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

Deborah Feinerman

Deborah Feinerman

UCLA alumnus Deborah Feinerman, current Executive Vice President of Business Affairs and Legal at Paramount Worldwide Distribution, exemplifies the powerful woman—but she didn’t follow a sure-footed path to her success. After Deborah received a B.A. in Economics from UCLA decades ago, she veered away from a business-centric path and instead proceeded to Loyola Law School to pursue a J.D. She eventually went on to work at the law firm Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher in Los Angeles for just shy of 20 years. Following her extensive experience at the law firm, Deborah was connected to Paramount by a colleague, where she has moved up in the ranks ever since.

For Deborah, the choice to pursue Economics at UCLA was spearheaded by an interest in business more than anything else, although her interests spanned across a variety of social science courses. Law school was never a clear destination for her. Rather, it was her father who planted the idea of applying in her head, citing Deborah’s aptitude for talking and debating. Once she was accepted to Loyola, she knew she was going—though she wasn’t quite sure what her particular focus would be.

After graduating from Loyola, Deborah spent most of her time working in her law firm’s litigation department. However, she found herself gravitating toward business matters. She liked working on deals, though her path meandered through corporate work, banking work, and the like. Toward the end of her time at the firm, she had been working on entertainment related matters when one of her colleagues brought up the prospect of working in-house for Paramount—an opportunity Deborah grasped.

Now in a more business-centric environment as a lawyer at Paramount, Deborah believes that her foundation in law eased the transition from a law firm into a corporate office. Her current position at Paramount includes management duties alongside her legal responsibilities—she now leads a team and reflects on how stronger leadership roles adhere to more administrative and personnel responsibilities.

Although her time at UCLA was long ago, she believes her education provided her with a solid foundation to successfully pursue a J.D. Deborah is also thoroughly impressed by UCLA’s Economics program, which she claims has only been on an upward trend over the years and allows one to pursue a broad range of interests.

To all economics majors, Deborah would advise on staying focused on your goals, working hard and keeping your mind open to trying new things because you never know what may spark an interest. “The class that you didn’t want to take could turn out to be something you really enjoy or the professor that you thought was going to be awful that everybody didn’t like, might be the one you click with.”

by Aditi Ganesh and Myla Andrews

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.