Q: Why did you decide to go to West Point?
I didn’t learn about the Korean War until I was in high school. When I learned about the sacrifices that Americans made in order to make South Korea the nation it is, I felt that I had a debt to pay back to the United States. I chose West Point because I felt like the best way to give back was through combat — because of the sacrifices that many U.S. soldiers made in order to give me the freedom that I enjoy in the States.
Q: What was your experience like in the U.S. Army?
My first year was in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade combat team. We were working with the South Korean Army in the demilitarized zone to do training missions and to keep peace at the border. That was a great experience, but I felt like I needed combat experience.
I deployed with my light infantry unit to eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. Halfway through my deployment there, I transitioned to being in charge of training members of the Afghan Army. It was very rewarding but, unfortunately, we lost a lot of good people. It was bittersweet because our soldiers stepped up to the challenge, but they were forced to defend an outpost that was not really defendable. After that deployment, I felt like my debt had been paid.
Q: After the Army, you worked as business development manager for Ethicon Endo-Surgery for five years. What made you decide to earn your MBA?
The Army was able to provide us with many “soft skills”: leadership, presentation, planning and public speaking. But we weren’t exposed to a lot of the mechanisms behind the scenes that help run a company. I felt like going for my MBA was a great way to transition from the military and head into corporate life.
Q: Why did you choose UCLA Anderson?
I felt that Anderson would provide an immersive experience, not only to bridge the gap between serving in the military and entering civilian life, but to build relationships that are so necessary in the corporate world. The prestige of the Anderson brand was important because I only wanted to go to a top MBA program. I wanted to be close to my family here in L.A., so Anderson was a great fit for me.
The vibe was very friendly toward veterans, and being able to connect with other veterans at Anderson was invaluable. I wasn’t expecting that deep veterans’ network, and I didn’t feel isolated. Even beyond the veterans at Anderson, I was very surprised to see how receptive my classmates were. I had always imagined that non-military people would clam up or be wary about engaging with veterans, but I didn’t feel that at Anderson.
Q: What challenges do veterans face when they go back to school and start working in the “real world”?
There are definitely times when you feel alone or like an outsider. Sometimes when you’re with civilians you feel like no one will understand what you’ve been through and you can’t relate to or identify with other people because of that alienation. A lot of times, veterans struggle when transitioning from military service to civilian life because their sense of purpose is lost. Because when we’re in the military we have a higher purpose, we have a mission, and we feel fulfilled knowing that we’re doing what we can to serve our country.
Q: What lessons did you learn at Anderson that you took into corporate life?
Anderson taught me the hard skills necessary to be able to lead an organization and run a business, from operations and marketing to the supply chain. Learning about all aspects of finance — affordability and margins, and all the different metrics, tools, facets and analyses available — was vital because that gave me the knowledge about what it means to run a business.
A lot of people say that what you learn in school is only good in the classroom and that you won’t apply it in real life. But after my Anderson experience, when I started working at Intel as finance manager, everything I learned at Anderson was directly applicable. I referred to my class notes to remind myself of the principles of finance: NPV [net present value] analysis, IRR [internal rate of return], a lot of sensitivity analysis, all the data models. It was an invaluable resource that helped drive important decisions during my career at Intel.
Q: What brought you from Intel to your current position as director of facility operations at the L.A. County Department of Health Services?
This job came about because a classmate at Anderson reached out to me about the position. I couldn’t turn away from the service aspect of it. This is my hometown, and this felt like a great opportunity to help the more challenged patient population of L.A. County — even as we streamline operations at our four hospitals and 23 health centers, and try to be more fiscally sound with taxpayers’ money.
Q: How has the pandemic affected your job?
It validates my choice to pivot toward health care. Tech is providing a lot of value by creating great products to help folks during this pandemic. However, working at the Department of Health Services feels like I’m working on the front lines again. It reminds me of my time in the military service and why I chose to join the Army. It feels very satisfying to be able to contribute to this effort, this mission, on the front lines of the pandemic. It’s been very fulfilling, even though there’s a lot of work to do.