Excellence in Action

Jenn Hirsch ’02

Photo of Jenn Hirsch

Jenn Hirsch’ 02 is the Global Startup Champion and Tech Trend Scout at EY. As a Futurist, Jenn believes in uncommon solutions – quite simply as she observes them constantly, created them and continues to champion them in her work. She sees the world as a series of stories that connect to others and create all the changes we see today and in the future. She is primarily interested in connecting with creatives, entrepreneurs and change makers focused on creating true disruption in the world. In her modicum of spare time, she’s a surfer and writer of passable science fiction.

Interviewed by Monique Beals • October 08, 2019

Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.

I started my UCLA career in 1998, which was around the height of the first “dot com” consumer Internet revolution, and I graduated in 2002. I was lucky to have worked with various startups during that time. My favorite from that period was a startup called thirsty.com. They were trying to make an early social network, and they had so much Hollywood talent there with the early videos we were creating. There was so much opportunity in that first period of internet growth.

I was a double major in Economics and American Literature. The joke I often make is that I tell stories that make money, and I think that has been true throughout my career. I loved tech and startups, but it was being on campus that helped me develop those loves into something tangible. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what’s coming down the road, and being at UCLA, innovations was always around me. While I was in school, I went to a million talks by entrepreneurs, and I spent a million office hours with my professors, all of which lead me to my current role.

In fact, I’ve been trend forecasting for so long and thinking about looking into the future that that became my job at EY. I started off at EY three years ago as the Global Technology Trend Scout – for shorthand, I say that I’m a Futurist, which means that I look across the globe for emerging technologies. I am also our leader for global startup strategy, so I often look at firms as large as EY, with several hundred thousand people and offices in every major city, and I identify the strengths and weaknesses of their connections with emerging ecosystems globally, from Singapore to eastern Europe to San Francisco.

If I think back to my time at UCLA and where I am now, I’ve taken so many steps in between. I became an auditor for a startup. I worked abroad as a Creativity and Innovation Consultant. I even started and failed at creating a fashion company. All these roles revolve around the theme of building new ventures, looking to see what’s next,being ahead of the trend, and most importantly, being willing to keep trying. Now I can take those 20 years of experience and help be the voice of a large company, enabling them to anticipate the future, especially as it relates to startups.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I really like contemplation. I like to study and to sit in silence. Mediation has been an important practice for me, and I think it is those moments of stillness and contemplation when what you really want whispers at you. I have trusted that whispering voice, and it’s helped me often. I learned early on to focus on what I want or what I think is interesting, and I go explore that. With UCLA, I am so thankful to be a Bruin and for the diverse experiences that my undergraduate experience provided me. It is not even something I was completely planning for when I was an undergrad. I told myself I wanted to work in startups. I wanted to study Economics and English. I wanted to be in the Technology Business Association, and I wanted to be in a sorority. With all of the experiences I had, I threw myself into them with passion and gusto. That has played out in my life in such amazing and surprising ways, and I owe much of my successes to those experiences. If I could go back in time and give myself a single piece of advice for the first day of freshman year, it would be: you have to listen to that inner voice, decide what you want, and unfailingly go in the direction of it to experiment, fail, and build on what you like.

How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?

UCLA was an experience full of incredible diversity. In a lot of ways, you are on a global stage. Everyone knows what UCLA is, and your classmates have so many different and wonderful characteristics. I was always infinitely curious about my classmates. I’ve always made a point of feeding that curiosity, and I never get tired of learning about new people and things.
I also love listening. I love quiet contemplation and being able to hear the things that another person is saying. I think that is one of the most underrated skills in a career is to be a good listener, and if you have this vast amount of experience to draw from to make unusual connections in creativity. My fellow sorority sister started the company Sugarfina, which has become a massive global phenomenon. I think back to the passion she had for new ideas when we were in school.As a student, you don’t know that the people around you are going to go on to have these remarkable global careers and companies, but of course, you get to see them develop and grow over time. The network you build in undergrad is so important – especially because of how awesome UCLA graduates are.

In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?

I met a UCLA alum in a blackout in an office building in 2012, and we became friends. I told him I really wanted to find a fellow female entrepreneur and pioneer who had made her own way in the world. He suggested I meet Jaime Nack, whom I had not overlapped with at UCLA, but that connection has meant so much. Not only has Jaime been an incredible mentor, guide, and inspiration, but she’s also been a really dear friend. Unexpected things come out of the UCLA network. I even introduced one classmate to his wife from Australia from my global travels. You never know the weird and wonderful ways that the network will influence your life.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?

With my general sense of curiosity and enthusiasm for life, I constantly want to learn and do more. To others, that probably looks like a lot of big career transformations, but I feel like it all served a big purpose, and I am where I’m meant to be. I think that I willingly put myself through so many transformational periods. It is a process of breathing in and breathing out. When you are really in a project, you’re breathing in, experiencing the world, learning new things, and traveling. Eventually, you need to take a pause, breathe out, and ask yourself “Is what I’m doing enough for me? Am I still being challenged? Am I still engaged, curious, and passionate?”

I’ve taken a lot of leaps of faith. One leap of faith was in London in 2010. I had a high flying career as a Global Consultant. I knew the second wave of startups was coming, and I wanted to be a part of it, so I up and left London, quit my job, moved to San Francisco, and started over. From there, I built an agency and a really great group of clients that all went on to have a global impact. They are all revolutionary in a variety of ways, and that because I trusted myself and knew I needed something new and different, it inspired me to take k the first of many leaps. In fact, there were many similar leaps for me at UCLA, whether joining a new club, having a new experience, and even making a new friend. Embracing the big, diverse community that UCLA has to offer equipped me for the moments when I knew it was time for me to change my career or direction and just go. UCLA helped me be brave.

What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in this field?

Unapologetically follow what lights your heart on fire, and reach out to all the alumni if you need help. You will need help, as I haveo. Build the community around you and recognize that there are people who will walk the path with you even when you take a leap.

UCLA is such a great place to figure out what makes you who you are. It might be the first time you get to figure that out on your own. I think that is the most valuable education we can get is figuring out who you are, and you get this wonderful supportive and infinitely expansive playground to explore that. I think it is as important to play with that as it is to step back and think about it. Pursuing new and wonderful things while also taking the time to enjoy it all is so important.

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

I donate every year through UCLA Giving, and I am very involved with my network of alumni friends. It’s important that I try to stay up to date as best I can. I wish I could go to more Rose Bowl games, because those were the best. I’m never in LA when they are going on, but if there is anything about campus life I miss most, it’s a UCLA football game.

Anything that relates to the history of UCLA, I love as well. I did Spring Sing, and Sara Bareilles won that year. Spring Sing, UCLA Football, and UCLA Basketball are all things that you can’t miss out on. There are all these things with such rich histories that go on on-campus, and when you look back at my age, you will see how iconic it has become. Lots of the things that go on on-campus, you don’t realize how special it is until you leave.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

There are so many things, and there is no one thing. Every one of the things I’ve mentioned – and the multitude of things I haven’t – makes me proud to be a Bruin.

And finally, what’s next?

I wish I could answer that. As I said, I think it’s important to breathe in and breathe out. I’m learning so much right now, and the exposure I have had across the globe has taught me so much about entrepreneurial ecosystems, and about how to connect with people globally. There is still so much space to learn more about things like neuroscience and biology. There will always be new trends, and I hope to ride the waves of them.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.

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.