’s also learning that perfection is not the ultimate goal.
“We don’t look at rights and wrongs,” he said. “We look at how you manage outcomes. It leads to interesting discussions.”
His experience as a student of Antioch’s MBA program has changed his perspectives enough that he won’t go back to the for-profit world unless there’s a strong social mission attached to their efforts.
“I find it hard to wade into those waters again where there is greed or shareholders not aware of the impact of their supply chain and the negative impact on the communities we live in and are attempting to serve,” he said. “If I’m not tangibly aware of these pieces of the equation and not able to give back to the community, especially for the next generations- I don’t think I could sign up.”
He describes Antioch University Santa Barbara as a bastion for social justice and change.
“Antioch is a wonderful conduit to feeding that future, in our community and beyond,” he said.