2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Jeanelle Arias, UCLA (Anderson)

Jeanelle Arias

UCLA, Anderson School of Management

Age: 44

“Living with no regrets, a lifelong learner fostering meaningful relationships and dedicated to self-improvement.”

Hometown: Cerritos, California

Family Members: My husband Francisco, my stepson Joaquin, and stepdaughter Isabela.

Fun fact about yourself: I have an Instagram famous dog named @BartDanzig

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – B.A. Sociology, Asian American Studies

Where are you currently working? CFO of Martin Management Group

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

At School:

  • EMBA Student Council – Career & Leadership Representative
  • Korean Business Student Association – VP of EMBA Relations
  • EMBA Admissions Ambassador
  • UCLA Anderson Dean’s Fellowship Award Recipient

Community work: Since 2019, I have dedicated my time as a volunteer with the UCLA People-Animal Connection (PAC). Alongside my therapy dog, Bart, we offer comfort care to critically ill patients, hospital staff, students, and the broader UCLA community. This experience has been the most fulfilling and rewarding aspect of my life.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am proud to have had the opportunity to curate speaking engagements with three distinguished business leaders, specifically tailored for our “Discussions on Leadership” series within the EMBA program. Co-leading these engaging discussions before an audience of 200 students not only allowed me to refine my public speaking skills, but also provided invaluable professional growth. I extend my heartfelt appreciation to Tom Larsen, the Career and Leadership Director of UCLA Anderson’s EMBA program, for granting me the privilege to collaborate on the programming of this leadership series.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Juggling COVID-19 shutdowns, furloughs, business disruptions, and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy was my most demanding career experience, requiring the full utilization of my skills and knowledge. Despite the challenges, it granted invaluable insights and expertise that I otherwise wouldn’t have gained. I am extremely proud of that significant moment in my career.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Christopher Tang stood out as my favorite instructor at Anderson. While he taught the Operations and Technology Management course, his teachings extended far beyond the subject matter. Beyond concepts like throughput time and bottlenecks, he imparted invaluable lessons such as “Never letting a crisis go to waste” and how to add value within organizations. His emphasis on leading a purpose-driven life deeply resonated with me. Our class recognized Professor Christopher Tang’s impact by honoring him with the Teaching Excellence Award for 2023, showcasing the profound connection he forged with his students.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? UCLA Anderson has always been my top choice, leading me to apply exclusively to their EMBA program. UCLA has had a significant impact on my life, as I completed my undergraduate studies there and worked for the university after graduation. I appreciated the fact that at Anderson, the EMBA program provided the flexibility for students to take both fully-employed and full-time MBA courses. The renowned entertainment program at Anderson, taught by the top industry professionals, was also a factor in my decision. Additionally, as someone living in Los Angeles, choosing Anderson was a no-brainer due to its strong network and excellent reputation within the business community. There was never any doubt in my mind—it had to be UCLA Anderson.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? One of the most transformative lessons I gained during my MBA was the insight into bottlenecks, a concept I explored in my operations class. This knowledge has heightened my awareness, enabling me to identify bottlenecks in various aspects of work and life. Now, I have a keen eye for spotting constraints in processes, systems, and even interpersonal dynamics. Armed with this understanding, I approach challenges with a critical mindset, proactively addressing bottlenecks. This shift in perspective has empowered me to optimize efficiency, remove unnecessary obstacles, and drive continuous improvement in both my professional and personal pursuits.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? During my executive MBA journey, my specialization in entertainment brought about a unique challenge. Along with my typical EMBA biweekly class schedule, I had weekly FEMBA classes, resulting in a more condensed workload each quarter. There was a particularly demanding week in every quarter when 3-4 assignments were due at the same time, requiring exceptional time management, mental focus, and sacrificing sleep to meet the deadlines. Fortunately, my husband played a pivotal role in supporting me throughout this endeavor. He graciously assumed all the responsibilities at home, providing me with the necessary space and peace of mind to fully concentrate on my studies. His unwavering support was truly invaluable in helping me navigate the juggling act of work, family, and education during my Executive MBA journey.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? When starting an EMBA program, having a strong support system in place is crucial. It is important to communicate with your partner, spouse, friends, and family, letting them know that you may need to rely on their support as you will be pulled in multiple directions. Balancing a full-time job and an EMBA program can be demanding, putting your time management skills to the test and potentially straining personal relationships. By ensuring that those around you understand that your limited availability is not personal, but a result of the demands of the program, you can maintain understanding and harmony within your relationships. Finally, just do it! It may be tough at first but eventually you’ll figure out “how to EMBA.”

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth about going back to school is that age is a limitation. In reality, starting my business school journey at 42 proved to be a great experience. My cohort appreciated my unique perspective and life experience, and I also gained valuable insights from my younger classmates. This served as a powerful reminder that it is never too late to pursue new learning opportunities and grow personally and professionally. Age should never hinder our ability to acquire knowledge and continue evolving.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I have absolutely no regrets in my Anderson journey. Going to UCLA Anderson was a dream come true, and I made the most of every single moment. Grateful for the opportunity, I embraced the experience wholeheartedly, cherishing each opportunity for growth and learning.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Eleanor Lackman is an exceptional classmate whom I greatly admire. She effortlessly manages both the EMBA program and a successful law practice in both California and New York, seamlessly traveling between the two states. Despite her demanding school and work commitments, Eleanor consistently finds time to be present on campus every week, while maintaining her dedication to her clients. It is truly remarkable to witness her ability to handle such responsibilities with grace and a smile. Eleanor is like a force of nature, and I seriously can’t help but look up to her. Without a doubt, one of the most rewarding aspects of my EMBA journey was the opportunity to form a friendship with Eleanor at Anderson.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I chose to pursue an EMBA program instead of part-time or online options due to my extensive 20 years of work experience. Opting for an EMBA allowed me to be surrounded by peers who share similar professional backgrounds, enabling us to engage in meaningful discussions, gain diverse perspectives, and expand our knowledge beyond our individual areas of expertise. The in-person format of the program provided a distinct advantage in developing leadership skills through active participation, receiving immediate feedback, and immersing oneself in real-life situations. UCLA Anderson’s EMBA program was always my top choice.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to become a CEO. Surprisingly, this wasn’t something I envisioned for myself until recently. However, as I progressed through my business school journey, I gained the knowledge and confidence to see myself in a leadership role at the highest level. Now, I am fully committed to continuously developing my skills and expertise to excel as a CEO and make a lasting impact on the organizations I lead.

What made Jeanelle such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“The staff and faculty at UCLA Anderson have been impressed with Jeanelle Arias since we first met her during the application process. She brought a valuable perspective to the classroom as a senior female leader in finance with experience across a variety of industries, including: multi-unit, hospitality, retail, entertainment, and nonprofit.

Jeanelle immediately became a leader within her class and was elected as the Career & Leadership representative, one of the positions on the UCLA EMBA Council. Tom Larsen, Director of the EMBA Career & Leadership department, expressed that in his seven years in his role at UCLA Anderson Jeanelle has been the most valuable student representative he has worked with. Jeanelle was focused on how she could help, instead of using her position to highlight problems or student complaints. Tom expressed to Jeanelle that it would be extremely helpful if she could secure some of the speakers for the UCLA Anderson EMBA Leadership Speaker Series. Jeanelle jumped at the opportunity and had incredible follow through. She secured three incredible speakers (listed below) and moderated the discussions in front of her 200 classmates. Her classmates have expressed how grateful they were to hear from such esteemed speakers, they also acknowledged how happy they were that the speakers were diverse in their experiences and backgrounds.

The speakers Jeanelle brought in were:

  1. Brian Lee – BAM
  2. Raul Anaya – Bank of America
  3. Katie Anderson – CFO Neiman Marcus

Finally, UCLA Anderson is fortunate to have Jeanelle representing our program in the community. She has been a finalist for multiple years, including this past year, for the Los Angeles Business Journal’s Rising Star CFO of the Year award. We know Jeanelle will continue to advance in her career as a leader and we are proud to have her go from student to alumni, where we know she will continue to make an impact in our Bruin community.”

Shannon Bell
Executive Director of Admissions, UCLA Anderson EMBA and UCLA-NUS


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