2021 MBAs To Watch: Eric Williams, UC Irvine (Merage)

Eric Williams

UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business

“Someone who loves solving challenges, meeting new people, being optimistic, and good BBQ.”

Hometown: Pasadena, California

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a certified personal and group fitness instructor and taught Pilates in undergrad.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Northern Arizona University, B.S. Chemistry, B.S. Exercise Science

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Daiichi Sankyo, Specialty Sales Territory Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Amgen, Thousand Oaks CA

Where will you be working after graduation? Amgen, Commercial Leadership Program

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Co-Founder, Merage Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Awareness (IDEA) Club

Co-President, Merage Healthcare Association

Co-EVP of Volunteering, Challenge 4 Charity

Board Officer, Merage Marketing Association

Merage Student Ambassador

Merage Faculty Fellowship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? At the end of my first year around the height of the BLM movement, I saw an opportunity to expand DI&B initiatives within Merage and UCI. Along with several classmates, we decided to found the Merage Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Awareness (IDEA) Club. The club was started with the goal to help prepare and educate our fellow classmates on how to be inclusive and diversity-championing managers post-MBA. Starting a club virtually during COVID tossed us some challenges, but so far we’ve been off to a strong start and are excited by the opportunity to help lead DI&B change here at Merage.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? One of my greatest passions is for public speaking. I’ve been a member of Toastmasters International since 2015. Through the connections I made there, I had the opportunity to help produce a TEDx event. I served as the Master of Ceremonies alongside a host of other incredibly talented individuals to create a truly unique event for an audience of 100 people. We ended up receiving over 90% positive ratings in post-event surveys, granting the organizers a renewed license, and giving me the opportunity to Emcee for a second time (albeit virtually) this past year.

Why did you choose this business school? When I was preparing to apply to business school, I made a list of the top things I wanted out of the experience. The number one thing for me was personalized attention and opportunity. I visited close to a dozen schools, but only Merage really took the time to learn who I was as a person. As a student, this has been my continued experience. On the academic side, I’ve had professors reach out to me to share research or opportunities related to my field that they thought I’d be interested in. On the career side, I wouldn’t be where I am now without the individualized coaching and training I received from our career services department. At the end of the day, almost every program is going to give you the core MBA skillset. However, I didn’t want to just be another cookie cutter MBA and Merage has given me the opportunity and support to customize my MBA experience how I see fit.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I’d have to go with my core strategy professor, John Joseph. I spent the majority of my pre-MBA career working in sales and had a very tactical perspective of business. Professor Joseph was the first person to really introduce the concept of strategy to me and it completely changed the way that I approach looking at things. He was also a faculty advisor to my team in the 2020 Yale Healthcare Case Competition and went above-and-beyond to make himself available to answer questions and connect us with resources. The relationship I’ve developed with him is exactly what I was seeking when I applied to Merage with regards to a personalized experience from faculty.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Prior to the start of the school year, all incoming students have to do what is informally known as The Intensive. The Intensive is a core course crammed into 5 days that combines strategy and organizational behavior. It’s also the first time students are introduced to their core project team. Each night, my group would work until 1 AM putting together our case presentation for the following day. We’d also constantly go talk with other teams to see how they were approaching the case even though we were competing against each other. To me, this really exemplified the inclusive and collaborative nature of Merage and reinforced everything that drew me to Merage as an applicant.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish that I had accessed more of the entrepreneurship opportunities. I’ve always found entrepreneurship fascinating and thought that this could be a great time to start a business with a classmate. Starting a company in business school is probably one of the best times because you have access to smart people, resources, and free time that you might not otherwise have. Merage has so many resources including the Beall Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the New Venture Competition, and an accelerator/incubator called The Cove that have helped launch multiple student-run companies. I ultimately made the tradeoff to pursue other activities during my program, but in hindsight, wish that I had explored entrepreneurship more.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Through my student ambassador position, I interact with lots of applicants and a common question I get is if there are less opportunities to work with big name companies because we’re a smaller program. My two years in the program has consistently reinforced that this is not the case. My classmates interned at the same top tier companies as the larger programs do. My experience has been that these companies are looking for top talent wherever it may be and the size of the program isn’t a deciding factor in this consideration.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? One of the best things I did was visit in person. I really can’t overstate how important it is to actually visit the school you want to go to. I attended a Merage MBA Preview Day and had the opportunity to interact with current students, faculty, and other prospective students. I made a huge point to be engaged throughout the presentations and ask pertinent questions to demonstrate my interest in Merage. It also gave me the opportunity to have more casual conversations with the admission team so that they could get to know me better and understand how I aligned with the program beyond everything that was in my application. It was through this that I was really able to sell myself as a candidate and one of the things that I attribute to my admission.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Besides being one of my closest friends at Merage, Sara Safan is also one of the most capable and intelligent people I’ve ever met. She is deeply analytical and intuitively looks at problems from ways that I wouldn’t even think of. The level of effort she invests in every project goes far beyond where most people would call it quits. She campaigns strongly for things she believes in, invests so much in her relationships with others, and genuinely wants to help.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Merage did a fantastic job transitioning from an in person to a virtual learning environment. The COVID lockdown started around finals week of winter quarter, giving the faculty about two weeks to convert their courses to a virtual format before spring quarter started. Despite the short turnaround, I thought that the virtually adapted courses were just as engaging as if they had been in person. The more challenging aspect was the social element of the program, but our class found ways to have fun through virtual happy hours and game nights. Early on I took the stance that virtual was going to stay long after COVID went away, so I decided to get comfortable with being virtual knowing that the future was here.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My cousin Simona has always been one of my biggest supporters. I think she really planted the seed about going back to graduate school for me after she went back to law school herself. She’s always seen something in me that I think sometimes I don’t even see and watching her take the leap to go back to school as an adult with a family inspired me to do so as well.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Compete in the world championship of public speaking and be granted a patent.

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

“It is a true honor to write about what makes Eric an invaluable addition to the Merage MBA Class of 2021. Eric is, by far, one of the most motivated, passionate, and visionary students we’ve had at Merage. I’ve had the pleasure of working very closely with Eric in his job search and had the opportunity to observe him as a leader and founder of school clubs. I continue to be amazed by Eric’s constant dedication and commitment to the school and enhancing the student experience for many years to come.

Eric has worked tirelessly to create the Inclusion, Diversity Equity and Awareness (IDEA) Club and has helped his classmates serve as a voice against injustice in the workplace. This was a tremendous accomplishment and has added so much value to the school. Eric is a strong leader in his class and always takes the initiative to take part in case competitions, participate in the New Venture Competition and serve as a club leader and school ambassador. While all of these accomplishments are impressive on their own, I believe what truly sets Eric apart is his collaborative approach and willingness to coach and mentor others around him. Throughout his MBA, Eric served on multiple panels providing advice and tips for incoming students on the job search.

Eric also spent a significant amount of his personal time helping his classmates prepare for interviews and job applications and cheering for their success. One such example was over the summer when Eric was busy with his own summer internship. He spent time to lead a summer webinar for the entire incoming class on how to best prepare to attend the early diversity conferences. This webinar showcased the level of research he did and strategic approach which led to his success and helped to educate the 1st year MBAs. There have been many students at Merage who have been coached and mentored by Eric and who were able to learn a tremendous amount, get an internship or job or participate in a new event or club because of Eric’s mentorship. Eric also took it upon himself to connect the career center to his summer internship employer and cultivate the corporate relationship. This is a huge institutional-level contribution he made for the school and he helped to pave the path for future students. Eric is a natural leader with a strong vision and the motivation to improve any organization he is part of. Eric has made a tremendous impact on the Merage School and our students and has truly been an invaluable part of the MBA Class of 2021!”

Leaat Modiano
Associate Director of Career Services
The Paul Merage School of Business 




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