2018 Best MBAs: Luana Moro Okumura, U.C.-Irvine (Merage)

Luana Moro Okumura

University of California-Irvine, Merage School of Business

“Despite all difficulties, Luana never gives up.”

Age: 30

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Hometown: Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil

Fun fact about yourself: I am the epitome of diversity in a person: I was born in Brazil, but I am also Italian, and I have a Japanese last name.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Bachelor in Law: Curitiba Law Center, Brazil

Master in Corporate Law: Curitiba Law Center, Brazil

Master in Corporate Law: University of Alcalá de Henares, Spain

MBA: University of California, Irvine, USA

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

Souza, Cescon, Barrieu & Flesch Law Firm, Brazil – Associate Lawyer (2012- 2015)

Casagrande Renewable Energy, Brazil – General Partner (2011 – 2016)

Apahuna Real Estate Development, Brazil – General Partner (2005- 2016)

Britanite Chemical Industry, Brazil – Legal Counsel (2009- 2010)

CR Almeida Real Estate Engineering, Brazil – Paralegal (2008-2009)

Professor Rene Dotti Law Firm, Brazil – Legal Intern (2007-2008)

7th Civil Tribunal Circuit, Law Clerk; Brazil – Legal Intern (2005-2006)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017?

Donahue Schriber Real Estate Private Equity Group, Costa Mesa, California

Technology Startup – Proboknow Digital Platform, Irvine, California

Where will you be working after graduation?

Experian Information Solutions, Inc., MBA Leadership Development Program, Costa Mesa, California

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Merage MBA Student Ambassador: I was one of six people chosen from my class to work at the Merage Full-Time MBA Recruitment and Admissions Office. My roles included reviewing and evaluating MBA applications, conducting information sessions, representing the school at MBA fairs, interviewing candidates, coordinating admission events.
  • 1st Place Winner amongst 90 teams of the 2017 New Venture Competition at the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and UCI Applied Innovation. One of the nation’s premier new venture competitions, it offers all UCI students, staff and researchers the opportunity to form a team, create a startup, and potentially fund their idea all within six months.
  • Finalist of 2017 UCI’s Tech Surge Competition: Tech Surge is a special track of the UCI New Venture Competition focused on UCI-generated innovations.
  • Finalist of 2017 UCI’s School of Medicine Competition
  • Recipient of the Merage Faculty Fellowship Award: Merit fellowship based on academic record, GMAT, work experience, and leadership.
  • MBA Career Champions Mentor: Career Champions is a peer-to-peer program designed to complement career support provided by Merage’s Career Center. I advise first-year MBA students in internship search, interviews and selection.
  • Executive Mentorship Program Mentee: MBA mentorship program thatconnects Orange County’s top professionals with students, allowing mentees to shadow mentors in their day to day activities. My mentor was Lawrence Casey, President and COO of Donahue Schriber Real Estate Private Equity Group, who offered me a summer internship at the PE fund.
  • The Executive Committee “TEC” Member: I was one of the 12 UC Irvine’s MBA students selected to participate to the program. TEC is a worldwide business-leadership coaching program started in 1968 and has developed over 20,000 executives since its inception.
  • The Merage School Dean’s Leadership Circle Member: DLC members are successful business professionals and executives – a majority of whom are Merage’s alumni – as well as UCI administration, faculty, staff, and students. All share a special interest in supporting business education at our world-class university while building stronger ties in the business community.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The extracurricular achievement I am most proud of during business school is the honor of being the first-place winner of the 2017 New Venture Competition (NVC) at the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and UCI Applied Innovation, where my team and I competed against 90 other teams on the Life Science Track. Our venture, VENON AID, produces a synthetic broad-spectrum antivenom material that can be applied on snake bites from various snake species through a simple patch.

I’m proud of this project because I undertook it in my second quarter at the business school, when I still had little business academic training (my pre- MBA background is entirely in law). The project was based on a technology developed by a PhD student at UCI’s chemistry department who I met during a networking event. I found the technology truly revolutionary and believed in its business potential. However, I had neither experience in life sciences nor a team to compete.

I was able to recruit a multidisciplinary team composed of a MBA classmate (biology undergrad major), a Medical School student, the PhD student and myself (JD). I learned on the go not only how to prepare my first academic business plan, but also the intricacies of FDA approval processes and clinical trials. Our team worked hard to understand all the milestones, financials, marketing, and competitors, and we convinced the eight judges that VENOM AID could be successful. We won $40,000 in cash, prizes, and in-kind growth awards, and were invited to join UCI’s Wayfinder incubator.

This project was important to me because it stretched my knowledge forcing me to learn by doing, it helped put the university research into a practical application, and has the potential to save many lives.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? (And why?)

One achievement that I am most proud of was to redevelop an abandoned dam into a one-megawatt hydroelectric power plant.

I come from a family of self-made businessmen. My father and uncles were construction workers who went on to build one of the largest real estate conglomerates in the state of Paraná – Brazil. In 20 years, the company developed 98 residential towers and 20 industrial facilities spanning across an area of over 16 million square feet. Despite its great success, in my teenage years I witnessed my father’s company go bankrupt due to overleverage and family in-fighting.

Growing up in such an entrepreneurial and innovative family, I have never strayed too far from innovation and entrepreneurship despite my legal career. While working full-time as an attorney, I always managed a small personal real estate investment company through which I bought, redeveloped, and sold properties.

In 2011, I unexpectedly came across an opportunity to venture into renewable energy that eventually led me to move on from my legal career and to pursue an MBA. Before the investment and the energy venture the city where the dam was located had frequent energy blackouts where up to five thousand people were affected by these disturbances. Thanks to the redevelopment of the hydropower facility, this region can now count on one megawatt of clean energy and the local community is now free of energy blackouts and has reduced their reliance on fossil fuel generators.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor is Devin Shanthikumar, who taught me Driving Profitability through Managerial Accounting. Professor Shanthikumar has earned degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, earned her PhD in Business Administration with a focus in Finance, and wrote cases which are used in accounting courses across the country. Her technology background and extensive experience in creating business cases allows her to bridge theory and practice extremely within the context of digital transformation. Her classes are clearly applicable to real business situations and I will certainly apply the concepts she taught us in my next professional step.

What was your favorite MBA Course My favorite MBA Course was EDGE, which is one of Merage’s feature MBA courses that explores the crucial roles of global, market, and technology forces in the business landscape as disruptive and transformative catalysts for change. EDGE is thought by Professor Vijay Gurbaxani, and has widened my views of how technology is transforming businesses and our world. This course is designed to prepare future business leaders to identify opportunities and challenges by catalysts for change, and have insights to critically evaluate their implications.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Merage for three main reasons.

First, my decision stemmed from the alumni, admissions and career center individuals, I interacted with virtually and in person while visiting the school. Taylor Martini, Associate Director of Admissions, interviewed me and gave me his perspective as both alumnus and as an admissions officer. He was very transparent and objective. After being admitted, I flew to the school and I met Chris Kovitz, Associate Director Career Center, and Christian Hansen, Associate Director of Admissions. Chris Kovitz showed me with enthusiasm the resources available to me as international student and I was impressed by the career center’s systematic approach and commitment to student success. Christian Hansen’s international background (e.g. Korea) was more evidence of the school’s global mindset and openness to diversity. The caliber and diversity of the people I met convinced me Merage was the community I wanted to be part of.

Second, I chose Merage because of the school’s outstanding faculty and curriculum. I was interested getting the Digital Transformation Certificate and in exploring a career in big data and Merage is one the most prominent and innovative schools in this field. Professor Vijay Gurbaxani’s class, EDGE, for example, allows students to explore profoundly into globalization, innovation, and technology, and it is a unique course in the U.S.

Third, I chose Merage because of the school’s location. Orange County is home to some of the most innovative industries, being a growing hub for Medical and Information technology companies. It is also home for Experian Information Services, a big data company that always has been in my radar.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into Merage is to get to know Merage’s students, alumni, admissions staff, and MBA ambassadors. People are the best source of information in figuring out if any school is the right fit for you. Merage has a very collaborative culture and a teamwork spirit is highly appreciated. Admissions wants to know you, and sometimes even the best essay and test scores cannot translate your entire personality, career goals, and aspirations.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Merage is that its small and intimate class size does not give students exposure to opportunities a bigger program would. Upon graduation, many of my classmates and I will be joining MBA graduates from much larger programs in the exact same company and position. It’s more a matter of what kind of experience during the MBA students are looking for than necessarily the post MBA opportunities.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret was not to join as many student-led international trips as I could. Being an international student myself, my focus was on learning the American way of business and education. Nevertheless, there is always room for expanding my world views a bit further.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Lisa Mae Dominia because of her commitment to excellence and compassion. Her father, an immigrant from the Philippines, had two open-heart surgeries when she was 13 and she spent a good part of her childhood raising her nephew, preparing for a professional swimming career, and studying. She was admitted to one of most prestigious high schools in California, where she joined the swimming team. Despite having to juggle academics with intense family and varsity commitments, Lisa Mae was admitted to UC Berkeley, where she studied biology and spent two years at the lab bench at the UCSF providing clinicians with data for patients that needed bone implants.

I was paired with Lisa Mae in my core group, and worked with her exhaustively with her during my first year. She was extremely sharp in everything she did while at the same time always willing to give a helping hand to others who needed it.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My family history influenced me. My father and uncles were construction workers who went on to build the largest real estate conglomerate in my home state in Brazil. After years of expansion into different lines of businesses, the company experienced financial difficulties and went out of business, causing my family to lose our house. This experience showed me first-hand the importance of a business education and led me to business school.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still practicing capital markets law in São Paulo, Brazil, and maybe not as happy and fulfilled as I am right now.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would promote more interdisciplinary integration with graduate students from other university departments. I learned valuable lessons by working with a medical student and a chemistry PhD student during UCI’s New Venture Competition.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • Get back to classic ballet. I danced classic ballet for 9 years but was stopped by my doctor because of a knee injury. I hope to get back to the stages soon!
  • Write a book. In 2012 I had the opportunity to publish an article about Joint Ventures as Limited Liability Companies at the Corporate Law Journal (Brazil) and at the Brazilian Law Institute Journal (University of Lisbon, Portugal). However, write and publish an entire book is still on my bucket list.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a kind good friend they can count on.

What is your favorite movie about business? Forrest Gump. Lesson: life (or business) is like a box of chocolates. You never really know what you will get.

What would your theme song be? “Todo se transforma” by Jorge Drexler

Favorite vacation spot: Beaches in Southern Brazil

Hobbies?I love to travel and to be in the outdoors.

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

“From the moment you meet Luana, you know she is someone special. Her personality is infectious and her desire to help others, usually by going above and beyond, is quickly evident. I had the pleasure of meeting Luana as she came through the admissions process. She was someone we knew would make a great impact on our class as everyone (staff, students and faculty) who met her were impressed by her drive and motivation, and truly enjoyed their interactions with her as an individual.

Since starting the program, Luana has given back to the school and students in many ways. As a student ambassador, Luana has interacted with hundreds of prospective students, speaking with them candidly about her experiences and guiding them through the MBA application process. As a Career Champion, she’s guided the first years through the internship search, serving as another resource for them along the journey. Luana’s hard work, drive and interpersonal skills are going to take her far in life. Her executive mentor saw the same in her and offered her a much-coveted internship at his PE fund, solely due to his interactions with her. These are the “formal” roles she’s taken on, but her normal day to day activities are what will make Luana long remembered here at Merage: her willingness to help others, her hard work demonstrated and her openness with all of her classmates.

On a personal note, relationships are very important to Luana and she builds close connections easily. Luana draws people to her with her kindness and keeps them around with her authenticity and I’m happy to be one of those people whom she’s built a strong relationship with. I look forward to keeping in touch with Luana as she thrives at Experian’s LDP program after graduation, and I’m truly honored to call Luana a fellow Merage alumna.”

Courtney Elmes

Director of Full-Time MBA

Merage Class of 2011


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