California State University, Dominguez Hills alumna Bree Nguyen (Class of ’12) had a childhood wish to someday work in Hollywood’s film industry.
Today, Nguyen’s wish has come true, although in an unexpected way. As a strategic partnerships manager for public figure partnerships at Facebook she works daily with actors, as well as singers and other famous individuals. On Wednesday, Nov. 20, Nguyen will return to campus for the CSU Dominguez Hills inaugural Professor for a Day, which welcomes back successful alumni to campus.
Nguyen started following her dream early on, telling herself, “Make a plan. Even if you don’t know how you’re going to get to Hollywood, know you have some practical, reasonable steps [to get there].”
As a somewhat unchallenged 13-year-old student at Scripps Ranch High School, Nguyen sought engaging after-school activities and began volunteering for a nearby community theatre company. Within months the teenager went from sweeping floors to handling stage management duties.
“I knew I wanted to work with talent. I learned a lot there; how to run business, how to keep things organized,” she recalled, adding that she also learned how to communicate with professionals and developed mentor relationships with some of them.
After graduating early from high school, at 15, the San Diego native moved to Los Angeles and enrolled at Los Angeles City College to study film. But the subject wasn’t what she expected.
“One film class and I was like, ‘this sucks,’” she recalled.
Studying film turned out to be more technical than Nguyen anticipated, so she changed her major to business—because it seemed to be a popular major. But it didn’t immediately capture her imagination.
After a few months, at LACC she had a chance meeting with someone who needed an online marketer for celebrities. With a mix of experience working with actors, computer skills, and a good dose of bravado, Nguyen landed the job developing a group of fans on the Internet, or online “street teams,” for Mariah Carey.
“This was 1999, so the Internet was really, really young and I was very confident that I knew everything about the Internet and programs. Google didn’t even exist, to put it all into perspective,” she recalled. “I knew how to talk the talk … meaning to pitch myself the right way.”
Creating considerable buzz for Carey, Nguyen attracted the attention of other industry insiders and “the phone calls”—and jobs offers—for Nguyen started coming in. By this time Nguyen had transferred to West Los Angeles College, but it was becoming obvious that the pressure of going to school and working full-time was going to have a detrimental effect on one or the other pursuits, or both. Sensing opportunities to advance her career, she dropped out of school.
Nguyen made her way to Maverick Recording Company in 2001, and later Warner Bros. Records in 2005, as director of street marketing and new media, conducting online marketing for the likes of Madonna, Michelle Branch, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paris Hilton, Linkin Park, and Ashley Tisdale.
Through business relationships she developed along the way, Nguyen formed partnerships which led to opportunities at two start-up online companies: in 2003 at Rent.com and in 2007 at CampusExplorer.com, an online tool for searching information on colleges and universities, where she was the vice president of marketing as well as one of seven co-founders.
One piece of her overall plan was still missing, though: a college diploma. With plenty of online and celebrity marketing experience under her belt the timing seemed right, so Nguyen returned to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in business finance from CSU Dominguez Hills.
“I picked finance [as a major] specifically because it was new to me.” Nguyen said, adding that she told herself, “I’m going to learn something new. Let’s round out my skills.”
She applied the same dedication and fearlessness to her academics that she had to her career. She took on projects outside of the classroom and sought out the advice of her professors, and even mentorships including those of Ricardo Ulivi, professor of accounting, finance and law, and Tayyeb Shabbir, professor of finance and director of the Institute of Entrepreneurship, Small Business Development and Global Logistics.
Shabbir said Nguyen was an exceptional student who had “one eye on practical applications” and demonstrated natural entrepreneurial skills and initiative.
“A lot of people dream about Hollywood, in one way or another, but Bree brought the execution part with [the dream],” Shabbir said.
Nguyen credits her initiative to excel beyond the classroom for enriching her college experience and helping to prepare her for the next phase of her career.
Participating in the CSU Dominguez Hills 2011 College of Business and Public Policy (CBAPP) Business Plan Competition, she pitched an idea for a website that would profile cities nationwide and won the competition.
As part of the Business Plan Competition, Nguyen earned a consultation—which developed into a mentorship—with the late Lee Petillon, a co-founder of the South Bay Entrepreneurial Center who was on the CBAPP Advisory Board. That, in turn, led Nguyen to serve as an advisor and mentor at the center.
Nguyen also participated at Student Research Day in 2011, and 2012 when she placed first in the business administration and public administration category, with a presentation on “Venture Capital Growth in Southern California: The New ‘Silicon Valley’?”
“It was a lot of extra work to participate in Student Research Day, on top of working and going to school full time,” she recalled, adding that not only was the process enjoyable but she was also able to tailor the topic so she could apply her findings to her own career.
Presenting the same topic, she went to earn second place at the annual systemwide CSU Student Research Competition later in 2012. Then a junior, Nguyen competed against more experienced graduate students. Similarly in business, Nguyen finds herself working with more elite colleagues who hail from the likes of Princeton, Harvard Business School, and Yale. However, she doesn’t see herself at any disadvantage.
“I love coming in there and being like, [I’m from] Cal State Dominguez Hills!” she said. “I don’t know if any of them would say they had the same [quality] experiences at their schools that I had here. We have some amazing professors here, if you can take advantage of their time.”
Nguyen noted that having mentors who provided guidance and encouragement throughout her schooling and career, was a significant factor in her confidence and ability to develop skills that have been useful professionally.
“I did not do this all by myself. I took advantage of all the resources available to me,” she said.
Even now at Facebook, where she manages online integrations for artists including Mariah Carey and Jay Z, Nguyen still seeks advice from an executive coach to continue to define her professional goals.
“I would ask her, ‘I know how to do my job. I know how to run reports and do analysis, but how do I push myself to think more strategically? What do I have to think about when I’m leading people? What do I have to think about when I’m managing a team?’” Nguyen said.
Coming full-circle, Nguyen, who graduated from CSU Dominguez Hills Magna Cum Laude, has become a mentor, speaking on campus this past June at the Connecting Women to Power Business Conference. As part of Professor for a Day she will address students in marketing and communications classes.
“If I can contribute my time to … inspire [students] to take advantage of [campus] resources—that I don’t think everybody realizes they have—I think that’s very cool,” she said.