2017 MBAs To Watch: Melanie Henderson, U.C.-Irvine (Merage)

Melanie Henderson

University of California, Irvine, The Paul Merage School of Business

“Insightful, kind, and dependable with a relentless sense of humor.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Roseville, California

Fun fact about yourself: I ride horses competitively and I have a horse with one eye named Pirate. Since he was untrained and only had one eye, I adopted him for free so his show name is “Pirated Edition.”

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of California, Irvine – B.A. Business Economics, Minor in Management

University of California, San Diego, Extension – Professional Certificate in Accounting

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? CBIZ MHM, LLC – Senior Audit Associate

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? Taco Bell – Irvine, California

Where will you be working after graduation? Taco Bell – Associate Manager, Finance

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Faculty Fellow
  • Merage MBA Student Ambassador
  • 2016 Admits Weekend Co-Chair
  • Nespresso Sustainability MBA Challenge 2016, Semi-finalist
  • Fast FWD Startup Competition 2016, 2nd place
  • Career Champion (mentor for incoming 1st year MBA students interested in finance)
  • The Executive Committee “TEC,” Member
  • Challenge 4 Charity, Member/Volunteer

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of becoming a Student Ambassador and Co-Chairing our 2016 Admits Weekend. Co-Chairing our Admits Weekend gave me the unique opportunity to show prospective students, who were on the fence about multiple schools, that Merage was the best option. For students who had Merage as their top choice, it was an opportunity to give them reassurance in their decision. In fact, two of our current 1st year students who attended the 2016 Admits Weekend found it so impactful that they became Student Ambassadors this year to help run the 2017 Admits Weekend.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am the most proud of earning my CPA license. I am especially proud that I passed 3 of the 4 CPA exams within a 2 month period during busy season. Each exam normally takes an applicant around 2 to 3 months to pass, so passing 3 exams within a 2-month period was a huge accomplishment, especially with the reduced study time resulting from a full busy season workload.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Jayaram Uparna because he always challenges his students and holds them accountable for the quality of their work and class contributions. Although Jay is sometimes quick to cut off insufficient answers, he is even quicker at giving positive feedback and guidance. He truly cares about his students and pushes them to their highest potential.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite course was Power and Politics. The greatest insight I learned is that power and politics are imperative in business because of the relationship dependencies that effect (and can inhibit) our ability to create change. To manage effectively and diagnose these dependencies, a power diagnosis is imperative; you must understand the rules of the game, agenda, players, and your own political means so that you can be successful and accomplish your goals.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose to pursue my MBA at the Paul Merage School of Business for a multitude of professional reasons including the location, the high quality of professors and staff, new state-of-the-art building, access to over $700,000 in software and research licenses, small class sizes, individualized attention, and Merage’s flexibility to tailor my program experience to my pursuit toward corporate finance. Personally, I attended Merage because of the unique diversity of the class and the program’s collaborative and inclusive culture.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The most enjoyable part of business school has been the collaborative culture at Merage and the inspiration and insights that my classmates have given me to develop new perspectives. We have a small class size (usually only up to ~100 people in each year) and everyone works together to network for internships as well as work on school projects. The small class size and large diversification in career goals, allows the student body to be very supportive rather than competitive since we are not all fighting for the same job positions.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? I was dreading working in groups before the MBA program and I was surprised to find that it has actually been one of the best parts of the program. My first year core group was extremely diverse and functioned much better than any team I worked with in undergrad (and even in my work experience in public accounting).

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Network!!! Reach out to the Full-Time admissions staff, current students and alumni. My classmates all come from different backgrounds, so there is definitely no “cookie cutter” applicant, but we do have a very collaborative culture where personality fit is very important and thus referrals are highly valued.

What is the biggest myth about your school? If we are talking about actual “myths” the biggest one I heard while an undergrad was that a fraternity lost their house on campus because they made a waterslide down the staircase INSIDE the house! My research into its accurateness has been inconclusive.

If we are talking about perceived stereotypes, then I imagine they would be similar to most business schools. My biggest fear was that classmates would be extremely competitive over grades and would therefore withhold skills and information to strengthen their relative position. This fear was proved exponentially incorrect by the huge amount of support that I have received from my fellow classmates throughout the program.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Both horseback riding and business school have taught me to look at losses and failures as opportunities and learning experiences. I have no regrets because everything I did or did not do in business school led me to where I am now.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Christian Johnson because of his unique ability to make people feel valued and important regardless of their contribution and background. This guy could make friends with anyone!

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that I wanted to transition from a career in public accounting to corporate finance and that an MBA would help me develop/strengthen the skills necessary for a smooth transition.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…really sad that I didn’t pursue my MBA and therefore missed the opportunity to “Live Mas” at my upcoming position at Taco Bell.:

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? The University of California, Irvine has many different graduate programs including a law school, a medical school, and many different PHD programs. We currently allow for joint MD-MBA and JD-MBA programs, where we gain exposure to a few of our fellow UCI community members, but only when the law school and medical school students pursue their MBA. If I were dean for a day, I would require our MBA students to take at least one relevant course offering from one of our other graduate school programs to increase their network of relationships.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term career goal is to leverage my previous experience as an auditor in public accounting and my future experience in corporate finance to become the CFO at a start-up corporation.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would want to thank my parents for supporting me in my passion for horseback riding despite the financial burden. Horses have shaped my life choices, and consequently my personality for the past 20 years. There is an immense amount of responsibility associated with owning a horse. At the age of 11, I mucked stalls and at 16, I chose to come home early from junior prom to prepare for an early morning horse show the following day. While other high school students obsessed about social status, I was teaching horseback riding lessons in order to pay for my next show.

From a young age I learned the mantra, “If you fall off, get back on the horse.” While the repercussions can be dangerous, this taught me humility and perseverance. These acquired traits coupled with the entrepreneurial and managerial skills I gained from Co-founding the Equestrian Team at UCI while in undergrad have impacted how I handle unforeseen issues in the workplace and in life. I no longer view challenges as struggles, but as opportunities to improve.

Some additions have no remedy. However, the side effects of my equestrian activities resulted in an innate ability to identify problems, an unrelenting work ethic, and an unwavering positive attitude. Now I have the adaptation skills necessary to take on complex issues, and the confidence to seek new endeavors in both educational and professional fields. None of this would have been possible without the financial and emotional support from my parents.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as someone who challenged them to be a better person both personally and professionally, but most of all I would like to be remembered as kind.

Favorite book: Harry Potter Series

Favorite movie or television show: Good Will Hunting

Favorite musical performer: Eric Church

Favorite vacation spot: Cape Town, South Africa

Hobbies? Horseback riding, hiking and hanging out at the beach.

What made Melanie Henderson such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Melanie was a welcome student in my class. Not only were her responses thoughtful and relevant, but also revealed her uncanny ability to precisely address the concerns that others were voicing. Time and again, her opinions resonated in class, and lead to a deeper discussion of the issue at hand – something that I greatly value and treasure. She is thoroughly considerate and a team player, and a well-rounded intellectual. I am sure that Melanie will reach great heights and will be the pride of any organization or school that she was, is or will be, a part of.”

Dr. Jayaram Uparna

Power and Politics in Organizations



Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.