Business Schools

Starting Strong


Why doing as much as you can, as soon as you can, is a good strategy for business school

Back in high school I ran on the cross-country team. While never a star, I held my own and helped the team as best I could. My biggest challenge was an inability to save energy for the final leg of the race. My strategy was to establish a position early and try to hold on until the finish line. My first quarter of UCLA Anderson had faint echoes of the strategy, except this time it was apt.

I jumped in head-first, then crawled proudly to the finish line. This strategy seems to have been the norm and not the exception amongst my classmates. Living by the adage that you regret more the things not done, most of us have come to business school with the intention of getting involved anywhere we can. Since clubs at UCLA Anderson are entirely student-run, this bodes well for the future. These clubs are also where first and second year students have the most interaction. The second years guide you through the responsibilities, and by the end of the year, first years take over and run the organizations. Through this process you exchange information on classes, internships, industries, and anything else that they know and you need to know.

UCLA Anderson has divided their clubs into three units: professional clubs, identity clubs, and interest clubs. Second years recommended committing to three, so I am currently executive director of the Entertainment Management Association's Career Night in late January; director of event planning for Section G, the LGBT organization at Anderson; and first-year director for the Anderson Tennis Club. These are the three organizations I not only feel most strongly about, but also those that I can contribute to the most. In addition, I am a member of the Marketing Association, the Latino Students Management Association, Joint Ventures, and the Wine Club.

The positions have been an enormous amount of work, but the rewards have been proportional. In planning the Entertainment Career Night, I have been able to reach out to companies and build relationships with various executives and HR departments. As a board member of Section G, I felt the support of the school and my classmates after the passing of the disastrous Proposition 8 in California. As director of the Tennis Club, I was able to help generate interest in what I think is the greatest sport and get people out on the courts. Through the Entertainment Management Association, I was able to secure a winter academic internship at 20th Century Fox in their International Sales and Strategy division.

Classes Come to a Crescendo

While club activity is picking up, midterms arrive and classes really begin to accelerate the pace. At times it feels like you are stuck on a theme park ride that moves at predetermined speed, à la Jurassic Park—both the movie and the ride. Professors introduce themes each class, going through the material efficiently and thoroughly while answering all questions. You walk out of class confident that you have understood the depth of the material…until the online quiz or problem set. These are designed to build on the class material and train your brain to think as an economist, accountant, or portfolio manager. Not a smooth process, especially since it is happening with, and in front of, your study group members.

Subjects such as Pricing Strategies or Options Markets, which are nuanced and multifaceted, are introduced and explained in ninety minutes. Office hours and TAs are there to elaborate, but the true function of many core courses is to set the foundation for when it comes time to take the elective courses with titles such as, lo and behold, "Pricing Strategies" and "Options Markets."

By Thanksgiving, you realize you will not have to develop your own options portfolio to pass the course (a pretty complex undertaking—just ask Bernie Madoff). By then though, just like the Jurassic Park ride, you feel the impending free-fall of finals looming ahead. Unlike college when you had "reading week" to prepare for finals, B-school provides you with "reading weekend." In the end though, everyone survives and comes in for a smooth landing, some of us still shaking, but all ready for the champagne brunch organized by Student Services.

The champagne brunch reminded me eerily of the end of the first season of Lost, when the castaways, with hair unwashed and beards overgrown, hug as they say goodbye to those departing on the raft toward potential rescue. The only thing missing on the back lawn of Anderson was the violins.

In business school, friendships develop quickly. In the beginning, I wrote off many of these to the phenomenon of insta-friendships. I was wrong. These relationships may not be based on length or shared history, but they go just as deep. They are based on shared experience. Not knowing how many siblings someone has, when their last serious relationship was, or what their political views are doesn't diminish your bond. When you see someone truly tested, vulnerable with the fear of failure or of having their shortcomings exposed, you see who they really are, and perhaps more importantly, you show who you are.

Now before I even blinked, it is time to return. Operations, Marketing II, Corporate Finance, and my first elective, New Media, await me. Hopefully the spirit of cooperation will continue so our Lost doesn't turn into Lord of the Flies.

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

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