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‘Crushing’ AMR: The Secret to Success


AMR will be a major part of your second year at Anderson; it will have a significant impact, not only on your GPA, but on your overall experience here and your future relationships with your teammates. A little bit of forethought and discipline can ensure that you have a pleasant and successful experience. 

Why Should I Care? AMR gives you the chance to solve a real ‘MBA-level’ problem backed by the resources of UCLA. Succeeding here prepares you to succeed outside of school. 

Why does AMR matter? It’s a legitimate question as some students view Anderson’s thesis program as a collection of unimportant assignments, creating busywork in a second year that would otherwise be either a stress-free time on the beach or a marathon of recruiting. Beyond the fact that a thesis is required to graduate in the UC system and that AMR is worth 10 units (and, BTW, grades are individual, so your individual contributions matter), I suggest viewing the program as a chance to practice MBA level project management skills while making an impact that will benefit both you and your client. AMR projects can be messy, stressful and ambiguous; just like problems in the real business world. Regardless of whether you plan to go into consulting, marketing, renting surfboards on the beach in Bali, or whatever, practice with structuring an approach to a problem, executing on that approach, managing the challenges along the way and ultimately putting together a convincing deliverable will help you to succeed in your chosen field. Your AMR experience should produce real results, not only for your client, but for you as well. In addition to building relationships with your team, advisor and client, a strong performance has helped alums land jobs. For example, when 2013er Aspan Dahmubed interviewed at Amgen, the recruiter noticed that he had done research in China through AMR. Not only did Aspan have the opportunity to share a story and take control of the conversation, but he was also offered the job and now works for the company in a post that involves international projects. In short, AMR is worth caring about.

Positioning ‘FTW’ MBAs generally like to succeed; some planning related to AMR can ensure an enjoyable experience and reduce the stress level during your second year. 

Level with your teammates. Those of you currently in OB are likely learning about the importance of mutually aligned incentives. In forming or getting to know your team for what will be the largest academic component of your Anderson experience, be sure to ask some important up-front questions about where your teammates are coming from and what they want out of AMR. For example:

  • What do you want out of the AMR experience?
  •  How important is it to you to “wow” the client and/or get an A?
  • A re you anticipating any life events (like a wedding/baby) that might affect your project availability?
  •  What resources or skills do you bring to the table?
  •  What are you really interested in working on?

Asking these sometimes difficult questions at the front end of your AMR experience helps to set you up for success and can prevent some unpleasant surprises down the road.

Aaron Lee interviews Ugandan shopkeepers to discuss the feasibility and practicality of implementing their client Mercy Corps’ distribution concept.

Aaron Lee interviews Ugandan shopkeepers to discuss the feasibility and
practicality of implementing their client Mercy Corps’ distribution concept.

Prepare for three types of pressure. AMR teams commonly describe feeling three sources of pressure: i) client, ii) advisor and iii) team dynamics. In going through the process, you might sometimes feel like you have multiple bosses, but this is reflective of what many of us will experience in our postschool professions. While issues and stress in these areas are sometimes unavoidable, you can take steps to minimize friction. Client-related pressure can be minimized by clearly defining your project’s scope up front, keeping the client updated regularly as you make progress against the scope and knowing when to politely push back on out-of-scope or scope-change requests (your advisor and the program office can help with this). Friction with your advisor can be minimized by keeping your advisor updated weekly on your team’s issues and communicating candidly about project-related challenges. Finally, team-related challenges can be minimized by clearly setting expectations up front, equitably dividing roles and assignments to speak to people’s strengths and politely but honestly discussing issues as they arise.

Know there will be bumps in the road. Parts of AMR will be difficult or annoying, just like parts of projects in the outside world. If solving business problems were easy, post-MBA jobs wouldn’t pay too well. However, anticipating some of these pitfalls can be useful. Below are a few examples I observed going through the program:

Don’t half-@$$ the first six weeks — As a TA for the program, I saw some teams that really ‘phoned in’ the scoping and research planning phases of their projects. This left them exposed to major scope changes when their client or advisor pushed back on their early work and often resulted in a lot of painful scrambling toward the end, which could have been avoided by pushing a bit more on the front end.

Prepare to deal with paperwork — Because AMR is, ultimately, your thesis, some paperwork is a fact of life. You’ll need to do things like an NDA, primary research report and final written paper. The office really does try to minimize this and is always open to suggestions on streamlining deliverables. However, at the end of the day, this is an academic exercise intertwined with external businesses, so expect a few academic assignments.
Keep your advisor in the loop — Yes, I did mention this above, but keeping your advisor updated on your team’s progress, as well as any individual concerns you may have, is to your advantage. Team dynamics and individual contributions matter in grading and, since your advisor can’t see what goes on in your team meetings, it’s important to reach out to him/her with any issues worth discussing.

Your Friendly Neighborhood AMR Office. The AMR office exists to help you through the AMR process. Getting to know your team positions them to better help you. From helping your individual team with project-related issues to hearing your suggestions on improving the program overall, the AMR Office’s job is to make your life better (assuming, in this case, that your life primarily revolves around AMR). Dropping by their offices (in Student Affairs, off the D-Atrium) to say hi to Chelsea, Sendy and Yixin puts a face to your name and will help these intrepid staffers with some of the following functions:

Project-related issues — From helping you to pitch a selfsourced client to getting you a room for a client call, the AMR Office is willing and able to help you with a wide range of project issues.
• Helping you avoid nasty surprises — If you have a question like “can I get reimbursed for X?” or “how can I resolve my issue with person Y?” dropping in and asking the AMR team (or program TAs) can save you from an unpleasant “whoopsie.” Don’t worry; asking questions doesn’t affect your grade…
Improving the program overall — The AMR team cares a lot about student satisfaction. Student suggestions thus far have resulted in everything
from lunchtime sessions on project-related issues to establishing Wednesday mornings as a class-free time for AMR activities.

Picture 2If you have ideas on improving the program, let them know. Finally, beyond the AMR staff , UCLA has a whole range of resources available to help you with the AMR process. See above for a quick reference of who can help you with what: As a final note, feel free to reach out to me (as the outgoing program TA) with any AMR questions I can help with; otherwise, Andersonians, go forth and crush it.


Korn/Ferry: A look at the Past and Present

The Exchange editors sat down with Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn/Ferry International, during his April 28 visit to Anderson. Korn/Ferry was founded in 1969 by Lester Korn (MBA ’60) and it is today the world’s largest executive search company. In 1988, the Anderson School’s main convocation hall was named after Lester Korn and his wife Carolbeth.

The Exchange: Here at Anderson, most students know of Lester Korn as the namesake of Korn Hall. Can you tell us about the history of the business that Lester Korn founded?

Gary Burnison

Gary Burnison

Gary Burnison: [We] were founded about 45 years ago. And Lester [Korn] and Richard Ferry both were at Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., and they had a vision about creating a global executive recruiting company, and they got together and started here in Los Angeles. And, you know, one thing led to another. From a very humble beginning and small office until today, a company that has a market cap of a billion and a half dollars, and we’re in 40 countries…

The Exchange: In your book, The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership, you talked about leaders having blind spots that stemmed from a lack of soft skills. What does Korn/Ferry do to measure those soft skills? Is there a methodology that you have within the firm?

Gary Burnison: We’ve both developed and acquired a tremendous amount of intellectual property around really what separates great from good. A lot of it anchors around one’s leadership style, thinking style, emotional competency. All of which we believe is really trying to get at the notion of learning agility and whether people really continue to have an appetite to learn and to grow. We think that that’s the number one predictor of executive success today.

The Exchange: Do you think that can be taught? In other words, is that a skill that can be imparted in a business school setting?

Gary Burnison: Well, it can be taught, but the person has to have a willingness to grow and to learn, so it absolutely can be taught. But there’s also a piece of it that comes down to insatiable appetite to listen to music, to read all sorts of different things. One has to have the desire to do that.

The Exchange: What are the challenges of leading a public company? How has the experience been for Korn/Ferry as a public company?

Gary Burnison: It really comes down to your strategy that you have for your business. If you believe that you need access to capital, to financing, then each business owner needs to make the decision on how best to do that. So you can find friends and family, you could go to venture capital, you could go to private equity, you could go to your bank, or you could tap the public market. I really think it first starts with where you’re trying to take your business and what kind of capital do you need to foster that growth. Then, you need to make a decision on what avenues [are] going to be the best [ones] for your company. For us, we do need access to capital to make our brand more lasting and to get into other types of businesses that reinforce the flagship recruiting business, so we need access to capital for acquisitions as an example. So we’ve done almost 10 acquisitions over the last few years. If we were not public that would be very difficult for us to do.

The Exchange: You mentioned in your talk [at the Anderson Speaker Series] that your business has moved beyond just search and that now only 60% is the core recruiting business. Do you expect this percentage to change over the next few years?

Gary Burnison: Well, I think that it’s always going to be the foundation of the business. There’s no doubt about that, but I see that there’s a huge opportunity to continue to build solutions and services for what the board or CEO really thinks about it. It’s great to get really good people in the organization but it’s a whole other thing to get them to work together and move in the same direction. So we’re trying to anchor our organization not only in finding great people but finding out who they are and then getting them to work together towards the organization’s, the client’s common purpose.



What Anderson Can Do to Improve Its Admissions Process


Admissions PlaqueAdmissions is a tricky process, which might explain why nearly every top business school has used the same formula to evaluate applicants for decades: grades, test scores, essays, recommendation letters and interviews. However, in recent years, some b-schools, including UCLA Anderson, have tweaked the process with varied results. From 2008 to 2010, Anderson tested a new requirement for a video or audio submission. Application volume subsequently dropped 31%. To be sure, we were also experiencing one of the biggest economic crises of our time. More recently, Anderson has seen a 32% increase in applications since last year, thanks to new changes to the admissions process, according to Associate Dean Rob Weiler. These include the elimination of one essay and one letter of recommendation, and more extensive email outreach to prospective students. While the average grade-point average of admits has not changed, the average GMAT score has increased by five points, suggesting that the quality of admits has also improved. This rise in applications has also led Anderson’s selectivity rate to increase to 17% from 22.3%. (By comparison, here are the approximate selectivity rates of other top 10 M.B.A. programs: Wharton, 19%; Chicago Booth, 21%; Kellogg, 22%; and Tuck at Dartmouth, 21%.) Going forward, Anderson might also want to consider eliminating written letters of recommendation, which are not an accurate representation of applicant quality. Four in 10 applicants say they write their own recommendations, according to a survey by the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC). Worse, admissions directors estimate that number is actually closer to 60%. Why not do away with written letters altogether and only conduct phone interviews with the recommenders of applicants who seem promising? Of course, there are potential challenges to any change. Admissions officers might find it too time-consuming to conduct phone interviews with recommenders. But we won’t know unless we try. By continuously innovating, we can increase our chances of attracting the best talent to Anderson.


A Feast to Remember


International Food Festival

The International Business Association’s International Food Festival in February lived up to its food-coma inducing reputation. Held at Alumni Plaza, the festival featured cuisines from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, India, Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, Japan, Korea, China, Indonesia and Jamaica. A record 330 students and visitors attended the event, which aims to educate the student body about the various cultures around the world. The Armenian food station was voted the fan favorite, while the Korean station registered the highest sales. Out@Anderson supplied confetti-sprinkled desserts and the Anderson Wine Club provided wines from different regions. The event concluded with open karaoke.


Robert Fagnani Is a Man on a (Ad)mission


Robert Fagnani

Robert Fagnani

Robert Fagnani (MBA ’15) leads the Anderson Admission Corps (AAC), which has a mandate from Anderson to increase three factors within Admissions this year: the number of applications, the quality of applicants and the yield (attendance rate) of those applicants. To this end, Rob oversees a recently recruited batch of 50 students who will be responsible for 80% of the student interviews for the Class of 2017 as well as Group Information Sessions for the coming year. Two “low hanging fruit” items the AAC will be pursuing this year include finding a way to better display the Anderson culture on a revised UCLA Anderson website to be unveiled this spring and improving the way in which visiting students experience UCLA. Many current Anderson students remember their campus visit, including a class visit, information session, and — most likely — a lot of down time. “The AAC wants to provide [visitors] with a more comprehensive day,” Fagnani states. This includes coffee chats, lunches and facilitating interaction with the centers that are of interest to each candidate. According to Fagnani, “Ultimately, it’s about finding prospective [students], communicating the Anderson culture to them and creating a personal connection.”