They are accomplished in diverse fields – artificial intelligence and homebuilding – but two new Executive Fellows for the UCR School of Business have something in common. Both believe that success comes with a responsibility to give back.
Michael L. Zemetra ’93 is executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer of Veritone Inc., a leading provider of artificial intelligence technology. James L. Previti is founder, president and CEO of Frontier Enterprises, one of Southern California’s leading builders of homes for families, first-time buyers and move-up buyers.
Both joined the Executive Fellows program for the 2020-21 school year, contributing their real-world experience to the school’s strategy of bridging theory and practice.
“The UCR Executive Fellows program stands out among top business schools because of the level of involvement by the fellows,” said Yunzeng Wang, School of Business dean. “James and Michael are excellent connections to the world of business that we are preparing our students to join.”
Executive Fellows are selected for their leadership, professional experience and business expertise. The program was founded in 1992 to connect distinguished business leaders with faculty and students at the UCR School of Business, home of the A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management. Executive Fellows mentor students in their careers, business ventures and professional challenges.
Zemetra sees parallels in the program to his own experience as a School of Business undergraduate, when he discovered the difference that a mentor can make.
He said he was somewhat lost about his career direction until he connected with a UCR professor who encouraged him and gave him confidence. Now a successful executive, Zemetra wants to return the favor.
“I don't think that kind of attention happens at other schools,” said Zemetra, who also serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council. “I don't consider myself to be this super successful person, but I want to be a resource to give back, to help kids who are on journeys in terms of a career pathway.”
Zemetra’s own pathway took him to large content and media companies. Early in his career in public accounting, he advised giants in the entertainment business, including The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures and LucasFilm. Later he branched into technology startups and digital media. Until recently, he served at CFO at LiveXLive, a global platform for livestream and on-demand content in music, comedy and pop culture.
In 2020, he joined Veritone, which has developed the world’s first operating system for artificial intelligence. That system, aiWARE, works across multiple machine learning models to organize vast amounts of data – audio, video, text and other sources. Applications range from entertainment to law enforcement to renewable energy and beyond.
Zemetra said he was drawn by the opportunity to be part of something that is going to change the world. “Ultimately, AI will change the way we approach healthcare, how drugs are manufactured, banking security – the possibilities are really endless.”
For students concerned about entering the pandemic job market, Zemetra said he reminds them that “with hard work comes opportunities,” and that they should embrace the fast-paced fluidity of technology.
“Tomorrow’s leaders are going to be those who understand the connection between humanity and technology,” he said. As business ambassadors, we have to be almost like psychologists, to tell them it's going to be OK; there are going to be opportunities."
Previti shares that interest in using his own experience to help others identify and pursue opportunities.
“I think everything I have is a blessing and I’m supposed to help others less fortunate,” he adds.
Previti is a second-generation homebuilder who started out as a construction superintendent overseeing home construction. He credits much of his success to good timing for the launch of his own company. But hard work plays an important role in everything he does.
“If you have a level playing field, whoever is willing to work the hardest is going to succeed 100 percent of the time,” he said.
That level playing field is something Previti has worked to provide for others. One way is through the philanthropy of the John P. Previti Memorial Foundation, a charitable organization he started to honor his late brother. Another is the advice he has provided aspiring entrepreneurs over the years, encouraging them to pursue their dreams by coming up with a business plan and executing it.
“Some people would say, ‘I never had my opportunity, never had my break,’” he said. “The difference is some folks are willing dive in and take the chance on themselves.”
In a similar way, Previti adds, he hopes he can help the students and faculty of UCR. As someone born and raised in the Inland Empire, Previti appreciates how the university, as a prestigious academic center, is raising the profile of the region.
“I’m trying to be of service,” he said. “If there is some good I can bring, then I am willing to do it.”
The diverse experiences of Previti and Zemetra, and their shared determination to give back, will be outstanding additions to the Executive Fellows program, said Wang.
“They demonstrate that success and satisfaction in business are measured by many factors, including the lives you touch.”