Excellence in Action

Om Marwah ’12

Photo of Om Marwah

Om Marwah ’12 is Walmart’s first head of behavioral science and is redefining the application of behavioral science to business. His division drives impact across Walmart’s one billion shoppers and 2.4 million associates by applying research in psychology to customer shopping, business strategy, human resources, stores, e-commerce, disruptive technologies and more. They leverage behavioral science, data science, design and rapid prototyping to turn cutting-edge academic concepts into tangible results. Marwah is also known for founding the Behavioral Science and Marketing Summit, the industry leading event for applied behavioral science in marketing as well as Take Her Back which partners with the Rescue Foundation to raid brothels and rescue young girls from sex trafficking in India. In addition, he has been named one of the top 5 Young Pros in Advertising by the Advertising Research Foundation and has been recognized by Forbes 30 under 30. Marwah graduated from UCLA in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Geography and Cognitive Science.

Interviewed by Stephen Mendoza • February 9, 2017

How has your UCLA experience helped shape your success?

UCLA is an incredibly challenging environment, and it’s often that one will not experience success when operating in such a challenging environment. It was actually the times when I failed at UCLA that gave me the resiliency to develop the determination that is critical to achieve your dreams.

UCLA has an incredible social environment. You have people from all walks of life living in close proximity to you, learning in close proximity to you and hanging out and partying in close proximity to you. It is this environment that enables you to become a global citizen that can connect with people of every walk of life in a very powerful way. If you fully leverage the diversity of people around you, you can fully connect with anyone. This enables you to create a bigger sphere of influence in your life as you move out of UCLA which will be a massive force multiplier on your capabilities to achieve success.

The diversity of academic offerings enables you to really see macro level issues as well as create micro level connections that will turn you into a systems thinker, and that is an incredibly powerful skillset to have in business.

UCLA is an incredibly progressive environment that challenges you to raise yourself to a different standard. You walk away with a deep appreciation of the depth of scientific knowledge that exists on this planet and the power that it has to shape the world. Lastly, I would say that UCLA makes you more independent and teaches you how to have a lot of fun.

Why did you choose to pursue a double major in both Cognitive Science & Geography at UCLA?

I started in biology because I loved it in high school, but I wasn’t amazing at it and didn’t enjoy it to the degree that I thought I would in college. I wasn’t sure what the career opportunities for somebody with a geography and cognitive sciences degree would be, but they were the fields I always loved. I finally made the decision to fully immerse myself in those areas of study and left biology behind. Those two amazing world class departments don’t actually connect with each other very often, but I built my own connection. To me, they are the same thing. I then built the connection from that to technology and to business and that has enabled me to have the success that I have now and do the work that I love.

What was your favorite course at UCLA, and why?

Population and Natural Resources was my favorite Geography class, and Thinking was my favorite Cognitive Science class because they explain the two most important things on Earth. Population pressures combined with access to natural resources ultimately determines who lives and who dies, and thinking explains our ability to navigate the world. Those were my two favorite classes because they truly explain the world to such a strong degree.

What is your favorite UCLA memory?

On my 21st birthday party, we shut it down at the treehouse. I had 300 people in my apartment. I turned around at one point, and I saw that MTV was taping a rapper doing a reality TV show. We were projecting music videos onto the front of the treehouse so everyone walking by could see the insane party and music videos on the front of the house. We had an hourlong line to get in, and I even had some friends come from out of town. The champagne was flowing. It was an epic party!

How do you support and participate in the UCLA community now? 

I invented a class to teach students how to turn their education into industry innovation and be disrupters in their industry. That’s my primary contribution.

What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in your industry?

Don’t think so rigidly around the ways that your education is structured and how information is delivered to you. You have an innate genius that got you to UCLA. You need to take in information in a way that lets your genius flourish and empowers you to be creative and see the world as a canvas upon which you can manifest your unique ways of thinking to generate novel ways to solve problems that exist in our world today. Stop thinking about multiple choice tests and blue books and start thinking about how the world around you can be better serviced. You are currently taking in massive amounts of information, which most people in a variety of industries don’t have the luxury of doing, in order to step out of academia with a novel perspective that can fix stuff that’s broken in the world or create products of your imagination and genius.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

The American dream is alive at UCLA, and the school does not give up on its students. I have seen tons of my friends hit hard times, and the university supports them through it. We support the American dream because that’s what makes America great – giving hard workers the opportunity to thrive. UCLA is the definition of opportunity and the American dream. UCLA is what enables hard workers to create the businesses that make everyone’s quality of life better. In that respect, UCLA is one of the most important institutions that exists in the United States.

What’s next? 

After Walmart, I want to build my own business. I don’t think it’s wise to be an entrepreneur until you are ready, and I am going to be ready for that next step soon. I want to continue thinking deeply about how to give back. I support a charity that helps rescue young girls that are being forced into prostitution against their will and are being held in brothels. This charity breaks into the brothels and rescues the girls. I’m thinking of a dynamic way to build a US-based fundraising system for them. Entrepreneurship and philanthropy will probably be the next really big steps in my life. I also plan to continue teaching my class at UCLA.

Interested in learning more about UCLA alumni who are creating lasting impressions and impact in their industries? Visit Excellence in Action for the full collection of interviews.