Mike Benedosso (’14) would be the first to admit that his military background didn’t make him an obvious candidate for an MBA.
He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 2007 with a B.S. in philosophy. For the five-year commitment required of all West Point grads, he served as a military intelligence officer before joining the Army’s world-class athlete program. He captained the Army’s boxing squad and trained for a berth on the U.S. Olympic boxing team.
In the fall of 2012, after falling short of his Olympic dream, Benedosso enrolled at UCLA Anderson. “When I entered business school, I didn’t know the difference between finance and marketing, simple things like that,” he says. “I came in as a blank slate. I knew that I wanted to be involved in the intersection of tech and entertainment, and I saw Anderson as a perfect outlet to where I wanted to take my career after the military.”
Veterans like Benedosso often face a major life crossroad when they decide to leave the military after their service commitment. Employers value the skill set that service members acquire in school and training, including discipline, work ethic and teamwork. But the transition to civilian life can be fraught with challenges. The structured environment of the military, where promotions generally come based on a timeline, is very different from the competitive meritocracy of the business world. Often, military experience doesn’t translate into terms civilian employers can understand. Even the language is different.
Andrew Lee (’16) took a different path from the Army to Anderson. After graduating from U.S. Military Academy with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 2009, he was commissioned as an Army engineer officer. He deployed twice to Afghanistan, once as a platoon leader in 2010 and once as an operations officer in 2012–13. He took his GMAT while serving in Afghanistan before being admitted to Anderson.
“Going to West Point and serving in the Army, my entire young adult life was spent in the military,” he says. “I thought that, rather than just jump straight into a new job in the professional world, I would take a step back and reacclimate to civilian life. I wanted to give myself two years to build a foundation of business knowledge and to learn different frameworks about how people think about business.”
Bryce Luken (’14) graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2008. He was working as an acquisition program manager for the Air Force in El Segundo, and was still on active duty, when he decided to enroll at UCLA Anderson in 2012.
“Employers look at military folks coming out of the service as, ‘Okay, they’ll work hard, they’re decisive and they’re quality workers,’” Luken says. “But in the military, you’re not learning the core competencies of business. And so, for me, pairing the military experience with an MBA from Anderson gives investors, customers and employers more confidence that that individual is not just a good decision-maker and hard worker, but they have strong business acumen in some domain. That’s the value.”
The three recent graduates are among the hundreds of veterans who have earned their MBAs at Anderson. As card-carrying members of the Anderson Veterans Association (which includes service-members from countries outside the U.S.), they organize an annual career fair for Anderson veterans as well as those from other Southern California-based business schools. The AVA also serves as an in-house support group of sorts as the vets transition to civilian life.
“It’s a network where we can celebrate each other and have a community where we can share and talk and feel comfortable with what we’ve been through,” Lee says. “There’s also a professional and networking aspect in terms of helping veterans pursue careers in anything from technology to consulting to banking.”
At Anderson, Lee found that his veteran status never proved burdensome. “My classmates acknowledged that I was a veteran and respected me for that, but it was never what defined me,” he says. “They saw me as a person, they saw me as anybody else. I never felt judged or anything like that.”
“The MBA at Anderson is a great platform for a transitioning veteran in terms of building the skill sets, getting exposure to employers and investors, and being immersed for two years in business.” -- Bryce Luken
“Coming from a military academy, I was used to being in a tight-knit community,” Luken says. “When you go through basic training together and you get thrown in puddles of mud, you become pretty good friends with the people you do that with. I wanted that same sense of community [when I went for my MBA], and I found that at Anderson. The student culture on campus was warm, welcoming and collaborative.”
“Military culture is unique,” Benedosso says. “We’re very direct, very forthcoming, and we like to make fun of each other. That’s how we build camaraderie. Sometimes, that doesn’t vibe well with non-military folks. Luckily, the student body at Anderson was extremely supportive. They also gently informed me of ways to approach certain situations that might be more accommodating to certain people.”
“Anderson was a great place to collaborate, learn, grow and pursue your goals in a safe space,” Lee says. “I distinctly remember getting a slot to interview at Microsoft. Rather than keep it to myself, I got together with two other classmates who also got first-round interviews at Microsoft and we prepped each other.”
Taking skills they learned and acquired in the military into the business world took some adjustments. “Many vets have been in the army and that’s all they’ve done,” Lee says. “You feel like, ‘I’ve been through very ambiguous and dangerous situations and I’ve led soldiers in battle; but how does that translate into doing product marketing for a tech company?’ The Anderson MBA gives you a lens to translate your experiences that are very valuable and relatable into the corporate world.”
“The MBA at Anderson is a great platform for a transitioning veteran in terms of building the skill sets, getting exposure to employers and investors, and being immersed for two years in business,” Luken says. “It debunks a lot of those hiring concerns that veterans without an MBA often face: ‘I get it, he’s smart, but he has zero experience or understanding of the financial industry.’”
Benedosso, Lee and Luken share another trait besides their military service. They’ve all used their Anderson MBAs to establish careers in the tech sector. Benedosso started with LinkedIn as an enterprise account executive. He now works for Google’s business development and content partnerships team for the company’s augmented reality division.
“I was always attracted to the tech industry and how everything was shifting and moving on a daily basis,” he says. “When I got to Anderson, I learned more about the different functions and different spaces within tech. I was able to narrow my focus on where in tech I wanted to go and how I was going to get there and what skills I would bring to the table.”
After completing his summer internship at Microsoft, Lee joined Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise marketing organization. His first year was spent in a rotation program called On-Ramp, where he worked on three projects across different marketing functions (product marketing, business planning and integrated marketing). He spent the next three years building an account-based marketing program for Microsoft in the role of strategy and operations lead. (He is currently on paternity leave.)
“Anderson did a great job of introducing us to tech beyond what you use day to day and what you know in your personal life,” Lee says. “It was a great place to learn about what the landscape looks like in tech in the business world: how different technologies interact and how different tech companies execute different business models. The technical aspect of the tech world — engineering, coding, that kind of stuff — that’s only half of the equation. The other half is, how do you create a business off that technology? That’s what the MBA at Anderson teaches you.
“Going into my MBA, I had no idea what the cloud was,” he says. “Now, here I am marketing it for Microsoft.”
Luken co-founded BodySpec, a mobile X-ray service for body composition testing at health clubs and companies. He and partners who included Anderson classmate Elaine Shi (’14) launched it as their capstone field study project. He then dove deeper into tech as VP of Finance for FoodMaven Corporation, a technology-driven food distribution company. He currently works as COO/CFO for Moth+Flame, a Brooklyn-based studio that develops immersive software products and virtual reality/augmented reality for such companies as Netflix, Google, Accenture, AT&T and the Department of Defense. (He also teaches business classes in innovation and entrepreneurship at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.)
“Whether it’s the business cases we looked at involving technology companies or understanding from a marketing perspective the emergence of technology in different industries,” Luken says, “Anderson prepares you for how to think about and learn about tech: How do I do a financial model around a tech company? What does it look like to build a personnel and staffing model with a tech company? What are the key watch-outs with a tech company?
“The world changes incredibly fast in tech — nothing is static,” Luken says. “Anderson prepares you to be a dynamic thinker in the world in tech, where you always have to be prepared for just about anything.”