Beahrs ELP Blog

The Fenigstein Effect

David Zilberman photo

By Professor David Zilberman, Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC, Berkeley
This article was originally published on The Berkeley Blog.
Read the original article.


Every year during graduation season, I encounter many students who are nervous about the job market. Surprisingly, many worry not only about their technical qualifications, but they also worry that they don’t look the part.

Some of these students probably listen to the media and studies that have found that good looking men are considered more competent and good looking women are considered less competent in a work environment, which may lead to sexist discrimination. The study also discovered some strategic behavior in hiring — when you hire someone who will collaborate with you, you will favor the better looking person, but when you hire someone who competes with you (e.g. another salesperson), you will hire the less attractive person.

elegant character in Jane Austen, preening before a mirror

Sir Walter Elliot, of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, before a cheval glass. “Few women could think more of their personal appearance than he did.” (By C.E. Brock via Wikimedia Commons)

These concerns and studies remind me of Jack Fenigstein, with whom I worked in a computer company in Israel. I was a responsible for the payroll application for the company and he was one of our 4 salespeople. Three of them looked like textbook salespeople — blue suits, crisp white shirts, a handkerchief in the pocket, etc.

But Fenigstein was a round ball, never wore a suit and tie, and always had a shirt with buttons on the verge of explosion, but he was our best salesperson. The manager of the company was always upset at his appearance because he was not presentable, yet couldn’t fire him because of his sales success.

Once I asked him, “Jack why don’t you dress like a mensch?” And he replied, “I tried but I actually look worse in a suit than I do like this. When you try to wear a suit and it doesn’t fit, no matter what you do, you look like a failure. But if you dress informally, it is a signal that you don’t care about appearances.”

Besides, he said that this appearance is good for business. He told me that he operates by calling people to make an appointment, and that he has a great body for the telephone. He said, “once they invite me, the secretary gives me a disgusting look but the boss has no choice but to hear me out for 5 minutes. Then, I give them my best pitch — I figure out their needs and provide them with a reasonable solution.

Suddenly their underestimation works in my favor. They think, ‘this guy really cares about the important stuff, not a stupid model for Brooks Brothers.’”

Later on, I learned about another study that found that good-looking men might be considered smarter but get fewer job offers because they come across as intimidating. Another explanation for what I call “The Fenigstein Effect.”

Fenigstein once said that the unique skills of salespeople may not correlate with good skills in economics. We took some classes together and he needed at least a mark of 60 to get his degree. I drove him back to work after he learned that he flunked and he couldn’t get his degree in economics.

He told me, “I thought about it, and my revenge will be that one day all of these professors will work in the Jack Fenigstein building…” I never found out if the building exists or not, but I know he employed many economists as consultants. Jack might not have been a great academic or a sharp-looking person, but when I saw him working with a client, figuring out their needs, and helping to design a computerized solution that fit the customer’s needs, I understood why he was successful.

When I read a study relating performance to appearance, I am always reminded of the Fenigstein Effect, and how insightful people can turn a perceived liability into an asset. It is essential to accept yourself and find ways to take advantage of ‘what you got’ rather than to lament it.


By Eunice Kim, Program Administrator, Master of Development Practice, UC Berkeley

This article was originally published on The Berkeley MDP Blog.  Read the original article here.


My grandmother was born in the Korean Peninsula in 1925 in a region that we now know as North Korea. However, since it was annexed to Japan in 1910, her birthplace at the time was essentially a Japanese-occupied territory. Nevertheless, she grew up in relative affluence and her early life was comfortable, as she came from a wealthy family of bankers.



She never really went delved into the details but one day, soldiers forced their way into her village and onto their land, and in their wake they left a community destroyed, a family fortune plundered, and her mother dead. Only a few months later at the age of 14, her father married her off to my grandfather, who was at the time, a poor, barefoot boy from a nearby town; a ludicrous arrangement under normal circumstances, but rumors were swirling of Japanese soldiers kidnapping unmarried girls for detainment as ‘comfort women’, so her father hastily arranged the marriage out of necessity and died shortly afterwards (suicide?). My grandparents, however, would remain married for 65 years until my grandmother’s death in 2005.

I’m sure at the time, she could not imagine the things that would come to fruition: the onset of the Korean War, the escape to South Korea on foot burying her infant daughter along the way, her settlement in South Korea and finally her immigration to the United States in the 1980’s, her last great Adventure, a place of relative calm and peace where she would dote on her granddaughter, Eunice, whose name meant ‘victorious’.


Only five years after the birth of my grandmother, across the globe, another baby girl, Irma Adelman, would be born in Cernowitz, Romania. She would be raised by her father, a Zionist businessman, her law-student mother and a superfluity of French Catholic nuns who would later foster her love of French literature. Like my own great-grandfather, Irma’s father predicted imminent danger, which would manifest later as World War II and the Holocaust. Thankfully, his foresight allowed Irma and her family to immigrate to Palestine, or modern-day Israel, in 1939. There, Irma would spend the rest of her childhood, where she would also go on to enlist in the army and transmit Morse code during the war. Afterwards, she came to the United States for college and graduate school. In 1955, she would graduate from UC Berkeley with a PhD, starting her career as an economist. Never forgetting the plight of those less fortunate than herself, and years before Amartya Sen’s ‘Commodities and Capabilities’ garnered praise in development circles for his ‘capability approach’, Irma Adelman would advocate for “the creation of the social and material conditions for the realization of human potential by all.” In the 1970’s she would be sent by USAID to a South Korea, to assist the Park government in the development of the Second-Five-Year-Plan, where she was awarded the highest honor possible by a foreigner, the Order of the Bronze Tower, by President Park.

Two lives, distinct and distant, starting with war and tragedy, converged as I sat in Irma’s living room in Berkeley, California, during an interview session for a retrospective pieceon her life and illustrious career for the Annual Review of Resource Economics.

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Prof. Sofia Villas-Boas, Prof. David Zilberman, me and Irma


My boss, Professor David Zilberman, who conducted the interviews, asked her about her first impressions of Korea at the time.

“At the time, South Korea was considered as the hellhole of foreign assistance and as a bottomless pit for money and assistance. I was totally ignorant of this, and when I got there, what I saw was a population which was very highly motivated—walking fast on the street, no stooping, you know…”

I remember this phrase particularly piqued my interest. To think, Irma may have even passed my grandmother on the street. She was a very fast walker, you see.



While South Korea now boasts one of the most dynamic economies of East Asia, when Irma made her first trip to South Korea in the 70’s, the country had been ravaged by war, with the equivalent per capita income of modern-day Chad. Many American analysts called it the ‘black-hole’ of development aid and proclaimed it was too weak to succeed. This god-forsaken place was the Korea that my grandmother knew, but in the short span of fifty years, historians would call South Korea’s economic progress as the ‘Miracle on the Han River’, in large part due to Irma’s contributions. Her insight, technical knowledge, dedication to poverty alleviation and more importantly, her patience and compassion, would be instrumental in lifting the Korean people out of dire poverty and despair. My grandmother, too, would contribute to South Korea’s success, albeit on a smaller-scale. Within two generations, her granddaughter would go on to attend the University of Chicago and interview an eminent economist, in no small part due to her instilling in me the value of hard work and a good education. She would tell me as far back as I can remember, ‘Grab ahold of that education, little girl. Grab it and don’t let go’.

I didn’t, Grandma. And I won’t.



I would like to conclude this post by noting that this experience has allowed me see the words of sociologist C. Wright Mills come to life:

“We have come to know that every individual lives, from one generation to the next, in some society; that he lives out a biography, and that he lives it out within some historical sequence. By the fact of his living he contributes, however minutely, to the shaping of this society and to the course of its history, even as he is made by society and by its historical push and shove” – The Sociological Imagination (1959)

I would like to thank Professor David Zilberman for allowing me to take part in this special opportunity.

This blogpost is dedicated my grandmother, Professor Irma Adelman and all of the unnamed women before me that by historical push and shove have paved the way for me to live out my own, very fortunate biography.

Training environmental leaders

By Professor David Zilberman, Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC Berkeley

Last month, the 14th cohort of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program graduated. The Beahrs ELP brings mid-career professionals to Berkeley every summer for three weeks of professional training, and I was fortunate enough to be the co-director of the program, alongside Dean Keith Gilless.

When Dick Beahrs gave us the means to start the Beahrs ELP, I thought we would introduce the participants to the new frontiers of knowledge, most recent discoveries about climate change, ecological services and management of biodiversity, and the like. We needed to have a multidisciplinary approach emphasizing how science, including physical, biological and social sciences, can solve environmental problems. Even after fourteen years, we still present new knowledge and cutting edge research. For example, this year we had our first session on the merits of using geo-engineering to address climate change. But over the years, we’ve realized that our participants know a lot about environmental issues and continue to demand more emphasis on advanced tools to augment their leadership skills. Now a key feature of our program is a module on conflict resolution that teaches skills to improve co-worker and boss-employee relationships and helps conceptualize collaborative solutions to regional problems. We have developed sessions on how to present oneself more effectively, improve communication skills, and effectively utilize media. We also incorporated a session on marketing, realizing that environmental experts have many ideas and concepts to sell, and need ‘buyers’. The session where participants were asked to design a program to market their organization has become very popular. It forces people to think about what their organization is truly all about, their potential benefactors and clients, and ways to engage them.

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During this process, I began to think about leadership. My perception of a leader was someone like Churchill, Spartacus, Martin Luther King or Jeanne D’Arc, a heroic figure with unique courage and charisma who blazed a new path and changed the world. However, leaders are not limited to the grand events of history. They are people that establish the direction of their organizations and pursue it creatively and effectively, and indeed many of our leaders are in charge of environmental programs in government, companies, or NGOS. Frequently, leadership positions are imposeIMG_8799d on people as a part of the cycle of life. As you grow up, you are put in charge and asked to lead. Actually, parenthood is a very important position of leadership, and once you are there your challenge is to be an effective leader in raising your children. Our conflict resolution, marketing, and communication modules are part of our leadership training that emphasize interactive learning that encourages participants to work in teams, take and defend positions, make presentations, and write blog posts.

But, our course and teaching is only a start. We are challenged to help our participants become visionaries, be creative and maintain their integrity as they solve environmental and other social problems. I would really appreciate any insight from our participants on how to make the leadership module more effective.  Examples of real-world leadership challenges are welcome.  IMG_9710



A new course “International Policies and Disaster Coordination” at Ryerson University

Dr. Alexander Belyakov (ELP 2001)

The course CKDM 115 “International Policies and Disaster Coordination” is offered separately or as a part of the Certificate in Disaster and Emergency Management at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, in the fall 2013 semester. Every Wednesday evening between September, 11 and December, 11, 2013 students will meet in a classroom to learn more about the current trends and solutions.

Disaster management is becoming increasingly complex with each new event. Unfortunately, we see more catastrophes and disasters every year. Politicians stress an importance of resilience for societies. The insurance industry experts already reported a growth of the inflation-adjusted costs of natural catastrophes from about $25bn per year in the 1980’s to an average of $130bn in the last ten years. According to the Rockefeller Foundation, cost of urban disasters in 2011 alone was estimated at over $380bn. Human survival in many cases depends on quick and smooth emergency actions.

Coordination in response has always been difficult, especially in terms of intra-agency, international and civilian-military cooperation. The future leaders in international disaster and emergency management need a complex set of coordination skills that are cross-agency and international in scope. Students will acquire skills and knowledge to become solution providers in international disaster and emergency management and coordination. This course develops the students’ analytical skills required for analyzing systems and practices of managing international disasters and emergencies. It gives an understanding of the different participants´ responses, national and international policies and laws, approaches to risk related to international disasters and emergencies.

Students will learn about examples from different industries, examine case studies of their choice, master effective coordination  strategies for international disasters with accounting for needs of different audiences and cultural differences. This course develops skills for operations on the international level and improves employability with the cross-border projects of the governmental agencies and international organisations. Students will learn how to explore a career with the United Nations.

There will be a unique case study of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Even after 27 years, the public and the academic world are experiencing difficulties with obtaining full access to relevant information. Due to this, everything discovered so far becomes more valuable. A link to the Fukushima nuclear disaster will be made. This course will use a cross-disciplinary approach and is based on theoretical frameworks from international development, international public law and policy, risk management and coordination.

The course will examine a number of cross-cutting themes, including effects of disasters on society; cultural differences in perceiving and responding to disasters; the role of disasters in international policy shaping; standards for international response; issues of liability; obstacles to risk disclosure; the role of public emergency education and the media; the role of donors in international disaster management. The course will explore case studies from different sectors by analyzing the response of national governments, industries, the international community, and donor agencies.

The discussion of proposed case studies will also be focused on coordination strategies, lessons learned from examined disasters and emergencies and how they have influenced national and international policy development. The course includes in-class discussions and group projects with presentations. It will equip students with tools to analyze international response systems and cases of disaster and emergency response coordination. We apply Democratic Classroom approach where students and an instructor are the “co-learners” and share responsibility for management and leadership of the course, co-decide many of the class activities and the course content.

Emergency coordination skills development – including team work, consensus building, collaborative decision-making, emotional intelligence, cultural sensitivity, professional ethics and critical thinking – is also an important component of this course, which allows students to better prepare for future leadership roles in coordination, policy development and implementation dealing with complexities arising during disasters and emergencies. Professionals who complete this course in emergency coordination will have better opportunities for employability in this growing field, more career chances in international organisations and can even start their own consulting firms.

If you interested in learning more about this course, please go to the course web-page at: or e-mail the instructor Dr. Alexander Belyakov at: belyakov[at]

Beyond carbon storage: the Congo Basin forest as rainmaker

Denis Sonwa (ELP 2010)

ELP alum Denis Sonwa, a scientist with  CIFOR’s Forests and Environment Programme, examines how rainfall processes would be severely disrupted without the extensive forests of the Congo Basin.

To read her full article in English click here or for a translated copy to French, Spanish, Japanese, or Indonesian click here.


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