Business Schools

The Script Calls for an MBA


"I knew I wanted to return to the film industry…. An MBA was the right degree for me"

Dear prospective MBAs,

I entered in the fall as a member of their class of 2010. Having come to the MBA from a rather unconventional route, I hope I can provide insight for those who are approaching the MBA option from similarly untraditional waters.

I am originally from Lima, Peru—home of pisco sours, traditional ceviche, and opera singer Juan Diego Flores. I moved to New York City at five years old and moved again to Miami for high school. I returned to New York to attend Columbia University and have worked in the city since graduation. When people ask where I am "from," the question requires an annoyingly long answer. The best answer I can give, and perhaps even more annoying, is that I feel a deep connection to Peru, New York, and Miami. They have all influenced who I am and how I see the world.

Professionally, my career has taken some interesting twists and turns. Since taking Cinema Studies 101 as an undergraduate, I fell in love with film and all forms of media: TV, books, magazines, and the Internet. On completing my undergraduate degree in Film Studies, I began working at a small distribution company named Cowboy Pictures. The congenial atmosphere, the passion of my colleagues, and my access to the best and brightest in the independent film industry were inspiring. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt nine months after my arrival. Having been a lowly office manager, I like to think that I had nothing to do with this inopportune turn of events. I did learn, though, that passion was a weak substitute for financial knowledge when it came to running a company. I then moved into book publishing at Random House, a stable monolith within a volatile industry. I stayed in book publishing, through various positions and promotions, for four years, spending the last two and a half as a business analyst for Crown Publishing Group.

Advantage of an MBA

As I considered my next steps professionally, I knew I wanted to return to the film industry. I wasted too much energy being outraged by Crash's Academy Award or by the fact that too few people saw Fight Club. I needed to channel that energy back into my profession. The challenge was to find a position that would utilize my skill set and push me to the next level. Everything I found that sounded interesting required either that I abandon my interest in quantitative analysis or that I improve my analytical skills. It became clear that I was in skills limbo, so to speak. To get where I wanted to go—specifically, a position that combined creativity, communication, and analytics—I was going to have to hit the books again.

It quickly became evident during my research on graduate programs that an MBA was the right degree for me. I had incorrectly assumed that the MBA was for bankers and consultants. What sealed the deal for me, and what I suggest you look into before you choose to pursue an MBA, are the class offerings and the alumni careers. There, I saw the flexibility and options that existed for an MBA degree. I also saw how that flexibility and those options were aligning with where I wanted my career to go. The more I read and the more deeply I thought about my future, the more I knew I wanted to be at the forefront of the new distribution methods for media in society. Will movie theaters exist in 10 years? How will people discover new music? Will commercials and television become incompatible? These are the questions I wanted to work with and try to reconcile. Before I could get there, though, I needed a solid understanding of finance, marketing, operations, accounting, and strategy—the core foundations of the MBA program.

Ultimately, I decided UCLA Anderson School of Management would be the best place for me to get my MBA. While Anderson's location and industry connections perfectly suited my career goals, many other factors led me to this choice. For example, I was greatly attracted to the variety of experiences in consulting, financial services, health care, technology, marketing, nonprofits, and media among the student body. I knew a large part of my education would come from my classmates, and I wanted as much professional variety as possible. This also applied to the cultural and social diversity that Anderson has cultivated.

Congeniality

A second attraction that drew me to Anderson was the collaborative nature and passion of the student body. All schools talked about this aspect of their community, but Anderson did a spectacular job of showing it. The students and alumni were available to answer any questions I had throughout the application process. They were clear and honest in their assessment of the school and wanted to help me find the right place. Ultimately though, Anderson offered the best professional opportunity for my career prospects. The strength of its teaching, its international program, media research center, and class offerings made Anderson the ideal place for me to take the next step professionally and personally.

My advice to those beginning the process would be to try the best you can to find which school and program are right for you. A part of this will require you to dig deep and think about what you want to do and who you want to be. The best thing I did was to take a step back from the process and think about my dream job and dream life and proceed from there. Would an MBA get me there? And if so, which school would offer me the best chance to achieve those dreams? I know it sounds clichéd, but if you are about to take two years and many thousands of dollars out of your life, try to think big. Each school has different strengths academically, professionally, socially, and personally. My research led me to reject schools with higher "rankings" and pick the MBA program that offered what I wanted and would take me where I wanted to go.

Best of luck to everyone. I hope that sharing my experience over the next years will be a benefit to others. I feel like we are all on the initial climb of the roller-coaster before it takes that first radical dip. I can't wait.

Fernando Montero is a member of the UCLA Anderson full-time MBA class of 2010 .

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