Inspiring UCLA day: Alumni Conference 2014

To continually re-inspire myself–professionally and personally–to generate the energy I need for raising my kids, being a good husband, and honoring the role I get to fulfill at UCLA Anderson for FEMBA–that is important to me. When I started working at UCLA in 2002, I told myself I was going to swim in the intellectual waters of the place, that I was going to enrich my mind while I earned a living.

But you know what? It’s tough to leave the office.

Today, along with several hundred alumni, I did it. I got out of the office for most of the day. I trusted my team and they did great.

And my reward?

Today, the 2014 Alumni Conference was the booster shot I needed to have the month of May be as incredible as it can be.


UCLA Anderson rolls out the red carpet for alumni.

The speakers were incredible. I heard former Olympian and personal friend of John Wooden, Ann Meyers Drysdale. I re-connected with alumni I’ve worked with and respected for the years. I heard Ali Kermani, ’09, tell the most inspiring entrepreneurial tale I’ve heard all year (Crazy Cart). I heard alum Debra Berman and CEO of J.C. Penney, Myron Ullman. And I heard our Dean Judy Olian talk about the global footprint of UCLA Anderson, and tell her vision of our school.

The people UCLA brings together are truly amazing and inspiring. I couldn’t finish this story before I left the office, so I’ve completed it at home. We’ll see what kind of “social media” happens on a Friday night post. If you like the story below, please share it.



Yvonne Chew, Jonathan Kopitzke and Doug Haxall

With Yvonne Chew, Manager, Product Development and Partner Optimization at ElephantDrive, Jonathan Kopitzke, VP of Forecasting & Analytics for Bank of America, and Doug Haxall, President, Haxall Software Solutions, all members of the Class of 2009.

Doug was student body president his third year. He invited me to play cowbell in his band, the “FEMBAnd” at his class’ pre-grad celebration. More Cowbell! He has his own company now, and plays music gigs throughout SoCal.


With Chris Loo, former student body president of the full-time MBA, and Paraag Lal, FEMBA 2004, successful entrepreneur and the man I went to the Ashram with on my trip to India.

Chris Loo, Management Consultant at McAfee, was a great student body president of the full-time MBA program who worked hard to strengthen the ties between MBA and FEMBA. I got to know him when I was working on the 2012 All-Anderson Commercial Challenge. Chris is now in San Fran, and just came back from a rotational assignment in China. “I managed a team of 12, none of whom spoke English. I just had to get in there and do it,” he told me.

Paraag Lal, CEO & Co-Founder at Carmen Road Entertainment, and I have been friends ever since he graduated, professionally and personally. I traveled to India in 2010 with Professor Subra on a FEMBA International Study and Paraag went as an alum.

After the week of the class in Mumbai and Delhi, I stayed an additional eight days with Paraag and we traveled to Kerala in the south and stayed at Amritrapuri, the ashram of Amma, the “hugging saint.” Paraag got me doing service work, riding an elephant, dressing all in white, sleeping on a concrete floor and getting blessed by a saint.

2010 India Ashram Elephant

In 2010, with Paraag in India. “You should get on the elephant,” Paraag told me. It was amazing. SO much bigger than a horse. I’d never been on an animal that large. It was humbling.

2010 India Paraag and Dylan

In 2010, Paraag Lal and Dylan Stafford, overlooking the back waters of Kerala in India. Paraag told me that the whole time we were at the Ashram, we had to wear all white. Why he got to wear a black U2 concert shirt??? I’ll never know…



With Curtis Kaiser, FEMBA 2012.

Curtis Kaiser, Estate Planning Attorney/TIGER 21 Co-Chair, and I got to be friends in the summer of 2012, when we were instructors together for MGMT 298D, Strategic Business Communications, with Professor Bob McCann. Curtis is a very together guy and always interesting to talk to.


With Michele Havens, 2005, former FEMBA student body president, and one of my favorite alumna. Michele is a leader, at work and in life, and she inspires me.

Michele Havens, Los Angeles Region President, Northern Trust, was a leader in school (student body president her year) and continues as a leader at Northern Trust and in her family. I can’t count how many times Michele helped us in admissions, recruiting, interviewing and speaking on panels. (Same can be said for Doug and Paraag above.)

One of my favorite memories of Michele was when we hosted a Women-in-FEMBA recruiting event and she was a panelist. There were 80 women in the room, and me, and the topic turned to work-life-love balance. Michele talked about making her marriage, work and FEMBA all balance and I do believe she made me blush! She was powerful then and is leading a very big career and life today.


Lunch with Giri Damerla ’07. A member of my very first class of FEMBAs, the 2007s.

Giri Damerla, Director of Product Development at YP, is a member of the Class of 2007, the very first class of FEMBAs I ever was 100% accountable for admitting. His class will always have a special place in my heart.


As I stated, I got a booster shot of inspiration today, and nothing was stronger than the 20 minute presentation of Ali Kermani, as he told the tale of Why UCLA and how he turned his education into the creation of Crazy Cart. In a nutshell, he’s worked the last 10 years to bring this idea to creation, and now he’s accountable for one of the most successful toy launches of 2013. We’ll post the video of his presentation in a week or two.

He was humble, funny, insightful, bold an inspiring.


Ali Kermani, ’09, and his creation, Crazy Cart. He actually rode the cart out on to the stage and did circles and drifts to the amazement of all.

Below is one of the videos of Crazy Cart that went viral. You can look on YouTube for others.



Professor Bill Cockrum on a Crazy Cart. Bill came out today to support Ali. Bill’s also making sure that an adult cart is brought to market soon.


Ali patented his Crazy Cart idea, after consulting with his Anderson faculty.


Ali’s parents today, in the middle wearing flower-print and pink. They looked so proud of their son.


Ali, and his Crazy Cart. He actually rode it out onto the stage and did tricks. It was awesome. He was additionally an incredible speaker.


MBA 101. A chart of the adoption of technology. Ali used this to successfully make his case with investors and supporters, when achieving buy-in was critical.


So cool. Ali explains how he planned the viral launch.


Lines around the door at Toys R Us at the Christmas rush.


The Crazy Cart


With Ali Kermani, MBA ’09, Founder, Crazy Cart & VP of Digital Media, Razor USA & President, Acoustic Productions


As if Ali were not enough, we also heard a keynote from Ann Meyers Drysdale, UCLA Alum, former Olympian, professional basketball player and now VP of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury.


Lessons of leadership from Paul “Bear” Bryant. You may not know this, but he coached at Texas A&M before he went to Alabama. Gig ’em!


Ann shared several times about Coach Wooden. Her brother played for Coach on his final National Championship team. She even sounded like him from time to time, and included several of his philosophies in her presentation.


After hearing Mom’s inspirational presentation, I met Drew Meyers Drysdale, UCLA Music Major in her third year and daughter of Ann. Future FEMBA? We hope so.


There are very few top MBA schools with female Deans. I have the privilege to work for two. Our overall Dean Judy Olian gave her “State of the School” speech today.

She’s a world-class leader with a broad, global vision. She always states that our UCLA Anderson MBAs need to have “global brains” and she’s put her efforts into faculty, curricula, and programming to make sure we deliver.

She sees Los Angeles as one of the key cities in the world, with our status as the most ethnically and linguistically diverse city being one of our strengths, as well as our unique positioning as a place where content intersects with technology.


UCLA Anderson Dean Judy Olian, and the three pillars of our UCLA Anderson brand: Shared Success, Thinking Fearlessly and Driving Change.


Here’s Dean Olian speaking about Neural Analytics, a company that just received $2M in funding, and has as one of its founders Dan Hanchey, FEMBA ’13. I have a blog post on Dan in the works.


Here’s an Anderson team that won a national case competition at Wake Forest, and took home $75,000 in prize money


Judy brags about Management and Organizations Professor Corinne Bendersky


Dean Olian brags about Associate Professor Andrea Eisfeldt winning the 2013 Smith Breen Prize, for best paper in the Journal of Finance

While Andrea Eisfeldt is a world-class scholar and thinker in the field of finance, and you can read more about her prize here, she will always have a special space in my heart for an entirely different reason.

One afternoon in the spring of 2012, when my wife and I were waiting to become adoptive parents, the call came that a baby had been born and that we had been chosen. We were to meet the birth mom and the baby (who would eventually become our son) the next morning. Of course, this being FEMBA, I had an Open House to host that night.

Professor Eisfeldt was our faculty guest speaker that night, and I was so grateful to have her presence because I didn’t have to carry so much of the load. She was totally engaging with our audience and it gave me a chance to collect my thoughts, when all I wanted to do was drive home at 100 miles-an-hour to be with my wife.

The next morning, we met the boy who would become our son, and the rest is a beautiful expansion of our family.


Judy brags about five of our most-recent faculty hires.


Debra Berman ’96, SVP of Marketing at J.C. Penney, shared the stage with her boss, Myron Ullman, the CEO of J.C. Penney. I didn’t know the story at all about J.C. Penney’s near brush with bankruptcy, nor its amazing turn-around.

Debra was a very inspirational presence, as was Myron. They spoke about their goal of becoming a “love brand” that fosters loyalty-beyond-reason. Myron talked about integrity, humility and generosity being cornerstones of his professional ethic.

He shared about wanting all team members to “greet, respect and thank” our customers. He sees J.C. Penney as a store that families need, that it is an American icon (both Sam Walton and Warren Buffet worked at a J.C. Penney) worth saving.

He stated how his customers have “too little time, too little money and two little kids” and that we can help them.

Debra added that J.C. Penney’s turnaround got a whole lot easier for her when she realized that, “We have a human problem to solve, not a position problem.” That led her to realize that “We’re in the esteem business.”


Myron Ullman CEO, J.C. Penney and Debra Berman ’96, SVP of Marketing, J.C. Penney


This was the last panel I got to see before I had to tear myself away and get back to my office and my team.This panel provided an insider’s view to the world of major leagues sports and featured:

Dave Shore, Operations Manager & Lakers Pre-Game Host, ESPN LA
Erik Greupner SVP, Business Administration & General Counsel, San Diego Padres
Dennis Kuhl, Chairman, Angels Baseball
Thad Levine, ’99, Assistant GM, Texas Rangers
Ann Meyers Drysdale, VP of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury
IMG_9435 IMG_9439

The Texas Rangers, led by alum Thad Levine ’99, reflect on the global nature of their roster.

In the Q&A session, I went to the microphone and posed this question.

“Here at UCLA Anderson, we spend a lot of time teaching Leadership. What were the lessons learned for each of you this week, in light of the Sterling situation? Sports is such an important place for us to talk about society. It’s so impactful for how we raise our children. What did you learn this week?”

All four took the chance to answer, addressing the powerful megaphone that is sports, the need to teach athletes that they are role models, the coming-together across sports in reaction against racism, and Ann even quoted Coach Wooden, that “Sports don’t teach character, they reveal character.”

So that was my day. What a great day it was. Next year, for the entering Class of 2018, I’m going to endeavor to invite a lot of new admits to attend. There were a few empty seats today, and I’d love to fill them next year with new entrants to UCLA Anderson. There was too much good inspiration available today to let it go unused.

Happy Weekends all.

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