2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Anthony Christian Chavez, UC Irvine (Merage)

Anthony Christian Chavez

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

Age: 48

“Loyal, diligent, courageous, and kind, with a zest for life, learning, and travel.”

Hometown: Huntington Beach, CA

Family Members: Wife – Dina Chavez , Furry adventurers Molly, Maggie, and Milo

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve been featured in the lead story and front-page picture of the Los Angeles Times twice in the past 20 years.

Undergraduate School and Degree: California State University, Long Beach Bachelor of Arts in History

Where are you currently working?

Utility Systems, Science & Software, Inc. – Chief Financial Officer, Director of Finance, Director of Safety, and Owner

Technology Resource Center, Inc. – Chief Financial Officer, Director of Finance, Director of Safety, and Owner

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Avid Skier, sports enthusiast, model train enthusiast

Member of the Special Olympics Referee Association and Participated as Bocce Referee in the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles

Founding Owner, Manager, and Player for the Real Sociedad Soccer Club – over 120 active players on 4 Teams including Men’s Under 23, Men’s Open, Men’s Over 30, and Women’s Open.  Club has won the CA State Cup Title in 2017 and participated in the US Open of Soccer in 2014, ’15, ‘16, and ’17.

ESL (English) Tutor for the Huntington Beach Literacy Program at the Oak View Library

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? 2021 Nominee for the Orange County Business Journal Innovator of the Year Award – a tremendous achievement for our Small Business Enterprise to be considered alongside a talented pool of distinguished corporate enterprises with operations in health sciences, information technology, advertising, and engineering

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? 2019 Innovation of the Year Award presented by the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) for our work with the City of Houston’s Wastewater Engineering Department in preventing Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs)

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Kenneth Murphy –While I function in the Accounting and Financial roles, I discovered an enormous advantage for leading my companies through the lessons learned in operations management. Through Professor Murphy’s instruction style, candor, delivery, and constant reinforcement of the principals that define excellence in this business function, I focused, absorbed, and eventually applied techniques that have had immediate impact on performance and profitability.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? In addition to business associates who had spoken highly of the UCI EMBA Program, my brother-in-law completed his UCI MBA in 1997. Influenced by recommendations and the location relative to the wealth of successful businesses in the region, I chose a program that would accommodate my personal corporate goals of growth as digitization further transforms our business environment.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work?  The biggest lesson I gained during my MBA journey has been the practice of delegation.  The Program is designed to model a common business environment at its core.  From the onset, everyone is placed on a Team mimicking a business’s executive management or Board.  In this context, divisions of labor, accountability, time-based deliverables, and action plans are set in motion enunciating the value of delegating tasks and responsibilities.

This lesson came to fruition in my own company as we operate in a continuous cycle of “start-up” like innovation phases to growth.  While we had seen multiple growth phases over the last 14 years, the major growth spurt hit for us in 2021 and we were immediately pressed to increase our resources base.  Because we had operated with 3 experts leading the company as individual managers of Sales/Marketing, Accounting/Finance, and Operations, the biggest lesson of “leaving our expert role” to assume a general management role was critical for each one of us.  In turn, we each released control in favor of delegating responsibilities to a new class of experts.  The results have been favorable as we’ve tripled our capacity in the last 18 months and as individual executive managers, our respective accountability has new focus on increasing scale and scope.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Life comes at you from all directions, and without question, the most challenging time of my EMBA experience came in the Spring 2022 Quarter. On the work front, our business had been given a revised order to deliver 75% of an installation order by the end of May that was originally drawn out for another 6 months; this involved a massive operations and financing effort that had put a major strain on our resources.  At the same time, my wife had a medical emergency that required my immediate attention, including a week-long stay at the hospital.  And to top off the list, the courses I was enrolled in each required a major deliverable due within the next 2 weeks, pitting our Team against the clock, and my personal reach shrinking by the hour!

To say that I turned to some friends, family, and EMBA Team members for support would be a vast understatement. Through a series of delegations, I had assigned my business partners some tasks to offset the hustle required of the project ramp-up, I called on my nephews, sister-in-law, and parents to take on our house and watch over the pets while we were in the hospital, and my teammates to assist with assignment deliverables that I was pressed to complete. I found that my team was truly that, a unit that functioned with the cohesiveness, response, expert intelligence, and engagement to complete a seemingly insurmountable set of deliverables in a crisis. The key was to realize it’s ok to ask for help, to trust in the ability of those around you, and to keep communications at the forefront. These ingredients are fundamental to any successful business endeavor and define the most imperative lessons learned in the EMBA Program.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Embrace the opportunity to discover, learn, and apply the fundamentals, lessons, and experiences you’ll surround yourself with during the 22-month program.  Enter the program with an open mind and govern your beliefs, instincts, habits, and assumptions so you can take full advantage of the intelligence and insights expressed by your cohort and instructors.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Most of my contemporaries had asked “Why” I was going back to school for my MBA.  At 45 years old, I had been running a successful small business enterprise for 18 years, formed a start-up within the last 14 years, and had operations throughout the United States. Many people I spoke with questioned what I could possibly gain from this endeavor noting the time and effort it would take to complete.

My answer then was as it remains today – I know what I don’t know.

The classic myth that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks was quickly dispelled within the first week of the UCI EMBA Program. Not only was I surrounded by an invaluable variety of individual skill sets, experiences, knowledge bases, and business acumen in my cohort, I had also been introduced to fundamentals, tactics, and approaches to issues that impacted my company on a daily basis.  I immediately focused on the value of learning and the nuances that affected operations, investments, accounting, and finance.

What was your biggest regret in business school?  I regret not spending more time exploring the wealth of resources on Campus.  I am interested in a variety of subjects that UCI operates at the highest level and would have enjoyed discussions with different departments in the interest of future business collaboration, including physics, chemistry, and engineering.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Amy Han – I was fortunate to have worked on a team alongside Amy throughout the EMBA Program and shared many of the same courses. Amy’s intelligence and thoughtful consideration, patience and precision, subtle humor and happy disposition were constant motivational factors.  Her life balance and achievements in her professional career top the list of admirable qualities!

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives?  I wanted to engage in a learning experience with the quality of professional achievers that the EMBA Program offered. The knowledge obtained from in-person dialogue with students of this caliber, case studies, and lesson plans delivered in a peer environment, and the respect for collaboration in this environment is unmatched. I am fortunate to have two business partners that are mentors in every aspect of my professional career. I have had enriching conversations with them on the benefits of the UCI EMBA Program and the fundamental belief that the education and experienced gained by participation in an esteemed environment such as this would have long lasting benefits for myself and our corporations.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to manage my 2 companies through the ensuing period of growth and transition my role within each to best serve my partners, employees, and stakeholders.  As we are growing, we’re simultaneously undergoing the retirement of a key executive.  Our succession plan involves me transitioning into that role and hiring a replacement for my current role as CFO. While the task may appear daunting on the surface, I feel the program has prepared me and allowed for a dissemination of the lessons learned, information gained, and experiences of my fellow cohort and professors to best work through this transition and apply the management skills necessary to grow and sustain corporate profits for decades to come!

What made Anthony such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“I am writing to provide feedback about Anthony “Tony” Chavez who took my Global Business I and Global Business II (the International Residential) EMBA courses over the last and current school years. I was asked to comment on what made Tony such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022. I can primarily speak to what Tony is like in both in the classroom and during an intensive one week International Residential in Israel. By way of my own background, I am a practitioner/scholar and have been teaching MBA and EMBA students at UC Irvine for 17 years after holding several positions in international organizations for over 40 years prior to that time. During this period, I have seen hundreds of EMBA students as well as managed several thousand employees in over 20 different economies. Simply put, Tony stands out. He is an entrepreneurial learner, constantly probing, questioning, and striving to get to the why behind the what. This is an important capability in our turbulent white-water world. Simply put, the theme of globalization until COVID-19 was the cornerstone of competitiveness in a global environment. However, with COVID and now the War in Ukraine the foundations of global economics, structures and trade have been shaken to the core. It was during this period that Tony was an active participant in my Global Business class in the summer of 2021 and the International Residential I led in March 2022.

The course I teach is designed to introduce students to the nature and complexities of global and international business, especially from a strategic point of view. This macro view is important for an understanding of global business (the title of the course), but it also provides a useful context for the students experience in the country they visit on their International Residential.

Students in my course must combine rigorous analytical thinking with creative problem solving within the context of understanding of the complex elements of business when you cross borders and apply all of this in active case discussions. Tony excelled at this. He was an active participant in our class discussions even in the synchronous Zoom environment. The quality of the discussions and learning were much richer because of his input and constant probing. In a way, Tony reminded me of Sherlock Holmes. His sharp critical mind enabled him to ask difficult questions furthering the discussion and force his classmates to think deeply about issues. Tony did well in the course, however, what stands out to me is how through this constant probing and questioning he enhanced the learning of the entire class.

Perhaps the most important aspect of what makes Tony’s contribution so unique is observing him during the International Residential to Israel. The focus of the trip was what makes Israel “The Start Up Nation”, what can we learn from Israel’s experience and history and how can your (the students) organization take advantage of the capabilities developed in Israel to enhance your organizations competitive positioning? These questions require a deep understanding of hyper-connectedness and radical contingencies of the elements of culture, economics, politics, technology, and social issues in a foreign context. Tony demonstrated a deep and insightful understanding of these complexities and how to sort through them to develop clear take aways in response to the questions that were the focus of the trip. His Learning Journal, a final written product of his experience on the residential, was one of the best I have read since I began to the take EMBA’s on these trips twelve years ago.

I have spoken with Tony outside of the classroom, and he has an incredibly strong sense of purpose that is guiding his career and outside interests. As someone who teaches Global Business and run international business units in a significant number of foreign environments over the years, I have seen a wide range employees and students coping in difficult and often stressful learning and working environments. What I’ve seen with Tony gives me confidence that he will be an asset to the school, his organization and to our hyper-connected and radically contingent society going forward.”

Leonard D. Lane, DBA  Senior Lecturer, Strategy
UC Irvine
The Paul Merage School of Business


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