2018 Best EMBAs: Aaron Anderson, U.C.-Irvine (Merage)

Aaron Anderson

University of California-Irvine, The Paul Merage School of Business

“I am a resilient, ambitious, rebellious, philosophical, determined, hardworking, and highly motived individual who likes to encourage people to be their best.” 

Age: 37

Hometown: I am a Southern California native and have lived in several different places during my time in the military. I currently live in Huntington Beach, CA.

Family Members: My wife and one son who is 5 years old.

Fun fact about yourself: In a single year, I met with and had lunch with President Barack Obama, he called me out during his UCI commencement speech, and also had the opportunity to close the New York Stock Exchange.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BA in International Studies, University of California, Irvine. Graduated with honors; Summa Cum Laude.

Where are you currently working? On the trade floor at PIMCO, as a Bond Trader. I also serve on the PIMCO Veterans Steering Committee.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I founded the Green Beret Foundation, where I served as its President for two years and served on its Board of Directors for four years. I have served on committees for the UCI veterans services office, and also serve on the PIMCO veterans steering committee, where I oversee their community outreach efforts. I’ve also been involved in a software technology start-up that is developing an augmented reality platform for engineers.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my classmates’ feedback on being someone who is an inspiring motivator that challenges others to perform at their very best. Their feedback has reinforced my passion in leading efforts that require a great level of teamwork and collaboration.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of joining the military right after 9/11, becoming a Special Forces Engineer, and completing Ranger school. I have gone through some of the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging human experiences as a Green Beret including being blown up in Afghanistan, undergoing 24 surgeries to salvage my lower extremities, and enduring constant pain as a result. I am also proud of founding the Green Beret Foundation back in 2009. Starting up and leading an organization that transformed the lives of soldiers impacted by their service by paying for ongoing medical treatment; supporting family needs; and awarding college scholarships to their dependents was — and continues to be — very important to me. Even though my journey has taken me in a number of different directions, that time in my life is a special time that has deeply shaped me and my character.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite MBA course was our Global Business II course where we traveled to Israel. This experience gave us the opportunity to get out and explore abroad. It was an immersive experience in entrepreneurship and innovation in a country that has proven to be a real startup nation. Meeting with a number of tech companies, startups, incubators and academic institutions challenged the way we perceive and thought of doing business. Israel’s startup culture and their ability to create innovative solutions with limited resources really motivated me, expanded my perceived boundaries, and inspired new ideas related to my own startup.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose UCI because it’s a great local name brand. Also, the business community in Orange County is top notch and I’d like to be able to make a meaningful impact locally. UCI and The Paul Merage School of Business are early adopters and are willing to try new things. UCI, as part of the UC system, is a research powerhouse that serves as an innovative hub for all of California. I want to be a part of creating a great legacy for the UC system, UCI and the business school.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I have enjoyed the connections I have made with my cohort. They truly have enriched my experience in the program and have driven me to challenge myself and realize there is so much more to learn.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? As I write this, I am preparing for an upcoming surgery this week to remove the screws and plates in my right foot (related to being blown up in Afghanistan by an Improvised Explosive Device); I still work a demanding job on a trading floor; I’m finishing up a full kitchen remodel; and I was the assistant coach for my son’s soccer team and also take him to many of his hockey practices – so there is a lot of juggling of life right now.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? The more you give, the more you get. Be prepared to give all of yourself, not just to your own personal studies but to the entire class. Share your knowledge and experience, regardless of your perception of how it measures up to others.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Going back to school is not hard as you think. I’ve found ways to challenge myself outside of the standard course requirements and found ways to engage with the material in ways that was most impactful for my desired outcomes. Education is more fulfilling when you own the experience and make the best of it.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret is not being able to take more classes and being able to commit more time to the program as a result of such a demanding schedule.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Brendan Monahan because he’s so different from me in many ways, but complementary. I am big picture, desire the less traveled path, and he is more practical, methodical – our conversations are technical but also philosophical. We challenge each other in leadership style and have helped each other with patience and our ability to adapt. We get the job done, but in a different manner. I love that. He also happens to be a part of the startup we are putting together.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized I needed to get back to being entrepreneurial and be around others that wanted to do the same.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…pursuing a masters in engineering.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I think my mindset is a little bit different and unconventional. I think making life plans is silly because you don’t really know what will happen and where life will lead. Given my experience, I have loosely created goals with room for disruption, but also I have the ability to adapt and create impact. I want to be successful, but also be surprised. An overly well planned is a life not richly lived. I want to be flexible and adaptive and always be driven.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like to be remembered as the person that inspired my peers and who showed them they can achieve more than they thought they could.

Favorite book: First off, I don’t believe there is such a thing as just one favorite book. With that, I’d pick The Bible because of the wisdom and universal truths that can be applied to daily life.

But also… Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl because both books show what great character looks like from such opposing circumstances in life, and what the human spirit is capable of when one applies themselves to a deeper purpose.

Favorite movie or television show: Tree of Life (poetic) and Interstellar (quantitative)

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. To go to space via space tourism
  2. To see my son achieve more than me

What made Aaron such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

Aaron is currently a Bond Trader at PIMCO, an investment management firm and serves on the PIMCO Veterans Steering Committee. Aaron has a unique history prior to his role in PIMCO and enrolling in the UCI EMBA program. In February 2006, Staff Sgt. Aaron Anderson and his team of U.S. Army Special Forces were about to set out from base to capture a member of the Taliban at a location in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. An improvised explosive device had ejected the men from the vehicle, killing the driver and slamming Anderson into its crater along with hot metal and shrapnel that burned the back of his legs. At the time, he didn’t realize the full extent of his injuries: his left leg was broken in several places, both heels were crushed and a pectoral muscle was torn, among other wounds. Aaron survived and recovered; although recovery had its own challenges. During his recovery he met fellow veterans who also needed support. Three years later, in 2009, Aaron founded the Green Beret Foundation. The San Antonio, Texas-based nonprofit transformed lives by helping wounded soldiers pay for ongoing medical treatment, supporting family needs, awarding college scholarships to their dependents, and other services. Aaron secured the right team to move the organization forward and today it continues to serve men and women veterans in need.

Today, Aaron is focused and open about his future. He leverages the knowledge and network of the executive MBA to think critically and creatively about new venture opportunities. Entrepreneurship is one of his interests. He is involved in a software technology start-up with his classmates that provides an augmented reality for engineers. Aaron continues to be involved in the lives of veterans serving not only on the PIMCO Veterans Steering Committee, but also in UCI’s Veteran Services Center where he assists student veterans in translating their military skills for use in the civilian workforce. Our program is very much honored to have a hero in our EMBA cohort.”

Tony Hansford
Senior Assistant Dean
FEMBA, EMBA & Health Care EMBA Programs

Nola Wanta
Director, Program Services, Executive MBA Programs

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