Alumni find success in business

Representing the future of business in the Central Valley, 40 young professionals were honored as members of the “40 under 40” of 2013 by Fresno’s Business Street Online.  They were nominated by their peers for achieving business success before the age of 40.

Seventeen Fresno State alumni made the list and four of them shared their stories and advice for current students.

It’s about relationships

Joanna Odabashian was born in Visalia, moved to Orange County and then settled down in Fresno by the time she was seven years old. After graduating from Fresno State, she decided to stay in the Central Valley because it was an affordable and “great” place to raise her family, she said.

Also, many of the connections she made while in school were from the Central Valley.

Odabashian is the team leader and CEO of Keller Williams Realty Fresno, an international franchise. She works with 118 real estate agents in the Fresno branch.

“My job is to motivate them, train them and provide value to their business,” Odabashian said.

Odabashian graduated from Fresno State in 1997 with a degree in liberal studies. She received her bilingual teacher credential in 1998 and was a teacher for seven years before she moved on to real estate.

During her time at Fresno State, Odabashian built connections with people that have helped her since graduation.

“I believe some of those connections are lasting relationships and are influential,” she said. “Some of the people today that I’m in business with now were some of the people I met at Fresno State.”

It is important to care for others, Odabashian said, to operate a business.

“I think the key to success is having a caring heart and realizing that when you help people get what they want, you’re also getting what you want,” she said.

Odabashian said that the classes she took for her teaching credential help her in real estate.

“This job that I have now, running the company, I do believe that a lot of the leadership and classroom management skills I learned while in the teaching credential program have helped me.”

Finding a balance

Megan Jacobsen was born and raised in Fresno. She chose to settle down in Fresno because of her line of work as the director of membership of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.

“My current place of employment is a perfect fit for me,” she said. “We represent the growers, shippers and marketers that grow and produce the freshest fruit in the world. It’s truly an honor to work with these individuals.”

The league is a statewide public policy organization that represents California’s fresh grapes, tree fruits and blueberry operation.

“I work on expanding membership, but the primary thing has to do with communicating with our membership and being a voice to our membership regarding items on public policies that we’re working on.”

Jacobsen graduated from Fresno State in 2008 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in agriculture education with an option in communications.

Fresno State is a very hands-on university, Jacobsen said, and her peers motivated her. “Fresno State definitely provided me hands-on opportunities, one-on-one with professors, and the dean from the college of agriculture was very personal and worked very closely with us,” Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen was part of the Smittcamp Family Honors program. She said the program gave her the opportunity to meet people that were as motivated and passionate as her about education and commitment to the university.

Jacobsen said current students should get involved with organizations within the university and “soak in as much information as possible.”

One of the biggest challenges  Jacobsen faced after graduation was finding a balance between friends, family, faith and her career.

“Between high school, college and your career, we go through several transitions as young professionals and definitely the biggest challenge is finding that balance,” she said. “But once you find that balance personally and professionally, everything else comes with it. So with that, I would say find that balance.  Work hard and, most importantly, love what you do and find what your passion is in life.”

Find work in your career path

Ian Wieland was born and raised in Madera and is an attorney with Sagaser & Associates focusing on employment and labor law.

After law school, he left the Central Valley but returned after a few years.

“I think if someone is looking at getting into politics and legal professions, there are opportunities here that aren’t available in other places like the Bay Area,” he said.

Wieland graduated from Fresno State in 2007 with degrees in political science and history. He said the university gave him a practical education and faculty members encouraged him to get involved.

“I’ve been very involved in the community since my time at Fresno State,” Wieland said. “I’ve been active in local politics.  I was involved in the Maddy Institute. Through the Maddy Institute, I was able to intern in Sacramento for a local assemblymember and at Washington, D.C., for a local congressman.”

Wieland was a recipient of a Smittcamp scholarship and it served as his motivation.

“If I didn’t finish in four years, I’d be there paying for school on my own,” Wieland said. “I had a real incentive to be focused and get things done while I had that scholarship.”

Wieland said it’s a good idea for students to get an internship or a part-time summer job that helps their career path.

“One of the things I did while I was a student at Fresno State, aside from the internships, was I also worked as a part-time file clerk at a local law firm, which allowed me to see how a law firm operates,” he said.

By taking an internship or part-time job, not only will students gain real world experiences, but students can also figure out if that career is right for them, Wieland said.

The family business

Ashley De Young is the vice president of marketing for De Young Properties. De Young oversees the company’s website, online marketing, social media platforms, community signage and also collaborates with the company’s contracted agency on all other forms of advertising and public relations.

De Young was familiar with the local homebuilding industry ever since she was a child. The company was established by her parents, Jerry and Paula De Young, in 1974.

In addition to working with her parents every day, De Young also worked together with her two older brothers.

“I am constantly learning from each and every one of them, and I value these experiences daily,” Young said. “I believe it is always important to never stop learning, growing and experiencing everything life has to offer.”

De Young graduated from Fresno State with a degree in advertising. She said the diversity at Fresno State taught her the value of different perspectives, which has helped her in many business situations.

“Fresno State’s advertising courses helped my business career by teaching me to get the attention of your target market to promote sales, to set my business apart from competitors and, most importantly, creativity,” De Young said.

As a college student De Young was motivated by watching her parent’s dedication to the family’s business.

“My parents’ dedication to the San Joaquin Valley as a local business and community champion motivates me to become a successful business woman in the Fresno community,” Young said. “I have some big shoes to fill.”