University of Southern California

Entrepreneurial Passion
Entrepreneurs and Alumni of the Year Fred and Michael Uytengsu Discuss Family Business and Giving Back to USC
June 5, 2013 • by News at Marshall

What is required to become a visionary entrepreneur today? Marshall alumni and brothers Wilfred (Fred) Jr. ’83 and Michael Uytengsu ’90, co-recipients of this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, shared how they built their family’s food manufacturing business to colossal success during an awards presentation at the Davidson Conference Center on May 2. The brothers also were honored as Alumni Entrepreneurs of the Year; it is the first time an individual or individuals have been recognized with both awards.

"Fred and Michael Uytengsu epitomize that unique combination of serial entrepreneur, empire builder and wheeler dealer," said Lloyd Greif MBA ’79, President & CEO, Greif & Co., and Advisory Board Chairman for USC Marshall's Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

While the two brothers come from the same DNA (their father was the original entrepreneur and both earned business degrees at USC), their career paths have been quite different. Fred moved back to the Philippines in 1985 to help grow the family’s dairy business into the largest dairy company in the Philippines. In 1998, he took the company public, continued to build the business and then sold the company in March of 2012 to the largest Dairy conglomerate in the Netherlands. Separately, Michael used his finance degree and early experience with Salomon Brothers to orchestrate several restructurings and roll-up transactions in the US Snack Food industry, including the merger between Sunshine Biscuits, Inc. and the Keebler Company in 1996, and more recently the roll-up of several regional pretzel companies into National Pretzel, which he subsequently sold to Con Agra Foods in late 2011.

Michael, who recently founded the Somersault Snack Company, announced his intention to donate one percent of the nascent company’s equity to USC and encouraged other alumni entrepreneurs to do the same. In addition, he has made an undisclosed donation to the Marshall School for the development of the new business school building.

"If every USC alum that is in business gave one percent of their companies away to the school at an early stage, work with the students, and show them the real-life challenges we’re facing, it would be a great experience for everyone; the students, the founders of these companies and hopefully, down the line, it also would be good for our endowment," said Michael.

Fred, who recently donated $8 million to fund USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center, earned his bachelor’s from Marshall with an emphasis in entrepreneurship before joining Alaska Milk, where he continues to serve as president and CEO. Fred spoke about the valuable lessons he learned from his father while at USC and beyond during the presentation, which preceded the Greif Entrepreneurship Center’s annual Marcia Israel Awards Banquet at the nearby Radisson Hotel.

"Our father was a consummate entrepreneur and always believed in a tremendous work ethic," said Fred, describing how his father, a trained engineer, would take him and Michael to the company’s factory on weekends to expose them to the business. "As young boys, both of us knew we would come back and join the family business. When it came time to go to college, I thought it was important that I bring something new to the party. I had an interest in finance as well, but there was something unique that USC offered, which was the entrepreneurship program."

Before joining Alaska Milk, Fred said he worked for the corporate banking division of Crocker National Bank – an experience he would recommend for budding entrepreneurs. "Unless you have that special, secret sauce for a product that you can launch right out of school, go out and work for someone else," he said."Making mistakes at someone else’s expense and getting paid for it isn’t a bad thing."

His brother Michael, who graduated from Marshall with a concentration in finance, did the same – taking an investment banking post at Salomon Brothers in New York and then Hong Kong before joining the family business. He spoke about how he had to work hard to land the post and how he made the most of opportunities while there.

"Early on in your career, you aren’t going to get everything you want, but if you go to a company with a good training program, it will serve you well. If you are interested in something, make the most out of your situation and get the most out of your experiences that you can," he said.

The brothers ended their talk by emphasizing current projects and the importance of giving back. These include a high-end, select wine business — an area for which both brothers share a passion — and Somersault Snack Company, an all-natural snack line Michael founded and runs.

"I had that entrepreneurial bug in me at an early age. I always believed in setting goals for myself. In my 20s, it was about learning and making mistakes and adding some value. In my 30s, it was about leveraging those lessons and growing shareholder value and, now that I’m in my 40s, it’s whether or not I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur like my father and pursue my passions. And so I set on this journey to launch a business from scratch," he said, describing the formation of the Somersault Snack Company.

"It is way more work than I ever imagined. It’s way more emotional. You have your heart and soul in it. But being an entrepreneur is about passion. It’s about trying to create something that society needs. We’re really excited about this journey," said Michael.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.