2018 Best MBAs: Melody N. Akbari, UCLA (Anderson)

Melody N. Akbari

UCLA, Anderson School of Management

“I consider myself an undercover artist and humanities major in the body of a techie.”

Age: 30

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Fun fact about yourself: I sell watercolor paintings on Etsy in the shape of famous movie, TV, and story characters.

Undergraduate School and Degree: UC Berkeley, B.A. English Literature (concentration: Shakespearean Literature)

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? TestMax, Inc. – Product Manager; ArborBridge, Co.—Product Marketing Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017 Google, Mountain View, CA

Where will you be working after graduation? Google, Sales Strategy and Operations Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: VP of Interview Prep Training—Anderson Technology Business Association; Parker Career Series TA; Anderson Ambassador Corp—Student Ambassador; Anderson Career Team Coach for Technology; Recipient of David Vickter Academic Excellence Fellowship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? It would be between being VP of Interview Prep Training (IPT) and working with an Anderson peer to build a VR-capable computer. As VP of IPT, I was not only given the opportunity to get to know the first year class so much better, but I gained a sense of helping the first years in their stressful journey of recruiting within technology. I organized three main workshops for the first years to help them gain a better high-level understanding of each aspect of the tech interview and then I organized them into small teams with second-year coaches assigned to help gain weekly one-on-one experience and practice. I organized the curriculum and materials for these weekly groups and gauged success through bi-weekly surveys, tweaking the groups every two weeks based off of feedback from the first years and second year coaches. UCLA Anderson’s culture is all about giving back and sharing success. This is something that has become ingrained in me and I look forward to joining similar programs after graduation to continue volunteering my skills and time.

Similarly, during the very first month of being at Anderson, I met Tom Burdakin, a colleague of mine in my cohort who was as interested in VR as I had been for a long time. Neither of us coming from a CS background, we had chips on our shoulders to prove that we, too, could get our hands dirty and do what we had always thought to be the impossible: build a computer from scratch. We set out to learn how to do this, purchased all the requisite parts and successfully built a VR-capable computer and purchased an oculus to go with it. We named out computer, ALAN, after a mutual hero and idol of ours, Alan Turing. Anderson Tech Business Association ended up documenting our journey with ALAN through several blog posts on his creation and we also were lucky enough to be given a booth at UCLA’s annual CES to give our fellow classmates a chance to experience VR firsthand.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a Product Manager at TestMax, I managed the LSAT product, LSATMax—a law school prep test iOS and Android app. I was employee #2 at TestMax and helped with the creation of LSATMax from the ground up, working with developers, designers, marketers, and salespeople to build the best LSAT test prep tool on the market. By the time I left the company in 2015, LSATMax was the number one LSAT prep test app on the Apple App Store and the Android App Store. I am so proud of not only all the work I put in on that app, but everything I learned at TestMax through my incredible colleagues, supervisors, and experiences within my role of LSATMax Product Manager.

Who was your favorite MBA professor?  There are many professors at UCLA Anderson that I admire and have had the privilege of taking their courses. If I were to pinpoint one, I’d choose Professor Terry Kramer. I have now taken both of Professor Kramer’s classes: Evolution & Innovation in the Global Mobile Industry, and Technology Management. The breadth and depth of Professor Kramer’s classes are incredible. Not only do we span so many relevant and interesting topics, but Professor Kramer invites amazing speakers to our class to help expand on our cases and discussions. He has taught me to look beyond the mere facts and situation of a case at hand, and instead to dive into contextual analyses surrounding the events and constantly asking myself the “so what” of every point that is brought up. I carried many of the lessons I learned last quarter from his class as tools that helped me immensely during my internship. This quarter I feel so lucky to have another chance to sit in his class and learn from his teaching methodology and the rich discussions he fosters.

Why did you choose this business school? Going to business school was a no-brainer for me. I knew I wanted to gain a formal education in business. I wanted to go to a school that not only had a strong tech program, but also fostered a strong community and network that I could hold on to far beyond graduation. UCLA has so many amazing opportunities for students interested in technology, from the top tech companies coming to campus to recruit, to amazing speakers and events on campus introducing students to innovation and disruptive products. H

However, UCLA’s pillar of sharing success was the icing on the cake. I have yet to meet a UCLA Anderson student who didn’t rave about the lifelong connections and friendships they’d made through Anderson, or who didn’t explain in detail the multitude of ways the students at Anderson had all lent a hand and helped each other at one point or another. This is what truly spoke to me and I’m so happy I made the right decision.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be passionate and be giving. Without exception, every student I have met at UCLA has brought something incredible to the table; not just through the amazing and unique experiences that they add to our cohort, but through having so much passion and enthusiasm in their goals and interests that they want to share that knowledge with their peers. I’ve learned so much in the classroom, but it can’t compare to the incredible amount of knowledge I’ve gained outside the classroom through my Anderson peers.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a really hard one to answer because I carry so much admiration for everyone in my class and for the class of 2019. To narrow it down, I would have to first mention my four Applied Management Research (AMR) teammates. AMR is one of UCLA’s options for a master’s thesis. You spend a lot time your first year considering who you want to be on your team, trying to find the perfect balance of skills and attributes to create the most holistic team moving forward. Each and every member of my AMR team is truly incredible: Varun Chalupadi, Adrienne Chang, Ryan Dumlao, and Blake Rauba. Do yourself a favor and LinkedIn stalk any of them to meet a professional I guarantee will be changing the world in a few years.

However, if I had to choose just one MBA classmate, I would choose Shu He. From the very first moment I met her, which was surreptitiously in the shared hallway of our building, I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. Shu is one of those special individuals who can somehow ace all her classes—always offering her help and time to classmates to make sure they understood the lecture, participate in every event—whether as a member or as a leader (most often the latter), initiate and organize new programs, and volunteer her time to first and second years to help with anything else they might need, all with a smile on her face—despite how tired or stressed she may be on the inside. She is a professional and a friend whom I have looked up to for a very long time. I can’t begin to explain how much she has helped me in my MBA journey and I’m so lucky to be able to call her my friend and colleague.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My grandmother. My grandmother, Iran Seifi, is the most inspirational person in my life. She is a feminist and a boss through and through. She was born in the late 1930s in Iran, was forced to leave school before she finished elementary—her father deciding that was enough education for a girl—and was married off to husband over twice her age when she was barely 12.

Despite all this hardship, she never gave up in the face of adversity. The moment she moved out of her parents’ house and into my grandfather’s, she demanded that she be allowed to go back to school, knowing that education would be her ticket to freedom. My grandfather was an enlightened man and allowed her to return to school. Despite having my mother when she was 14 and then my Aunt when she was 16, my grandmother not only finished elementary and high school, but she demanded to be allowed to apply to college. My grandmother raised my mother and Aunt while she went to college in her mid-twenties, and she went on to gain her Master’s so she could teach. She dedicated her life to teach young women in Iran that they could be so much more than any of the arbitrary limitations placed upon them.

Often, I have faced my own adversity as a woman in business and in technology. But, my grandmother, to this day, has given me the strength and courage to face any obstacle in my path. She has always told me, ‘If you are passionate about something, then ignore the challenges and just work hard towards accomplishing your dream.’ I had always wanted to pursue business, especially in the realm of technology, but my humanities background made me nervous that I wouldn’t be able to succeed in such a quant heavy world. I wasn’t as lucky as many of my cousins who live in Iran and got to spend time with my grandmother every day. But, I’ve held onto the lessons she’s taught me throughout my MBA journey and I attribute so much of my strength and success to her.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…less equipped to gain the amazing career opportunities I feel so fortunate to have today.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would love to create a program that reached out to many of the less traditional pre-MBA undergraduate degrees, e.g. English Literature, History, Biology, Rhetoric, etc. and shared the myriad of ways an MBA could help them reach career paths they never considered.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Publish a novel and travel around the world.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like to be remembered as someone who was always available to help, had a great sense of humor, and was always someone they could rely on.

What is your favorite movie about business? Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Lesson: Many businesses can be good, but to be great requires passion. It is the irreplaceable and necessary trait to create an extraordinary product or service.

What would your theme song be? “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

Favorite vacation spot: Paris, France

Hobbies? Reading fiction, learning about one new concept every week, baking, cooking, hiking with my Dad, painting with watercolors, exploring new cultures through world travel

What made Melody such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?”

“If I had to use a word to describe Melody, that word would be “fearless.” Despite the fact that she was an English Literature major in undergrad, she went after the technology industry, and she did not let anything hold her back. If she felt like she was missing something skills-wise, she’d go out and take a course. If she felt like wearing purple hair in her first few months here, she did that too. When choosing which business school to attend, even though she was accepted into a higher-ranked school, she knew that between Anderson’s resources and her own skills and experience (and through concerted effort), she could get exactly where she wanted to go…which is precisely what she did.

Not only did Melody receive a few job offers, including Google, which had been a dream of hers since undergrad, she started to emerge as a real leader among her peers. In the Parker Career Management Center, Melody became our default first choice whenever we needed a “face and voice” of Parker or UCLA Anderson. We knew we could count on her to represent us incredibly well. We chose her to be one of the TAs for our career series as well as a second year coach because she had been so successful in tech recruiting. Just a few weeks ago, Melody and I met, and she said/asked “I really want the first years I am training to be successful. What else can I do to make that happen?” She explained what she had done as a TA and coach on both a Parker team as well as a tech club prep team. She had gone above and beyond what most in similar roles had done. What I loved most though was that she genuinely displayed one of our tenets here at Anderson “Shared Success.” She measured her success by the success of the people she coached.

Melody is someone I am going to be so proud to call a fellow alumna of UCLA Anderson, and I know she will transition from student to friend!!! I look forward to that as well as what I know she will give back to Anderson when she becomes and alumna!!!”

Regina Regazzi 
Assistant Dean, Parker Career Management Center

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST: CLASS OF 2018