Spring 2007

 

Assets

Published quarterly by UCLA Anderson School of Management

Sample features provided here. Click to download the entire issue (PDF).

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity Knocks: Behind the Boardroom Door

Enron. Tyco International. WorldCom. It was a mere handful of companies that dominated headlines of accounting fraud and financial malfeasance at the turn of the century. But every company and its directors have since felt the fallout behind boardroom doors. Complete article>

Getting to the Top

Getting to the Top: Consultants Bring Insight and Skills to the Workforce

"In consulting, you do sprints. In a job, you are doing a marathon." This metaphor comes courtesy of Jim Howard, former management consultant and current president and CEO at technology firm CrownPeak. Complete article>

Passage to India

A Passage to India: Alumnae Reunite for a Good Cause

This story begins in Los Angeles in 1997, where a group of women met in a classroom at UCLA Anderson. It picks up a decade later, in India of all places, where another group of women now benefits from that auspicious meeting. Complete article>

Freedom Writers

Anderson Student Helps Guide Freedom Writer's Foundation

In the recent feature film "Freedom Writers," Hilary Swank stars as a visionary high school teacher committed to transforming the lives of inner-city students. But underprivileged high school kids are not the only beneficiaries in this tale. Complete article>

 

Opportunity Knocks: Behind the Boardroom Door

Enron. Tyco International. WorldCom. It was a mere handful of companies that dominated headlines of accounting fraud and financial malfeasance at the turn of the century. But every company and its directors have since felt the fallout behind boardroom doors.

That fallout came in the form of federal legislation to rebuild trust in corporate accounting and reporting practices. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX) implemented stringent standards, regulations and criminal penalties for all U.S. public company boards, management and public accounting firms. Debate regarding the law's effectiveness has raged ever since: is SOX a catalyst for improved governance or a cumbersome hindrance to company growth? The answer is yet unclear, but one thing is certain: added responsibility, heightened scrutiny, and increased risk are now the norm for post-SOX directors.

"The notion that SOX has been solely responsible for rigorous board governance can be misleading," says Caroline Nahas, managing director of the Southern California offices at the executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International and a member of UCLA Anderson's Board of Visitors. "But what SOX E has done is to amplify board director accountability, which translates into more time, diligence and focus than previously required."

In fact, a recent Korn/Ferry study of nearly 1,200 board members from 15 nations showed that some 62 percent of responding directors in the Americas say they devote 16 to 20 hours each month to board matters, with 16 percent reporting they commit up to 25 hours. In the past, where an individual might have served on three or four boards, more candidates today are opting to serve on one, maybe two, boards, Nahas points out.

"Furthermore," she says, "when qualified individuals do consider serving on a board, they are very discerning in terms of which board they might consider."

As a result, creative nominating committees are beginning to expand the existing pool of traditional director candidates to include presidents of sizeable corporate divisions and other top executives who may be less seasoned than CEOs, but are still well prepared for board service. This expanded pool creates new opportunities for enterprising executives with an eye trained on the boardroom.

While there is no substitute for on-the-job experience, there are ways to enhance one's prospects outside the office. Continuing education can be a most practical route. UCLA Anderson is one of just a few institutions that prepares executives to master the complexities of corporate governance. Its Director Training & Certification Program (DTP) is accredited by Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and is a comprehensive, four-day course that speaks to executives at various levels: experienced professionals pursuing their first directorship, less experienced directors seeking an in-depth foundation of good governance principles/practices, and seasoned directors looking to navigate the ever-evolving governance landscape.

Open Door Policy
Despite new risks and challenges that come with board membership, the career benefits are vast and varied, says UCLA Anderson's Al Osborne, senior associate dean and DTP faculty director. "Serving on a board is an honor and a duty not to be taken lightly," Osborne says. "A director needs great confidence with the integrity of management and their commitment to a trusting, respectful relationship; a tolerance for asking and answering tough questions; and an openness in the shared obligation to produce long-term value for stakeholders."

Osborne speaks from experience. He sits on numerous boards, including K2 Inc., EMAK Worldwide, Inc. and Kaiser Aluminum; such private organizations as Wedbush, Inc., 40 ACT and First Pacific Advisors; and such non-profit organizations as Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation and Los Angeles Universal Preschool Inc.

At its strategic and supervisory best, board membership provides an opportunity for seasoned executives to put their vast expertise toward the benefit of another corporation. Compensation notwithstanding, major perks directors enjoy range from enhanced prestige among peers to unparalleled networking access. Also, the ability to observe a firm's management style from the inside delivers a practical learning experience like no other, says UCLA Anderson's former dean, Bruce Willison. An accomplished banking executive, he's held posts as president and COO at H.F. Ahmanson and Company/Home Savings of America and chairman and CEO of First Interstate Bank of California, among others.

"Now that I am no longer an active CEO," Willison says, "sitting on boards is a way to continue to be deeply involved in business activities and current management practices. It's a phenomenal education." He currently is a director on the boards of Health Net, Inc., Move, Inc., IndyMac Bancorp and Sun America Annuity Mutual Fund Complex (of which he is independent chair).

Willison brings both broad business acumen and specialized knowledge to each of the four boards on which he serves. Gone is the "clubby" atmosphere that used to pervade board meetings, he notes. Post-SOX directors now exert their independence and exercise their duties with greater authority than ever before.

"Committees meet more often and are more formal these days," Willison points out. "Each has its own charter and set of responsibilities. And the attention to those responsibilities is huge compared to the way it was before."

Transparency in accounting is one area that has received tremendous attention post-SOX. "It used to be that any accounting responsibilities were left up to the audit committee and, even then, to the expert on the audit committee," says UCLA Anderson Associate Professor Carla Hayn. "Now the whole board needs to know accounting."

Luckily for directors, compensation appears to be keeping up with the enhancements to the job description. Results of the 2006 Korn/Ferry study cited earlier indicated that compensation for directors from Fortune 1000 companies increased by 35 percent between 2004 and 2005, and surged 43 percent during the same period for directors at $20 billion-plus organizations.

Transparency
In the immediate wake of Sarbanes-Oxley, corporate governance and attention to process seemed to force the pendulum to swing to an unprecedented extreme. In rare cases, remedial governance could consume so much of a board's time that its central mission to serve as the steward of the company could be diffused, says Anderson's Eric Flamholtz, professor of human resources and organizational behavior.

New rules and liabilities have led some boards to recommend that companies temporarily "go dark" in lieu of disclosing information to investors. Some private companies are opting to postpone initial public offerings as it may not be worth the time, expense and, yes, potential liability to bring internal controls into SOX compli-ance. Still others are choosing to sell to the highest bidder instead of going public at all, while an increasing number are opting for offshore listings, Flamholtz says. His book "Growing Pains," originally published in 1986, features a new chapter in its fourth edition (released in April 2007) to reflect some of these challenges facing boards today.

Experience Required
When staffing a corporate board, several considerations come into play. There are some who maintain that inside directors "who have some skin in the game" play a critical role in protecting a firm's interest, while others argue for total board independence. Some would opt for employees and/or customers to sit on the board. There are arguments in favor of deep industry expertise, while others prefer the out-of-the-box thinking that comes from an external perspective.

Jay Ferguson ('94) is a partner at Kline Hawkes & Co. and has the best of both board worlds. As a venture capitalist, he often sits on the boards of the firms in which Kline Hawkes invests, describing his inside role as an "interested, invested director." At the same time, he recently took on the role of director at the Los Angeles Urban League, bringing an outsiders' perspective to the league's table. "I bring my experience investing in young companies," Ferguson says, "which could come to bear as the Los Angeles Urban League seeks to help revitalize the city through investment and relationships with entrepreneurs."

For his part, Willison says he chooses boards that will enhance his understanding of business beyond his general expertise. As a banker and academic, he is an outsider to the industry on the Health Net board. But when Health Net chose to integrate and consolidate operations across several disparate subsidiaries, Willison tapped into prior experience at First Interstate Bank, where he'd executed a comparable initiative. In this case, his advice and counsel transcended the healthcare industry and spoke to sound management strategy.

Need to Know
Experts agree there is no one way to staff a board that speaks to all scenarios. Diversity across age, industry and function tend to serve management best. Healthy cynicism, coupled with mutual trust and respect among board members, contributes to an effective overall strategy. "Lively debate of the issues" is at the heart of effective governance, according to 94.6 percent of respondents to a recent study of public company directors, conducted by RHR International.

"I find the best quality in a director is to be a deep and independent thinker," says Anderson Professor David Lewin. "You need to remember you are not acting alone; you're just one voice, and you don't have to be an expert in everything. It's more important that you know enough about the specialty you bring to bear. The key is to understand business strategy and to determine which strategy is right for that particular company."

The path to the boardroom varies with each potential director, but experience and reputation are paramount. While warning against a policy of "gray eminence," experts like Lewin do tend to favor mature executives with a proven track record of expertise in industry. Anderson's Flamholtz agrees that it is wise to select board members with as much as 30 years experience, but also suggests boards be open to elect "younger" directors in order to maintain continuity as movement occurs across ranks. And notable skills are attractive at any age. A successful history dealing with scandals, for example, can score big points with certain nominating committees.

Meetings sponsored by the National Association of Corporate Directors and other professional networking organizations are an ideal entree into the world of directors. Alumni connections may even open doors to the boardroom. At age 40, Kline Hawkes' Ferguson is among the youngest board members at the Los Angeles Urban League. He was invited to join the board by fellow Anderson alumnus Blair Taylor ('92), the league's president/CEO.

One of the most expedient routes to the boardroom is the aforementioned Director Training & Certification Program (DTP) offered by the Office of Executive Education at UCLA Anderson. The ISS-accredited course is offered for four days each May and October. Attendees interact with DTP alumni, faculty and other directors at an opening dinner and keynote speech by a nationally recognized governance expert. Then they delve into foundational governance issues, advanced topics, best practices, and interactive modules detailing issues specific to audit committees, compensation committees, and nominating and governance committees.

"The [DTP] introduces prospective directors of private companies and new directors of growing companies to their fiduciary duties," says DTP Faculty Director Osborne. "In doing so, the program provides perspective on their strategic roles as agents for shareholders in the oversight of management."

Entrants are screened and accepted based on executive competence and board experience. Participants range from seasoned executives who may be competent to fill a director's role but lack the governance expertise, to first-time directors who are honing their skills, to longtime directors seeking updates on best practices and governance issues. Multiple viewpoints are presented by Anderson academics, directors and practitioners representing the fields of accounting, law, global entrepreneurship and more.

"Our perspectives are diverse, and our people present contrarian views," says DTP Program Director Don McCrea. "With this mix of very senior directors and experienced professionals in the room, participants learn as much from each other's personal experience as they do from the speakers and other faculty."

Participants are tested on program content and receive certification upon passing the course. Then, certified graduates may opt to upload their resume to UCLA Anderson's "Director Match" database, accessible by executive search firms and other approved clients.

In addition, Anderson now offers boards an option to deliver customized programs right to their directors, McCrea says. During the onsite programs, directors can delve into more detail, enjoy more candor and make even more progress than in the open enrollment course on campus. Programs tend to run about two hours and usually are conducted in conjunction with the firm's general board meeting, McCrea says. Programs of at least eight hours may be accredited by Institutional Shareholder Services.

All Aboard
History will show what impact SOX ultimately has on corporate governance, best practices and the personnel who populate the boardroom post- Enron, et. al. For now, Flamholtz says he sees things coming back into balance and directors returning to the business of doing business.

"My guess - and it's only a guess - is that reclaiming faith in corporate governance has been accomplished and a lot of good has come out of Sarbanes-Oxley," he says. "People are investing; the stock market appears healthy. And now it's time to make some sensible adjustments to the law so we don't drive public companies out of the public domain and keep private companies from going public."

And with all this attention on the improvements to corporate governance these days, it seems natural to ask whether boards in 2007 outperform their pre-SOX counterparts. "The vast majority of boards out there did their jobs well before Sarbanes-Oxley; it's not as though they were totally passive," says Willison. "I've sat on many boards through the years that pushed back on management or forced management changes. But there wasn't the degree of diligence, independence and responsibility you see now. There is no question the shareholder is better served today." To learn about UCLA Anderson's next Director Training & Certification Program, visit www.uclaexeced.com.

Getting to the Top: Consultants Bring Insight and Skills to the Workforce

Consultants Bring Insight and Skills to the Workforce

"In consulting, you do sprints. In a job, you are doing a marathon."

This metaphor comes courtesy of Jim Howard, former management consultant and current president and CEO at technology firm CrownPeak. Howard, along with several other former consultants, recently shared career advice with MBAs as part of the professional development series "Getting to the Top," presented by executive recruiter Kathy Ullrich ('92) and her executive recruiting firm Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc.

With such titles as CEO, VP of corporate development and VP of marketing, among others, the former consultants explored ways in which this "jack of all trades" adds insight and depth to a company's talent bank. In addition, they advised colleagues on how to execute the crossover to industry by optimizing their unique consulting skills. What follows is Ullrich's summary of the experts' advice for "getting to the top."

Know Thyself
Consulting, by its very nature, is an action-oriented, decisive and communications-driven career. Honing and maximizing these skills can lay the groundwork for a successful transition to a leadership role in industry.

"In consulting, everybody is self-motivated," says Alex Dodd, president and CEO at M Squared Consulting. "In industry, you can have a meeting and say, "Let's get back together in two weeks with the answers,' and nothing is done. The lesson is that not everyone is selfmotivated, and you need to change behavior."

The fast-paced "sprint" of consulting often requires decisive action, which can inform one's leadership style down the road, says Jim Clayton, formerly of McKinsey and now president and CEO at SymphonyRPM. "Whatever you do, make a decision," Clayton says. "And then you have earned the right to make another decision, to unwind it if you are wrong." A career in consulting is the perfect stage to hone this muscle, he adds. "Coming from McKinsey, you can do more and make more decisions in three hours than many can do in six months. Just pull the trigger."

But don 't pull the trigger until you have the right information, cautions M Squared's Dodd. "As a consultant, if you think you know everything and do not rely on those with industry experience, you could make costly mistakes for the business," he says.

Effective communicators make the best consultants - and the best leaders in organizations, says Vikas Thakur ('92), senior VP, business transformation group, Countrywide Financial. Presenting an idea and ultimately getting buy-in from the organization is the key to success on this career path. "It's all about working with people," Thakur says. "When you are an external consultant, you exercise certain skills, always knowing you will leave the company. When you are an internal consultant, you need to maintain relationships, so you need different skills to move an organization to change. How do you work with an organization and influence people to your side?"

The answer, says Avanish Sahai ('95), is sales. "In consulting we called it "client development,'" notes this VP of marketing at BDNA. "But in the rest of the world, we call it "sales." The first two years of consulting are deep down in problem-solving and analytics. The second two years are spent managing the team, developing communications skills and presenting. The last two years before partner are client development with new or existing clients. In industry, whether you are in marketing, business development, raising money, selling product - or are the CEO - you are selling."

And, says CrownPeak's Howard, "As CEO of a company, if you cannot sell what you have, you do not have a company."

Crossing Over
The one-time consultants tend to agree that there are two natural transition points when people are most apt to leave consulting: as a manager with three-to-five years of consulting or as an experienced partner. A background as both an analyst and manager is ideal, and Thakur, with more than 10 years at Deloitte Consulting, says, "Stay in consulting as long as you enjoy it." Dodd, a former partner at Bain, suggests those who make partner see it through and commit to a number of years in that role. He was able to transition from his top position at Bain to a CEO spot in a mid-sized company.

In making the crossover from consulting to industry, Clayton suggests, "Find someone who believes in you and knows your skills as a consultant to help you with the crossover." Raffi Kassarjian did just that. As a consultant at Accenture Strategic Services, he joined a client after executing a strategy project that required a new management team. Kassarjian educated the new leader on the strategy and then made a pitch to become part of the team. He currently is a VP at Fair Isaac.

Finally, experts agree that in making the transition out of consulting it is important to "pick a major" that follows your desires regarding the two areas around which your career can pivot: role or industry. "Make sure your first move is in a general direction you would like to go, especially if it is later in your career," Dodd suggests.

Once a Consultant, Always a Consultant
Former consultants who have ascended the corporate ladder continue to recognize and appreciate the depth and rigor of their days in management consulting. Andrew Gengos ('91), VP of strategy and corporate development at Amgen, says a consulting background sets you up "to be able to play" at multiple levels in any organization. "You need to know when to manage and when to go deep down to the guts; when to roll up your sleeves and when to elevate and delegate," he says.

At the core, notes Stanton Associates' Lisa Leight, consultants are proactive professionals who've been hired to "generate results." Thus, a successful career in consulting can provide the ultimate competitive edge when looking to transition back to that marathon known as "industry."

CEO Clayton, reflecting on his own career trajectory, says it all: "You do not appreciate the skill set from consulting until you hire people who do not come from consulting."

Kathryn Ullrich Associates, Inc., www.ullrichassociates. com, specializes in the recruitment of senior-level executives for software and consulting companies. UCLA Anderson alumna Ullrich ('92) combines proven search experience with working knowledge of hightechnology functional skills and industry experience to find top executive talent. For more information on "Getting to the Top," visit www.alumni.anderson.ucla.edu.

 

A Passage to India

Alumnae Reunite for a Good Cause

This story begins in Los Angeles in 1997, where a group of women met in a classroom at UCLA Anderson. It picks up a decade later, in India of all places, where another group of women now benefits from that auspicious meeting.

Charlotte Brownlee, Kristin Sager, Ilene Resnick, Ferrell McDonald, Maria (Masha) Zhdanovich-May, Pam Dressler and Janet Harlow first bonded as members of the full-time MBA Class of 1997. After earning their degrees, the women stayed in touch, eventually forming an "investment club" designed to keep their analytical abilities sharp and their research skills refined. Each month, they convened to discuss investment strategies, share their collective insights and select stocks for purchase.

"It was a way to stay connected and keep learning," Brownlee recalls.

The group met regularly for about two years before the members started peeling off. Sager moved to the Bay Area, Harlow to Australia and Zhdanovich-May headed off to Mississippi. They decided to put the group on hold, invest their money in an index fund and let the principal grow without them.

Uniting Through Unitus
Kate Cochran is yet another member of the Class of '97. Currently, she is the vice president of finance and operations at Unitus, a firm that fights global poverty through microfinance. By modeling best practices culled from the venture capital, investment banking and strategy consulting industries, Unitus works to increase access to microfinance services among the globe's poorest citizens. The goal is to accelerate the growth of the world's highest-potential emerging microfinance institutions (providing capital investments and capacity-building consulting) so that those same institutions can better provide life-changing financial services to the working poor.

Put more simply, Cochran says, "Unitus helps microfinance companies increase their reach."

Cochran discovered Unitus about four years ago upon moving to Seattle and attending an event that featured the company's chairman. Inspired, she joined the firm in a fundraising capacity, running that division for two-and-ahalf years. Throughout that period, Cochran gradually transitioned to the operations side, and last year, she began to oversee the company's financial functions while maintaining her relationships with such large, institutional investors as the Gates Foundation.

While Cochran was growing into her position at Unitus, Brownlee was pondering ways in which the post-Anderson investment club could reunite and put their money toward a good cause. As it was, Brownlee and her husband, Alex Corman ('96), had remained close with former classmates Cochran and her husband, Jeff (also '97). Brownlee connected the dots, contacted Cochran and proposed to the group that Unitus could facilitate a humanitarian action on their behalf - and also serve as the catalyst toward reuniting the investment club's scattered members.

"I knew from Kate that Unitus did partner expeditions," Brownlee explains. "I thought we could invest the money and then travel to India together to see the gift at work." Cochran says, "I remember Charlotte called and said, 'We have this portfolio; it's worth something, and we aren't managing it right now. I want to make a proposal to the club that we donate it to an organization that would make a difference in the lives of women - and I thought of you.'"

Much of the work Unitus does actually focuses on women, Cochran says, and many of the firm's partners target women exclusively. She set up a Web conference with the Anderson investment club, explained the company's model to her fellow alumnae and demonstrated what a donation to Unitus would mean.

The group as a whole invested more than $13,000 with Unitus, and Cochran arranged for a trip to India where her former classmates would meet the women whose lives were directly impacted by their gift.

"It's funny that we had to go to India to get back together," Brownlee says of her maiden voyage to that country. She was joined by Cochran, Dressler and Harlow.

Indian Giving
While there, the Anderson alumnae visited Unitus partner microfinance institutions in urban Bangalore; they also traveled to rural areas to see how microfinance impacted the lives of women and families there. During the trip, Brownlee says she was struck by many things, including the harmonious and nonjudgmental way in which Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully as neighbors in small villages.

In Bangalore, the investment group met visionary CEO Samit Ghosh of Ujivan, whose life, Brownlee says, could be a "b-school case." The mission of Ghosh's institution is to provide financial services to the working poor. The goal for his customers is to be free of poverty within five years.

The American MBAs encountered several success stories in their travels. They met a group of Indian women who built a business taking emptied bags of grain and re-stitching them so they could be recycled and used as layers under concrete slabs. They met a female entrepreneur who used a loan to expand her herb-selling business to include coconuts, which have a longer shelf-life. And then there was the widow, aided by microfinance, who was paying off debts left behind by her late husband. Though the scale and circumstances varied, the links between entrepreneurial women working to feed their families and better their communities were clear.

The entire experience proved valuable on multiple levels, Brownlee reflects. While it was rewarding to see the impact of microfinance up close and in person, the opportunity to deepen ties between old friends and Anderson alumnae was just as significant.

"All of us used the time to reflect," Brownlee says. "We were able to have those deep conversations with multiple layers that you aren't always able to have when you just meet someone for dinner. The trip really gave us a better appreciation for the things we have, the things we take for granted and the things we can do for others.

 

Anderson Student Helps Guide Freedom Writer's Foundation

Consultants Bring Insight and Skills to the Workforce

In the recent feature film "Freedom Writers," Hilary Swank stars as a visionary high school teacher committed to transforming the lives of inner-city students. But underprivileged high school kids are not the only beneficiaries in this tale. The character Swank portrays has changed the life of a UCLA Anderson student, as well.

The English teacher at the film's dramatic core is based on the educator Erin Gruwell of Long Beach, Calif. Gruwell chronicled the classroom experience she shared with 150 "unteachable teens" in the bestselling book, "The Freedom Writers Diary - How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them." The book became an international sensation, and the lives of Gruwell's original students - the Freedom Writers themselves - were forever changed, with most ultimately going to college.

Today, Gruwell is president of the Freedom Writers Foundation, an organization now dedicated to spreading her educational philosophies, theories and message to other teachers. Assisting her in this inspiring quest is UCLA Anderson student Faye Walsh ('08), a second-year candidate in the Fully Employed MBA Program (FEMBA).

Meeting of the Minds
Walsh splits her time between the UCLA Anderson classroom and the Freedom Writers Foundation, and says she considers her link to Gruwell to be steeped in serendipity. She first heard of the Long Beach teacher in 1994, when an article appeared in the Newport Beach Daily Pilot. Walsh's Aunt Polly was inspired by the educator's unique approach to empowering teens through writing. She took up Gruwell's torch and volunteered in the Freedom Writers' classroom, sharing her enthusiasm for the program with her idealistic niece.

In 1999, Walsh was working for the prominent Southern California law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, with an eye toward attending law school. When Gruwell decided to campaign for Congress, Walsh followed her Aunt Polly's lead and lent her support to the educator's mission.

"We felt like we were changing the world," Walsh says. But when Gruwell lost the bid for Congress by less than 1,000 votes, Walsh was devastated. She took a business development position in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's Paris office. It was during her three-year stint in France that Walsh focused much of her energy on business and marketing, opting to forgo a law degree and seek an alternative career path.

The UCLA Anderson Connection
Upon returning to California, Walsh reunited with Gruwell, who enlisted her to get the Freedom Writers Foundation off the ground. It was at this time that Walsh made her initial UCLA Anderson connection. Ric Kayne ('68), CEO of Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors and member of Anderson's Board of Visitors, signed on and provided the seed money to expand the foundation beyond Long Beach.

Kayne was well aware that Gruwell had achieved profound success in the classroom. But he also knew there was only one Erin Gruwell. According to Walsh, Kayne asked the essential question: "Can you bottle the 'secret sauce?'" He needed assurance that the Freedom Writers Foundation could spread the "Gruwell gospel" successfully and educate other teachers to utilize the methodology she'd refined. Walsh and Gruwell believed they could, and the pair became partners. "Erin is the dreamer," Walsh says, "and I help turn the vision into reality."

The duo knew they had a good story to tell, and one of the first orders of business was to mesh that story with an effective business plan. Kayne suggested a consultant in the person of UCLA Anderson Professor Bill Cockrum. "I was drawn to Bill," Walsh recalls. "He cared about teaching, and he believed in us. But he also felt we needed polish." Walsh wrote a business plan - with Cockrum providing tough-but-helpful assistance - and succeeded in raising additional funds for the foundation.

The winning collaboration with Cockrum inspired Walsh to pursue an MBA at UCLA Anderson. She chose the FEMBA program as it best melded with her lifestyle.

"I couldn't imagine not working while going to school," says Walsh. "It's been an incredible experience. I love the diversity of the student body, and I'm lucky to combine my education with a unique professional life."

School Days
Walsh already has seen her class work make an impact on her professional output. "I leave class and immediately apply the theories and knowledge I've learned to the Freedom Writers Foundation," she says. She cites her courses in organizational behavior and human resources as being "surprisingly beneficial" and now appreciates that learning to work with and manage people is the most valuable skill a manager can have. She quotes Professor Barbara Lawrence when noting, "if you cannot manage people, you will never successfully manage a business."

Since the January 2007 release of the film "Freedom Writers," Walsh's greatest challenge has been managing her work/life balance. School, she says, is sometimes a respite from her job, an intellectual escape during which she gets to reflect on her work. She says that some of her best ideas for the foundation come during class. And she is quick to point out how supportive the Anderson community has been. For example, Professor Andrew Ainslie allowed Walsh to study her own company as a class project in order to best manage her multiple and interrelated commitments.

And despite the frenzy that comes with participating in a major motion picture release, having a film in your promotional package is a marketing dream come true, Walsh says. "It's amazing ... the single most powerful marketing tool that anyone, particularily a non-profit organization, could ask for." The task ever since, she says, has been to leverage the film and use it to take the Freedom Writers Foundation to another level.

Working the Program
As executive director, Walsh oversees the foundation's programs: The Freedom Writers Institute, Outreach and Scholarships. The first is the teachers' training program. The second supports Gruwell and the Freedom Writers' mission to share their story. The third program is a scholarship fund for the original Freedom Writers (many of whom are still in school) and students of similar background. In addition to overseeing the foundation's programs, this Anderson student also manages the Freedom Writers budget, oversees 11 full-time staffers, interacts with the board of directors and education advisory, seeks new revenue streams and, well, the list goes on and on. She also accompanies Gruwell on the road to many of her 100- plus speaking engagements each year.

On top of everything else comes the most challenging task: fundraising, marketing and sales of books and materials. As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the foundation seeks diversity in revenue streams, bringing in dollars from private donors, corporations and inkind donations, in addition to earned income from book and DVD sales, fees for service and royalties. (The movie itself is no longer a source of revenue; the filmmakers paid originally for the rights to the story and those funds were invested in the foundation to support the original Freedom Writers. But the foundation does not share in the film's theatrical royalties.) As a committed social entrepreneur (Walsh is a member of the Social Enterprise Institute, a YPO-model for nonprofit directors), Walsh seeks alternative sources of income so the foundation does not have to rely on charitable giving alone. She is pleased to participate in the first Anderson course on social entrepreneurship, taught by Jonathan Greenblatt, which helps her generate ideas for financing the foundation.

All the while, Walsh remains focused on the long- and short-term goals of the Freedom Writers Foundation. In the short term (18 months), the foundation plans to train five times as many Freedom Writer teachers into the fold as they have now, from 30 to 150. "The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guide," which outlines Gruwell's education methodology, is due out in August this year. Walsh and her team plan to triple the $500,000 annual budget and build the educational credibility of the foundation by documenting real results linked directly to the foundation's methods.

For the long term, Walsh says the foundation's goals include growing the organization and institutionalizing the Freedom Writers methodology not only through students, but through the teachers coming into the program.

For more information on the Freedom Writers Foundation, you can visit www.freedomwritersfoundation.org.

 

Anderson Assets welcomes input from alumni and the UCLA Anderson community for letters to the editor, articles, or ideas on themes.