Meet UCLA Anderson’s MBA Class Of 2021

Michael Vilardo 

University of California Los Angeles’ Anderson School of Management

“Ex-athlete serial entrepreneur who specializes in leadership and one-liners.”

Hometown: Cary, IL

Fun Fact About Yourself: Active member of the Colombian National Hockey Team – leading scorer and Gold Medal Winner at the 2018 LatAm Cup.

Undergraduate School and Major: UPenn – Philosophy, Politics, & Economics.

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Uber Technologies – Strategy & Operations Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I was a ‘First 5’ employee at Dispatcher Inc – a Stanford GSB “uber-for-trucking” startup later acquired by Uber to help begin the Uber Freight department. Working daily with two Stanford GSB MBAs and one Stanford Ph.D. building a platform that helped contribute to one of the largest IPOs in American history is special – Uber Freight now has over 1500 employees and is Uber’s fastest-growing department.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Collaborative. Everyone at UCLA Anderson has a high level intellectual horsepower and curiosity. What I believe is a major differentiator from other top programs is the “Sharing Success” amongst the class. The core values are really reflected and evidenced by the amount of shared interview prep and networking resources. I am humbled and honored to be surrounded by such genuine, giving people.

UCLA Anderson is founded on three pillars: Share Success, Think Fearlessly, and Drive Change. Which pillar resonates most with you and why? Think Fearlessly is most important to me because I’ve always been a non-conformist looking to challenge the status quo. Particularly being a part of several startups and such a disruptive company as Uber, the ability to think creatively and vocalize those ideas is a learned trait and important for aspiring entrepreneurs. As I look to further develop my entrepreneurial skillset, I love the Anderson pillar that helps push people to pursue more innovation in daily thought and practice.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? For me, the most important factor was the propensity of alumni pursuing and achieving success in technology. If you look at the preceding year employment report, 30% of Anderson alumni pursue careers in technology. As someone who came to Anderson looking to transition into a Product Manager, I felt and continue to feel strongly about the Anderson curriculum, alumni, and the Parker Career center in opening those doors for me to successfully achieve this transition. I have already accepted my internship as a Digital Product Manager at Nike for summer 2020, a large testament and thank you to Anderson in helping this come to fruition.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? The Entrepreneur Association is the group I am most excited about. For both my entrepreneurial and product management dreams, having the ability to successfully think innovatively and achieve buy-in from both internal and external stakeholders continues to become more and more important in today’s economic landscape. Learning how to successfully articulate my own ideas and constructively take criticism to better myself is the epitome of entrepreneurship, and this excites me about being around other like-minded and motivated individuals.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? How would you contribute and challenge your other classmates to be the best version of themselves?  I thought this question was so indicative of the culture at Anderson. It forced me to internalize and vocalize how I would leave a positive footprint during my time as a Bruin. It was important to the university as well as myself that I would be someone who helped others maximize their potential, pay it forward, and see the same done for my own endeavors.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? My entire life I pursued professional athletics, so the beginning of my professional career was largely hustle and grit. I did not have any clear direction, simply chasing the best companies and titles to boost my overall professional acumen. While at Uber, I realized that  I would need to have a CS background or systematically manage the bureaucracy in hopes of achieving being a project manager 4-5 years from now. When I realized many PMs came from top tier MBA programs, I instantly zoned in on an MBA. My top two professional paths/dreams are product management and entrepreneurship, both of which are be aided by an MBA.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? HBS, NYU Stern, Berkeley Haas, MIT Sloan, USC Marshall.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? It was most important to find a place where I could be my authentic self and develop close friendships with my peers. While at Penn, due to my focus on athletics, I did not take advantage of the network or focus on developing friendships. In my MBA experience, I wanted to put a priority on qualitative lifestyle and achievements. As one ponders MBA choices, it is incredibly important to factor in the city and network you are building, in addition to the industry or function of work. UCLA offers an unparalleled network in LA and the Greater West Coast, especially strong in technology. The cross-over symmetry made the choice rather seamless. I am thrilled with my decision and am excited to continue to grow professionally and personally.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? I graduated in three years from UPenn so I could better position myself for a career in athletics, playing my final season at Purdue on scholarship in the Big Ten. While there, I came to the realization that I would never play professionally. While this was a crushing moment at the time – after dreaming of professional hockey or baseball from ages 3 to 22 – it forced me to dig deep and re-identify myself with my personality and professional skill set. I re-introduced myself to me and focused on how I would build a life in the business world. This led me to join a startup, being acquired by Uber, starting my own company HomeTech LLC, and applying/accepting my offer to UCLA Anderson.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? I see myself either going down the Product Management ladder at Nike – achieving a Director or Senior Director of Product Management role – or running my own company. As someone focused on PM, the “mini-CEO” description excites me most about continuing to build my entrepreneurial skillset. I feel both my PM and entrepreneurship dreams are mutually benefited by one another, and I’m excited to be open to unique opportunities throughout my career.

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