Melissa Ertek '01 Brings Global Wisdom to Business
Melissa Ertek MBA ’01 achieved several major milestones at a young age: she moved from Turkey to the United States at 16, graduated with her MBA from LMU at 21, and became a C-level executive of an international law firm at 34. She credits her strong work ethic, entrepreneurial spirit and global mindset for getting her where she is today – as chief development officer of Winston & Strawn LLP in New York City. Melissa is also an investor in fashion and technology companies and was recently featured in Harper’s Bazaar Turkey for her achievements and passion for fashion.
In a position that was created for her in 2014, Melissa leads strategic partner hiring and integration, non-U.S. office integration, client team programs, and special strategic projects that are focused on growing and developing Winston & Strawn. The job, similar to her previous roles in global law firms and organizations, requires frequent national and international travel, working in different time zones, and an in-depth understanding of the world economy. Melissa considers herself a global citizen and loves being able to bring that perspective to her role and projects.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have had positions created especially for me and for the skillset I bring to an organization,” said Melissa. “It’s happened at least three times and it’s probably one of the things I am most proud of. To know that your talent, strength and brain power are needed to help a company grow, develop or restructure is very rewarding.”
Before joining Winston & Strawn, Melissa amassed over 10 years of executive experience working at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, Howrey LLP and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP. Before that, she worked for some of the country’s largest real estate and advertising companies.
As a senior-level woman in business, Melissa has experienced her fair share of challenges. Over the years she’s developed a thick skin and has learned to “take risks, ask for what you want, but always have tact.” She is never afraid to speak her mind. Melissa is a huge advocate for women in the workplace. Interestingly, it’s generally been women who have doubted her abilities throughout her career.
“When I interview women, I always ask if they support other women,” said Melissa. “Even the way some women answer that question tells me everything. It’s so important to me because I have not always been supported by women in the past, and I always try to lead by example. I have been judged by women who did not know me at times simply because I’m tall with blonde hair. I’ve always felt like I had to prove to those women that I deserved to be where I was, and to have the role that I had.”
Born and raised in Izmir, Turkey as the only daughter of Turkish and Greek parents, Melissa comes from a family of strong women and hardworking entrepreneurs. She easily could have gone into one of the family businesses– but she chose to carve out her own unique path.
“Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs gives you a strong work ethic and instills that mindset and hustle in you,” said Melissa. “My parents sent me to live across the world at a young age because they wanted me to experience living and studying abroad. I had started traveling internationally with my parents when I was six years old. My father had lived in London and my parents wanted me to have a similar experience. They wanted me to be independent, learn about new cultures and make my own money.”
At 16, after skipping two years of high school, Melissa enrolled at a private university in Los Angeles where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in three years, and received an Honors Award for Outstanding Performance in the Business Department.
Melissa always knew she had to get her MBA to be competitive. She passed the GMAT and applied to several programs in Los Angeles. After a great conversation with former LMU MBA Director, Rachelle Katz, Melissa started her MBA at 19 as the youngest student ever admitted into the program.
“At the time I didn’t have a lot of work experience simply because of my age, but I learned so much from my classmates and professors,” said Melissa. “I was a good listener and observer. I never felt too young or out of place. I especially loved working in group settings and learned so much from my peers who served in leadership positions.”
She chose LMU for a variety of reasons but the culture of the university, the personal attention and the Comparative Management Systems (“CMS”) program were all big selling points. To this day, her CMS trip to Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong remains one of the greatest experiences of her life. She even has a picture of Hong Kong hanging in her Manhattan office as a special keepsake.
“Having an MBA has helped my career in countless ways,” said Melissa. “It provided a great training ground for the workforce – how to be a strategic thinker, how to operate in a group dynamic with difficult and different personalities, how to meet strict deadlines, and how to conduct business on a global scale. I will forever be grateful to LMU for setting me up for success.”