2021 MBAs To Watch: Gaelen LeMelle-Brown, UCLA (Anderson)

Gaelen LeMelle-Brown

UCLA, Anderson School of Management

Creative turned business professional, Fighter for what’s right, Lover of memes.”

Hometown: Queens, NY

Fun fact about yourself: Aside from business school, I’m also a musician. I grew up playing piano and singing in acapella groups and choirs. More recently, I have released two solo EPs that are available on all streaming platforms.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Morehouse College; Business Administration/Music

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? YouTube; Strategic Partner Manager – Entertainment

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Apple; Los Angeles, CA

Where will you be working after graduation? The entertainment industry recruits super late, so I’m not sure yet!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Consortium Full Tuition Fellow
  • Vice President of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion – Anderson Student Association
  • Embracing Diversity Conference Director
  • Vice President of Music – Entertainment Management Association
  • Black History Month Chair – Black Business Student Association
  • Dean’s List

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Many MBAs around the country complain that most of the guest speakers invited to campus do not accurately reflect the student body they have come to address. Simply put, white men over index any other identity group when it comes to speaking at business schools. From this, one has to ask the question: What does the model “business professional” look like to MBAs? How does this affect their decisions when it comes to hiring and building their own teams?

I worked with the Anderson Student Association and council of club presidents to pass a bylaw that mandates that at least one-third of the guest speakers brought to campus for club events identify as members of an underrepresented minority group. This mandate will inevitably diversify the faces of our speakers and hopefully, diversify the images associated with what a “professional” looks like. From my own research, I believe we are the first business school to make a change like this and I am super excited to see how it reverberates throughout the campus and the entire business school network.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? This summer at Apple, I worked on a synergy marketing campaign to promote Oprah’s 86th Book Club pick, Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. The book explores the “invisible caste” system that exists in the United States and how it has affected Black Americans as they strive for systemic equality. We organized an interview between the author and Ebro Darden, Editorial Head of Hip Hop & R&B for Apple Music, where they discussed the importance of music to black culture throughout history. It was the culmination and intersection of my favorite things: tech, social justice, and music.

Working on the marketing campaign for the book was extremely meaningful to me, as it was Oprah’s first pick after the murder of George Floyd. In a meeting with our team, she emphasized that this book should be “required reading” for Americans. I’m happy to say that the book reached #1 on the New York Times’ bestseller list and has been longlisted for several nonfiction awards.

Why did you choose this business school? When I was applying to business school, one of my mentors at YouTube suggested that I prioritize studying in New York or Los Angeles because “those are the places where entertainment is made.” I took his advice and only applied to schools in those regions. I’m from New York, so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in living on the west coast.

UCLA Anderson was always the clear favorite for me. I felt the curriculum gave me the most opportunity to explore the entertainment industry like I wanted to. That being said, the first time I stepped on the UCLA campus, I fell in love with the school before I even got to a classroom. The people are just like the Los Angeles weather: Warm. I left feeling like I had found a family.

Who was your favorite MBA professor?  Professor Jennifer Whitson is the type of person that you can tell loves her job. She’s able to take some of the most complex management topics and synthesize them into digestible tidbits. She loves to see the lightbulb turn on in each student’s head, and she gets excited by spirited discussion in the classroom. Her energy is contagious. Moreover, Professor Whitson makes sure to keep her classes inclusive. In my Organizational Behavior class, she facilitated a whole discussion about how many minorities feel forced to change their names on their resumes in hopes of not “scaring” recruiters. Many of my classmates had never even considered this issue. I loved watching perspectives and unconscious biases shift in real time.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Each year, Anderson puts on Embracing Diversity Week, one of the largest business school forums dedicated to promoting and discussing inclusivity in the business world. The conference originally only targeted prospective students, but in recent years has evolved and expanded to include current students and the Los Angeles community at large. The event holds a special place in my heart. I participated as a prospective student and as a first-year volunteer. This year, as Vice President of EDI for the Student Association, I served as the student director for the entire week.

One of my favorite things about Anderson is our dedication to building the most inclusive and equitable community possible. Embracing Diversity shows Anderson at its best. It is a week devoted to reflecting and brainstorming on making sure that nobody is left behind. The conference reached more than 800 attendees this year. Knowing that the majority of our student body chooses to participate in the programming makes me smile.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Anderson prides itself on how the majority of its events and initiatives are student-led, and I wish I had taken advantage of this sooner! I got involved with a few clubs in my first year, but I didn’t really start thinking outside of the box on how I could change the way we do things here until I took on my second-year leadership roles. There are a few ideas I had for campus that would have been easier to spark back when we were in person. If I could go back and talk to first-year Gaelen, I would remind him that you don’t need a title to make an impact.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Everybody at my school just hangs out at the beach when we’re not in class. This is simply not true! We also have really great brunch spots in the area.

What surprised you the most about business school? I truly believed business school was one big competition. I thought that because I did not have a strong quant background, I would be at a severe disadvantage for classes like Accounting and Finance, consequently setting me up for failure during recruitment season. To be fair, I did struggle through Finance and Accounting, but there were a bunch of people who were in the same boat. We all worked together to make sure we understood the material. Even better, the quant students I was so afraid of “competing” against actually turned out to be some of my biggest supporters.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I was extremely vulnerable with my answers, both in my application and in my interviews. I discussed my fears just as much as I talked about my ambitions. I even added links to my music to show what I was working on when I wasn’t studying for the GMAT. I think that the admissions team appreciated getting the full scope into who I am and appreciated how candid I was with my answers.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My classmate Rosa Segura is the epitome of what it means to be an Anderson MBA. She is one of the most prominent thought leaders of our class, and we would not be able to drive change without her. Rosa has one of the strongest moral compasses I have ever seen. She constantly challenges our entire school—faculty and students—to be better. As the President of the Alliance for Latinx Management at Anderson (ALMA), she has influenced the way our students view Latinx issues and created opportunities for us to give back to the greater Los Angeles area. She has also used her platform to petition for more scholarship funding for low-income classmates. Rosa is pursuing a career in healthcare, and she has been exceptionally helpful in bettering our understanding of the pandemic and how students can get involved to help.

I was fortunate enough to meet Rosa before school through Consortium. As luck would have it, we turned out to be next door neighbors! She has been integral in building out some of the initiatives that we have executed this year. Rosa is an outspoken change agent and I’m super excited to see what she achieves after business school. She’s also a fantastic singer – one time she belted out a ballad with a mariachi band at our monthly Consortium dinner.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? COVID changed pretty much everything I knew about business school. We always hear about how an MBA is the “social degree,” so not being able to socialize, or even go to class in person, has been a huge bummer. I really miss grabbing drinks with my friends at Anderson Afternoons and the weekend trips that we used to take. Navigating class discussions has been an interesting obstacle as well.

That being said, I love how crafty our student body has gotten as a result of the distance. We’ve been able to foster strong bonds beyond our laptops in really creative ways. One of my classmates, Parth Chauhan, has become an absolute master of engaging virtual events. He’s put on everything from comedy performances to a pet talent show. Even though our community has not been able to hang out in person, we have still made great memories this year.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mother was the first person to show me that I did not have to choose between art and business. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for my entire life, specifically focusing on the enhancement of the performing and visual arts in low-income neighborhoods. She uses her finance background to help clear space for creatives to do what they do best – create.

Being exposed to a wide variety of art forms from a young age motivated me to try making things on my own. It was through this exposure that I discovered the fulfillment I receive from seeing a creative reach a new milestone or tap into a new audience. While our interests and art forms may differ, my mother has always been the blueprint for my career goals. I can’t thank her enough for dragging me along to all of her work events.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? First, I’d love to help an artist win a Grammy. While I understand that awards should not be the #1 priority for any piece of work, I also know how much it means to artists to receive the recognition they deserve. Secondly, I want to start a business that directly funds the arts in underserved communities. I know the profound impact the arts have had on my life, and I want to make sure that others have the opportunity to express themselves creatively as well.

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

“Gaelen has a wonderful combination of focus and breadth. For our Embracing Diversity Week this year, he brought together a fantastic and dedicated team to help produce the biggest success we have ever seen with the event—and we did it all virtually!  There was an enormous amount of work to do, and several surprises to adjust to along the way. Nevertheless, he kept the week focused and on track, orienting people to our “Connect for Real Change” theme in a manner that really put heart and humanity into every session.

One of Gaelen’s most notable qualities is that he can reach out and connect to anyone, without losing his sense of self. For someone serving as VP of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, these qualities are priceless. EDI issues have weight at the personal and societal levels simultaneously, and that can make it intimidating for many people to even try to engage with one another on the issues. I’ve never seen Gaelen shy away, or shove his views down anyone’s throat. He takes on big challenges one step at a time, in collaboration, and it is a beautiful thing to see. He has left a big mark on the institution’s ability to engage meaningfully with EDI issues and it will be up to next year’s class to carry on with his impressive legacy.”

Professor Heather Caruso
Assistant Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion





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