Aaron Behle

Aaron Behle Photo

Aaron Behle

“Never pass up on a free meal” might sound like cheeky advice for a college student struggling to get by but for Aaron Behle it means something entirely different.

In fall of his Junior year in the UCLA Economics program, the family member of a friend who worked at Ernst and Young invited Aaron to a free steak dinner. Aaron took him up on the offer and was soon having dinner with a room of public accountants. “I honestly had no idea what public accounting was,” Aaron recalled with a laugh. “I had an amazing dinner with all these smart people and it was a great on-ramp for my career path.” That night ended up being a decisive moment for Aaron as he quickly started adding classes to his schedule for a minor in accounting. A year later, he interviewed for all six top accounting firms at the time and landed a job at Deloitte, as luck would have it, starting his first job post-graduation as a public accountant.

Aaron’s advice has nothing to do with saving on your groceries but instead to never pass up an opportunity when it comes your way. It seems for Aaron many of those opportunities have often come through meeting people, from launching his career in public accounting to ending up in international business years later. Even during his time at UCLA, Aaron says that it was the professors and connections he built through the Honors program that allowed him to gain a greater understanding of economics that would be the foundation of his career.

“I was fortunate enough with the teachers I had that presented with this great bridge between theory and reality and that to me was really important. They gave me this great toolbox of economic theory and equations and then actually taught me how to apply it to the real world.”

In fact, Aaron still remembers his Economics 1 professor, the emeritus chairman of the economics department at the time, William R. Allen. From his first economics class, Aaron built a relationship with Allen, and ultimately the chairman ended up playing a large part in his academic career. In Aaron’s senior year he wrote two papers with Allen, one of them focused on the rapidly transforming state and economy of South Africa which at the time was just leaving behind the system of apartheid. Nearly thirty years later, Aaron still stands by his research, saying “South Africa at that time was at the tipping point of apartheid and my position was that the injection of capital would accelerate free market capitalism, competition and opportunity; there is no room for racism in competitive markets.”

And remarkably, what Aaron learned truly followed him in building his career. In lieu of Aaron’s own advice on taking opportunities, Aaron was interviewing for a finance job when he was unexpectedly offered a position in business development for the global sports equipment and lifestyle brand Oakley. Oakley was expanding to international markets, and when, in a turn of events, Aaron was hired in the development department instead of finance, he ended up in none other than South Africa. Aaron narrated the incredible circumstance, “I graduate in 93, in 96 I’m in South Africa working for Oakley setting up a company!”

Speaking about the trajectory of his career, Aaron says, “There are no straight lines in nature and no straight lines in life, certainly in today’s market more than ever.” He believes that you may never know where you will end up years later, the best approach is to take the opportunities as they come your way. And that is exactly how after starting in public accounting, Aaron was launched into a successful career working with global consumer products brands including Oakley, Reef, Dragon, Skullcandy, and now, Salt Optics.

But when asked if he ever lost his economics knowledge, Aaron laughed, “It never leaves.” He remarked that every step of the way in his career in business, the economics he learned at UCLA was a relevant, key tool for him. On the importance of what he learned in the economics program, Aaron said, “Economics is like studying the organism of commerce… You would be very surprised at the practical application of what you learn.” In fact, he has seen economics concepts reflected in the international markets he has worked in: “Spending almost my 30 years with global businesses, I have seen economic theories play out via changes in political regimes, geopolitical conflict, trade sanctions, currency manipulation, trade agreements…the list is long”

In fact, with Aaron’s background as a student studying economics and now his accumulated years of experience working in international markets, he has come back to guest lecture in the economics department teaching courses in pricing theory and compensation. Now with his “immediate exposure to currency fluctuations and impact on pricing” that he gained from his work in global business, Aaron brings a new, practical perspective to the theory.

“When I do my pricing course I talk a lot about that. When you are involved in global markets where the currency is constantly in flux, we discuss how that impacts your sourcing strategy and how you price the product to the end consumer today, a month from now, six months from now and how you develop product and sourcing strategies with these pricing changes. A lot of that is what I learned first-hand in the context of economics.”

At the beginning of the discussion, Aaron said regarding his humble beginnings as an economics student that from the start “[he] was all in”, and that has stayed true even now. While Aaron has taken every great opportunity that came his way from an unexpected start in public accounting to launching his career in international business, Aaron has stayed true to his commitment to be a lifelong student of economics. He applied it to his career while the experience he gained allowed him to develop a greater understanding of the workings of “the organism of commerce.” Now Aaron’s beginnings in the UCLA economics department has come full circle as he teaches students the connection between theory and application that his professors once taught him. This is the definition of a true Bruin.


Written by Katia Arami, UCLA Undergraduate Student

Mark Kingdon


Mark Kingdon

If you took a student from a painting class, and dropped him into a venture capital firm, you probably would expect him to struggle. After all, fine arts and economics seemingly have very few similarities, and their educational paths could not be any more different. But for Mark Kingdon, one of his strongest skills as an investor lies in his artistic background that he began nurturing from a young age.

Mark hails from Northern California and grew up in a household wholly supportive of his artistic endeavors. Before matriculating at UCLA, Mark studied fine arts at UC Santa Barbara under the creative and philosophical guidance of Bill Rohrbach. But his desire for autonomy and the quest to expand his horizons led him to the Parson’s School of Design in New York City, where he sought to apply his creativity to a field that would presumably return a stable income.

Mark’s exploration of design came to an end shortly after discovering it wasn’t the field for him. His search for a new professional direction led him to Westwood, where he began his studies at UCLA’s Department of Fine Arts. Mark loved the arts, and continues to do so today, but he encountered a fork in the road when assessing whether or not he could financially sustain himself in the field. He worried that pursuing a career in the arts would force him to sacrifice his artistic autonomy. This pivotal period of contemplation led to his enrollment in the economics department, where he could utilize his analytical skills in a field of study characterized by math and social sciences.

In addition to his studies at UCLA, Mark served as the classified line manager at the Daily Bruin, overseeing advertisements placed in the campus’ newspaper. Finding new avenues of funding allowed Mark to expand the breadth of his entrepreneurial abilities that would complement his love for analyzing patterns. 

Mark graduated from UCLA in 1986 with a degree in economics, and immediately entered the M.B.A. program at Wharton. Following his second graduation, he went to work for Coopers & Lybrand (which later became PwC) as a strategy consultant focused on helping companies develop new digital channels (even before the advent of the commercial internet).  Mark moved up the ranks to partner and ultimate joined the global senior leadership team, leading pre-merger planning and post-merger integration when Coopers & Lybrand merged with Price Waterhouse in the largest merger in the history of professional services. But late in the 1990s, the internet beckoned and Mark joined Idealab!, one of the first internet incubators where he reviewed investment opportunities by working with ecommerce startups. Throughout, he was driven by his ambition of becoming the CEO of a publicly traded company before the age of 40, and worked hard to achieve this dream.

Mark shortly got his chance at Organic (NASDAQ: OGNC), a firm known for placing the first banner ad in internet history. The internet bubble had burst, the company was losing tens of millions of dollars and revenue was dropping, so, he took the publicly listed company private with private equity money and executed an aggressive and painful turnaround —  cutting the staff by 85% and eliminating over $100 million in real estate liabilities. In addition to his structural reforms, he refocused the company on digital innovation, becoming one of the first companies to place advertisements on MySpace and Facebook. During his tenure, he started investing his own money in promising Internet startups. When he felt he’d finished his work at Organic (industry leading company in terms of market perception and profitability) he left to become CEO of Second Life, the online virtual world. 

Mark had been making investments since 2006, and in 2010, left Second Life and founded his own private investment firm now named Quixotic Ventures. The word “quixotic” roughly translates to “exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical”. It may seem naive to sport an “exceedingly idealistic and impractical” mindset in an industry with significant financial risk, but Mark found success through his own unique and innovative approach.

“People laughed at me when I invested in Twitter,” Mark said. 

Twitter wasn’t the only objectionable investment he made. His optimism in RealReal, a luxury clothing resale company, also provoked disapproval. “People told me there was no market for used clothing. Well it turns out a lot of people will buy a used Chanel handbag,” Mark added.

Those people were wrong, and over the years, Mark has amassed an investment portfolio whose companies have a created a combined market value of more than 32 billion dollars. His analytical skills, artistic background, and “quixotic” approach to investments allowed him to forge his own financial independence and an ability to sponsor the arts. He is currently a Board Trustee for the New World Symphony, an orchestral academy that prepares music graduates for leadership roles in professional orchestras and ensembles. Mark also currently collects art, but primarily expresses his artistic abilities through gardening, and has a budding collection of rare palms. 

His artistic upbringing proves to be one of his most essential skills in identifying investment opportunities. The visual analytics he refined in his fine arts studies enables him to be visually critical when viewing consumer apps seeking his investment. It allows him to properly gauge which interfaces will gain the most traction with consumers. The distantly related field of art gave Mark the skills that separated him from other investors in financial industries.

Mark still fondly reflects on his time at UCLA, and has very valuable advice for current Bruins: “You’re going to be working for the rest of your life and you have to be doing something that you love. You don’t want to do something boring. If your passions change, then you shouldn’t be afraid to find a new direction.”

Mark never feared the uncertainty of a new career path, and implores all current Bruins to pursue their ambitions with the same mentality.

“I’ve made three major career changes in my life… leaving something very certain behind for something very uncertain in the future. Every time I did that, it paid off enormously.”


Written by Andreas Papoutsis.

Lauren Lucido Watkins

Ever since the 5th grade, Lauren Lucido Watkins knew she wanted to be a Bruin. There was no rhyme or reason, nor strong family legacy ties – Lauren was simply drawn to the prestige that came with the name and the energy that radiated from everyone who spoke about the university. Without ever considering a second option, she accepted her offer and graduated from UCLA in 2011 with a BA in Business Economics and a minor in Accounting.

Lauren Lucido Watkins

Lauren has always been a strategic thinker and natural problem-solver. Lauren attributes her first venture into the realm of strategy and consulting as a core member for the Daily Bruin, first working as an intern, moving to internal advertising sales, and ultimately working as the assistant manager during her junior and senior years. In a time where the technological revolution was on the cusp of breaking through, Lauren and other members of the Daily Bruin were tasked with countering the demise of print paper and shift to online news platforms. While figuring out how to generate revenue beyond print and assessing the internal structure of the Daily Bruin, Lauren realized the importance of aligning your team with your business needs. Without a strong people strategy, she knew that business changes couldn’t follow. Lauren followed her passion, which culminated into an internship in Los Angeles with Deloitte Consulting in their Human Capital practice.

Lauren excelled as a top analyst while at Deloitte. She worked in their organization and talent group for two years before being approached by Christian Dior, who at the time was looking for business-minded candidates to take part in their re-launched management training program. Lauren knew that an opportunity in high fashion may not come again, so she decided to take a leap of faith, recognizing a greater end goal, and leave her job at Deloitte. Within a week, Lauren went from being a consultant advising clients, to working the floor at the Christian Dior Boutique on Rodeo Drive learning all facets of the luxury retail landscape. Such a drastic change in environment is no easy feat. Lauren believes her time spent at UCLA working at the Daily Bruin contributed to her successful transition between two very distinct worlds. She draws parallels between working at the Daily Bruin and her first work experiences at Christian Dior, both times in which she was a part of a group of people whose main focus was working as a team to grow the business in a fast-moving environment.

The Daily Bruin was not Lauren’s only extracurricular activity at UCLA. Lauren is a sister of Kappa Alpha Theta, serving as the Internal Social Chair and VP of Membership, and was the Consulting Director of the Undergraduate Business Society during her senior year. In terms of academics, her favorite class she took while at UCLA was Real Estate Investments, taught in tandem with professors and students from the Anderson School of Management. She has used many of the learnings to assess investments in her own life, including purchasing a home in San Francisco.

Upon transitioning to Christian Dior, Lauren spent one year in Beverly Hills focused on client development strategies and was then promoted to Christian Dior’s New York flagship where she was tasked at driving sales and overseeing the shoe department. Fast-forward to present day and Lauren has scaled the corporate ladder, now the Assistant Boutique Manager for the Christian Dior boutique in San Francisco, which she helped to open last year.

As a lover of high fashion myself, I was keen on hearing about how Lauren acquired such a vast knowledge of the high fashion realm in order to be working at one of the powerhouses in the industry. Her advice was to constantly stay active in obtaining knowledge and keeping an eye on the ever-changing landscape of fashion. I also asked her if there was any advice she wished she could say to her college-self. “Be fearless, take risks, and do [things] you’re passionate about.” Lauren reminded us that unless you put yourself out there, you can never truly reap the rewards from all the opportunities in life.

Written by Katie Kim, Undergraduate

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