Erica marie Colon

April 19, 2010

When Erica Marie Colon graduated from UCLA Anderson in 2009, she was chosen by her classmates to receive the Dean's Award for Outstanding Service. It was a fitting tribute to someone who had served as co-chair of MBA Orientation and co-chair of the Challenge for Charity. She was also active in Cabaret and the Fashion Show, served as VP of the Latino Management Student Association and sat on the board of the Entertainment Management Association. No doubt, Colon's dedication contributed to the school's 2009 Golden Briefcase win, for its achievements in fundraising and athletics.

"UCLA Anderson gives people the opportunity to lead and serve," said Erica Marie. "I was always shy growing up. I was home schooled and didn't have many opportunities to lead. But my leadership style developed when I got to Anderson where I had the opportunity to plan and execute programs for 600 MBA students."

Despite her service activities at UCLA Anderson, and intensive networking with peers and alumni, Erica Marie graduated without a job. Building on her marketing experience with MTV, and project management experience with the entertainment firm iNDEMAND, she had hoped for a management position in the entertainment industry, but was confronted by one of the worst job markets in a decade.

So, Erica Marie continued to network. "Networking is a huge value-add from Anderson," she said. "I can't stress this enough to current students and alumni. If you miss developing a professional network while you're in business school - you have missed out for the rest of your life. You can always go back and learn finance. You can always force yourself to be more entrepreneurial, but you have to build a network while you're in the environment."

Erica Marie particularly wanted to make new professional connections in entertainment. "My strategy was to talk to alumni and progressively get deeper and deeper into the network," she said. She started by contacting current students and recent grads. "Then I contacted alumni who were five years out, and ten years out, and so on."

"I'm big on email," she continued. "But, oftentimes I just call and ask if someone is available for coffee, lunch, an office visit or a phone call. Anderson alumni are very receptive. Most people want to be reached out to." She has found older alumni to be particularly helpful. "The further you are from your MBA," she said, "the less contact you have with other alumni and the more interested you are in meeting with someone from an intellectual or networking standpoint."

A concept that she has found useful is the personal board of advisors. "It sounds nuts," she said, "but I have found it great to have support from at least a couple of key advisors. Sometimes you're lucky enough to run into people who take an interest in you. Over the past few years, several people have been key advisors for me. Also, it is very gratifying to be asked for professional input or support by someone who is younger or less senior. It's an honor."

Erica Marie was also an early adopter of online networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In. "Linked-In is purposely professional," she said. "It's hard to appear unprofessional unless you really try. It's much safer than Facebook. One of the biggest benefits is that you get to see who everyone else knows."  She considers Facebook and Twitter better-suited for personal networking than professional development. "Twitter is just something fun for me to do," she said. "I'm a foodie, so most tweets on my personal account are about food."

While exploring the job market, Erica Marie stayed involved with UCLA Anderson. She continued to manage a UCLA Anderson Twitter feed that attracts prospective students from the entertainment industry. She participated in admissions and development activities. And she continued to mentor students, speak with prospective students at A-Days and attend Board of Visitor events.

Finally, Erica Marie's persistence led to an interview with NBC Universal for a position in digital programming. The job seemed a perfect fit. During her first year at UCLA Anderson, Erica Marie competed in a case competition at USC in which teams were asked to propose the appropriate windowing strategy for digital video platforms. "The challenge posed was whether or not to collapse the window between traditional content distribution (DVD) and the emerging digital platforms," she recalled. Erica Marie and her teammates won the competition, and NBC Universal was looking for someone to join their digital team and help answer the same questions.

"When I interviewed," she said, "I was able to take our analysis from that competition, frame it for NBC Universal and present an idea of where they should be moving." It turned out that several people with whom Erica Marie was connected in Linked-In were at firms that worked with NBC Universal on a daily basis. "They were willing to provide recommendations for me - and that personal contact made all the difference. It was the tipping point."

So, in the fall of 2009, Erica Marie became a manager of digital distribution at NBC Universal. "We distribute content for film, broadcast and cable," she explained. "Our team works on all digital platforms including video on demand, mobile, electronic sell-through or any emerging platform. The market is very fluid."

While Erica Marie helps pioneer the future of digital entertainment, she also continues to network and serve. In addition to her activities with UCLA Anderson, she advises a non-profit called Kujali International that she became involved with while doing her Applied Management Research project. The organization works with local partners around the world to convert orphanages into self-sustaining boarding schools.

"Professionally I am a split person," she said. "Ideally, I would like to be president of an entertainment company or studio so I could have a hand in developing and distributing digital content. I'd like to be the decision-maker on how to monetize it and deliver it to the consumer. My day to day challenge when I wake up in the morning is to make a strategic impact on the digital marketplace."

"At the same time," she continued, "I would one day love to use my professional experience and connections to help the underprivileged - primarily children. Very few non-profits have access to the business skills an MBA can bring. My heart is with helping provide a future for these children. Maybe someday I'll be able to combine the two."

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