- Joint Degree student: Full-Time MBA and Master of Agricultural Economics
- UC Davis Food and Agriculture Innovation Scholarship
- Staff Research Associate, University of California Agricultural Issues Center
- B.S., Business Administration, California State University, Sacramento
A high school international exchange program brought Christine Gutierrez to Maxwell, California, from Germany more than a decade ago. Turns out, she landed in the rural Sacramento Valley farming community for a reason—to discover her passion for agribusiness.
Before moving to the small Colusa County town and spending time there with growers, Gutierrez, who is pursuing a joint Full-Time MBA and Master in Agricultural Economics degree at UC Davis, thought farming was just about growing crops: planting, irrigating, fertilizing and harvesting.
Soon though, she came to understand that it involved so much more, such as tracking foreign exchange rates, and understanding global trade agreements and tariffs. Farming wasn’t just about interacting with nature, it involved drilling down into a specialized area of international business and weighing risks.
“It’s a real international business enterprise,” said Gutierrez. “As a banker, I helped my clients manage these risks.”
On-the-Ground Training in Banking
During the exchange year at Maxwell High School, she fell in love with a Maxwell boy, who was a senior at the school. A long- distance relationship followed while she completed her high school education in Germany. After graduating from the Gymnasium of Bad Zwischenahn in Germany, she decided to return to the Sacramento Valley as an international student to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from California State University, Sacramento, double majoring in finance and international business.
After graduating from college in 2010, Gutierrez worked as an intern at Franklin Templeton Investments in Rancho Cordova, where she conducted financial analyses of business vendors. She went on to work at the California Department of Transportation, CalTrans, as an auditor of federally funded projects. In 2011, she made a jump to River City Bank in Sacramento, where she climbed from a commercial banking associate to assistant vice president.
At River City Bank, Gutierrez specialized in agribusiness lending to growers, processors and handlers, with clients representing over 30 different commodities in Sacramento and Yolo County. She managed a portfolio of 32 clients with annual revenues of up to $50 million and total combined peak borrowings of up to $70 million. She loved the work but felt she needed more training to make it into executive management positions such as senior vice president.
“I decided I needed an MBA to get into an executive management role,” she says.
UC Davis: The Agricultural Powerhouse Next Door
Gutierrez didn’t have to look far to find the university with the perfect offerings for agricultural business. UC Davis, the school next door, boasts the nation’s No. 1 agricultural program grounded with deep global roots. UC Davis’ powerhouse ag research and economics graduate program, combined with the nationally ranked Graduate School of Management’s MBA program, gave Gutierrez a unique dual-degree opportunity.
Gutierrez started studying at UC Davis in 2016 and her first year focuses on the MBA program. The second year involves overlap between the MBA program and the Master in Agricultural Economics program. Her last year, 2018-19, will be solely in the ag econ program. In addition to her studies, Gutierrez works on campus at the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. She is a research associate who develops and publishes cost and return studies for crop and livestock commodities.
Already, Gutierrez says, she is reaping the benefits of her education. Many of the classes in the MBA program involve working in teams and speaking to large groups.
She has put her presentation skills to work by giving high-powered talks on her research projects with the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. In November, she spoke to an audience of over 400 attendees about the economics of operating an almond orchard at a short course on almonds in Modesto hosted by the UC system. She gave a similar address at the Almond Board of California’s Almond Conference in Sacramento in December, a conference that draws more than 3,000 national and international attendees.
“I’ve already found that my classes are applicable to what I do,” says Gutierrez. “In my critical thinking class, we had to give a speech in every class and that prepared me for my almond speeches.”
Gutierrez knows she struck gold at UC Davis as a land-grant institution with pioneering research in every aspect of agribusiness and ag technology. In 2016, she was awarded the UC Davis Graduate School of Management’s Food and Agriculture Innovation Scholarship.
“UC Davis is a hot bed of ag activity,” she says. “We are really at the heart of this field. The dual degree is a way to take advantage of both strengths.”
Gutierrez feels fortunate for another of UC Davis’s strengths—its career services and corporate connections.
“A lot of the top agricultural companies recruit at the university and the business school in particular,” she says.
Going Full Circle: Living the Country Life
Upon graduation, Gutierrez hopes to move up into executive management at a large food company such as Driscoll’s, Blue Diamond Growers or Morningstar. For now, though, she is steeped in the present, working on campus and taking classes. Most importantly, taking care of hers and her husband’s new baby girl, Emma, born on March 19, 2017, just after Gutierrez had taken her last winter course final.
Gutierrez, her husband—her high school sweetheart from Maxwell—and Emma live in rural Arbuckle in Colusa County, about 40 miles north of Davis. Gutierrez says they live a “country life”, riding dirt bikes and hunting ducks in the rice fields. Gutierrez already knew the country life well, having grown up in northern Germany in a small town surrounded by dairies. For her, life has come full circle and she lives the life of her childhood, just on a different continent.
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