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Gary Lew Flies High in Aviation Finance

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Gary Lew’s career has enjoyed an interesting evolution. A political science major at UCLA, his first job after college was on the staff of U.S. Senator Pete Wilson. When Wilson was elected California’s 36th governor in 1991, Lew followed him to the State Capitol in Sacramento. After four years in the governor’s office, he decided to pursue a new path in business and joined Merrill Lynch’s investment management group. He also determined to earn an MBA and enrolled in the Graduate School of Management in 1996.

Upon graduating two years later, he joined the San Francisco office of GATX Capital, a global leasing company, as an associate director in corporate finance. In 2002 he joined Vx Capital Partners (San Francisco), a small start-up aviation investment firm, as a principal and its first official employee. Vx Capital has grown and flourished through the years, and today offers broad capabilities in transaction origination, investment, finance and asset management with respect to aircraft, engines, leases and other aviation-related structured products.

What drives you in your work?

At Vx, we started the business from scratch, and we like to say that every year we start from scratch again as we search for new business opportunities amidst ever-changing dynamics in the aviation sector, capital markets and the macro-economic cycle. As my former classmate and colleague at GATX, Guy Blanchard MBA 98, used to say, this industry is interesting and relevant; every day in the Wall Street Journal there is at least one article reporting or affecting some part of our business. Aviation finance is ever changing, which is a good thing as the asset class offers excellent risk-adjusted returns over time and across cycles.

Where is your career headed?

Given that we are in the aviation business, I’d like to think my career is headed upward. My hope is to continue to advance our capital markets reach for the firm, and build our portfolio and asset management capabilities over time. The aviation industry is a close-knit community, built on relationships. Each year, the relationships I build with colleagues in finance, marketing and operations get stronger; this, in turn, enables me to learn more about the industry and broaden the opportunities for our firm.

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?

The GSM provided an opportunity for me to launch my career in a different direction and at a higher velocity than possible without an MBA. The academic experience provided instant credibility and skills, but more importantly, the small class size and strong faculty gave me the experience, confidence and skill set to excel. Hard work and experience make all the difference, but starting from a position of preparation, fundamentals and sound academics gave me a tremendous advantage.

What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

It is amazing that it has been 15 years since I graduated. I feel blessed to have come this far—from long days in class and in the library with professors and colleagues in Davis, my job now takes me to airlines, banks and investors all over the world. It is also truly impressive to see how in those 15 years, many of my classmates have developed and created their career paths, in many instances, out of interests and goals they refined at the GSM. I recently reconnected with another classmate, Mike Livak MBA 98, who progressed from former ski instructor to general manager at Squaw Valley!

Your favorite GSM memory?

With all due respect to our esteemed faculty, hard-working staff and fellow classmates, my favorite GSM memories are winning the IM grass volleyball championship with Damon Hashiguchi MBA 98 and other classmates, and getting to work out with the Aggie swim team at 7:00 a.m. before class. For as much time as we spent studying and working on class projects, exercising body and mind while taking advantage of all that the UCD campus has to offer was something I’ll always cherish about my time in Davis.

Anything else you’d like to share?

This year Jennifer and I are celebrating our 18th anniversary, and I still thank Jen, and the GSM Scholar’s Grant, for helping me to get through school debt free. We have two daughters who are competitive swimmers, and I coach their respective soccer and basketball teams. I’ve retired from triathlons and marathons, though I still surf and golf whenever I have the chance.

How do you support and participate in the GSM today?

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to attend the GSM. From my first admissions interview with Dean Smiley, I knew the School was a special place. While there was a lot of hard work involved during those two years, I knew my success was also due to the contributions of the faculty, staff, and alumni before I arrived and the future strength of the School long after I graduated. I am a consistent donor to the GSM Annual Giving Campaign and have been an active volunteer, including a three-year term on the GSM Alumni Association’s board of directors. I benefited so much from my experience at the GSM that I feel compelled to give back to the institution. But in an intrinsic sense, the more you give back the more you get. The relative strength of the GSM isn’t only measured in rankings of the current class. It is highly dependent on the strength of the network and contributions of the more than 3,050 alumni as we spread the GSM brand deeper into corporate America and bring back those connections to each other and to Davis.

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