My Story: From Gallo Wine To UCLA’s Anderson School

The best advice I have ever gotten was was from one of my first bosses at Gallo. She told me my IQ was solid but that my EQ needed improvement. If you invest in your people, the results will follow. If you invest your time and effort in supporting people and training them and making them feel confident they can do the job, hitting the quotas would just happen. At the time, I was 23 years old. I had a lot to learn and still do but I was definitely more on the cop side as a sales manager and she was really good at saying you can’t be so exclusively focused on the case they sell in any given day or week. You have to be focused on them as people first.

As I moved up in sales management, I was thinking more about setting goals and identifying new opportunities. I wanted to know more about the quantitative side and pricing. Being right on the pricing has a huge impact on the business and all those things made me think I wanted to round out my experience in finance. So when I arrived on campus, I had a pretty clear idea in my mind for what I wanted to accomplish and that road map stayed static.

Before I went to business school, I talked to others who had gotten their MBA degrees and asked what I should be looking for. Filling out the financial and technical skill set was something I wanted to do. But someone I respected told me that going to business school is important because you will develop a 500-foot view as to how the whole enterprise comes together. I have really gotten that at Anderson. Two years ago, if you asked me what operations does, I would tell you logistics—but I really wouldn’t have had a deep idea of the levers of operations or any of the other different business units in a company.

The culture here is one in which people value the success of their peers equally with their own personal success. There is clearly a lot that goes into that. When I was going through the recruiting process last year as a first year, you know that your path to the internship you want goes through the people who went to that company already—second-year students and alumni. They are a big factor in your success in the process. That is kind of intimidating because you don’t want to reach out too early. So you are tentative when you start the process. The amount of effort by the people I reached out to was amazing. They didn’t just do a 20-minute phone call but multiple calls throughout the process. That is an experience most people have.

In my case, there are a lot of Anderson people at Amgen. But the year before I came here no one went into the finance function at company. There were four people who only joined Amgen in the past two years, and they were great at pulling me through the process.

Among current students, there were people doing the same function but at different companies. Yet, even if they worked at Visa, they made sure I had the right tools to get where I wanted to be. People say a network is valuable to them but they don’t know exactly what that means.

In the fall quarter, I had the same conversation probably 20 different times with students in my class. It’s so much busier than I thought it would be, they would say. These are people who already have jobs and signed their offers. You think second year your grades don’t matter. You already have an offer from your internship and that is a big monkey off your back. But all of us were almost as busy as the first years going through these things because we were so heavily involved in helping the first years go through the program.

My advice to an Anderson applicant? Think about why you would be not just a good fit but a net contributor to the culture at Anderson. If you look at the things that define the school, it is that culture. We bat nearly 1,000 on getting people who are a good fit for that. So clearly the people who are making these decisions are really good at seeing people who can add to it. If you are a good fit, demonstrate how you are through the application process.

One of the big surprises for me was how well I’ve gotten to know my classmates. In my high school graduating class, there were 700 people. At Anderson, we’re a 350- to 400-sized class. How intimate the community could be with 350 in a class was surprising to me. But that was the second biggest surprise I had. The biggest surprise occurred when I was elected a first year section president and then president and had a lot of exposure to the administration. I have weekly meetings with Rob Weiller (associate dean of admissions for the MBA program) and Susan Judkins (assistant dean and director of MBA student affairs) and monthly meetings with Dean Judy Olian  and Mark Garmaise (senior associate dean of the MBA program). I have been continuously blown away by how responsive they have been to the students. I could not believe how quickly and how sincerely they responded to to us on every thing from broad infrastructure changes like being disadvantaged in recruiting because we start later to complaints about the lack of urinal dividers in the restroom outside Korn Auditorium. It was a small and silly thing in some ways, but two weeks later the dividers were installed.

The dean has heard us and is running full steam with it. What we’re taking a serious look at right now is whether we can start earlier and what kind of pre-learning opportunities we can do. We have accounting and Excel classes early but how can we front load that pre-orientation experience. The start dates of other programs show that Kellogg and Stanford start a week late than us, but most MBA programs start earlier. I have been able to make changes at Anderson that will outlive myself and the cabinet I work with for a long time.

When I ran for president, I basically said that we are all here at Anderson and we have just this amazing thing going on. Everyone here loves the school. There isn’t much that could be done to improve it as far as we’re concerned. And yet there is some kind of chasm that separates those overwhelmingly positive internal feelings with the external perceptions. It doesn’t feel like the No. 18th school, according to Businessweek. The way to do that is to better expose what is going on here through alumni engagement and through non-alumni in the local business community. We were convinced that if we could get more people in the external community interacting with our current students more people would come around.

As a prospective student, I remember I had this very distinct feeling that Anderson was an undervalued stock. The faculty here is insanely good. The intellectual capital rankings reflect that. The students are so competent, friendly and warm. It’s in Los Angeles so how could we possibly be ranked 18th. The school just felt like an undervalued stock at the time.

I have some theories on it. It goes back to the history of Anderson. About 30 years ago, the value proposition was very different. As a public university, Anderson was awarding a relatively cheap MBA. The program was very good, but the value proposition was fantastic. You paid dimes on the dollar to go here versus one of our peers. If you were the dean, you didn’t have to do much beyond that. The value was in the discount for the education.

In recent years, with less funding from the state and a move to self-sustaining status last year, we no longer offer the same value proposition. In the past five years, it became clear that now that we were charging tuition rates nearly equal to our peers, the ancillary things have to be on par with everything else. When Judy came to the school, they started looking at student satisfaction. In the last five years, the improvements have been huge in every facet of the school from admissions to career management and alumni relations. Essentially, Anderson was a good public company that was taken private and significant changes have been made. The career center is one that is ranked second in the country and they took the ARM project (a 20-week capstone project with companies dubbed with the unsexy title Applied Research Management) and improved it dramatically. Anderson has gone from a pure discount value proposition to an MBA experience that is now as good or better than any other school and that word is starting to trickle out. The applications are up. The recruiters who come here for our students have increased. Our rankings are improving. We have started to reap the dividends of these changes.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.