Los Angeles comes with a certain reputation. It is a place, you’ll hear, that is filled with plastic and picky people – ’40 cities without a soul’ to borrow a famous line. Here, some say, you are judged on how you look, what you drive, who you know, and how much you earn. Niceness is naïveté and honesty is hostility.
Generations ago, Los Angeles was the final stop on the gold rush, a place where making it big was still possible. Now, some frame it as 13 million people with their bags packed – worn down by the crowds, costs, and crime, but unable to leave the sun, sand, and surf.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
You could count Sami Sciacqua among them. Growing up near Berkeley, she moved to Santa Monica to work for Oracle, where she eventually became an enterprise regional manager. Admittedly, she “loathed” the idea of LA at first – “the traffic, the flashy cars, the celebs – no thanks.” Since arriving four years ago, the UCLA Anderson first-year MBA is ready to make LA home “for the long haul.”
“LA truly has everything,” she tells P&Q. “There’s art, music, sports, DELICIOUS food, and microcosms of culture everywhere you turn. My personal LA favorite: you can surf and ski in the same day! From a professional standpoint, LA is a particularly great place to earn an MBA due to availability of academic internships and proximity of business leaders already living in or visiting LA from across the globe.”
Familiarity breeds contempt. Let’s face it: TV and movies have made everyone a de facto resident of Los Angeles. As an Angeleno, you take the bad with the good – and there are more possibilities here than almost anywhere else. That’s one reason MBA candidates flock to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. It is a program deeply rooted in the most promising segments of business: technology, entertainment, entrepreneurship, and real estate. Better yet, it is located in the heart of global culture creation and recreational technology growth.
DIVERSE ON ALL SCALES
Oh, do you enjoy the perks when you live in LA! Just ask the MBA Class of 2022. Start with the weather – a never-ending summer where temperatures range in the 70s. Ben Antoine, a Boeing engineer, can’t even remember wearing more than a wind breaker around town. That’s not to say MBAs can’t do more than just lounge in the sun. After all, within a two hour drive of LA – sans traffic – there are snowy mountains to ski along with oceans to swim and forests to hike (and deserts to avoid). That doesn’t count restaurants, shops, museums, and theme parks, adds Gabriella Pesce Eliezer, a senior analyst at Kimberly Clark.
“There are so many things going on that FOMO (fear of missing out) will be something you will definitely experience.”
Frank Lloyd Wright, the acclaimed architect, is credited with saying, “Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.” It was a nod to the city’s transient and diverse nature. That has been a big part of the city’s charm for Nahum Armas Fuentes, an engineer and account manager before arriving in Westwood.
“As a lover of learning different cultures, Los Angeles’ multicultural society makes it a unique place to have the opportunity to learn from different heritages without the need to fly all over the world. As a bonus, there is a fun fact that Los Angeles has the second-highest Mexican population in the world, after Mexico City. I am privileged that I would not miss Mexican food with so many Mexican restaurants spread around LA!”
“THE SKY IS TRULY THE LIMIT”
That diversity extends to the region’s commercial sector. The LA area is a leader in information technology, entertainment, aerospace, and international trade. This creates a wealth of opportunities for young professionals to pursue, says Ben Antoine.
“Since moving to LA, I have been afforded the opportunity to work as an engineer, stunt performer, and disc jockey. I can’t think of another city that encompasses the best of these worlds in such a fashion. That said, I believe LA is a perfect city to venture into any industry, post-MBA. Looking for tech? Silicon Beach is here for you! Entertainment? Hollywood is right at your feet! The sky is truly the limit in LA.”
That starts with Silicon Beach – a name loathed by the locals. The region starts around Santa Monica and stretches south to Playa Vista and east to Culver City. Here, Google and Facebook employ 2,000 and 300 people respectively. You’ll also find YouTube and TikTok here, with SpaceX considered an honorary beach-goer (even if Elon Musk has the company ticketed for Texas). Hulu was launched here, as were brand names like Snap, Dollar Shave Club, LegalZoom, and The Honest Company. The area is, no doubt, a startup hub. Last year, over 7,000 investors lined up to invest in nearly 5,000 ventures, with exits hitting $8.4 billion dollars.
Indeed, the region also boasts some impressive natural synergies. The region is considered the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” employing 160,000 people and supporting another 13,000 service firms. The entrenched players include Walt Disney, Paramount, Dreamworks, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, and Sony. Their entertainment projects lend themselves to growing arenas like music recording, virtual reality, and augmented reality. At the same time, the industry’s creative and technical expertise can be plied in outlets like gaming. Not surprisingly, Silicon Beach has become ground zero for game development, home to industry leaders like Activision Blizzard (Call of Duty), Riot Games (esports), and Jam City (Cookie Jam). On top of that, Amazon, Apple, and HBO are busy finishing their centers in Culver City. Once COVID passes, you could find the top streamers all within walking distance of each other.
“AN EXPANSIVE STATE OF MIND”
All of this, of course, means opportunity for Anderson MBAs from the Class of 2022. “Los Angeles is home to business of all sizes and industries,” explains Jordan Budisantoso, a teacher and U.S. Army reservist. “UCLA is also nestled in between Silicon Beach and Hollywood entertainment. Moreover, there is a good mix of startups and established companies which makes Los Angeles a perfect place to explore all kinds of industries and functions through academic internships during the school year, informational interviews/coffee chats, and so much more.”
Kelly Zhang headed up product development for an insurance plan before joining the Class of 2022. She believes Los Angeles’ energy gets students into an “expansive state of mind.” In reality, Anderson MBAs were big thinkers and dogged doers long before business school. Take Jordan Budisantoso. Four years ago, he was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves and a math teacher for Teach For America in Miami. Back then, he made a life-changing decision: moving to Washington D.C. to co-found a charter high school and build a four-year computer sciences program there.
“It was a heavy responsibility,” he admits. “Families were entrusting us with their children’s futures. The risk for school founders and the families they serve is high: only one in five charter schools are successful. The possibility of failing some of the most disenfranchised kids in the city was daunting. The possibility of putting in every ounce of effort and still coming up short was frightening.”
That didn’t happen. Instead, Budisantoso helped the school land a $10 million dollar grant. In the process, he spearheaded the development of three virtual reality apps that he incorporated into the classroom to make learning more practical and real. “Without any reservation, the biggest accomplishments in my life thus far are being an integral part in our school’s opening, leading students to produce the highest number of passers on the AP Computer Science exam in the city, and seeing our founding class to high school graduation and beyond.”
Budisantoso wasn’t alone in taking risks. Garima Narang started out as a chemical engineer. However, she parlayed her passions for technology, strategy, and innovation into a food startup. Alexandre Moritz is an actual French bistro chef, who has learned alongside world-class peers who’ve practiced at their craft at some of America’s best restaurants. He followed a similar path as Narang, eschewing a comfortable role for a fulfilling mission.
“The hardest decision I’ve had to make thus far in my life was to leave my investment banking job to begin a new journey learning to cook in Paris, France,” Moritz explains. “I’d describe myself in many ways, but “fearless” would not be one of them. Making that decision was a huge developmental moment for me where I chose to own my future and make a pretty significant move geographically and with respect to my career. I think those themes of risk, change, and fearlessness are all relevant to the business school experience.”
The Class of 2022 has certainly racked up the accolades. Ben Antoine, for one, was chosen from a select pool to be a stunt performer for motion capture work in Avatar. Lincoln Sedlacek drove millions of dollars in client business by organizing a professional learning conference that attracted over 400 attendees and boosted his nonprofit’s net promoter score above 35. Along the same lines, Sami Sciacqua hit 430% of her annual quota at Oracle last year, becoming the North America Digital Enterprise Sales MVP there. Still, that actually wasn’t Sciacqua’s biggest achievement as a professional.
“My defining moment was sitting in a room full of executives, majority male, all with 20+ more years of experience, and I commanded the attention of the room. It prepared me for business school by validating that I can drive change and make a positive impact, even without knowing all the answers.”
ADJUSTING TO A NEW NORMAL
Outside work, Jordan Budisantoso has performed magic in the White House….when he wasn’t busy conducting an Arctic expedition for National Geographic. Ben Antoine has competed on America Ninja Warrior four times. While Kelly Zhang excels in zombie survival games, she could probably learn a thing or two from Emily Dinino.
“I received formal zombie training and endured hours of zombie makeup to appear in the film Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.”
The start of class hasn’t been apocalyptic for first-years, but the move to virtual hasn’t been what was expected, either. Lincoln Sedlacek, frankly, called it stressful. Over time, he has grown inspired by the class’ response to adversity. The class has worked closely to minimize time zone differences and ensure no students get left behind academically and socially. And they’ve had some fun along the way too.
“Anderson students are engaged,” observes Sami Sciacqua. “In this virtual world, we are all adjusting to a new normal. My peers have been so impressive in their drive and excitement to build a community. From socially distant hike/golf/beach meet ups, to Zoom Zumba classes, to virtual happy hours, to already building apps to enhance our learning experience, my classmates show up and make things happen.”
Pages 2: Class Stats and Interview with Associate Dean Robert Weiler
Page 3: In-depth profiles of 10 members of the Class of 2022