Kathryn Brewer

Kathryn-Brewer2“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

Sahil Punamia


Sahil Punamia

Like many of UCLA’s students, Sahil hails from northern California growing up in the quaint suburbs of the Bay Area. Growing up in high school, he was actively involved with his marching band, playing the alto saxophone and piano. Interestingly enough, Sahil’s affinity for jazz music and the opportunity to play for the marching band was a pivotal reason he attended UCLA, a testament for his passion for music and the creative arts. Despite being initially rejected by UCLA, Sahil was offered a spot on the UCLA marching band after he created a last-minute audition tape that attracted the attention of UCLA’s band director.

Having graduated UCLA in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and a minor in Film Television & Digital Media Studies, Sahil’s decision to major in Economics was primarily motivated by his desire to learn about various aspects of business and finance. Moreover, he was impressed by the range of electives and lab courses offered by the Economics Department. He recognizes that drawing students to the major means balancing a fine line between theoretical coursework and courses that are more practical and professionally geared in nature. He believes UCLA recognizes this and that the narrative is slowly starting to change as fields like financial engineering and behavioral economics emerge.

Despite his rocky path getting into UCLA, Sahil has directly contributed to some of the university’s greatest facets. In his time here, he served as the President of Bruin Consulting and was one of the nine founding fathers of Sigma Eta Pi (SEP). With his friends, he realized the lack of entrepreneurship fraternities on the entirety of the west coast while fields like medicine, business, and law had full-fledged professional fraternities. By adopting a collaborative mindset, they were able to establish the first entrepreneurship fraternity on the west coast. The time he spent working with these organizations at UCLA taught him how to cultivate trust, work with a breadth of personalities and become a galvanizing leader without overstepping any boundaries.

All the time spent gearing towards professional development helped prepare Sahil for his role as an L.E.K consultant upon graduating. During his time at L.E.K, he forecasted industry trends, developed OTT media strategies and worked on over 35 different engagements spanning 3 years. Despite the tremendous learning curve, Sahil remarks that it was an invaluable experience. That said, as time went on, he wanted to transition out of consulting. Eventually, he turned to the media company Discovery Communications, whose programs he had watched since his youth. This gave him the chance to work on content strategy, marketing, and distribution across various Discovery Communication platforms.

Now Sahil serves on the Marketing Planning & Analysis team at Netflix. He describes his role as that of an internal consultant, leveraging data-driven insights and conducting market research to better support Netflix’s creative marketing & PR teams. He contends that success in the media industry and any industry, for that matter, requires being able to lead and understand what motivates the people around you. Figuring out how to best align the objectives of various stakeholders is a skill that will go a long way. Moreover, Sahil firmly believes that success in his field implies constant learning and that anyone seriously interested in pursuing a career in the media industry needs to be prepared to learn every day about the changes taking place, shifts in consumer behavior, new mediums of distribution, content providers etc.

Aside from growing his own professional career, Sahil seeks to make a tangible impact on the careers of our Bruins. His started his company The Aspiring Professional to coach students one on one and provide career guidance at a personal level. Moreover, he serves on the board of the UCLA Alumni Association and has conducted numerous career-focused seminars for UCLA students at the career center. Having gone through the arduous recruitment process, he knows the challenges students face when it comes to securing a job. His seminars have no doubt shaped the careers of countless students, who enjoy his practical and actionable approach to navigating the recruitment process. To him, the satisfaction gleaned from making a tangible difference in their lives is an unmatched feeling.

In his quest to strike a good work-life balance, Sahil takes the time to go for long drives and regularly attends improv comedy shows. Moving forward, he hopes to continue growing his speaking and coaching practices whilst fostering more meaningful relationships with UCLA and other universities. Ultimately, that is the legacy he would like to leave behind.

By Adithya Kumar and Marcella Pensamiento

Karen Williams

Karen Williams

Karen Williams

Karen Williams’ success as a businesswoman, educator, and leader are testament to her ability to make smart calculated decisions, and her self-described scrappiness. Her long, winding, and triumphant journey has taken her through many paths and many pivots. A journey that started, right here, at UCLA.

Williams looks back at her undergraduate years very fondly. Initially enrolled as a pre-med student, Williams soon switched her major to economics. She fondly recalls that she really began to thrive when she switched her major, believing that she found her true calling. She enjoyed being able to take a variety of courses and emphasizes how UCLA allowed her to become an open-minded individual. She initially wanted to work in a more creative job, but unfortunately that was not financially feasible. Like so many students today, she had to find a way to merge feasibility with her passion for creative endeavors. After receiving her B.A. degree, Williams moved to the East Coast to work as an auditor. She urges all Californians to leave California and see what awaits outside.

After working as an auditor for 4 years, Williams concluded that she was not able to utilize her creativity and critical thinking skills at her job. She knew it was time for another pivot. Williams decided that her true passion lied in marketing and brand management and decided to enroll in an MBA program to pursue her goal. With a desire to build a stronger business and leadership foundation, Williams came back to pursue her MBA at UCLA Anderson. While at Anderson she was a part of the Executive Board of Women’s Business Connection and a member of the Marketing Club. Williams recalls being very involved during her time at Anderson because the atmosphere was very conducive to her success. It was as if she had found her way back home.

With lifelong friends at her side and indispensable skills she gained from UCLA, Williams was ready to venture into the marketing and brand management industry. She started her career in Brand Management at Johnson & Johnson, and Sara Lee. A few years later Williams began her journey in the media industry.

Williams says that she had always been drawn to the media industry. “I used to hang out with Theatre, Film, and Television majors and interned in CBS studios for a quarter (as an undergraduate)” she recalls. She describes working in marketing using the analogy of a candy shop. “I feel like marketing is similar to being an entrepreneur, it’s like managing your own little candy shop, it’s the closest thing to general management.” She highlights the structural differences between a regular corporate role and working for entertainment media. At the time, there was very little training for fresh undergraduates. She learned how to dive into a problem and tackle it using her scrappiness and resourcefulness. Needless to say, her educational background proved to be a valuable asset. She believes that since then many higher-education institutions have improved their process for preparing students for industry roles. Anderson Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment & Sports (MEMES) being one of them. “When I went into the industry in the 2000s, something like that never existed” she comments. Enthusiastic about these changes, Williams chose to be a part of them. This brought her to the next big pivot. She began her career as an educator and leader.

Williams emphasizes the timing of her shift from the private sector to the public sector. Feeling as though she had reached all her goals in the media industry, Williams thought it would be best to transition while she was ahead of the curve. Williams started her career as an educator and counsellor at USC Marshall as a MBA career advisor. Later, she was recruited by Anderson as an executive director at MEMES. She advises students to thoroughly think about their decisions and to “take a step back before you take a step forward.” As someone with a lot of wisdom in career development, Williams underscores the significance of leadership. She emphasizes that leadership is not only leading people but also leading processes and plans. She stresses the ability to lead from point A to point B with dedication and responsibility. Williams embodies this philosophy through her actions as Director at MEMES. Some of her projects like the Big Data Conference and MEMES Summer Institute have become an important of the Anderson experience.

The next pivot in Williams life came, when she decided to pursue a challenge very close to her heart. Williams mentions that although Black, Hispanic and Native Americans make up 30% of the population, they only hold 3-4% of senior leadership roles. This motivated Williams to join Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), an organization that offers mentorship programs for rising leaders of color. Starting out as a counsellor, Williams is now helping disadvantaged students succeed in an increasingly competitive world. Diversity and inclusiveness carry a special meaning for Williams, and she looks forward to taking on larger roles at MLT in the future.

Williams’ passion for educating the next generation of leaders is reflected in her work outside her day job. From the President of the Anderson African American Alumni Association to Advisor for the Academic Advancement Program, Williams has always been involved with the UCLA community.In the future, she wants to continue giving back to the UCLA community.

Williams’ biggest advice for undergraduate students today is to “understand the way that leads to your end goal and figure out where you have gaps, and then create S.M.A.R.T. goals to fill these gaps”. This is something she has done in her own life; and if we look at the success she has achieved, the effectiveness of it is self-evident.

By Harsh Gupta and Sena Ustuner