2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Olivia Mell, Columbia Business School

Olivia Mell

Columbia Business School

“I use my voice—in song, on stage, or in a boardroom—for good.”

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Fun fact about yourself: While working as a theater actress in New York City after college, I was simultaneously directing children’s theater programs at different schools throughout the city and bartending nights for 7 years at Blondies Sports Bar, a favorite of Upper West Side locals.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Brandeis University – B.A. in Theater Arts, Minor in English & Anglo-American Literature

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was a full-time musician and performer (artist moniker Olivia Jane), and running my own brand through my entertainment & production entity, Capture 10 Productions.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? MBA Summer Contractor in Strategic Partnerships and Brand Marketing for entertainment marketing agency memBrain, LLC., located in Los Angeles, CA.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be entering the Leadership Development program (full-time management rotation program) at AT&T.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I was a Peer Advisor for the incoming class of 2022 and served as my PA team’s Cluster Lead, helping both my team and 70+ incoming first years navigate the school’s new normal during the pandemic. For two years I have organized and co-led the West Coast Trek for the Media Management Association at CBS, in my first year as a team AVP (in-person in Los Angeles) and this year as the team VP (for our virtual trek). I am also the Co-President of CBS Follies, a bi-annual comedy show beloved by students, faculty, and staff alike. During the pandemic, it has been lauded as the strongest unifying force of the CBS community. Our most recent show in fall 2020, Follies: Egregious, actually received a glowing write-up in P&Q!

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am particularly proud of the work that Follies has done in the past year since I’ve had the pleasure and honor of being the club’s Co-President. In a particularly trying year, when our school went almost completely online, traditional filming techniques were impossible. At the same time, the morale of the entire school was suffering from the pandemic. Despite this, the incredible ragtag group of Follies supporting cast and crew was able to come together and find new ways to continue to give our show to the community. The spirit of Follies stayed strong despite everything. We all worked very hard together to create shows that could not only help us as a club feel connected to our school again, but to help the whole CBS community feel connected back to each other and to CBS while watching the show. Where there were restrictions, we found new solutions and where there was pain, we found the laughter—because the show must go on.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the release of my album of original blues-rock music, Between Earth and Air by Olivia Jane. I have had many meaningful artistic experiences in my career, but this was the most significant as it took the most guts, and I put my whole self into it. I wrote, performed, co-produced, published, released, and marketed this record and its subsequent music videos as my own production entity and brand leader. It was my first experience of truly leading a media brand and launching product while also being the creative force and vision behind it. It was this venture that made me want to go to business school, to continue to bridge the gap between the creative and the executive, both in myself and in the entertainment industry at large.

Why did you choose this business school? It was crucial for me to choose a business school that had a strong curriculum in media and entertainment as well as a robust bi-coastal alumni network in that industry. Columbia not only had the unparalleled finance and core MBA curriculum that I knew I needed, it also had a dedicated Media & Technology curriculum that fit my goals perfectly. Among the few business schools with reputable media programs, Columbia also had the strongest alumni network which spanned New York and Los Angeles. It was also particularly interesting to me that CBS labeled its curriculum Media & Technology, which signaled to me that CBS uniquely understood the overlap and continued merge of the two industries, and that I would need a strong technology foundation in order to maximize my success post-MBA.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Columbia Business School has a tradition called “CBS Matters” that I think is an essential ingredient to its secret sauce. CBS Matters is a ritual storytelling opportunity for any student or faculty member to share what matters to them with their peers and community members in a safe, supportive space. It is an incredible way to get to know your classmates on a profound level, establish trust, and make meaningful connections. For the presenter, it is a uniquely welcoming way to allow yourself to be as vulnerable, silly, and open as you want or need to be with your peers—it’s a space to truly express yourself. This tradition tells me how much CBS values the innermost parts of its students, what makes them tick, what fuels their passions, and how they can lead with empathy. CBS is committed to community-building, and CBS Matters is a huge part of that.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Let’s put COVID-19 aside (because I’m sure we’d all do some things differently from the start if we knew the pandemic was in our future). Looking back, I think I would have pushed myself to take more rigorous finance classes after the core, and maybe even explore the Value Investing program. Because of Columbia Business School, I am fascinated by the subject and industry for the first time in my life – and I want to continue to learn more of CBS’s bread-and-butter! I will say that I will definitely be one of the alums taking advantage of lifelong learning at Columbia, because there’s never an end to expanding your mind through what this school has to offer.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the “typical business school student” does not exist anymore, at least not at CBS. Every single one of my classmates has a fascinating story, an interesting background that is different from the next person’s, and something truly unique to bring to the table. And even after nearly two years with them, there are more and more layers to uncover about these amazing and brilliant people.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I knew that CBS was my dream school and so I applied Early Decision. I believe this helped a great deal in signaling to the school that I had very specific goals in mind for which CBS was uniquely suited to help me achieve, and that I would take full advantage of what the school had to offer. I also sat in on classes, attended MBA tour events, asked as many questions as I could of admissions reps, and spoke to a number of current students about their experiences at CBS. It went a long way for me in terms of knowing exactly why CBS was right for me, and helped to establish some great connections early on that became meaningful friendships.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Chanel Washington is my fellow Co-President of Follies, and a certified badass (if you’ll forgive the expression). Though she is nearly six years my junior, I am learning from her every day. She is passionate and she is compassionate. She is brilliant and she is curious. She has a powerful voice and helps others find theirs. She is a great leader, she is a teammate. She is an incredible partner, she is an even better friend. Chanel and I work very closely together nearly every day on Follies, and we were also on the same Peer Advisor team during orientation week for the incoming class of 2022. Chanel has dealt with challenge after challenge throughout her whole life and overcome a tremendous amount of adversity, which she continues to meet head-on every day. I’ve watched her do it time-and-again, and it never stops her from pushing forward, kicking butt, and taking names. Chanel makes me a better leader, a more critical thinker, and a better human the more time I spend with her, and I can’t wait to see how she takes McKinsey by storm next year.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? At first, it was a logistical nightmare. Eventually, we got our groove with Zoom and the HyFlex model and I feel extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to see some of my classmates safely in person a few times throughout this rollercoaster of a year. From a personal standpoint, making all of the shifts required after COVID-19 hit was disruptive for all of us, emotionally, psychologically, and for some, physically. As a community, we have found ways to keep the ties that bind us from loosening or breaking, and we’ve soldiered on with renewed tenacity and resilience that will stay with us as we all move on to the next phase of our journey, post-CBS.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? As I was running my artist brand and beginning to explore what else could be possible in my career, I met a powerhouse of a woman, Karen Williams, who became my mentor. Karen got her MBA at UCLA Anderson, worked in media and entertainment for many years, and devoted much of her career and life to helping develop female leaders. I had a lot of doubts about myself when we met, and saw any business school as a pipe dream, let alone a school like Columbia. Karen saw something in me then that I couldn’t see—she not only saw the MBA as possible for me, she also saw it as fated, my natural and necessary next step and that it could be and should be a Columbia MBA. Throughout my whole discovery and application process, Karen pushed me farther than I had ever been pushed. The more I worked with her, the more I saw what she saw—I could envision the future that I wanted. Most importantly, I began to believe that I deserved it. I am forever grateful to Karen for helping to bring forth my power, even when I thought I had none.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? One is that I would like to lead or be part of a strategic team that is introducing an innovative and disruptive product to the media space. Another is that I would like to truly unify my creative and business yin and yang by being an executive producer on a socially relevant and meaningful film project or television show. It has always been my goal to have a voice in the conversation, and to use that voice for good—to spearhead an important project with creative vision and a good producer’s mind would be incredibly fulfilling.

What made Olivia such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Olivia is an invaluable member of the community as she and the Co-President of Follies have worked tirelessly to keep CBS traditions alive, even virtually. Her time commitment and dedication to the CBS community is not only recognized with her tremendous work on Follies this year, but also the partnerships she has fostered with the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) and the Career Management Center (CMC). She is also an active leader in the Media Management Consulting Association where she worked diligently on a virtual trek for club members. Olivia was a Fall 2020 Peer Advisor where she held the role of Cluster Lead; meaning she was not only tasked with helping assimilate 550+ new first year business school students in a brand new virtual environment but also help lead a team of her peers who navigated a new virtual landscape for the first time.”

Scott Siegel Ortiz
Senior Associate Director, Student Life and Engagement
Office of Student Affairs



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