2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Jesse Meza, UCLA (Anderson)

Jesse Meza

UCLA, Anderson School of Management

“First generation Mexican-American overcoming odds to make his community and world a better place.”

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Fun fact about yourself: When I was 22, I took a one-way flight to NYC with a backpack, prayers, and 5 interviews to prep for.

Undergraduate School and Degree: I graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor’s of science in advertising, a concentration in media planning and a minor in business.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Prior to Anderson, I was a freelance integrated media supervisor at Omnicom Media Group and I was dedicated to the Disney business.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? During the summer of 2021, I was a brand management intern at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati

Where will you be working after graduation? Post Anderson, I’ll be working at PepsiCo as an associate marketing manager on the Frito Lay business.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community Work: Saturday Business Academy (mentor at under-resourced high school) and Journey to Refuge (home builder in Mexico for impoverished family), Anderson interviewer (Admissions Ambassador Corps)

Leadership: VP of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for the Anderson Student Association (ASA), Co-President of Alliance for LatinX Management at Anderson (ALMA), Project Manager for the Anti-Racism Committee (ARC), Co-Founder of the First Generation Club, Director of Member Experience for the Marketing Association, Co-Founder of the Dialogue on Equity Conference

Honors: Consortium Fellow, LAGRANT Foundation Scholar, Best Presenter Recognition at the Elite 8 Brand Management Case Competition

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The extracurricular achievement I’m most proud of at Anderson is creating and enabling the vision for what a premiere, inclusive, LatinX focused club can be in higher education. The Alliance for LatinX Management at Anderson (ALMA) existed for decades prior to my becoming one of the co-presidents. However, during the majority of that time, the club was focused on building a community and resources for a handful of members. As my co-president and I stepped into our new roles in 2021, I knew I wanted to elevate this club to be one of the most successful and pioneering MBA LatinX clubs across the country. That’s exactly what came to fruition.

Over the last few years, ALMA membership fluctuated between 50-75 members and this year we increased it to just above 125. This year, we also secured our first club sponsor (thanks, Mercado.) The list just goes on; we also took our $3K starting budget and fundraised $12K, engaged our alumni in events, launched our inaugural scholarship, had quarterly inclusivity-based events, sold hundreds of ALMA sweaters, supported LatinX students in their admissions process, and built a community through very intentional social events with our allies.

I won’t name each of my VPs, directors and (of course) my amazing co-president whom I’m sure worked more than he ever anticipated for ALMA. Without their support and buy-in, this amazing student club could have not have come to fruition. I’m grateful for each of them — thank you, team. When I brought up the idea of an inaugural ALMA scholarship, without hesitation my co-president said, “That’s a great idea” and started the committee to execute it. We only had $500 of surplus budget, but he jumped into execution so I worked with our Dean and our Executive MBAs (thank you to you, too!) to increase $500 to $3,000. To my ALMA team, I hope I was able to inspire you as much as you’ve inspired me. With your support, creating this version of ALMA is my proudest extracurricular achievement in business school.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In 2015, I was a Multicultural Advertising Internship Program (MAIP) fellow, and this program opened the doors for me to enter the ad agency world. The achievement In my professional career, I’m most proud of in my professional career was to be selected as a 2019 MAIPer to Watch. This recognition is reserved for MAIP alumni who have made significant strides in their careers, are recognized as high potential within their ad agency and community, and have graduated from the MAIP program within the last 10 years.

This award recognized years of work inside and outside ad agencies to be the difference I want to see in the world. I was selected for several reasons, one of which was starting my first non-profit in 2016 to provide underprivileged students from my high school with annual mentorships and scholarships. At the point of this recognition, I was averaging a promotion every 14 months, which put me on an expedited timeline compared to my media planning and buying peers. I had also created the first national employee resource group for one of the 5 largest ad agency holding companies and led its efforts to provide culturally inclusive events and partnerships throughout 2018.

What this award meant to me was that my body of work across the community, EDI, and my profession was not only recognized but celebrated and embraced by the community that provided me the path into corporate America. It was a full circle moment for me. As a first generation Mexican American high school graduate, white collar professional, it validated my efforts to be a top tier professional, while always being a community advocate first. It was the proudest moment of my professional career.

Why did you choose this business school? Anderson’s student leadership culture. It fit my personality, and the growth I was looking for in an MBA program. As I was considering which MBA program I wanted to be a part of, I realized, in addition to professional growth, I wanted to be part of a program that would drive my personal growth as a leader. Anderson’s student-led culture, business creation capstone, and advising programs such as Anderson Leadership and the annual Neurobiology of Embodied Leadership workshop, were the experiences I was seeking for my personal growth. I did not want an ultra-competitive program, I wanted a collaborative program where I could learn from my peers. Our “Share Success” model resonated with me deeply.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Dean Heather M. Caruso was my favorite professor at Anderson. I do have a personal bias because as my class’ VP of EDI, I had the privilege of working with her for half a year to build Anderson’s 2021 Embracing Diversity Week. Nonetheless, I continue to learn how to think of EDI in a broader context because of her “Leading for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion” course at Anderson. Even in the face of difficult conversations, she’s able to bring an uplifting spirit that encourages questions, feedback, and engagement. This might sound like just another MBA course; however, her soft skills paired with her ability to bring EDI to life with very tangible examples and cases truly elevate the classroom experience she produces for us. She’s also funny. I’m always overjoyed to have a meeting or class with her because I know she always has a point of view on everything and an ability to expand a conversation as only an educator can.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? In November 2020, I was a few months into my MBA journey when I was invited to host an Allyship 101 panel as part of Anderson’s annual Embracing Diversity Week. The moderator and fellow panelists were all students who would eventually become some of my best friends—and they all in one way or another supported allyship at Anderson. I was asked to join the event because I was the allyship director for the Women’s Business Club. This was my first of many panels at Anderson, and it went extremely well — we all saw allyship and EDI from our own diverse perspectives; however, we were able to acknowledge and expand each other’s views on what it meant to be an ally at Anderson and in the corporate workspace. The views and overall experience we produced for that 120+ Zoom audience was far from happenstance. In the weeks leading up to the event, I set up meetings with my panelists, agendas to cover potential challenges and inclusive remarks, and ways to make this relatable to all audience members without sacrificing more nuanced conversations. I was proud of my team and how we successfully presented Anderson as the inclusive, forward thinking, buttoned up yet fun program it is.

It was during that event that I realized I could really dig into conversations I cared a lot about at Anderson and there would always be someone to have that conversation with. It was one of the first of many times that Anderson and its students showed me that they were willing to have hard conversations that went deeper than the surface. This panel was simply the first step to me realizing that UCLA Anderson is actually the most inclusive entity I’ve ever been a part of.  

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The one thing I wish I had done differently in the MBA program is dream bigger. As a fellow for Management Leadership for Tomorrow’s professional development program (MLT PD), I took months to prepare for the MBA. I listed out everything I wanted to gain through the experience so I could hit the ground running. The goals I listed included finding several mentors in different areas of life, pivoting successfully into brand management, ensuring diversity initiatives were progressively advancing at Anderson, making lifelong friendships and gaining the knowledge to maximize my earning potential. I hit every single one. Not just through my sole endeavors, but through the support of Anderson and of my peers.

There are enough resources, support, and opportunities here to pursue really big dreams. These include starting my first for-profit company, leaving the MBA program net positive by investing without sacrificing my experiences, traveling across the country on my motorcycle, being truly focused on physical and mental health to exit the MBA program as the best version of myself in these aspects. I don’t necessarily believe I could have hit all of these goals, but I could have hit some and the experience acquired in the pursuit of the goals I didn’t meet would have made me a better person nonetheless. I don’t make goals because I expect to hit each one, I make them because the journey towards each one helps me build the person, community, and life I intend to create in my lifetime.

What surprised you the most about business school? I assumed I wouldn’t be able to build genuine relationships with MBA students because I constantly heard that they were very Type A, ambitious, and money-seeking. I could not have been more wrong. Turns out, I am also very Type A, overly ambitious, and I’m aiming to provide as much financial freedom for myself and my family as possible.

So many of the people I’ve met, such as Courtney, Cynthia, Camilo, JYP, the entire C-Fam, my Spain squad, and many others are all people I want to be friends with for a long, long time. Camilo is one of the warmest and most welcoming human beings I’ve ever met. Cynthia should get more sleep, but somehow manages a thousand different things while being half asleep. I need more than a sentence to talk about Courtney so I dedicated a paragraph to her elsewhere in this writeup. Nonetheless, so many of these individuals make me feel accepted, inspire me to do more, and help me learn past my own preconceptions.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I left New York City and moved to Los Angeles in early 2019 so that I could be in Los Angeles for my UCLA recruiting process. Being here in person allowed me to attend a number of student coffee chats around LA, as well as Embracing Diversity Week and school visits. Being in the thick of it, particularly for a school such as Anderson which is so centered on a collaborative student culture, gave me the edge and understanding I needed to apply.

I knew Anderson was the business school of my dreams; however, being in New York City, it was a challenge to get to know Anderson students and faculty. Removing that barrier and making the cross-country move was a major investment. It removed a significant consideration for Anderson (or any MBA program) when looking through a student’s application: Will this prospective student actually move across the country and pursue a role he’ll be geographically satisfied with? On my end, it was a big bet on myself and on Anderson, and I’m so grateful it worked out perfectly.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It’ll come as no surprise to any of my student or faculty Ander-friends: Courtney Cheng. I’ve had the privilege of working with her to create two EDI-centered conferences, lead a student committee, countless class projects, AND bring my motorcycle back to Los Angeles after I crashed it about an hour outside the city. What I’ve come to understand and admire about Courtney is, regardless of the context or her own comfort, she steps up and carries teams from beginning to end and then some because that’s simply who she is. Courtney has never settled for anything less than excellence, even when it’s forced me to do more work than I’d like to.

Outside of my experiences with her, Courtney was also one of Out@Anderson’s co-presidents and the Admissions Ambassadors Corps’ VP of EDI. Throughout our second year, I saw the impact she had in her roles time and time again. In addition to Out’s very lively socials, she centered EDI as a focal point of the club and attracted an abundance of first-year leaders who strive to carry on the torch she lit for Out. I recently had the privilege of seeing Courtney speak on an LGBTQ+ student panel. When the moderator asked “So, what’s it like to lead in this space?” every panelist on the stage looked at her. That look towards her, is the feeling I have every time I work with her — we all know we can count on Courtney to step up and get anything done. Thank you, Courtney, for inspiring me to execute my dreams better than I ever dream them.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My 10th grade English teacher, Ms. Santos. Ms. Santos was very stubborn, graduated from my high school, and believed in me enough for the both of us. She helped me realize that I could be the first person in my family to graduate from high school, that I could obtain degrees beyond a bachelor’s and shape my future through my profession. She planted seeds of inspiration somewhere in between sleeping in her class during lunch to catch up on the sleep I missed while working the night before, the long conversations about family legacies, the after-school writing tutoring, and the constant positive reinforcement (although I didn’t think very highly of myself). Those seeds are still blooming.

My two biggest challenges when I considered higher education were these: how I was supposed to pursue something I didn’t understand, and how I could be successful outside of my zip code which I’d hardly left through my first 18 years of life. After a series of personal trials and tribulations throughout my years in high school, I decided that “I refuse to be a product of my environment when I can make my environment a product of my actions,” to quote my college application. When I made that mental pivot, she helped me apply to college, helped me prepare for the rigor of college, and even bought me clothes to wear in college. The gift she gave me was the confidence to pursue everything I wanted before I fully understood everything I was pursuing. When I stepped on campus for the first time at the University of Texas, I knew it was only a matter of time before I graduated with an MBA.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Post-MBA, I intend to become a community college professor in Dallas while maintaining my full-time role at PepsiCo. I’m deeply passionate about creating opportunities for others, particularly marginalized communities who are underfunded and overlooked. I don’t want to teach for a salary or accolades. I want to teach to open doors and change lives.
  2. While I’m in Texas, one of my secondary goals is to become a real estate investor, as a hobbyist. I would never pursue a career in real estate but I do intend to manage properties. My mother came to this country with the dream of owning a home for her family, and I was raised in this country with the dream of handing over multiple revenue-generating homes to my children.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? My view on American corporate careers is that they will be significantly more flexible in the coming decade than ever before.

Specifically, throughout the pandemic, I learned that I don’t need to live in the same city as the company I’m providing value for. Therefore, a commute does not need to be a factor in my housing choices; the future is going to need many more multi-talented freelancers to fulfill niche roles during times of internal and external company fluctuation.

What this does is open the door to opportunity for new types of founders from communities that haven’t traditionally been well represented in the corporate space, and (of course) new ways of creating value, thus income. Prior to the pandemic, I had a more concrete view of what a career and company should look like. Post-MBA, I believe there is now more opportunity than ever before to elevate communities, create opportunities, and innovate across physical and social borders.

What made Jesse such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“As an MBA student and next-generation leader, Jesse Meza is a force unlike any other. Of course, he exhibits the core competencies we cultivate in all Anderson students—initiative, adaptability, and the analytical savvy to create and share success. Nonetheless, Jesse works with a combination of humility, resourcefulness, and compassion that channel these competencies into extraordinary impact. These qualities helped him partner effectively with peers, faculty, and staff from his earliest days in the Anderson community, and enabled innovation for equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) at the structural level: A pioneering Dialogue on Equity summit, new student association protocols and bylaws, and new funding opportunities were just a few of the initiatives he led to strengthen EDI in graduate management education. Where he needed resources—funding, facilities, etc.—he was proactive in seizing or creating opportunities to secure them. Where multiple stakeholders brought their own vision to the table, he communicated proactively and openly, creating space for all to hear one another and make themselves heard.

Jesse’s remarkable leadership was perhaps easiest for me to see when he led the steering committee for our 2021 Embracing Diversity Week (EDW). Spanning 6 days, this signature EDI event brings together every part of the Anderson community: our prospective applicants, our students, staff, and faculty, and our alumni and external partners as well. The coordination of this event requires nearly a full year of stewardship for the whole community, through the community. The VP of EDI (one of Jesse’s roles in his second year) must pull together and support not only fellow steering committee members, but also numerous administrative partners and dozens of volunteers. As with all large-scale events—especially those where inclusivity is a central focus—a leader quickly discovers that integrating work styles and preferences is an enormous and evolving responsibility, requiring constant readiness to adapt strategy to feedback and realities on the ground. Jesse never wavered in rising to this challenge, striving above all to keep the endeavor moving forward, and seeking guidance and support whenever stubborn communication gaps, procedural barriers, or coordination conflicts arose. This instinct to resourcefully rise to the demands of the moment is what has allowed Jesse to make an indelible mark in his time at Anderson, leaving our community substantially more connected, more inclusive, and more capable of positive impact than before.”

Heather Maiirhe Caruso
UCLA Anderson’s Assistant Dean of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion;
Adjunct Associate Professor, Management and Organizations and Behavioral Decision Making 


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