Alumni Spotlight: Laura Olivier, General Manager for DEFINE: Dubai

Laura Olivier

Featured: Living Abroad, Entrepreneurship, Marketing

Laura Olivier, BHP 2011, thought she wanted to be a lawyer, but life had other plans for her. After stints as an English teacher in Spain, working in store operations for Lululemon in Australia, and transitioning into a marketing role in Dubai, she is now running a lifestyle and fitness center (DEFINE) in Dubai. Life takes twists and turns when you’re on a mission to constantly learn new things, but Laura has learned a great deal about herself and her professional strengths along the way.

What kind of activities were you involved in while at UT?

At UT, I specialized in Marketing and BHP, and did mock trial competitively throughout. I thought I was going to be a lawyer the entire time! Because of this, I never did the typical activities that my BHP colleagues did, like case competitions.

I know you’ve traversed the globe quite a bit since graduation. Can you walk me through where you’ve been and what you’ve done?

My parents moved to Sydney in Junior year of college, so after graduation I decided to take advantage of that opportunity and move there for a gap year. Little did I know, that would change the course of the rest of my life, as I became addicted to living abroad. I had a job at Lululemon, where I learned about goal-setting. I realized that one of my goals in life was to learn another language, but that if I kept on my trajectory of becoming a lawyer, I would never get the natural break in life that I had at the moment. That prompted me to move to Spain and get a job in Anadalusia teaching English. I realized teaching wasn’t my passion in life, but I learned a lot about myself and that I wanted to keep living abroad. I found a job in Dubai in marketing after that, actually through a McCombs colleague and friend. That just shows you the worth of keeping your network from McCombs and keeping your BHP friends close and connected, because you never know where your colleagues are going to be and when you might want to reach out to them. Now, I run a franchise of DEFINE in Dubai.

What is DEFINE and what kind of work are you doing there?

DEFINE is a Houston-based lifestyle and fitness brand. It’s unique because you don’t need to get a membership at a yoga studio, barre studio, and spinning studio, but you can do all three under one roof at DEFINE. One reason I’m so passionate about this brand and the fitness methods is that they are all low-impact and sustainable—you can do these types of exercises from your 20’s to your 80’s. Dubai is a little behind in education surrounding low-impact versus high-impact fitness and its importance on joint health and injury prevention, so it is rewarding to be part of that educational movement.

What is a day in the life of an entrepreneur in Dubai like, and what surprised you about entrepreneurship?

A day in the life of an entrepreneur involves a lot of managing people. Going into it, I thought that I would be spending most of my time on strategy and overarching decisions, but I realized immediately in my line of work that much of the work is management and handling staff problems. Also, when you’re working for a small business or a startup, you have to wear many hats. This can be great because you often don’t get those types of opportunities at larger companies where your role or function is more specialized. l Sometimes it can feel like you won’t be able to handle the work, but you grow so much from it.

How might that experience be different in Dubai than say, the U.S.?

I think being an entrepreneur in Dubai is very similar to being an entrepreneur anywhere else, except that there can be a lot of headaches in dealing with government rules and bureaucracy. Sometimes, the government changes rules without notifying you, which can be frustrating. There are also regulations like if you want to run a mainland business, you have to have an Emirati partner who owns 51% of your business. That may sound strange, but it is common in the Middle East.

How do you think your BHP and Marketing degrees from UT aided you in what you are doing?

Being surrounded by such smart kids in BHP, I was proud of my grades but I loved not being the smartest person in the room.  Being challenged by my peers and having an awesome curriculum made me want to continue studying business with an Executive Education program at Harvard Business School, which then made me want to get my MBA with IE, a university in Madrid that has a Global MBA Program, which I hope to start in April. Business is so broad and changes so quickly, so you need to keep educating yourself, and BHP gave me the urgency to keep educating myself.

For students interested in entrepreneurship, what is some advice you would give to them?

Being a young manager has been a big struggle because you’re sometimes managing people who are older and more experienced than you in the industry, which can lead to you having credibility issues. Finding your voice and management style is important, but you aren’t really prepared for it until you’re a manager and faced with decisions about firing someone or making your staff like you but not walk all over you. There’s this beautiful dance of soliciting feedback and being collaborative, but not letting someone dictate their vision for the company. My advice-  Don’t be afraid of people who are smarter or have more experience than you. Be confident that you’ve been given the role you have or that you’re starting your company for a reason. Don’t be shy about speaking your mind and stay strong in maintaining your vision for your company, but keep in mind how to be collaborative while doing that with your staff.

This spotlight was written by Audra Fields, a senior in the Business Honors Program.

Faculty Spotlight: Ram Ranganathan – General Management and Strategy

Written by Megan Tran-Olmsted

Professor Ram Ranganathan has travelled throughout the globe on various career expeditions. While he began his career in his home country of India, Professor Ranganathan has settled in the U.S. in various states to pursue his passions, exploring the intersectionality of the science of strategy, business management, and finally, academia.

Professor Ranganathan teaches the Business Honors Capstone class – Management 374/H. This class is one of the final BHP classes that students take during their time at UT. Professor Ranganathan says that this class is particularly insightful because it is not just another class where students learn a single subject. Instead, he believes that this class serves as a bridge between all the classes that students have taken – exploring how finance, accounting, marketing, and supply chain all work together to create successful businesses. Students are assigned to explore a single business of their choice, analyzing how business decisions made in various aspects of the company have contributed to the company’s success or the company’s failure.

Dr. Ranganathan says that a career in academia is unlike so many other careers. He is able to contribute to knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination. He says that he is able to create knowledge through the extensive research that he conducts with colleagues at McCombs, and he is also able to disseminate this knowledge unto others through the classes he teaches. Teaching is something special, says Professor Ranganathan. Not only does he get to interact with a younger generation of bright, insightful students, but he also gets to learn from students as they often challenge his research ideas, strengthening his work.

Professor Ranganathan joined The McCombs School of Business after finishing his Ph.D. in Strategic Management at The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania. Prior to making the switch to academia, Professor Ranganathan worked for Deloitte as a strategy consultant in California. This job was particularly stimulating for Ranganathan since he had received his a dual-undergraduate degree in computer science and computer engineering, allowing him to contribute to problem-solving for some of the world’s largest technology companies.

In addition to teaching, Ranganathan conducts research with The University of Texas, focusing on how companies adapt to technological changes, looking at company responses and the factors that enable companies to control the evolution of technology. One of the main reasons that Professor Ranganathan chose to come to UT after finishing his Ph.D was because of the excellence of the research department, coupled with the strong culture, focus on professor retention, and the bright students.

If you want to get to know Dr. Ranganathan better, but need some conversation starters, consider asking him the about the following topics:

  1. His travel aspirations (He travelled to 5 countries this summer alone!)
  2. What he likes to do in his free time (Hint: he’s an outdoorsman as long as it’s not allergy season)
  3. How him and his neighborhood cricket team are doing
  4. Some of his favorite books (He most recently read Justice, a book by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel, that discusses philosophy and the criminal justice system)

Stop by Professor Ranganathan’s office in CBA 4.234 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30-2:30PM to get to know him even better.

Faculty Spotlight: Leigh McAlister – Principles of Marketing

Leigh McAlister – Marketing

Written by Maddy Rock, BHP Sophomore

Professor Leigh McAlister teaches Principles of Marketing (MKT 337H) for the Business Honors Program. She attended the University of Oklahoma before pursuing her M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. Now, Professor McAlister is a highly-recognized researcher in her field, and brings her passion for her work to the classroom each day.

Professor McAlister lights up talking about her extensive research experience. Initially, she worked on variety seeking at the University of Washington for three years. Then, she moved to MIT, gaining access to state-of-the-art technology that she used to further advance her research and publish Grocery Revolution, a book Professor McAlister co-authored with Professor Barbara Kahn of Wharton. This is when she developed a relationship with H-E-B, which in her eyes, is “the coolest grocery store in the world.” Upon entering her office, students will notice a letter written by Charles Butt, Chairman and CEO of the company, hanging beside Grocery Revolution. Professor McAlister continued to study consumer behavior, regularly working with teams of students to conduct world-renowned research.

Professor McAlister aims to share her enthusiasm for marketing with her students in the classroom. She explains that her favorite aspect of teaching BHP students is their determination to succeed at the highest levels. She speaks highly of their ability to create academic goals and work their hardest to meet these aspirations. Professor McAlister strives to create a very interactive course, emphasizing the importance of each student speaking up and communicating their ideas. Additionally, she is thrilled to have “differentiated and fabulous” reading material for her classes.

Professor McAlister beams about her work, admitting that she spends an awful lot of time on it because it brings her so much joy. “I work a lot because it’s fun to me,” she says. “It’s discovery; it’s a puzzle.” She also loves to mentor doctoral students because it gives her the unique and rewarding opportunity to “shape the minds that shapes the minds”. When she is not on campus, however, Professor McAlister and her husband enjoy listening to local musical performances. In addition to regularly attending shows from a guitar concert series which brings in the world’s greatest musicians, Professor McAlister is a big fan of Conspirare, a Grammy award-winning choral ensemble based in Austin. She speaks about the concerts with great admiration, describing them as warm and soothing, “like it’s a cold night and I’ve gone to a campfire.”

Professor McAlister encourages her students to stop by her office hours on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30-2:30 pm in CBA 7.228. She loves discussing her students’ big ideas and plans for the future as well as Austin’s unique music scene.

Student Spotlight: Arjun Menta

Many college students have hobbies outside of class. Sophomore Arjun Menta just happens to spend his leisure time finding ways to save the world.

Double majoring in BHP and biochemistry, Menta came to the 40 Acres with a passion for developing low-cost medical solutions.

“There’s a whole field of science called frugal science,” Menta said. “A lot of countries don’t have medical infrastructure, and some things that we take advantage of, that we won’t even bat an eye at — in other countries, people die because they don’t have them.”

During his transition from high school to college, Menta formed the idea of creating a mobile vaccine carrier that would allow physicians to bring preserved vaccines to developing nations that lack such medical resources. His involvement with this global issue stems from his observation of the inadequacy of medical infrastructure in his home country of India.

“I was very interested in doing this because in my home country, India, there are actually a lot of people who don’t have access to vaccines,” Menta said. “I saw this issue throughout the world, especially in developing nations, which are Africa, Brazil and other areas. I thought coming up with some type of solution to help those people would be something pretty cool to try to accomplish.”

Menta knew his idea could potentially save many lives and was determined to bring it to fruition. He became involved with the startup community at UT-Austin and joined Freshman Founders Launchpad, a platform that provided him with the resources to further establish his vaccine carrier idea.

However, Menta realized he would need a source of funding in order to fully bring his design to life. And that’s when he discovered Chasing Genius, a competition created by National Geographic that challenges participants to offer solutions to global health issues in exchange for a $25,000 reward that would fund the production of winning projects.

The sophomore placed as a finalist in the competition, earning nearly 500 votes on his vaccine carrier concept called VaxCube. Throughout the campaign, Menta garnered support for his design by highlighting the aspects that made it stand out from other vaccine carrier ideas.

“VaxCube is one of the first medical vaccine carriers that is designed to utilize an integrated Peltier device and solar panel in one combined system,” Menta said. “My design incorporates this system in an affordable manner to allow for longer-lasting blood or vaccine cooling than other medical coolers.”

In addition to having a unique design, Menta attributes his success to his application of business skills throughout the competition, which allowed him to elevate the effectiveness of his presentation.

“Being able to present and speak clearly — those are all things that no matter which career field you choose, it’s a very unique skill that really puts you on the edge, especially in such a competitive workplace that there is today,” Menta said. “Creating a good way to advocate your idea — I think that’s around 50 percent of the entrepreneurship process … Having these basic skills helped me take my idea one step further and show exactly what I wanted to show, and I was very fortunate to be selected as a finalist because of that.”

After wrapping up the Chasing Genius competition, Menta has decided to continue developing his passion for solving global health issues. He is currently still pursuing the funding necessary to build a prototype of his VaxCube design. Additionally, he plans to attend medical school after graduation and strongly believes BHP will help him reach this goal as a result of the diverse skillset he is currently cultivating in the program.

“I definitely think you should take advantage of the BHP resources,” Menta said. “Business is a language, and I think learning that is a very viable skill.”

Throughout his journey on 40 Acres so far, Menta has realized that exploring a wide range of opportunities has been his primarily takeaway for success.

“Definitely explore opportunities,” Menta said. “I encourage people to put themselves in uncomfortable situations and try things they wouldn’t have expected. Maybe there’s something you like that you won’t know until you try it.”

Alumni Spotlight: Chirag Agrawal – Optiver

Chirag Agrawal

Featured: Derivatives Trading, Quantitative Finance, NBA Analytics

Chirag Agrawal graduated with four degrees in 2016. He somehow managed to quadruple major in Business Honors, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering and Economics – a feat not generally recommended by BHP advisors! Needless to say, we all wondered where our resident genius would choose to go after graduation, and how he would tie these majors together. Chirag interned at Optiver in Chicago, and loved it so much he decided to return after graduation. He has indeed been able to use all the skills he gained from these majors in his position trading options at Optiver.

How would you describe what Optiver does?

Optiver is primarily an options market-making firm. This means we are always showing prices at which we are willing to buy or sell options. It’s analogous to a grocery store; when somebody wants to buy food, they go to a grocery store because it will always have food in stock, the food will be of a safe quality, and the prices will be fair. Optiver plays the same role as a grocery store, except it is willing to take both sides (buying and selling). Optiver makes markets in options on almost anything (e.g. S&P Index, Oil, Corn). Options are a type of financial derivative, and the work that goes into their pricing is typically fairly quantitative.

What is it about derivatives trading that hooked you and made you want to pursue it as a career?

In college, my three main interests were statistics, finance, and programming. Derivatives trading offers a perfect combination of the three. Optiver makes hundreds of thousands of trades a day, and on each trade we make a prediction for the amount of money we’ll make and the amount of risk we take. Statistics is used to try quantifying exactly how much money and how much risk comes with each trade. Finance is used to interpret news in the market and incorporate the information into our prices. And programming is used to automate part of our trading and make more precise decisions. Not every trader uses all the skills on a daily basis, but I came in with both an academic background and an interest in each field. So I get to use all three almost equally every day.

What is a typical day like for you as a trader?

My day starts at around 7:30 am, and I spend the first hour communicating with other traders on my desk about what we want to do with our position, what our main risks are, and what we expect during the day. I trade S&P options, so the main trading hours are from 8:30 am to 3:15 pm. During these trading hours, I make trades and adjust prices based on news that comes out and activity in the market. Two years ago, this process was significantly more manual. With an increased emphasis on automation, less trading labor is needed during the day to manage the position. So I get to spend some of the time working on projects whenever the market is slow. An example of my most involved project was projecting moves and volatility around the US Presidential Election. After 3:15, I continue project work, and I recap the trading day with my teammates on my desk.

Why do you think most BHP students don’t either know about, or choose to purse derivatives trading very often?

I think both sides are relatively unfamiliar with each other. As a student in BHP, I didn’t know any alumni in the industry, and I never heard of older students recruiting for trading jobs the same way I heard of students recruiting for investment banking or management consulting. On the other side, most trading firms primarily recruit from schools like MIT, Cal-Tech, Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. The industry is quite small, so they haven’t quite explored all the potential candidates yet.

However, I think the industry is shifting. When I first interned at Optiver, I felt as prepared (if not more) for the internship as the other students from top schools around the country. Since then, Optiver has hired three other UT students for the full-time Trading role, and we’re now one of the most represented schools on Optiver’s trading floor. I think many BHP students are interested in quantitative finance, so I hope to see more BHP students explore derivatives trading over the next few years.

You had four majors in college. Are you using skills you gained from all of them in this role?

I get the opportunity to use skills from each major on the job, particularly from my Math and BHP majors. In Math, I took several probability and linear algebra courses which taught me skills I can use when making trading decisions. In BHP, I took finance courses which taught me the basics of financial markets and relationships between different macroeconomic products. One course in particular that stood out was Professor Kumar’s Optimization Methods in Finance which blended financial concepts with programming.

Along with the classroom, my extracurricular activities and work experience were particularly helpful. I was very active in the Undergraduate Computational Finance Group, and the projects done in that org were excellent practice for projects done here at Optiver. I also worked part-time at Integra during the school year, and this gave me experience doing project work, but in a more professional setting.

As a new(ish) grad, what has been the biggest challenge to for you in moving on from college life?

The biggest challenge by far is dealing with the cold weather. As expected, Houston and Austin did not prepare me well for winter in Chicago. After that, meeting people in a new city has been a bit of a challenge. Going from college where you’re surrounded by all your friends to a new city is quite a transition. Fortunately, Chicago is a friendly city, and there are a lot of social activities available.

Within work, the biggest change is everything is done in a team-setting. BHP classes did a great job of emphasizing teamwork or having group assignments which resemble work done in the real world, but the rest of my classes didn’t. Communication and teamwork skills that were underappreciated in college are now proving to be very important.

Anything else you would like to add, or advice you would like to share with current students?

My main advice is to pursue side interests or hobbies outside the classroom. For example, I enjoyed working with basketball statistics in college, and I actually developed useful statistical and programming skills through this hobby. I even started writing for an NBA analytics blog recently. Side interests don’t have to become a primary source of income to be useful. They keep you entertained, improve your skills, and could potentially become a career.