“Kathryn, you’re in!” declared the UCLA admission officer as she immediately recognized the voice on the other side of the phone. Why could an admission officer, who dealt with thousands of students each year, recognize a voice so quickly? It was because she had been receiving daily phone calls from a young Kathryn Brewer, anxious to learn of her admission application status. This kind-of hunger and determination has pushed Kathryn to grow and succeed in her diverse career.
Kathryn believes that it is always important to find challenges and strive for more accomplishment. In fact, it was this philosophy that led her to UCLA. After high school, Kathryn was eager to become an adult, be independent and join the workforce right away. Starting as a Secretary Sales Assistant for Hewlett-Packard, Kathryn vividly recalls a life-changing moment. Her supervisor congratulated her on her excellent performance during her annual review and remarked, “You’re going to be a Secretary 3 in no time!” However, Secretary 3 wasn’t here career ambition and she knew her lack of a college education was capping her potential. Determined, it was on that exact night that she started her application to UCLA. Looking back, Kathryn believes it is imperative to “make the commitment to be the best version of yourself.”.
In addition to the financial and analytical skills that she gained from her education as an Economics major, Kathryn learned two skills that would serve her for the rest of her life – teamwork and perseverance in the face of adversity. Kathryn worked close to a full-time job with her studies. This made it difficult for her to find enough time to study. However, she was able to always form study groups which helped her push through UCLA’s demanding curriculum. Kathryn loved forming as many study groups as possible; to her, collaboration was key to success within the classroom. In her career after UCLA, it was her ability to work with and lead colleagues that helped her achieve remarkable success. For instance, she remembers when she took over a struggling aviation company operating in a tight labor market. She was able to take the company and triple the revenue in less than 2 years. In fact, the company culture she developed had technicians calling to express a desire to work for her company.
Furthermore, Kathryn has the ability to make the best out of difficult situations. This ability again goes back to her college experiences. Kathryn’s father gave her limited funds during her college years. She had a mere $500 per month to cover textbook costs, rent, transportation, groceries, and all of her other living expenses. Oftentimes as the month came to end, so did her cash. However, Kathryn did not complain or simply ask for more money. Instead, she found a solution to the problem. She would go to the Student Center and eat the 5-cent oatmeal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This less-than-ideal predicament showed her how to survive and thrive in difficult conditions and possess the initiative to work your way out of a bad situation.
This creed led to some of her proudest moments. Kathryn is a single mother of two boys for more than 30 years. Despite the challenges brought on by this, she attended Whittier Law School, and received her M.B.A. from Pepperdine University while working demanding full-time jobs. One of the defining moments of her life came on the day of her Pepperdine graduation. As she went up on stage to receive her diploma, she could hear her boys cheering from the crowd. Even though they were just children, they had watched how hard she worked for her diploma and appreciated her accomplishment. Recalling this, she says she has never been prouder or felt a greater sense of accomplishment.
Since then Kathryn has held a variety of positions in a range of companies. Though years have gone by, Kathryn remains as excited for new challenges as ever. From being CFO at a baby clothes brand to accepting the CEO position at an aviation company, Kathryn has a rich treasure trove of experiences. In fact, she emphasizes the importance of trying out different jobs to UCLA seniors who might be stuck with the mentality of finding their final job right out of graduation or facing eternal doom. By working in various fields, Kathryn has been able to discover what she’s truly great at. The aggregate of what she’s learned at her many positions in life has been invaluable to her career. Additionally, no matter which field you are in, it is important to think of problems in terms of their potential solutions. She says that she loves working with people who get excited if challenged with a new problem. Problems are not a hindrance to success but a mechanism through which we can achieve success. When it comes to the risk and uncertainty associated with these problems, Kathryn recalls words from one of her favorite books, The Road Less Traveled, “Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure.” The courage and wisdom we develop from problem solving is foundation to Kathryn’s simple philosophy: “If you put clear intentions into the universe, the universe will conspire to give them to you”.
Lastly, Kathryn believes it is imperative to give back to the community. As a member of the Board of Directors for The Literacy Project, Kathryn adores witnessing “the effervescent joy on children’s faces”. She reasons that there is a lot we can learn from these children. She recalls an experience when they gave snacks at an event sponsored by the LA Angels called “Readers in the Outfield”. Several of the at-risk children from the program asked if they could take the left-over snacks back home for their siblings. That day, they gave an extra snack box to all the kids to take home. The impact of the joy these kids expressed, brought on not by selfish desires but an innocent and selfless love for their family, was clear by Kathryn’s face as she told us this story. When you give, you get a lot more back.
Kathryn is grateful to UCLA for teaching life’s essential ingredients. She proudly declares, “I’m always going to be a Bruin”. This sense of identity has been important for her as she faces challenges head on. Using her education as a foundation, she is always striving to be better; a better person, a better CEO, a better mother. In the process, she has achieved success not only in her career, but in her personal life despite challenges that could have derailed her. She hopes her story provides inspiration to others understanding that life is difficult; but having purpose in what you do changes hard work into a labor of love.
By Bailey Brann and Harsh Gupta