November 12, 2003

Mike Tonsing (MBA ’04) is the president of the Anderson Student Association. A baseball player from Oakland, he spent his undergraduate years at Georgetown, where he quickly realized he was the "worst pitcher in the Big East Conference." He hung up his spikes and concentrated on school and politics. After an internship in the Clinton White House — no, he never met her — Tonsing graduated and instead of becoming the high school teacher/coach he planned to be, he went to work with Merrill Lynch doing muni bond investment. "We helped cities, counties, states and various agencies to finance everything from highways and airports to some non-traditional projects like hotels and derivative securities," he says.

Q: You were already successful — or becoming successful as a businessman. Why did you decide to put a halt to your career temporarily and get your MBA at UCLA Anderson?

A: I was looking for a switch. I recently heard that modern professionals change careers, on average, at least seven times. I think it's important — especially when you're young — to try a few hats on to see which one fits best. Business school gives you a risk-free time to do this — and Anderson is better than most. Pick a focus, from finance to marketing to accounting, operations or human resources, and you've got great resources at your disposal, from faculty to the research centers to student clubs.

Q: Before you started at Anderson … you took a trip around the world?

A: To get a little perspective on my next steps, I needed to get away. So I raided my savings, took off, and ended up going to 26 countries on five continents before coming home. I sent in my application to Anderson about three days before leaving. The trip gave me the context for really considering whether Anderson was the right move. I had visited here twice before, and what really stood out were the students. They didn't just seem smart — they seemed genuine, they cared about each other, and they really seemed to enjoy being here.

Q: What is the make up of the student government at Anderson?

A: I took away from my HR class last year that I should never fear surrounding myself with a management group that is smarter than me. Thank God. What a phenomenal group. I get to work with an ASA Cabinet composed of myself and six VPs. Together we try to assist a really great ASA Council, which includes the president of every club (33) and the chair of every committee (21). These clubs and committees provide the structure to make student life happen here at UCLA Anderson. They orchestrate everything from career nights to identity-focused parties and mixers, to sports tournaments and trips. These student leaders allow other students to achieve something ingrained in our culture called "The Complete MBA." This means a heavy focus on academic work complemented with healthy amounts of career preparation, volunteering at school and in the local community, and, of course social fun.

Q: What were some of your goals when you took office and what motivated you to run?

A: We have two overarching goals as an administration. The first is to bring together the stakeholders of Anderson. There are students, faculty and alumni here who often have overlapping goals for themselves and their school. Second, we're throwing the weight of the ASA behind an effort to win the Challenge for Charity competition. It's a competition with seven other major west coast business schools based on fundraising dollars, volunteer hours, and a two-day sports tournament in the spring, all of which benefits Special Olympics and a local non-profit called L.A. Works.

My motivation for running stemmed from a few things. But first and foremost, I had a mentor and friend who held the office before I did. Marc Campbell ('03) really defined to me what a student leader should be. I looked up to him and how he ran the office. He and I both believe that the student culture here at Anderson is what truly differentiates it from other top business schools. Both of us see the ASA presidency as a way to preserve and protect that culture.

Q: Can you describe the student culture at UCLA Anderson?

A: Anderson students are among the brightest business students in the world. We had the highest average GPA of any MBA program last year. I'd put our work experience up against that of any MBA student body on the planet. (But unless their ASA President is asked to do so in an interview, you won't hear us advertising this.) I guarantee you, you won't find a humbler, more down to earth group of over-achievers anywhere. Tim Moynihan was the first to describe this quality as "excellence without attitude." It's a catchy phrase, but a very accurate one to describe how we operate here. I hope I don't owe Tim royalties on this…

Q: How does the idea of excellence without attitude mesh with what we heard from recruiters during the Dean's tour, that Anderson alumni were doing excellent work but were less likely to make their Anderson ties known?

A: This is a very good and very important question.

What we're facing here is not a damaged reputation, but an unsung one. Our alums have already accomplished the hard part. Through their efforts, Anderson grads are known as smart, hard working, and just downright likeable. Recruiters consistently tell us that if they saw a 20-hour day coming, the person they'd want in the trenches with them would be an Anderson grad. We should be proud of this — I know I am.

Still, we all stand to benefit from additional visibility for our school within corporations. The fact is, we can all wear Anderson on our sleeve without sacrificing our personal humility. Pride in one's school can be distinct from pride in one's self. Let me give you an example. I'll be the first to say that there's no school I'd rather attend or recruit from. The students, faculty and resources are absolutely top notch.

Our incredible Alumni and Development Office has recognized the opportunity to promote the school while allowing Anderson alums to remain true to their identity, and they're already acting on it. They've revived a campaign called "Corporate Allies" designed specifically to activate and mobilize concentrations of Anderson alums in given companies. The goal of Corporate Allies is to increase Anderson's visibility within companies in order to associate the school's name with the outstanding work of our graduates. The campaign already has designs on a spring event at Disney, among other major companies. Look for it soon in a company near you.

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