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Grads On Grads: Graziadio Great Recession Alumni Provide Advice to Upcoming 2020 Graduates

"If you take each challenge one step at a time, with faith in every footstep, your strength and understanding will increase." - James E. Faust

In uncertain times, many often look at those around them for guidance – especially in today's business landscape. At Pepperdine Graziadio, we are profoundly inspired by our alumni's willingness to support the future graduates of our school. As the future of the industry remains unclear, a few alumni who graduated during the time of the Great Recession stepped forward to offer guidance and first-hand insights from their personal post-graduation journey.

We graciously thank the four alumni, Mark Villalovos, Pramod Kunju, Yasmeen Hibrawi, and Cindy Holland for showing our students that greatness is possible, even in darkness. We commend you for your kindred spirits and relish your words of encouragement as you continue to make waves in your communities and industries alike. We say it once more - thank you.

Pramod Kunju (MBA '08): Resilience


Founder and CEO of NAKUNJ Inc., Pramod Kunju's (MBA '08) goal for attending Graziadio was to gain the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur. Pramod graduated with his Master of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship at the height of the recession. However, he saw this as an opportunity to pursue his passion for being an entrepreneur. He started working towards that goal amidst times of uncertainty, confident in his abilities to reach success.

Taking advantage of his Pepperdine network and resources, Pramod found that Pepperdine played a significant role in keeping him on track to being an entrepreneur. Pramod's passion for entrepreneurship stems from his desire to provide high-quality data analytics and A.I. consulting services in a market that lacked good options. He has now been a successful entrepreneur since 2008. Pramod wants upcoming graduates to know that success is possible, even during a recession, offering three critical pieces of valuable advice. First, be resilient in times of adversity. Second, being agile within your organization is a great way to succeed. Take this as a chance to get creative with your strategies. Lastly, there is importance in giving back to your communities, especially during difficult times. Giving back is a fantastic way to truly achieve the Best for the World Leaders mentality.

Yasmeen Hibrawi (MBA '08): Positivity and Self-Care


Yasmeen Hibrawi (MBA '08) has an impressive background filled with international travel experience working for many organizations. She started her MBA journey with Pepperdine Graziadio in 2006, with a background in T.V. and film. Unfortunately, after graduating with her MBA, Yasmeen faced unemployment for the next year due to the economic crisis. However, she kept her spirits lifted and worked hard to find a beneficial career opportunity, utilizing Pepperdine resources like the Graziadio Career and Professional Development Department.

Later down the road, Yasmeen successfully secured employment with Boost Mobile, working in their customer experience department, analyzing how to make their products more user friendly. While employed with Boost, Yasmeen landed a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for the U.S. Department of State and moved cross country from California to Washington D.C. Still enjoying her thriving career in the State Department, Yasmeen is currently in Dubai as the head of public affairs. Reflecting on the past, Yasmeen states that she would not change a thing since it led her to her current position.

Her advice to graduates, aside from being prepared for Zoom interviews, is to stay positive and focus on your mental health. Taking care of your health is imperative to weather difficult times and allows individuals greater success in the long term. Finding a constructive outlet to keep your mindset on a confident outlook is essential. Activities such as volunteering can keep spirits lifted and foster an environment of productivity and wellbeing. Much like Yasmeen's experience, things may be difficult at first, but success comes when resilient.

Cindy Holland (MBA '08): Leaning Into Adversity


Charles Schwab Sr. Marketing Manager, Cindy Holland (MBA '08), enjoys a flourishing career, bringing years of finance industry expertise to her 12 Business Development Officers serving wealth advisors. Cindy's original outlook on higher education, let alone earning an advanced degree, felt too daunting to pursue. However, at the urging of a highly-educated friend, she gave junior college a go, found her love of learning, and worked her way toward her MBA at Pepperdine Graziadio. As a student in the Part-Time MBA program, she found the real-world experience, "beyond gratifying." This added to her skill set and ability to elevate her role in her company, by seeing where she could resolve issues and add value.

Earning her graduate degree during the Great Recession provided Cindy with key takeaways, such as being informed, and not allowing negative-minded, sensationalistic media to inhibit her progress. She learned that change is a constant, and things will always improve – through even the most turbulent times. Cindy offers inspiring words to students about staying nimble: "Necessity is the mother of invention." She expands by sharing the importance of leaning into adversity and finding silver linings to create innovative, new solutions and opportunities.

Like Cindy, if you believe and persevere, there will be light at the tunnel's end. Cindy welcomes LinkedIn invites from current students and alum and promises to respond as her ongoing commitment to her Pepperdine community.


Mark Villalovos (MBA '08): Network, Network, Network


Mark graduated from Pepperdine Graziadio with his Executive MBA in 2008. He specializes in the human-centered design of highly engaging and memorable customer experiences – both physical and digital. Earlier in his career, he worked with notable brands like the Walt Disney Company and Sears but now helps small medical networks and insurance companies improve their customer loyalty by delivering "WOW experiences" and erasing friction in their commerce processes. His primary motivation for earning his MBA was to enhance his career trajectory and grow his professional network. Graduating in the midst of the Great Recession, Mark felt the impact of the economic crisis, finding himself in transition for the first time in his career.

He persevered by leveraging his degree and the extensive Pepperdine network to secure a director role at Disney. Mark's takeaways from the Great Recession are never to stop building your network; take risks to cultivate rewards, and pursue something you are passionate about. His advice for upcoming graduates is to "network, network, network" – use social media to grow your connections and establish your personal brand. He also stresses the importance of having a plan and being diligent in times of uncertainty; "If you are relentless about putting in the work, success at your goals is assured."