By Deanna C. White
It's easy to assume that when Vivian Wei, tax consultant for Deloitte in San Francisco, California, won the prestigious title of Miss San Francisco this March, the judges were wowed by her tap dance routine to Chicago's Hot Honey Rag in a pink, rhinestone-studded gown, as well as her regal demeanor in the evening gown competition.
But, if you ask Wei, she believes an entirely different skill set helped her lock in the title.
"I think I really excelled in the private interview with the judges before the stage competition", Wei said. "If they like you right off the bat they're going to be looking for you."
Wei credits the poise and communication skills she used to ace that interview and her onstage question to one source: the rigorous public presentation training she received in her finance and economics classes at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business.
"In school, I had to do a lot of projects and presentations. I got more comfortable speaking in front of my peers and professors", Wei said. "This translated into my personal and professional life. I'm a much more confident person, and I think my education at Haas truly prepared me for all the challenges I'm facing now."
On March 18, the judges crowned twenty-two-year-old Wei to be one of two contestants to compete for Miss California in June. If she wins that title, she and Sara Choi, a Harvard alumna who won Miss Golden Gate, will vie for the coveted Miss America crown.
"I still can't believe it", said Wei. "I was just being myself and putting my talents to good use."
One person not the least bit shocked by Wei's win is her former teacher, Dr. Nora Silver, professor and director of the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at Haas.
Silver said Wei was a student in the university's first Economics of Philosophy class, a pioneering seminar sponsored by philanthropist Doris Buffett and the Learning by Giving Foundation, which required teams of students to advocate for a $10,000 grant to a nonprofit organization of their choice.
Silver said Wei's presentation advocating for a summer internship program for the East Bay Asian Youth Center demonstrated her authentic concern for the cause. It also proved her ability to analyze a nonprofit's leadership and hard financials and to present complex information to an audience in an engaging way.
"You believe what she is saying because she is truly genuine", Silver said. "When I first heard she won the Miss San Francisco title, I thought, 'Who better?' because she is so grounded, so level. She is never self-promoting. I thought, 'Good for the pageant for picking her'."
Wei said she has competed in pageants since her junior year of college, but the Miss San Francisco title is her biggest win to date. In the high-stress world of public accountancy, Wei said, pageants are simply her way of keeping her life balanced and well-rounded.
"Everyone needs balance, and this is just my way of achieving that", Wei said.
She also likes the fact that her win shatters the traditional stereotype of the stuffy, Norman Rockwell-esque accountant – not just for her, but the entire profession.
"So many people I work with have interesting hobbies outside of work", Wei said. "Sometimes people put accountants and CPAs into the boring box. I think a lot of people feel like me. They don't want to be put in that box."
Wei plans to work for approximately five years and then apply to graduate school to earn her MBA and pass her CPA exam. She'll apply her salary savings and pageant winnings toward her future education.
The confidence the pageants have given her, and the demands to present herself well in the public eye among many diverse audiences, Wei believes, will help her along that road as well.
"Whatever path I follow I will always have the soft skills I developed here. I will always know how to talk to both partners and associates. I will always be able to be appropriate in every situation", Wei said.