“I’m a poet who is trying to become more of a quant,” says Brian Schoelkopf. “I suppose you always want to go in one direction.”
If UCLA’s Anderson School of Management had a recruiting poster, the 29-year-old Schoelkopf could very well be on it. He’s a highly personable and accomplished young professional, deeply involved in the school and the community. Besides serving as president of the MBA student body, Schoelkopf also mentors disadvantaged teenagers who want to go to college or grad school.
A second-year MBA candidate at Anderson, Schoelkopf is as good a representative of the school’s collaborative culture as you could find. Just before sitting down with Poets&Quants to reflect on his MA experience at UCLA, he had been tutoring first-year students for their mid-term exam in the core finance course. The class was made up of MBA candidates with consulting and marketing backgrounds who take finance in the second quarter.
He certainly knows what that is like. After graduating from UCLA with a major in international development studies, in 2008, he went to work with Gallo Wine Co. in the company’s management development program. Schoelkopf ended up in sales, bouncing between Orange County and Los Angeles County, initially calling on retailers to sell Gallo products, leading a sales team of 26 to do the same, and finally serving as manager of sales development, where he analyzed company-wide sales to identify new opportunities to increase sales volume.
The Gallo stint taught him some hard lessons and ultimately led to a decision to get an MBA degree and learn the quant skills he had once lacked. It also afforded him the chance to meet his finance, Valerie, who now works in sales for Gallo. They were engaged over the Thanksgiving Day holiday last year and will be married next February in 2016.
He grew up in Orange County, the son of a commercial banker and a court stenographer. “I lived my entire life within a 35-mile square area,” he says. And when he graduates, it looks like he’ll be staying in the area for quite some time. After graduation, Schoelkopf will join a finance rotational program at the biotech firm Amgen in Thousand Oaks, CA, about 23 miles from campus, doing a trio of jobs in different departments.
Make no mistake, he says, his MBA experience at UCLA has been life changing. Among other things, Schoelkopf won election as president of the MBA student body, a leadership experience that has led to deep engagement with the school’s top officials and the highly collaborative student-driven culture at Anderson. It also helped the poet learn highly valuable quant skills. No less important, it directly led to both a summer internship and the full-time offer from Amgen.
His favorite classes? A corporate finance course taught by Tony Bernanrdo, who Schoelkopf says, “has an insane gift for making financial concepts relatable,” and EVI, entrepreneurial venture initiation, taught by lecturer Derek Alderton, a former McKinsey & Co. partner who had been co-head of the firm’s media and entertainment practice on the West Coast. “He really challenged us on how we carried ourselves in class projects and the logic we need to apply in starting a company or doing an acquisition,” says Schoelkopf. “It has had a lasting impact on the thought process I bring to business situations.”
Schoelkopf, who lives three blocks from the beach in Santa Monica (second years, he confides, tend to move closer to the beach), has few regrets and no misgivings about his Anderson MBA experience. “I am probably in a small minority in that everything I could have hoped to get out of the experience, I have gotten out of it.”
I knew I wanted to stay in Southern California and did the unthinkable in applying to this school and USC. I was accepted to both programs, and USC was generous with aid, but I saw a substantial discrepancy between the opportunities and decided to come here.
After being in sales for three years, I did some introspection and asked myself three questions: What is it about the job that I like most, what do I dislike, and how much of it did I want to do in 20 years?
I didn’t see my value as how well can I get along with buyers or taking people out from Tuesday to Thursday nights for business. What I really enjoyed, but didn’t have exposure to was the analysis behind the sales and marketing effort.
My biggest challenge in life so far was successfully navigating my way through my first job out of college. Gallo was great at selling wide-eyed undergrads at the opportunities they have. But you start as a field sales rep going to retail accounts and calling on them as early as 4 a.m. You spend 14 hours a day in grocery stores and CVSs just fighting tooth and nail with the six other reps selling a portfolio of wines and spirits to get ribbon shelf placement.
I went into that experience without any sales experience. I consider myself an extrovert, but that was definitely developed in that role. It was very much a sink-or-swim situation. If you do well, in 12 months you could manage five or six people who do what you had done. But you can do everything right and not be successful. A year later, I got the promotion to manage people aged from 22 to 32. That was even a bigger reality check. I could do everything right, but if my five people messed up on something I was screwed. Those two years put some hair on my chest, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.