BA 151 Lyceum Students Receive Priceless Advice from Alum

Written by Victoria Bennett

In a recent BA 151H Honors Lyceum class, the sophomores were visited by Mandy Price, Co-Founder and CEO at Kanarys, Inc. An alumnae of both the Canfield Business Honors Program and Harvard Law School, Price shared how her background working in financial services and practicing law led to her current passions and career path. Throughout the question-and-answer based discussion, Price not only shared her own unique story, but gave students insights into how to navigate their own interests during their time in CBHP and after graduation.

During her time on the Forty Acres, Ms. Price studied Finance in addition to the Business Honors curriculum. She was involved in multiple organizations on campus, and spent her summers interning in financial services. These experiences gave her practical experience in her field of study and also allowed her to consider whether or not she saw herself in these roles after graduation.

Immediately following her graduation in 2003, Price continued her education at Harvard Law School. From the content to the teaching style, she described how law school provided a very different learning experience from her undergraduate education and how this helped her grow and develop. One thing her undergraduate and graduate education had in common was the community. She described how she found community with other Texans at Harvard Law, many of whom were Texas Exes, who would do everything from watch football games together to host professional events.

Upon graduating from law school, Price began her professional career as a corporate attorney at Weil, Gotshal, & Manges LLP. She described how her career in corporate law gave her the unique opportunity to combine her education in both finance and law. In her 10 years at the company, she worked on numerous mergers & acquisitions where she was able to bring her unique financial understanding to her work. Following her time at this firm, she also worked at Barnes & Thronburg LLP where she was a partner working primarily with private equity firms.

Although Price enjoyed her time practicing law, her experiences on various firm committees (e.g. Diversity Committee, Woman’s Task Force and Hiring Committee), highlighted the challenges organizations face when it comes to diversity and inclusion issues.  This led her to the creation of her company, Kanarys, Inc., a social enterprise focused on helping organizations build more inclusive cultures. The company is a direct response to the issues Price saw in the workplace, and the company has a goal of using data to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environment worldwide.

After the class session, the sophomore class left feeling inspired by Mandy Price and her story. She used her unique career path to talk candidly to the students about the importance of exploring academic interests and acknowledged that everyone’s path both through and after their time in CBHP will look different. In addition, her story of seeing a problem in her day-to-day life and creating her own company to create a solution, showed students that they can make real change in the world around them.


Alumni Spotlight: Ethan Perez – Software Engineer, Peloton

Ethan Perez

Featured: Sports/Fitness, Technology, Computer Science, Graduate School

Ethan Perez is a software engineer at Peloton Interactive, where he works to bring the company’s fitness content to the web. Previously, Ethan was a software engineer at DraftKings, a daily online fantasy sports contest platform. He graduated from McCombs in 2016 with degrees in BHP and Management Information Systems, and has continued advancing his computer science knowledge by enrolling in the Georgia Tech Online Master of Computer Science program. We recently caught up with Ethan to learn about his experience in tech and how it intersects with sports and fitness.

You have done numerous technology roles in various industries. Can you walk me through where you’ve been and how you got to where you are today?

After graduating, I went to work as a Software Engineer at DraftKings in Boston. I found that opportunity through the Technology and Science Career Fair – at that point, I already knew that I wanted to be in a more technical role, and the intersection of sports and technology felt like a great fit. I spent two years at DraftKings, and learned a great deal about working in the industry. I recently made the move to NYC, which has been a dream of mine, and am currently working at Peloton in a similar role.

Peloton started out as an indoor bike company in 2014, but has rapidly grown beyond that. The company has been looking to bring its fitness content onto more devices than just the original bike to broaden the experiences it can give, and most of that has been focused on mobile device experiences. I joined Peloton about 4 months ago, and have been working to bring that idea to life on the Web – and we just launched our Digital Content on the Web at the beginning of October!

What do you enjoy most about technical roles?

At the core of it, technologically driven roles are about problem solving at a granular level, where the results are very immediate. I think that immediacy of improvement creates a very quick feedback loop, and you are able to see value building right in front of you. The first time I realized this was during my time as a member of Texas 4000 at UT; I built a pretty simple management system that cut some of our manual processing flow out, and the extreme joy that came out of that saved time is a feeling I’ll always come back to.

How were you successful in finding technical roles with your business background? What would you encourage current students to do?

Once I got that kick of joy from seeing the value some technological skills brought to Texas 4000, I knew that I wanted to start out my career by being hands-on and directly building value through technology. Because I was already fully ingrained in McCombs and BHP, I knew that I would have to turn to alternative outlets to supplement that technical skillset. I spent a lot of time outside of the classroom building side projects and attempting to learn CS fundamentals like algorithms and data structures. However, I believe my passion and interest for building value through software was the biggest reason I was able to land a software engineering job out of school. Looking back, I didn’t know nearly as much as my peers who had a more technical academic background, but I think the companies and interviewers saw that I expressed genuine interest in the industry and brought some curiosity to the table.

What inspired you to obtain your MS in Computer Science, and what has your experience in graduate school been like?

I am enrolled in the Georgia Tech Online Master of Computer Science (OMSCS), and it’s precisely the reason that I am able to work and continue a formal education that attracted me to the program. As I mentioned, I lacked a decent amount of computer science foundational knowledge. OMSCS is a program that has allowed me to build knowledge in core parts of my industry that I was curious about, but not knowledgeable enough to know how to start learning. It also gives me the opportunity to continue learning new technologies and techniques from a great engineering school – I am currently on a Machine Learning track, and that allows me to keep my technical knowledge moving forward.

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

I think BHP and MIS were both foundational to the start of my career. I have been working in consumer technology products for almost three years, and the biggest challenges I have encountered have always been between humans, not with computers. BHP and MIS both gave me extraordinary opportunities to build a skillset that has allowed me to make technical and business connections and also to see the ramifications of actions beyond a technical level. As someone who aspires to lead, build, and grow teams in the future, I think that skillset is extremely important to my growth.

Any advice for current students?

Care about your peers and coworkers. It’s a noticeable quality, and it is something that will allow you to trust and be trusted in the workplace. You will probably spend more time with your coworkers than most others in your life, so I believe it is important to grow and nurture those relationships. I have created life-long friends in workplaces, and they have increased my quality of life by magnitudes. Regardless of what professional goals you may have, caring for and about your coworkers will never let you down.


Alumni Spotlight: Michelle Lin – Vice President of eCommerce and Marketing, Bastide

Michelle Lin

Featured: Beauty/Fashion, Marketing, Entrepreneurship

Michelle Lin is the Vice President of eCommerce and Marketing for Bastide, a French beauty start-up. Previous to starting Bastide, Michelle built her marketing expertise at Procter & Gamble. She graduated from BHP in 2009 with degrees in Finance and English, and went on to earn her M.B.A at the Duke Fuqua School of Business, with a focus in strategy and entrepreneurship. We recently caught up with Michelle to learn about Bastide and the beauty industry.

Bastide is a very unique brand. Can you tell me more about it, and how you became involved?

Bastide is a beauty startup from the South of France – we have a collection of natural beauty products all made by different artisans in Provence. I’m actually the only non-French employee. We have been building the company for more than two years and launched into the US and France a year ago. The company is owned by Frédéric Fekkai, who made his fame from Fekkai haircare, which was later sold to P&G, where Frédéric and I met. It was a great learning experience at P&G to learn the fundamentals of brand building, but I wanted to work on building smaller brands and touch more parts of the business. After Fekkai,  Frédéric came to me with the idea of starting a new company – Bastide. Even though my title is Vice President of eCommerce, we are a true scrappy start-up team, so we all wear multiple hats.  I cover everything from product development, to branding, to setting up our pop-up shop. It’s very all-hands-on-deck and exactly what I wanted.

Now that our team’s a little bigger, what I focus on is how to become a great direct-to-consumer brand. Because we are a French brand, it’s very different trying to navigate our way in the e-commerce space. There’s a lot of very cool, trendy e-commerce brands from the U.S. and they have very American practices. We are learning to merge our French style with American best practices. I am spending a lot more of my time on how we articulate our brand positioning in both markets, especially as it relates to social media.

What is it like to work in marketing in the beauty and luxury beauty industry?

Marketing in the beauty industry is often quite unique because in many of the big companies, like L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Coty, and P&G, the marketing function is the lead function, not a support function. Marketers are responsible for leading the team, delivering the product, and delivering business results.

The way I would describe the job is in thirds. One-third of it is really sexy stuff that people associate with marketing  – dealing with ad agencies, influencers, editors, photoshoots, and events. Another third of it is project management, which is almost like the complete opposite. It’s defining the product, negotiating with multifunctional partners, getting research and development to work faster, and making the supply chain better. The last third of the job is P&L management like knowing your sales, your margins, and your cost structure. Overall, a third of it is the really creative side of it and two-thirds of it is business management.  

Was it always your goal to work in the beauty industry?

At McCombs, I actually studied BHP, Finance, and English. I took marketing courses but I wasn’t a marketing major. I always say that what I’m doing now is a marriage of what I studied. One of the things I appreciate about BHP was that they pushed us to intern early and get as much work experience as possible. I had done a finance internship in energy and oil after my sophomore year, and I realized I absolutely hated finance. The people are great, but I was doing stuff like tracking the foreign exchange on chemical symbols I didn’t even understand. I was so appreciative of that experience sophomore year, because when I recruited junior year I knew what I wanted. I wanted to deal with more creative elements, and to work with something that was more tangible.  The consumer goods industry was then an obvious choice.

I had recruited for P&G in a finance role originally. I called them desperately and asked them to put me in something else after realizing I wanted to pivot. They thought I would be a good fit in their consumer insights division, where I interned and then returned full-time for the first two years out of college. Qualitative and quantitative research has really changed since then because of technology. After two or three years in consumer insights, I realized I wanted to control more of the business and have more ownership. I switched over to brand management, where you own not only the creative and the brand, but also the bottom line.

The beauty industry is great as a marketer because it is an emotional industry. People have a lot of passion, or at least a lot of opinions, on their beauty products – whether it’s a razor, a face cream, or a fragrance.  To be able to build brands that hold such an emotional spot for people is really special.

What advice would you give current students?

Get work experience as quickly as possible. I wish I did this more. I now live in New York, and I see interns who are willing to work for school credit, who are much more willing to put themselves out there earlier. The work experience and the work itself is very different from what you’re studying. The earlier you can get yourself out there, the earlier you can figure out what you like or don’t like.  Especially at the pace of today’s technology, youth can be an advantage in many industries, so use it to your advantage and get out there.  

I also wish I had asked for help more as a student. There’s so much leeway to ask for help from peers and alumni as a student. These are things I do naturally now, but didn’t do as a student. There’s a big BHP presence in New York and we’re always asking each other for help professionally or personally.

I think the best piece of advice I tell myself, even now, is to imagine what you want your life to look like on a Thursday afternoon and Tuesday morning. Sometimes we only imagine the highlight reel or the low points of a job, but those moments are fleeting and not very representative of how we spend most of our time. Think about those Thursday afternoons – what you want your work to be like, who would you want to be working with, what do you want to be learning, how do you want to spend your time. Those little subtle moments should really guide your bigger decisions rather than thinking about the highlight reel of what you do.

Alumni Spolight: Nancy Lu – Fancy PR

Nancy Lu

Featured: Music Industry, PR, entrepreneurship

Meet Nancy Lu: lead storyteller of NYC-based Fancy PR, lover of music, and BHP 2009 alum. After graduating with a BHP and Marketing degree from UT, she delved into writing for magazines, coordinating events, and running point on press for up-and-coming musicians. We recently got to visit with Nancy about Fancy PR and her experience in the music industry.

You have held a host of social media, PR, and editing positions in the music industry. Can you walk me through how you got into this industry and got to where you are today?

If you’re the self-starter type, there can be low barriers to entry to the music industry. I’ve typically erred toward playing it safe when it comes to life decisions and my career was no different. I first toyed with the idea of a summer internship at a major label, but at the time, most internship openings were unpaid, and you could only apply through a company portal, as opposed to Recruit McCombs. I didn’t hear back from any of them. I took that as a sign that music wasn’t the path for me, and subsequently picked up internships at a research company, GM, and finally an advertising agency. Upon graduation, I started working for a healthcare consulting company. I thought I would love it, but ultimately the job wasn’t for me!

While working full-time as a healthcare consultant, I also maintained a music blog with a fellow BHPer, John Michael Cassetta, and found it to be a soothing outlet from the day job that I hated. I eventually started covering music at a few other places, and that transitioned into some event planning for those outlets as well. At this point, I had the “aha! moment” realization that I needed to actually give the only thing I’ve consistently cared about the old college try. So, I moved to New York. Through a friend of mine, I was able to secure a summer internship at a music publicity company. Fast forward through moonlighting as a cocktail waitress, running a pop up shop for a couple months, and working as a social media manager at a photo and illustration agency, to finally being offered the opportunity to do press in-house at an artist management company.

One big takeaway I have from my journey is that there is no one way, right way, or right time to break into the music industry. If there’s something in your life that you’re deeply passionate about, go for it! Hard work and gratitude will get you there and even if it doesn’t work out, now you know and you’ll have no regrets.

What is Fancy PR and what work are you doing there?

We’re a music publicity company that started in May 2014, based in New York City and L.A., and we handle promotions for music artists and events. As a publicist, my job is to tell the artist’s story in a compelling and meaningful way. When we are considering onboarding clients, we weigh whether or not we think that artist will have longevity in the industry, and whether we are personally passionate about their music. I am very much a believer in teamwork and in the adage that no man is an island, so it’s nice to have my partner, Nick, to bounce ideas off of, and to have another perspective.

What inspired you to jump into the deep end and start FancyPR?

I found myself in a part-time PR position barely able to pay rent. The experience and team were wonderful, but with almost no disposable income nor promise of full-time employment in the immediate future. I was looking to change my fortune.  I interviewed at a few different places but none of those opportunities panned out. After several months of interviewing and becoming more frustrated, I decided to break off on my own. It was not my first choice, but having the support of friends made it possible. I feel very fortunate that Fancy PR has been able to stay afloat for this long because it definitely takes a village! I think entrepreneurship is a beautiful thing, but only with a solid business plan in place, because like everything else, there are pros and cons. It’s important to live in the present but also be mindful of the future. Most importantly, you have to have a solid support structure of friends and family.

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

The most helpful class in BHP for me was BA 101H. It might seem like a simple thing, but writing emails is seriously an art! Accounting was also useful because knowing basic bookkeeping is so important when it comes to keeping track of finances. Business owner or not, everyone should know the golden rules of accounting!  Overall, being around people who were driven and crazy intelligent in BHP felt constantly motivating. I hope that motivation is something I’ve been able to carry through to my professional career.

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

I was involved with HBA, Senate of College Councils, Mortar Board, and Orange Jackets.  HBA was the first organization I joined as a freshman and was a part of for all four years. These student organizations gave me an idea of what it’s like to work within a team structure of my peers, delegating and also handling a multitude of tasks. I also worked as fundraising coordinator at KVRX for a year, and it was an amazing outlet for me music wise at the time.

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.