2019 Best EMBAs: Allison Hill, UCLA (Anderson)

Allison K. Hill

UCLA, Anderson School of Management

“I’m a CEO who is passionate about people, books, and changing the world through business.”

Age: 50

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Family Members: My amazing husband, Jeff, and my awesome step-daughter, Brigitte (19).

Fun fact about yourself: I’m learning to play the ukulele.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BA in English and Peace & Justice Studies, Tufts University

Where are you currently working? I’m the CEO of A.C. Vroman, Inc., a privately held, 125-year-old retail company. We create “third places” for communities in the form of independent bookstores that sell books, gifts, and art; serve coffee and (soon) wine, and host 1,000 events a year.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I’m a columnist for the Los Angeles News Group and a contributor to HuffPost; the Vice President of the Independent Booksellers Consortium, Board of Directors; a Board Director for Vroman’s Real Estate Ventures; and a co-founder of the Emerging Leaders Project, a national effort to develop and mentor young professionals in the bookselling industry. I volunteer at my stepdaughter’s school and at 826LA, a nonprofit that helps young people with their writing skills. I also serve on the UCLA Anderson EMBA Class of 2019 alumni board and co-chair our reunion committee.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I had the honor of interviewing Sherry Lansing, the first female head of a major motion picture studio and one of my heroes, for the UCLA Anderson EMBA Visionary Leadership Forum. Lansing is the epitome of true leadership: smart and authentic, a great communicator who raised up everyone in the auditorium. I was proud that I contributed to making such a rich learning experience possible for everyone.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While the media was sounding the death knell for independent bookstores, I doubled down and bought another bookstore brand for my company. I recognized an opportunity to consolidate and create efficiencies, diversify in terms of geography and market segments, and acquire a brand that could be monetized through licensing. The result was a 17% increase in sales and a 25% increase in profitability but I am most proud of keeping the doors of a beloved community bookstore open and saving a lot of people’s jobs.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I have been blown away by the excellence of the UCLA Anderson faculty. I honestly can’t pick a favorite. I will say that the way Professor Geis and Professor Firstenberg ran their classes taught me a lot about how to facilitate learning to optimize everyone’s individual success. Professor Sarin’s statistics class taught me to use my brain in ways that, as an English and Peace & Justice Studies undergrad, I hadn’t used it before. Professor Ullmen taught me a tremendous amount about leadership by his example.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite MBA course in terms of what I learned was Competitive Strategy and Business Policy. I learned to be a more strategic decision-maker, allowing me to “work smarter, not harder.” I also learned the critical distinction between value creation and value capture, which elevated my entire approach to my business and inspired me to think about ways to disrupt my industry for the good of all involved. My most enjoyable class was Professor Guerin’s Law for Managers & Entrepreneurs—so much fun and I got so much out of the class that I use on a regular basis.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose UCLA Anderson based on the stellar reputations of the program and the faculty, the emphasis on entrepreneurship, the rigorous academic curriculum, and the UCLA network.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The people. While I anticipated the value of an MBA, I underestimated the significant value of being surrounded by such incredible peers. My classmates raised the bar for me in terms of my learning and personal growth and inspired me through their example. We laughed a lot and created some great memories. I definitely made friends for life.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? The biggest juggling moment of my MBA career occurred in my first year. I juggled a book signing for 1,000 people for Senator Hilary Clinton at one of my stores, complete with Secret Service meetings; wrote a 10-page paper for Organizational Behavior; and handled my husband’s medical emergency, all in the same 48-hour period. When I got through it all, I felt like a superhero but really it came down to asking for help, delegating, letting go, communicating, being strategic, prioritizing, and working hard—the same survival skills I used throughout my EMBA program.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Make sure your team—your family, friends, and co-workers—are on board. An EMBA program is definitely a team effort. Read Designing Your Life. It’s a great book to help you clarify where you want to get in life and whether business school is one of the steps to get you there. Attend as many admissions events as possible to get a feel for a program’s culture and focus. It was a women’s luncheon event that admissions hosted that confirmed UCLA Anderson as my first choice school.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I don’t have any regrets, but the biggest reality for me was that I didn’t have time to take advantage of everything that Anderson has to offer. There were so many great speakers, conferences, networking opportunities, classes—just not enough hours in the day, or days in the week.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There’s no way that I can choose just one. I’ve never been more impressed by a group of people. I was especially impressed by my military classmates and those who were the parents of young children though. They were handling more than most and still consistently “showed up,” in every way.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that the 5-year forecast for my company required me to think about the future in an entirely new way. Business school was an opportunity to look at my company and my industry through a new lens and acquire new skills and thinking to transform both. I was also turning 50 and realized that I wanted to challenge myself in new ways and prepare for the next stage of my life.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I know it sounds cliché, but the journey is my destination. I want to continue to make the world a better place through business, contribute to helping companies innovate and grow, help develop people and create teams, and continue to learn new things and grow myself—I’m open as to how and where I do those things.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope my peers remember me as a leader, one with a quiet intelligence, integrity, and a sense of humor, who they could count on.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Presenting my own TED talk and writing a book.

What made Allison such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“Allison is the embodiment of ethical leadership and is known among her peers for her integrity and commitment to social responsibility. In admissions, we knew that Allison would bring a commitment to corporate ethics to the cohort, and she did not disappoint!

Allison has dedicated her career to helping independent bookstores not only survive but thrive. Her commitment to this business aligns with her personal mission of promoting freedom of speech, diversity of ideas, and increased access to information and education, thereby promoting a community of connections. Her pledge to disseminating knowledge has been consistently demonstrated in the Executive MBA program. One example is in UCLA EMBA Visionary Leadership Forum, where Allison interviewed one of her business idols, Sherry Lansing, former CEO of Paramount Pictures. This was not an easy task, as it required research on Sherry’s career trajectory, interviews prior to the moderating and collecting, and monitoring questions during the talk. But Allison made the demanding task seem effortless. She created an engaging experience, which allowed her cohort members to learn and interact with a high-level executive in a nontraditional EMBA field.

Allison goes the extra mile to ensure that actions and leadership are of the highest standards. She is a leader among leaders.”

Sarika Thakur, MPH, EdD

Executive Director of Admissions

Executive MBA and UCLA-NUS Executive MBA Programs


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