Meet UCLA Anderson’s MBA Class Of 2021

For most, “Yes-Men” comes with a negative connotation. They are timid and unimaginative blank slates. They do what they’re told, without question or critique, terrified of causing disruption or losing their status. In recent years, “Yes-Men” has become associated with something different. They are the ones who are open to new ideas and embrace responsibility – no matter how far-fetched and demanding. “Yes-Men” are the catalysts who create opportunity and fuel change.

Jacob Markus – a first-year at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management – describes his MBA classmates as Yes-Men (and Women). Over the past six months, they have been the ones who look forward…and even beyond. The Class of 2021 is “hungry” in the words of Cindy Gao – “not satisfied with the status quo.” More than simply being dissatisfied, says Karan Khurana, his classmates are willing to act.


“One of my classmates holds a patent for his method to assess user personality for technology products. Another classmate of mine worked for years towards bringing a revolution in healthcare through Artificial Intelligence. Even at UCLA Anderson, they are more than willing to take the lead in professional club activities, initiate and organize events, volunteer with their favorite charity, and share feedback to improve the Anderson experience for the incoming classes.”

That comes from the defining qualities of the class: energy and drive. “Everyone I’ve come into contact with here so far has such a positive attitude, with an interest in exploring new ideas, paths, and concepts, and a dedication to growth and self-improvement,” writes Ariana Cernius. “There are so many opportunities at UCLA, and the general sense I get on campus is that it is a place where things move forward. The people are smart and very competitive go-getters who don’t hesitate to take the initiative, but also very friendly and have a lot of heart.”

An Anderson Greeting

And they’re a lot of fun too. While the Class of 2021 isn’t afraid of “putting in the legwork” to make things happen, adds Maura Liebendorfer, they are looking to have fun along the way. “Everyone is working hard in recruiting to prove they have what it takes to work for the sexiest companies, but they’re also laughing in the hallways about still caring too much about grades and making sure everyone makes it out to our epic events (Think: 90s party).”


So who exactly are these ‘Yes’ men and women who joined the Anderson full-time MBA program this fall? Wharton grad Jordan Barillas calls herself a “badass lesbian” who “cooks a killer meal [and] makes a killer cocktail.” Goldman Sachs alum Jessica Hodgson, admits that she is “stuck somewhere between laidback spontaneous traveler and obsessively organized spreadsheet enthusiast.” Chances are, Hodgson is a bit to the north of Jacob Markus: “On the corner of “eccentricity” and “mania” – if you hit “certainty” then you’ve gone too far.”

Markus joins the Class of 2021 from Facebook, a West Coast lifer who worked in finance. Austin Josiah is a transplant from the East Coast, another Wharton grad who made his way to being an assistant vice president at Morgan Stanley. Jordan Barillas makes it a finance trifecta. An associate at RBC Capital Markets, she created the annual Women in Treasury Conference that brings together 50 female leaders from the corner offices. Then there is Kalyn Saulsberry, a Harvard history major who has already transitioned from Google recruiting analytics to healthcare program development.

UCLA Anderson under the California sun

Ariana Cernius also earned a degree from Harvard (Philosophy) before moving on to become a UCLA JD. For the past two years, she has been a Skadden Fellow, a public interest attorney who served developmentally disabled adults in benefits disputes. “It’s a wonderful way to start a career,” she explains. “I consider it my biggest accomplishment so far because it allowed me to give a voice to a community I care deeply about and be aggressive about pursuing economic independence for them.”


Cernius wasn’t alone in saying ‘Yes’ to service. Austin Josiah launched a program that brought high school students into Morgan Stanley headquarters to expose students to finance and business careers. He even brought three students from his high school in Orlando so they could shadow him and connect with Wall Street executives over dinner.

“The students thoroughly enjoyed themselves as some had never been to NYC before or had even considered finance,” he adds. “Now, they are on track to be future Morgan Stanley Summer Analysts if they decide that it is the best path for them.”

The Class of 2021 has also made significant contributions in their careers. Cindy Gao has already set up a VC Fund – one she exited with a 112% internal rate of return. At Travelers, Caroline Ward’s due diligence added $2.5 billion dollars into their investment portfolio. Michael Vilardo’s claim to fame was being a “First 5” employee at Dispatcher, Inc. – the “uber-for-trucking” startup that has grown to 1,500 employees and became one of the largest IPOs in history. While Ward and Vilardo focused wide and global, Karan Khurana made her name in the narrow and local. She co-founded Koleshop, “an on-demand hyperlocal grocery delivery startup” that enabled small grocers to compete with larger and more sophisticated online platforms.


“Through Koleshop, I was able to transform hundreds of small businesses by providing them access to technology that helped not only to generate incremental revenue but also to manage inventory efficiently.”

Outside work, Michael Vilardo is a member of the Colombian National Hockey Team. Not only did his team win the LatAm Cup in 2018, but Valardo was the tournament’s leading scorer. Kaylan Young, an engineer by trade, maintains a side hustle outside work. She babysits dogs with Rover. In her free time, Ariana Cernius is an author. She started in academic research in college before publishing works in journals during law school. She has even finished her first book, which helps readers get their full benefits from the Social Security Administration. In true Anderson style, she is paying forward her expertise.

“I also have a small consulting business on the side where I help others get their work published.”

UCLA Anderson classroom


At UCLA Anderson, that is called “Share Success.” It is one of the three pillars that foster a culture of “collaboration, inclusion, and authenticity” among MBAs. Here, students are looking for a collective victory, to lift up their peers and support them any way you can.

“Anderson is very student-driven and student-run, meaning that we take on a lot of the initiative to get things done on campus, Kaylan Young explains. “As such, we become very busy very fast. A huge part of sharing success is taking on the burden of our fellow classmates when life gets to be too hectic, whether that be helping each other prep for interviews and sharing our past experiences with a company, or helping a classmate study for an exam where they don’t feel ready. Everybody is always ready and willing to help each other out in any way possible.”

This approach represents a welcome change for Jacob Markus. “I have seen first-hand how a competitive culture can gradually erode the genuine passion of a group. Every interaction I have had at Anderson so far has reinforced a collaborative, “one team” approach to education and recruiting. This is a breath of fresh air.”

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