Excellence in Action

Steve Yu ‘95, M.B.A. ’03

Photo of Steve Yu

Steve Yu ’95, MBA ’03 is a proud double Bruin and graduated with his Bachelor of Arts from UCLA in 1995 and his Master of Business Administration from UCLA Anderson School of Management in 2003. He currently serves as the CFO and Assistant Dean at UCLA School of Law where he has worked for the past 21 years. Steve was past president of the UCLA Alumni Los Angeles Westside Network and received the UCLA Alumni Volunteer of the Year Award in 2017.

Interviewed by Monique Beals • April 18, 2018

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

It has been quite a journey. It has not been a straight line and I don’t think I could have predicted where I ended up, but on an overall basis, you follow a certain path and encounter different forks in the road. You make one decision that leads to another.

I was an Economics undergraduate student at UCLA in the class of 1995. For my first job out of college, I was a retail manager at Target and was recruited through the on-campus recruiting program. It was fantastic and a great management experience. I did that for about a year and a half but the pay wasn’t quite what I wanted. I was working weekends on my feet, so to get out of retail, I took an entry level accountant position at UCLA Law School in 1996.

As soon as I got to UCLA Law School, I immediately started thinking about what’s next. I never thought I would be here this long. I have been at UCLA Law for 21 years. I came in literally as the lowest paid staff member at the law school. It was entry level, bottom of the range, total grunt work. One thing led to another with a promotion and another promotion, and then I decided to get my MBA with the Anderson Business School. Once I got my MBA I was thinking, “Okay, now, I am out of here.” Things happened to where I stayed and then finally fast forward through a long journey to last year when I got promoted to the CFO position at the law school. I went from the very bottom, and I am now both an Assistant Dean and CFO here at a top 20 law school within my favorite university. I have a lot of pride in that. I can’t even tell you. The years have just gone by so fast in a blink.

Part of why I stayed though is because I am such a proud Bruin in so many different respects: as alum, an employee, a volunteer. So much of this university just blows my mind, and I am so honored to be a part of that.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I always knew I would be in business. Even as a little kid, I grew up on a farm in the Central Valley of California. So coming to UCLA meant a huge leap for an Asian kid coming from farmland to the big city. That is why I was an Economics major. After graduating, I took accounting courses at UCLA Extension. I always wanted to be involved with business and numbers.

One of the reasons I stayed at the law school was because I worked for the same boss, John Power, for all of my 20+ years, and he just retired last year. He came in as CFO 24 years ago, and he left as CFO last year. I basically worked for the same person the entire time, and when you have a good relationship with your boss who takes care of you and is an advocate for you, you want to stay and be loyal to that person. I think that is one of the keys to success in general in terms of your career. You need someone who is going to coach you, mentor you, and help you grow both professionally and financially as well.

How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?

Being on this campus, you are surrounded by so many smart and ambitious people. I mentor a lot of people, undergraduates, graduates, young alumni, and even at the business school, and you can’t underestimate how much inspiration you get from the younger people. Seeing their ambition and willingness to do whatever and all the hard work…nothing is holding them back. I get inspired by that.

When I mentor someone, they think they are getting so much as a mentee of mine, but for me, it works both ways. I’m inspired by my mentees and what they are doing. The mentor/mentee relationship tends to go in a circle. One of my mentees graduated UCLA as an undergraduate last year, Gabriella Forter, and she inspired me to get into meditation. So here I am, 20 years her senior, and she is inspiring me with this. I meditate every day now. I went to a Buddhist silent meditation retreat 2 years ago because of her, so these relationships you build with people whether they are older, younger, more experienced, you learn and grow from each other.

The caliber of people at UCLA is top notch. There is something about that “public school-ness” that makes them real people and being in LA just brings in really high quality people.

In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?

Being surrounded by so many ambitious, smart, successful people makes me want to be a better person. The best example I can give about the UCLA network was about a year ago when I entered into a business deal with another Anderson alumni, Patrick Harrington, where we partnered with other investors to buy a hotel in the Bahamas called “Peace and Plenty”. It is just crazy. I would have never imagined I would own a hotel in the Bahamas, but we have been in business for about a year together, because of that exposure from the network. If I didn’t make sure I got out there and met like-minded people with similar values, I wouldn’t have access to stuff like this. That is the power of this network including basic friendships.

There are so many people on this campus. You find the ones that you really vibe with and resonate with. Those are going to be your friends who will introduce you to business partners and customers, and they may even help you personally and socially. Find those who are most like you with similar values and you just grow from there.

Whenever someone reaches out to me and says they are a Bruin, I am happy to reach out to them and help them as well. UCLA is just a university, but it is the people within the university – the staff, students, alumni – that make it what it is. UCLA in and of itself is nothing, but if you have people who care, who give back, who are active, then anything is possible, but it is the people who make it.

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

There are so many ways to answer this question whether it is having a bad boss or not being happy or not growing, but based on where I am in my career now and looking backwards, I think the greatest challenge is figuring out what are my core values for me, my profession, and my colleagues. It evolves over time, but I think about this as similar to dating. What you look for in a person in a dating relationship changes over time. Maybe initially you’re happy to be with someone whom you find to be attractive. Maybe later on you want someone attractive who has similar interests, so we can go do things together. But then, later on, you find what’s more important is what their values are and if they overlap with yours. In a job, you think, “Am I happy with a job that is interesting with cool colleagues and we have fun in the office or do I want a job that pays me a lot of money?”  Now, I’m realizing that the most important thing is their similarities in the core values of the institution and the boss. Does it resonate with you as a person? That has been my greatest challenge in understanding what those core values are, because at different points in my career, I thought what was most important is really not important now.

I think it’s also important to do some self-reflection. I am always trying to grow and improve. At no point do I want to feel like I have reached the pinnacle of my career or like I have learned everything I want to learn.

I am a student all the time, and that is something I pride myself in and I credit that with being successful. I am always learning, always trying to grow, always trying to add something to my knowledge base and think things through in a different way. Having that “always a student” mentality is important, because when you’re young you are so eager to learn, and at a certain point, you stop focusing on that and that is a huge mistake. You should always try to learn and grow. That is how you become a better person, a better worker, and a better colleague overall.

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

First, network. I actually teach networking, and I put on workshops to help people learn to network. I think networking has kind of a big title to it that seems like more than it is. You’re really just making contacts and having conversations. You’re really making friendships and building relationships. Students always say they don’t know how to network, but they really just need to surround themselves with people. It is so important to build that network, because those are the people who can make introductions for you. They can give you advice, and they can help you understand what it is like to be in a specific career. It is better to hear it from someone, than waste your time and go do it. Learn from other people’s successes and failures.

Networking is one piece of it, knowing people and asking questions, but another part is always to be investing in you. Always try to do something more, grow, and gain a little edge. The last couple of years as my role at the law school has expanded and I have been stretched in ways I have never been stretched before. And something like meditation have been an important part of my growth. That was investing in me by doing something a little different. I make sure to spend time hitting the gym and being physically active. I read a lot. I mentor. I am a mentee myself. You just have to always invest and try to be a better person and never giving up on that.

Those two things, investing in yourself and building that network around you so what is in you and around you, are important things to focus on a consistent basis.

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

Through the Alumni Association, I was president of the UCLA Alumni Westside Network for 3 terms or 3 years, and it was both challenging and fun. Challenging in the sense of there was always something to do and always an event going on, but fun because you got to meet other Bruins, go watch a football game, put on a networking event, and build this connection with alums. We are trying to make them feel connected to campus and to their alma mater. To me, that was a huge thing, and even though that was a lot of work, I feel like that was a turning point in my life. It showed me how important the UCLA community is. I grew as a person, and other people grew themselves. The more people are connected both physically to the campus and to each other, the stronger our network is and the more value we deliver to other Bruins out there, even new Bruins.

One of my favorite events we put on is the New Bruin Send-Off. It is the most fun event. Here you have someone who has gotten into UCLA but hasn’t started yet, who is both scared and excited, but welcoming them into the Bruin family, talking to their parents who are also both nervous but excited. By connecting the new Bruins with their parents with current students, with young alumni and older alumni, you just get the full breadth of what UCLA is. We all have our UCLA gear on, and we do the 8-clap. This community is just so robust and strong, so when you connect the young to old, you can see the value of it, and you can feel the homeliness and that welcoming spirit, and you’re part of something bigger that you didn’t even realize. You were just hoping to get into some great school and here you are and being welcomed in to the family. That really shows how exciting powerful UCLA is, and the people that make it.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

I love this question! This is when I get the most fired up. When you think of UCLA, we are a very young university. Next year, we hit our centennial which means UCLA finally turns 100. When you look at other schools, we are literally a baby when it comes to university standards. Think about our age, but look at our accomplishments: our NCAA championships, our medical center and everything the hospital is doing, our med school, law school, business school, our undergrad programs, our research.  We’ve done it in a much shorter amount of time, and we have done it as a public school that doesn’t charge these crazy private tuition rates. Our endowment is very small still, so we have accomplished so much in a small amount of time with limited resources.

Over time as each year and each decade progresses, UCLA is just going to get better and better, and we will rise to the top of not just the best public school, but the best university overall.  I feel really strongly about it, and that’s why I get super pumped up being here in the middle of it.

We are seeing the transition right now. Last year, UCLA finally tied Berkeley as the #1 Public University in the U.S. It is just a representation of just how awesome UCLA is. We are in Los Angeles in an amazing community with Silicon Beach right around the corner.  We have Hollywood. I just get super pumped. We are the premier university of the future. Students right now are part of it, and we will see it hopefully in 5 or 10 years from now. It will start to show more than it already has and that’s why I am so proud to be a Bruin. I’m proud to be a double Bruin. I’m proud to be an employee here. I’m proud to be on this campus to soak up the youthful energy that says: “anything is possible.” I get super pumped on this topic.

And finally, what’s next?                      

I’m coming off of a trip to South America where I saw some communities that were poor and struggling or they don’t have certain modern technologies. It really made me think about how, in the first part of your career you’re very focused on yourself. Once you reach a certain point, that starts to change and you think “How can I help others grow? How can I make others succeed?” I mentor a lot of people, and I put on workshops. I try to teach what I have learned, so people don’t have to make the same mistakes I did or take as long to learn some of these things. Now, I’m realizing the giving back piece is on a bigger scale than the one-on-one basis, because I really want to give back to communities. I want to be more actively involved in nonprofits whether that is on the board of a nonprofit or volunteering with a nonprofit.

I have been so fortunate to receive so much good stuff from UCLA, both as an individual and as a working professional, so I want to continue both providing financial help and leadership and my own kind of volunteering to help communities on a more broad and massive scale. This world is huge, and there is so much need out there. Those who have the will and the opportunity to give back should. That is different for every single person, but I know that that is a huge priority for me.

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.

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