July 24, 2007

By Paul Feinberg

Ralph BoulwareThey say you learn something new every day. For Ralph Boulware ('92), it's not just something you say, it's a way of life.

He retired six years ago after a long and successful career as a data services executive. In retirement, he's found continued fulfillment in the classroom, spending his days taking courses, participating in seminars and attending lectures, workshops and conferences.

Boulware was working for Dataline Services Corporation when he decided to earn an MBA. At the time, Dataline handled the back office data-processing for 85% of the saving and loans in California. Boulware had been recruited to Dataline from First Interstate Bank. After a year as a vice-president, he was promoted to Chief Operating Officer.

During that year, both the president and CEO - each part of the ownership group at Dataline - started making plans to retire and discussions began regarding succession. The discussions centered on bringing in outsiders to succeed them or promoting from within. As COO, Boulware was in consideration for the Chief Executive position. It was at that point that it was suggested to him that he might consider an Executive MBA, as the advanced degree would help facilitate his ascension to the CEO position.

"There were many reasons," Boulware says now. "But it just made sense to do it then. My oldest daughter was at UCLA at the time. We had gone through the school-choice process with her and we liked UCLA. It was a perfect fit - a local school with a prestigious world reputation." As for Anderson’s cross-town rival, he said "They had twice the price, and half the ranking."

Boulware's experiences at UCLA Anderson really whet his appetite for expanding his knowledge base. He did an international project for Sony that took him to Tokyo. Seizing the opportunity, he expanded the trip to include Hong Kong and Beijing, with his family in tow. "The experience introduced us to China and opportunities there," Boulware said. "My youngest has just gone back, in fact."

Dataline ended up being sold and there was no opportunity for Boulware to become CEO. He went to work for another data services company - ACS - that operated out of Dallas. His interview for that position took place in the terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, his potential new boss flying in specifically to meet with Boulware. The interview was brief and Boulware remembers noticing that the only thing his interviewer had underlined on his resume was that he had an Executive MBA degree from UCLA. "His position," Boulware recalls, "was that you don't have to ask if someone can read a spreadsheet if they have a UCLA MBA. He clearly knew the school's reputation and it really mattered to him."

After a few years commuting between the home office in Dallas, his territory in San Francisco and his home in Los Angeles, Boulware took a position with Western Financial Savings. He was still working there when he retired in 2001. Looking for something to do other than play golf (he did try the game a few times but dismisses it now - "it's always the same, they just move the pins around"), he started law school, but didn't like it.

His wife (he and his wife have been married 40 years) discovered the Plato Society on the Internet. The Plato Society, a unit within UCLA Extension, is (according to their brochure material) "a community of retired or semi-retired men and women, who enjoy the challenge, stimulation, and growth of continued learning. But unlike the traditional teacher-student approach, PLATO members study fascinating topics in interactive groups where everyone participates." Their courses cover a wide-variety of topics from architecture to economics to politics - and that doesn't begin to cover them all.

Boulware fell in love with the society immediately. Courses are offered on a tri-semester basis and he takes two courses each term. He's currently enrolled in Civil Liberties and National Security and What's Up in Science, a survey course covering everything from stem cell research to brain imaging. The courses don't have grades and tests, but students are required to do class projects. In addition to the coursework, Plato members volunteer their time; Boulware is currently on the membership committee, spending his time interviewing potential new students. He also attends the annual Spring Retreat, monthly colloquiums at the Skirball Museum and brown bag lunches with UCLA faculty as guest speakers.

In addition to his Plato Society membership, Boulware is part of UCLA's Friends of History, where four times a year a UCLA professor gives a talk to members. He's a member of Extension's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a group that offers lectures to members. This past winter, he returned to UCLA Anderson to attend the Wilbur K. Woo Greater China Business Conference, bringing full-circle his interest in China which began while a student at Anderson.

Why does he do it? "It’s the stimulation," he said. "You learn a variety of things and expose yourself to those who have lived those experiences." He noted with a smile that one history course he took included a discussion of President Harry Truman. A fellow student and the instructor got into a debate - a debate that ended when the student owned up to being Eleanor Roosevelt's secretary and a veritable witness to the incident being discussed.

About UCLA Anderson School of Management
UCLA Anderson School of Management, established in 1935, is regarded among the very best business schools in the world.  UCLA Anderson faculty are ranked #1 in "Intellectual Capital" by BusinessWeek and are renowned for their teaching excellence and research that advances management thinking and practice.  Each year, UCLA Anderson provides management education to more than 1,600 students enrolled in MBA, Executive MBA, Fully-Employed MBA and doctoral programs, and to more than 2,000 professional managers through executive education programs.  Combining highly selective admissions, innovative learning programs, and a world-wide network of 35,000 alumni, UCLA Anderson develops and prepares global leaders.

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