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April Franco

April_Franco

April Franco

Entrepreneurship and academic research are two words that are rarely used in the same context. However, Dr. April Franco’s illustrious career as a research economist seamlessly blends these two worlds together, producing some of the most innovative research in the fields of management science, industrial organization and applied game theory. Furthermore, her journey through the meandering path of academia provides us with insights that are indispensable to anyone staring down a similar path.

Franco’s transition into economics hints at her entrepreneurial mindset. As an undergraduate majoring in Economics and Philosophy, Franco thought that law school was her obvious calling.

Having worked part-time at a jewelry store frequented by several lawyers, Franco got the chance to ask them questions about a career in law. She learnt that the field of law is very adversarial, one picks (or is assigned) a side and is continually battling the other side. This was not something which April wanted in a career. Around the same time, she got an opportunity, through the various avenues that UCLA Economics offers, to conduct research under the supervision of the renowned Dr. Jack Hirshleifer. She read, among other papers, the work by Kahneman and Tversky in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. In her work and readings, she realized that the process of research appealed to her. She enjoyed how research focused on understanding and discussing existing ideas, then using the existing ideas to push the frontier of human knowledge. She discovered that although there is competition in research, the competition is a race to truth and not a battle against your colleagues. After a summer as a RA at UC Berkeley, she was certain that a career in research was the right choice for her.

Franco’s research career is too extensive to summarize in one article. However, one thing her work has in common is that it focuses on questions which she believes are important to ask and intellectually intriguing. When asked to choose her opus magnus, she wryly replied that it is like being asked to choose amongst one’s children. Nonetheless, she obliged our request. She talked about her job market paper which was among the first papers to explore the origins of entrepreneurs. Hitherto, most economic papers argued that if there is an opportunity for strictly positive profits, new firms would enter the industry. However, the literature did not explore where these entrepreneurs came from. “It was as if they came from ether”, jokes Franco. Her paper, which she wrote in collaboration with Dr. Darren Filson, argued that one of the major source of new firms was employee spin-outs. That is employees quitting their jobs to start independent firms that operate in the same industry as their former employers. In the age of the PayPal mafia this may seem rather clear, but her paper, backed with evidence from the hard drive industry, was groundbreaking and pioneered the literature in this field.

Throughout her research career, she has further explored the question of employee spin-outs. She has also explored several other questions such as the impact of overconfidence in management and questions relating to intra-firm organization.  One of the hardest tasks in research is coming up with meaningful and impactful research questions. Franco believes that her undergraduate education in economics has helped her in developing research questions, remarking that North American universities, such as UCLA, are exceptionally good at developing the skills necessary to conjure research questions. As she recalls, during graduate school several of her classmates had gone to universities that focused on fostering technical skills. During her first year, when the classes were very technical, Franco felt as if she was playing catch up. However, once she learned the technical skills, it was her ability to use the technical skills in asking and answering impactful questions that pushed her career forward.

Franco remarks that undergraduates considering a career in academia should consider both the intellectual freedom that academia affords and the fact that it requires one to be entrepreneurial and self-motivated. If one decides to pursue a career in research, Franco’s advice is to focus on the fundamentals. She recommends taking challenging mathematics classes, learning how to use computers for analysis (like R and Python), and developing the ability to write effectively. These skills coupled with the insatiable desire to work on questions will no doubt bolster a career in research.

By Harsh Gupta.

Julie Lee

Julie Lee

You may have not heard of Julie Lee, but you have definitely heard music on Vevo. A founding member of Vevo, Julie helped revolutionize the music video industry. Immigrating to the United States as a child, Julie embarked on a journey that has since taken her across the world. Today, Julie is a business executive, entrepreneur, leader and mother.

In fact, she is just as energetic and driven today as she was when she first arrived at UCLA. A natural leader, Julie served as President for a business club on campus. She remarks that the greatest thing about UCLA was the network and mentors she had. In particular, one of her most influential mentors was Dr. McGarry, the former chair of the UCLA Econ Department. A confluence of great beginnings happened as one of Julie’s first Economics classes was also one of the first classes taught by Dr. McGarry at UCLA. Julie remarks that Dr. McGarry mentored her outside the classroom even though she had no obligation to do so. These interactions taught her the importance of learning through experiences, and understanding how the knowledge you learn in the classroom translates into the real world. Perhaps the most crucial impact in Julie’s life was when Dr. McGarry encouraged her to apply to the Departmental Scholar Program (DSP). Julie was initially hesitant about the program, since it required her to add another year to her education which was beyond her financial means. However, Dr. McGarry told her to apply for the Regent Scholarship which would fully fund her education. Heeding her advice, Julie applied to both the programs. Given the high bar of being accepted into into the DSP, Julie thought she had no shot. However, Julie was wrong: she got accepted as a Department Scholar and a Regent Scholar.

The Departmental Scholar Program proved to be the highlight of her life at UCLA. She got the opportunity to interact with graduate students who had a lot more experience than she did. She considered this to be an extremely humbling experience as she realized she was not the smartest person in the room. In addition, the graduate students came from a multitude of countries and walks of life. This was an enriching experience and prepared her for life outside UCLA. Furthermore, graduate classes were much more intimate. She believes the camaraderie that came from suffering together allowed all of the students to become extremely close. The is exemplified by the fact that she met Dr. Nahm, her best friend of twenty years on the first day of classes. Dr. Nahm, who is currently the Chair of the Economics Department at Kookmin University, and Julie are still as close as they were during their time at UCLA.

After graduating with a master’s and a bachelor’s degree in 4 years, Julie entered the professional world by working at Ernst & Young. She describes moving into the professional world as being dropped into the ocean. However, due to mentors like Dr. McGarry, she was able to wade in the water through her numerous internships while still at school. Furthermore, by studying Business Economics at a large school, her transition into professional life was made much easier. She decided to work at EY because she wanted to understand the service industry and learn how to professionally manage money. She believes that these skills are important whether you are a CEO, CIO, or President, all of which are positions she has held in the past 20 years.

After working at EY for a few years, Julie worked for Universal Music Group and then decided to move onto a project where she would have a larger impact. Beginning in the early 2000s, there was a substantive surge in music video demands; however, revenues for music companies like Sony and Universal were stagnant. To fill this void, Julie incubated a joint venture by Sony, Universal and Abu Dhabi Media which ended up as Vevo. While working at Vevo, Julie worked with companies like Google to redesign how music videos were distributed to consumers in the age of the internet. She played a key role in devising the hyper distribution model where consumers can access content whenever and wherever they want. Using then unheard-of media channels like YouTube and AOL, Vevo helped revolutionize how music is heard today. Vevo’s relationship was a landmark one in that it set the stage for a publisher ecosystem that ultimately paved the way for multi-channel networks.

However, revolutionizing the world’s music doesn’t come without hard work and long hours. Working at Vevo eventually began to take a toll on her work-life balance. “While incubating Vevo, I incubated a little boy” wryly comments Julie. In the years after her son’s birth, she spent a lot of time at work and not enough with her son. One day, when she was working on the Asia strategy for Vevo in Singapore, her 4-year-old son asked her why she was working. Julie had no answer. On the flight back to LA, she contemplated the simple question her son had asked, and the very next day, she decided to start a ten-month transition process onto her next adventure.

After departing from Vevo, she traveled the world with her son for 9 months which allowed her to spend quality time with him. It was her son’s curiosity that drove her to start EdTwist, a curated search engine for children. The project partnered with entities like UNESCO and JPL to foster curiosity among children. However, EdTwist eventually began to move in a direction which was beyond Julie’s realm of expertise. This subsequently spurred Julie’s recent move to Hong Kong to serve as the Chief Innovation Officer at Edipresse Media Asia, a premium media company inspiring, enabling and connecting communities of discerning consumers across Asia with brands including Asia Tatler. As an Asian mother, she wanted her son to live in Asia and become a true global citizen. She believes that although LA is described as a melting pot, it is really a salad bowl and the best way to learn about a culture is to live amongst its people. With a desire to work in a dynamic growing economy, she looks forward to the adventures which Asia has to offer.

Julie attributes her success to her affinity to take calculated risks. She argues that as economists, we should never take decisions without considering the short and long-term return of our decisions. She often agreed to work for less money if the opportunity was a new adventure that promised good returns. Furthermore, her decisions are made based on four major factors: money, people, legacy and location, emphasizing that you need to understand your expectations and priorities.  When she was fresh out of college, money was a very important factor. However, as her career progressed, her focus shifted away from earning money and towards other people and her own legacy. Her advice for students would be to embrace risks. An easy life is not an interesting life. Risks are intimidating at first. However, climbing over one mountain will give you the confidence and the motivation to climb over the next mountain. As you continue to take risks, you will become more and more comfortable with overcoming hurdles. She contends the importance of finding a network of people that support you when you fail. Her success would not have been possible without the support of Dr. Lee, her husband, and Dr. Nahm, her best friend (both extremely successful fellow Bruins). Going to UCLA has enabled her to acquire both a close network of supporters and a handle for calculated risk taking which has brought her success in her professional and personal life.

By Harsh Gupta.

Terry Kramer

Terry Kramer can be best described as a master of all trades. He has succeeded in a variety fields including business, public affairs and academia. The epitome of a leader, Terry Kramer has shown the world what it means to be a Bruin.

Terry Kramer

Starting from his days at UCLA, Terry Kramer kept developing his skills based on the demands and context of the task he was assigned. He explains how his journey through multiple fields strengthened the three key aspects of leadership—strategic, operational and people leadership. UCLA kickstarted this journey by teaching and reinforcing these three key aspects; he learned to analyze the situation, understand the competitors and take well-informed initiatives on a diverse set of problems. At the same time, as president of Hedrick Hall, he acquired operational leadership skills by advocating for causes, staging events and more. Combined with school work, he truly learned how to best manage his time to get the job done. He learned to establish connections and have meaningful interactions, skills which became essential to his career outside UCLA.

After a brief stint at Harris Corporation, a technology company, his journey then led him to Harvard Business School. He explains that it is easy to get intimidated by the amount of smart people around, but this pushed him to work harder. The challenge allowed him to acquire skills that were indispensable later on. His advice is that when applying to competitive schools, it is vital to get comfortable with the fact that the competition is tough without getting discouraged and to ultimately develop your own unique “brand position”. Applicants must understand that even though there are a lot of smart people, there are also a lot of great jobs and that each person brings a unique set of capabilities that creates a unique and high-impact learning environment

His educational training helped him rise in a variety of fields, be it Vodafone or his role as US Ambassador. Terry Kramer explains that his experiences in the numerous departments at Vodafone were inspired by a top executive who moved him all over the business. This diverse journey was possible because of the people he built connections with, combined with his interest and willingness to take on new challenges. For instance, he met former FCC Chair, Tom Wheeler who was a key advisor in the Obama administration and informed him of the Ambassador job opening. After five months of background checks and a requirement to sell all of his personal tech holdings, he became the ambassador for the negotiations of an internet and telecom regulations treaty at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai.

When asked why he decided to move around so much, Terry Kramer advised us that we should use the concept of diminishing returns rather than opportunity cost when making career decisions. We must keep on climbing new learning curves and find new opportunities once we begin to feel like we’re settling into a comfort zone. Congruously, we should think big and be ambitious, rather than getting stuck in a conservative and pragmatic mindset. We must take risks if we want to achieve great things. “It is always better to get 90% of a stretch plan than 101% of a modest plan.”

Completing the full circle, Terry Kramer’s path brings him back to UCLA as a professor at Anderson. He started by giving a few guest lectures, acting as a judge for a business plan contest and a faculty advisor for the UCLA Anderson  capstone project focused on a 6 month management consulting assignment yielding a 50 page business plan. Next he was able to develop a course on the mobile communication industry based on strong student interest. Finally, he was additionally asked to teach a foundational course because of technology management encompassing cloud computing, Internet of Things and AI/big data industries. And he certainly loves teaching these to passionate Bruins. You might wonder, with his astounding CV, why did he choose UCLA? He could teach anywhere in the country (especially because he lives in the Bay Area). Pragmatically speaking, at UCLA he would be able to teach innovative courses on technology and drive his own curriculum and teaching approach. And even though he sometimes he takes 6AM flights to LA, once he gets a glimpse of Royce Hall or good ol’ Hedrick Hall, all the fatigue gets replaced with exhilaration.

Furthermore, he strongly believes that it is crucial to serve others along the way. He cannot think of a better way to serve others than by teaching at his alma mater. In fact, Mr. Kramer believes that serving others is one of the pillars to success and biggest source of saisfaction. In the hustle and bustle of life, it is easy to get “me-oriented”, but we need to add value for others wherever we go.  Serving others is what defines us as Bruins.

 

–          By Natsharee Pulkes and Harsh Gupta, UCLA Undergraduates

 

Click here to see more Alumni Interviews.

 

Barry Eggers

Barry Eggers (’85) is a founding partner at Lightspeed Ventures, a venture capitalist firm which focuses largely on IT and Technology start-ups (If that name rings a bell, it is because a few years ago they seed funded a little known company called Snapchat). What most don’t know is that his journey, which led him to Silicon Valley, started in Westwood.

Barry Eggers

At UCLA, Eggers majored in Economics Business and loved the subject. An athlete at heart, Eggers was a part of the NCAA Men’s Water Polo team, fondly recalling their experiences competing against other PAC 10 schools. Aside from this, he was a passionate UCLA football fan and a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, where he cultivated his social circles. As such, he often found himself working with small, dedicated teams since his college days.

After graduating from Stanford Business School, he joined Cisco. Cisco, at the time, had recently gone public and was still in its infancy. He watched as Cisco grew from 400 to 12,000 employees, and loved working in different roles as the company grew; it felt like he had a new job every year. However, as Cisco grew larger, Eggers missed the intimacy and excitement of working in a smaller and dynamic environment. The venture capital world was, quite literally, calling.

After leaving Cisco, he founded Lightspeed Ventures and began working with small start-ups. He loved the feeling of discovering a company and watching the journey it made. These were risky ventures and no one knew where a company would go. However, this was really exciting for him, because he never knew where the next great journey would come from.

Rather conveniently, he discovered Snapchat in his home when he saw his daughter using the app with her friends. This sparked Barry’s interest, and he talked to his partner Jeremy Liew. After Jeremy tracked down Evan Spiegel, Lightspeed became Snap’s first investor. Since then,  Barry has watched Evan Spiegel grow from an aspiring 21-year old entrepreneur at Stanford to the CEO of an emerging social media powerhouse.

Eggers recalled that something like this was virtually impossible when he was still in school: the word “entrepreneurship” did not exist. He describes how back in his time, you would graduate college, get a job, and climb the corporate ladder. Now, the opportunities are limitless, and he is actively trying to bring these opportunities to UCLA students. Lightspeed Ventures sponsors StartUp UCLA. Eggers himself endowed an annual seed fund prize for UCLA teams, and is a driving force of the entrepreneurship minor.

He believes that college is a great place to learn interpersonal skills, that in order to succeed in Silicon Valley you must get familiar with the ecosystem. The VCs, angel investors, consumers and directors present in Silicon Valley act as catalysts for success to anyone who can adapt to the system. UCLA, much like Silicon Valley, is an ecosystem ripe with opportunities. Anyone who takes advantage of these opportunities will walk out with a set of interpersonal skills and experiences that will help him or her succeed anywhere in the world.

His parting advice would be that you never know where life will take you and where you will end up. He never thought he would be working as a VC. However, if you work at a growing company that you are passionate about, you are sure to move forward and end up somewhere you like. You never know, but one fine day, you could discover the next Snapchat.

Written by Harsh Gupta

Click here to see more Alumni Interviews.