Spotlight Story

Celeste Crystal “Thinks Different” for Positive Change

Celeste Crystal entered the Full-Time MBA program in 2000 with a somewhat different profile than most of her classmates. “I had a background in liberal arts and I had devoted 18 years of my life to being a performing artist and classical pianist,” she explains. 

As an undergrad, she had excelled at analyzing historical and cultural trends, and her work experience in the Web 1.0 era convinced her that the Bay Area was about to go through yet another revolutionary transformation driven by emerging technologies. “I was especially interested in translating my strength in research and analysis into an impactful area of influence, and getting my MBA was a clear path to pivoting into strategic planning and product marketing roles in large scale international business,” she says. “I am fascinated with technology and its impact in the advancement of humanity. It made sense to focus on mobile technologies and a very important semiconductor technology known as nonvolatile memory.”

Today Crystal is a senior product marketing manager at PNY Technologies in Silicon Valley

What are you passionate about in your work?

I learned how a strong team with a diverse set of skills can achieve goals that no individual can possibly achieve alone

I am definitely passionate about new value creation—through new products, new technologies and the advancement of new ideas. I enjoy leading teams and being involved in cross-functional leadership either in partnership with other companies or internal to a division. At the GSM I learned how a strong team with a diverse set of skills can achieve goals that no individual can possibly achieve alone. This is apparent to me on a near-daily basis in the business world, and I often reflect on how I first experienced that at the GSM, in particular in courses in finance, strategy and pricing. We all pulled some all-nighters and have undergone some pretty lengthy exams that were made a little easier by the teamwork. 

Where is your career headed? 

I plan on forging ahead in technology. The hardware industry, storage and semiconductors is reaching a tipping point where the intersection of creativity and technology will propel it forward into new areas of innovation. I intend to be at the center of that activity. I’ll be the one driving new initiatives forward, hand-in-hand with a lot of other talented people.

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success? 

Getting my MBA at UC Davis was instrumental in my career; during my first year I led a consulting team project at Intel. We did some very serious work—value chain analysis and provided a full scale GTM plan to advance U.S. healthcare systems with wireless technology. Three great things resulted from the project: our team got to put the ideas into practice with a real-life exercise that tapped into our relationships in the healthcare industry; our project got a lot of attention at Intel (Intel later created a Health vertical/ business division and several IoT programs that have materialized today); and I was one of two GSMers accepted into a graduate program at Intel that year. After completing my summer internship doing competitive intelligence and building battle cards for the field sales teams, I ended up working as a PME on a mobile memory product. I’m excited that that same product is featured at the Intel Museum in Santa Clara. I get to show my kids “Look what mommy helped to create…”. If not for that experience at Intel, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work as a semiconductor industry analyst, or work in strategic marketing at big brands such as SanDisk, Micron and Logitech. I used to study history, and here in Silicon Valley I have experienced what it is like to be a part of making it.

How are you a game changer? Or, how are you making a positive impact in the world?

I’m a game changer in that I am still, after 15 years, most of the time the only woman in the room. They say that showing up is half the battle; I’m showing up, working hard and I’m definitely here to stay! Aside from obvious gender disparities, I know that I am valued for “thinking different” than other people in the room, and that combined with my traditional business training is a powerful and impactful capability.

I’m a game changer because I’m not afraid to raise my hand and ask the tough questions, and also offer my opinion or view when necessary to challenge assumptions and “stuck” ways of thinking that can impede innovation. The more exposure I have demonstrating that, the more it simply becomes the norm and expectation, for men and women alike. I guess the driving factor for me is to simply lead by example.

On a personal note, I run a soup kitchen every month, where we cook and hand-deliver meals to people who are unable to leave their homes and unable to cook for themselves. I bring my son with me, and now he’s learned how to cook, and clean and has experience in the compassionate care of others. He’s team captain together with me,  so he knows that captains aren’t just men, they can be mommies and women, and the best kind of leadership is achieved with strong teamwork!   

What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

Becoming mom to two very spirited and enthusiastic children is probably the most amazing—and interesting—thing that has happened to me since graduating. Becoming a parent has made me a better manager, increased my emotional intelligence, and it has taught be to be more patient and diplomatic in even the most trying times.

Your favorite GSM memory? 

This might sound strange, but one of my favorite memories is commuting with everyone from the Bay Area to UC Davis. This was before the GSM had a full East Bay program. We would all jump into a car from Berkeley, do a pick-up in several other cities and then drive to class together. There’s something about all of us driving to a single destination that brought us closer together. The commute was tedious, but it was fun with everyone in the car, laughing a lot, telling stories  and also comparing test scores, ideas and battle scars.

How do you support and participate in the GSM now?

I finally got to go to the glamourous GSM Casino Royale in San Francisco last fall. Some of the new students treated me so reverentially—asking me how I survived my first year as an MBA student, and what advice I could give them! I told some first-year students that I hadn’t attended these kinds of events as a student since I hunkered down and studied most of the time to complete my degree in 18 months. These days, I recommend the GSM to some of the younger people who I work with and mentor. And when they get in, I’ll be sure to remind them to go to casino night and all of the other parties to celebrate the fun alongside all of the hard work!