University of Southern California

Mathew Niccolls
Title
Detecting an Opportunity
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Graduating Year
2009
Undergrad Institution
University of California, San Diego

After earning a degree in mechanical engineering and working in the field for a few years, Matthew Niccolls felt increasingly drawn to the world of business and finance. “I’ve always enjoyed trying to figure out why things are broken or how they tick,” he says. “That applies very much to both engineering and business.”

Together with a friend from his undergraduate years at the University of California, San Diego, he launched Sidecar Productions LLC, a startup specializing in video, animation and web services. “Starting a full company from scratch is scary and thrilling at the same time,” he says. “The amount of experience you get just in one or two years of doing that is amazing.” While his work as the company’s director of business development and finance manager further fueled his passion for business, he sought the additional expertise he could gain from an MBA.

On his short list of attributes for a business school were national ranking, excellent curriculum and a strong entrepreneurial aspect. “Marshall really stood out – the community, the alumni network and the people I met on campus,” says Mr. Niccolls, who also was attracted by the Pacific Rim Education (PRIME) program. “I got an experience in China that I never would have gotten on my own,” he says.

One of his favorite classes was Financial Analysis and Valuations, with Professor Tyrone Callahan. He enjoyed it so much, he became the teaching assistant for the class his second year. “Valuations focuses on what’s behind the 10K or the 10Q report – it requires that you to take a critical look at what management is telling you and where the company is going,” he explains. “Do the pieces fit? One aspect that really drew me to finance was the detective work, the ability to dig into a company and understand how it ticks.”

Mr. Niccolls volunteered through the Career Resource Center as a career coach for first-year students interested in corporate finance, in addition to teaching inner-city grade-schoolers about financial literacy through Junior Achievement. He also was inducted as a member of Beta Gamma Sigma international business honor society and was on the Marshall School Dean’s list.

“What you can get in a program like Marshall that you can’t get from textbooks is the ability to filter out what’s important and what is not,” he says. “The people at Marshall are a great resource and offer depth of experience that takes years to attain.” Particularly valuable to him were such courses as Cases in New Venture Management, which brought in a diverse group of entrepreneurs, and Strategy and Operations through a CFO Lens, which drew speakers from a range of companies and industries, including Edison International, Cedars Sinai, Mattel and Dreamworks.

After graduation Mr. Niccolls will be entering the financial rotation program at E. & J. Gallo Winery, which is the largest exporter of California wine, with sales in 92 countries. “I was very impressed with the entrepreneurial history at Gallo, the high caliber of its leadership, as well as their focus on community,” he says.

“For me, the best part of the Marshall MBA program has been access to this wide range of experience, know-how and intelligence,” he says. “It’s not just the professors or the high-level executives you meet – it’s the people in the program. I love the fact that so many of my classmates come from completely different backgrounds. It has been a thrill to be surrounded by people who challenge themselves and each other.  We have a lot of fun together.”