Amber Yoo

How can a business education help you run a plastic surgery practice?

In this episode of the We Are Warrington podcast, host Andy Lord talks with "triple Gator" Amber Yoo about changing career paths, running a successful plastic surgery practice during the pandemic, working with nonprofit animal saving organizations, and more.


Andy Lord

Andy Lord

Andy Lord: So, tell me about San Diego. I guess Ron Burgundy would say, “Stay classy, San Diego.”

Amber Yoo: Yes. [Laughing]

Lord: We Are Warrington is a new podcast that helps young business leaders discover what is possible by highlighting stories from the Warrington College of Business Community about the University of Florida experience, business industry insights, innovative research and more. I’m your host, Andy Lord. Today’s guest is Amber Yoo. Amber is a double gator who earned her bachelor’s in Business Administration and her MBA from the University of Florida. She’s the Vice President of SKY Facial Plastic Surgery, a company she started with her husband Sirius in San Diego, California.

Amber is now working on her third degree from UF as a student in the UF DBA program, while managing her professional responsibilities and spending time with her two-year-old daughter Quinn. We’re gonna be speaking with Amber about her time at UF, how she’s managing her business during COVID-19, her work with non-profit animal shelters, and how the UF DBA program is helping her strengthen her analytical skills. Amber, welcome to the podcast thank you for joining me here today.

Yoo: Thanks for having me, it’s a pleasure.

Lord: It’s great to talk to you, it’s great to talk to one of my MBA alums, you and I were discussing that it was about 10 years ago that you started the MBA program and that was right when I was becoming the Admissions Director for the MBA program. So, you might’ve been one of the first letters that I signed in my tenure there.

Yoo: Oh, wow.

Lord: Yeah, so it’s great to be in touch with you. Talking about the Gators, when did you know you first wanted to be a Florida Gator?

Yoo: Yeah, good question. I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. So, I think that all of us who are from Florida can attest that you’re either born a Gator or you’re born the other school who I won’t name. And I think it was in middle school or high school they had college days and we all had to wear college shirts and everything to school, and I remember rummaging around in my mom’s closet looking for a college shirt and it was a Gator shirt, and I don’t know, it was just a part of my blood, I guess.

Lord: Decisions made in the clothing. I love it. There you go, college day, that sounds like a lot of fun. So, you completed your bachelor’s degree, I know you did some research while you were here, I don’t know if you wanna discuss that, but your background is really interesting having a business administration degree and then you were doing physics as well, and then you were doing some research and I’m gonna say this wrong, but genomics, something to that effect which I clearly know nothing about. Can you kind of tell us a little bit about that and what you were thinking at that point in time?

Yoo: Yeah, absolutely. Well, the story is simple once you have the missing piece which is I wanted to be a veterinarian.

Lord: There you go. Okay, got it.

Yoo: I was on the pre-med track because at the time they didn’t have a pre vet track at UF and organic chemistry took me down, basically.

Lord: It took me down many years ago, I get it.

Yoo: Yeah, so I had to take that twice. The second time I passed but I had to switch my major at that, so I switched to business which I did not know that at the time but was a very strategic long-term move for where I am today. And in order to kind of keep that spark alive because I thought that perhaps I could still go to vet school, I did the area of specialization in physics and that’s how I got involved with the research project and I was analyzing mycoplasma DNA for alligators. So, it was actually a lot of fun and it was prior to the big genomics movement that’s going on now especially here in San Diego, San Diego is a hub for that.

Lord: Genomics, there we go. Thank you for correcting me and making me sound like I know what I’m talking about. So, when you graduated, what was some of the first jobs that you were doing? And then we’ll get into when you eventually came back for an MBA, but where did that lead you post-graduation out of the University of Florida?

Yoo: As an undergrad I really was on the vet track, so I was working as a vet assistant at a veterinary hospital. And when I got my degree, I wanted to go to the next level, but veterinarians are typically small family-owned businesses like mine is now for the medical side of things. And there’s already a manager and they’re typically older with a lot more experience than a 22-year-old just out of undergrad.

So, I felt like I was hitting a ceiling and I really wanted to grow on the management tract, and so that led me to expand outward from there and I ended up getting into the nonprofit realm which took me kind of full circle back to humane societies, the Seattle Humane Society. And that’s when I realized, oh you can do so much to help animals and you don’t have to be a veterinarian.

So that really opened my eyes, and I loved that job I ended up being the marketing manager there underneath the CEO who was my mentor, Brenda Barnette. And she’s the one now looking back when I’ve been reminiscing, that really started me off on the path that led me to where I am today because she saw something in me. I was hired as her executive assistant and our director of marketing resigned and she had me go into her office and kind of get her paperwork organized and everything and she ended up having me do some of her responsibilities and I guess she saw something, and she says, “Hey, do you wanna do marketing full-time?” And I was like, “Yeah, I kind of like this.”

Yes, so I moved over into a marketing associate role and worked my way up to marketing manager and that’s when I saw that in the nonprofit sector there’s not a lot of formal business training. Everyone’s kind of winging it because they’re all passionate about the cause. And because of my undergrad, I knew the potential for taking a nonprofit and applying business best standards and best practices to it. And so that’s really what led me to want to go back to school and get my MBA and that’s when I applied, and Brenda Barnette was actually very supportive, and she wrote me a letter of recommendation and here I am today basically.

Lord: That sounds great. So, you were living in Seattle at the time and you look back at your home institution and you’re like, Holy moly they have an online MBA program. We were 10 years into that online version because it did start in 1999. How excited were you that we could offer that degree and what led you to choosing doing the MBA at the University of Florida?

Yoo: Well, I think that number one thing is I was a working professional and the MBA program that you’re speaking of at UF targeted emerging business leaders that already have years of experience in the field. And so, number one it was an accelerated program which I liked because I had a life that I was already in progress on that I couldn’t put that big of a pause on. So that was number one.

But number two, along with the flexibility that the UF program offered so important to me was that it did not compromise the rigorousness of the education. That was so important to me. I didn’t want just a stamp on a piece of paper saying, “hey, you’ve got your master’s.” I really wanted the knowledge. And you really don’t have an appreciation for how well-run UF is until you get into the higher level of education.

In my opinion, I was just too young to appreciate what was being given to me as an undergrad, but as a master’s now looking back, especially as a business owner myself, it was so well run and I think because of that I was able to get a fantastic education that fit in with my life, and I didn’t have to form my life around the education.

Lord: There you go. And so, you were coming here once every four months earning that degree 16 months in the program. I think other reasons people choose to do the accelerated version is they don’t have to deal with all those business core courses again. So, no financial/managerial accounting or any of the macro/micro and all that stuff that you had seen in years prior so that’s great. So now here we are, and you said I’m gonna do this three times over and I’m gonna be a DBA student. So, what led you to the DBA here at the University of Florida?

Yoo: I would be a lifelong student if I could just let me be honest with you, I love, love learning. And I didn’t even know a doctorate program existed until I was in the MBA program and that’s when I first heard about it. And I don’t remember this, but I found it when I was applying for my doctorate. I emailed my husband while I was in my MBA program saying I just found out there’s a doctorate, I want this. It was 10 years ago, and I had moved on with my life, I had forgotten about it, but then I started the business and 10 years into having a successful business, again I felt like I was hitting a bit of a ceiling knowledge wise. I was ready to grow, I was ready to expand, and I was trying to figure out how I could do that, and the doctorate program came back to me in terms of an option.

Lord: That’s fantastic. So, with that, the DBA program it focuses a lot on applied research and analytical skills, so what are some of the tangible ways that you’ve found those skills to benefit you in your professional career currently?

Yoo: Yeah, that’s a tough question for me to answer because I’m so new in the program I’m still in the first year, I’ve only done four courses. So, I could say that if I wanted to, if I had the time, that’s the other thing right now I have zero time beyond day-to-day management of the company and my family and school, but if I had the time at this point, I could go back to my annual customer survey and run data analysis and SPSS on that to really look statistically at the trends and what’s significant and how big the effect is.

Prior to that, I was running my version of reports in Excel and trying to glean some insight from that data. And that was actually one of the reasons that made me want to go back and get my doctorate as I felt like I would have more control over the data that my business collects and that I’m not using to the full potential. So that’s number one, but number two I think that I’ve already grown a lot analytically.

I would say that I had a leg up, I think from other people who may be gone to other programs other than UF for their MBA, but because I’m working on my triple Gator degree, my MBA at UAF already set the groundwork for really strong analytical thinking. In fact, I think that’s one of the number one things that I personally came away with is I knew how to make something out of nothing.

Lord: And speaking of your business, so how did you decide to start SKY Facial Plastic Surgery and what has that journey been like? Maybe you can kind of give us a bit of history and where you guys are at today.

Yoo: Absolutely. So, in medical school they don’t really teach you about running a business.

Lord: Oh, I hear that a lot.

Yoo: So, I think my husband had this master family plan he called it the Yoo family plan from a very early time, but I was passionate about animals. And so, I really did intend to use my MBA to get back into the animal sector. But my husband’s very convincing and charming and here I am running his practice. So that was really the impetus, he had this vision for he’s gonna do the medicine side of it and I’m going to run the business side of it and we’re gonna be a great partnership and that’s really what’s developed. SKY is my husband’s initials S-K-Y so that’s where the name come comes from. And I would say that really Sky is our first-born child so to speak.

Lord: Okay, there we go. So, she’s 10 now, we’ve been watching her grow up over the years and at this point 2020 has been a very interesting year with COVID, I’m assuming.

Yoo: Yes, but we doubled our square footage and added a provider in all of this. So, we’re actually in another layer of a growth step for SKY and that’s really exciting, but I think that we make a really good team, my husband and I because he really does do a obviously phenomenal job with the medicine side of things. And we respect one another, and I run the business side of it and manage the team and the day-to-day operations and it works out really well.

Lord: Understand. Amber, we’re gonna go ahead and take a quick break and we’ll be back with more in just a minute.

The UF MBA program has a format designed specifically for your needs, whether you wanna be a full-time student on campus, an online student or anywhere in between, UF MBA has a highly ranked program format created with you in mind. You’ll have access to some of the top minds in business education and gain a strong network of motivated professionals on your way to becoming one of more than 74,000 Warrington graduates around the world.

Learn more about how you can pursue an MBA from UF like Amber by requesting information at the link in the podcast episode description or at www.warrington.ufl.edu/podcast/episodesix.

Lord: Welcome back to We Are Warrington. I’m speaking with UF DBA student, Amber Yoo. Before the break, we were talking about the business you own with your husband SKY Facial Plastic Surgery. Can you elaborate on how you manage your business in this difficult time of COVID-19?

Yoo: Wow, that’s a complicated question. It has been a really challenging time. And when COVID first hit, we were having the most successful month that we’ve ever had in our history and then just shut down for over a month. And so that was challenging and my biggest focus at the time was keeping my staff employed.

And so, we all went to working remotely, we started thinking about what we could be getting ahead on in terms of kind of more housekeeping type of things because we couldn’t see patients. We’re fortunate that after that initial shutdown because we’re in the medical field, we haven’t been faced with a shutdown again, but we did lose good people because of that. And so here we are post shut down.

We’ve doubled our square footage, we’ve added a provider, we’ve lost three staff and we haven’t even added new staff for the new provider. So, I’m almost done with my hiring, but I still have two positions to fill. So, it has been a lot, but I can tell you what the team has been absolutely phenomenal.

Lord: I can imagine so you’re working on a lighter staff right now, so your team must really be picking it up on all aspects and sounds like they wanna be there, that’s great.

Yoo: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that our patient base is understanding that we’re all going through global pandemic and I think that all around even though there’s been a lot of challenges, I think that one of the lessons for me coming away from it is that if you look for the sense of community wherever you are whether it’s your work, family, your customer base you can find it it’s just a matter of looking for it with that perspective.

So that’s been great, and the team has been fantastic. I remember when I gave birth to my daughter early, we had our biggest event of the year for SKY scheduled and four days and I went into early labor and I called my manager Ashaya and I said, “Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is Quinn’s coming.”

Lord: Shout out to Quinn.

Yoo: Yes. “The bad news is I need you to put on this event for me the parts of it and lead the team through it.” They rallied and I remember that that was the first time pre-COVID, I remember that was the first time I thought, wow. I never realized, it’s important to me to always make sure my staff feel supported, but I never realized the power of the flip side of that, that their support for me because we are a family-run business is so strong and real and I appreciate that every day.

Lord: Thanks for sharing Amber. I know a lot of our MBA students a typical route for them is they will graduate, they’ll work Fortune 500 for a while, Fortune 100 companies, leadership development programs, end up managing large groups of people and then years down the road, they finally say, “You know, I’m gonna launch my own business, I’ve had a lot of experience in this.” You’re a little bit different, now you’ve done some great things leading up to your MBA but then you dove in and you just went for it. How did your academic background here at the university prepare you for all of this?

Yoo: I think the number one word is confidence. Just have confidence in yourself and your ability and in your thinking, I think the biggest barrier to starting a company is fear. You don’t know how to get started, you don’t know where to go, what about the financial aspect of it? But the MBA and the DBAs adding to that really gives you the confidence to move forward course forward.

Lord: So, you guys have been listed on the Gator 100 three times, and for all of our listeners out there if you don’t know what Gator 100 is, it’s a list of top 100 fastest growing Gator owned companies and Gator led businesses in the world. What has that experience been like for you?

Yoo: It’s been amazing. I had no idea that I would, the second year we’ve made it three years like you said, in the second year we were number 24, that is crazy.

Lord: That is, it’s amazing.

Yoo: What they do is they read it off backwards. So, they start at number 100 and then work your way up and I took my dad because he lives in Florida and my goal was just to break 50. And then when we got to 35 where I was the previous year and I hadn’t been called yet I was looking at my dad thinking, oh my gosh, this is crazy. And so, to get number 24 to be the 24th fastest growing Gator led company in the world, for me it was just external validation. Like you said, I didn’t go a direct route.

So, maybe I didn’t have the context of knowing the success measures of the larger corporations and how I stack up. I was just starting my own business with my husband, taking one step at a time, plotting forward here in San Diego, and to receive that external validation from my alma mater saying not only are you doing great but you’re stacking up excellently against other businesses like yours across industries was just so amazing.

Lord: That’s wonderful. And you’ve also had an integral role in starting a nonprofit as well, can you tell us about that? Give a shout out to your nonprofit and a little bit about what that experience has been like.

Yoo: Yeah, I’ve always tried since my dream of becoming a veterinarian couldn’t succeed and I went a different path, I’ve always tried to continue to contribute to animal welfare. And I spoke about Brenda Barnette earlier who was my mentor at Seattle humane society, again, small world, she ended up in Los Angeles.

Lord: Okay, not too far.

Yoo: Yeah, so when I was in San Diego we reconnected and she was doing something very ambitious, not a lot of people go from private humane societies to city shelters. City shelters tend to be less focused on saving lives. It’s more about controlling the population although that’s changing here in California and she’s been a part of that movement.

So, she was coming from Seattle humane where we were saving 5,000 animals a year. It had a very high what’s called a live save rate and she was going into a city shelter where I think they see 6,000 animals a year. And she was trying to take that up to 85% live save rate which still is not as high as she had had it at Seattle humane. So, she reached out to me and she said, “I’d love for you to be involved.”

And I was driving up to LA every weekend for about two years with, yes, it was about me and seven other people that were supporters of her vision. And we started a 501-C3. It is called Friends of LA Animal Shelters. And the most impactful thing that was started at that time that is still in place today is we started I believe it could have been California’s first, but it was definitely LA’s first mall store selling pets from the city shelters. So, we were competing and providing an ethical alternative for a pet store.

Lord: So Amber, now you’re working to save animals more locally in San Diego. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Yoo: What I’m doing now in San Diego it’s called the FACE Foundation which is kind of ironic given that I run a facial plastic surgery practice but has nothing to do with that it’s about animals, but they are also doing something unique and I’m very proud to serve on their board. They are trying to end economic euthanasia.

So, they want to end a reason for euthanizing a family pet being I can’t afford this life-saving procedure this life-saving surgery. And so, they get applications for essentially grants from families who need funding that can’t afford it that bill and FACE evaluates them and provides that funding and partnership with the vet hospital.

Lord: I love it, I actually personally went through that, but I paid the vet bills and went for it but then on the other end it was time. Poor Wiley.

Yoo: I think we’ve all been there, you know?

Lord: I think I had a cat that lived 25 years, he was amazing so there you go. We never could figure out how old he was and how long that he made it, but he made it to the very end so yes, that’s great. Amber that’s an amazing idea. Nobody wants to be put in that position where you can’t afford to save a life, so I think that’s awesome.

All right, Amber, I know we’re getting to the close of the time that we have together and I feel I could spend all afternoon speaking with you but I always like to ask my guests this final question and so any listener that’s out there can take some sort of inspiration and they can apply it to their lives, but when the going gets tough and you’re feeling stressed with work and school and life in general, how do you stay motivated and keep pushing through all of this? As you mentioned, you don’t have any time, but you are obviously staying motivated. What do you lean on? What do you point towards?

Yoo: Yeah, that’s a great question and I think that over different stages in my life that answer has been different. And I think at this stage with the added benefit of a couple of extra years on my life, I’ve come to realize that I can have faith that I can weather the storms, and I know that those storms are actually necessary and even vital to personal growth. And so just recognizing that there are going to be downs, you can’t expect to have everything go right 100% of the time.

And so now when those downs do come, I see it as an opportunity, and there’s not that knee-jerk reaction of a fear-based response anymore. It’s more confidence like oh, okay here’s another lesson for me. Let’s unpack this, let’s move forward, and I think coupled with that is one of my favorite practical tips that came out of my MBA which is the ABC rule I don’t know if you’ve heard about that.

Lord: Elaborate please I have heard, maybe my ABCs are a little bit different than yours but go ahead.

Yoo: Apply Butt to Chair, it is such an important rule. And so, when you’re feeling overwhelmed you need to sit down, make a list, and just start with the first checkbox and just go from there.

Lord: Gotcha. My other ABC rule has always been Always Be Closing, but I’m in recruiting and sales so it’s a little bit different. Oh, wonderful. So, on the other side and you mentioned some great tips here about saying, you gotta take things one day at a time.

Obviously, we’re living in an unpredictable society right now and I think people are really learning this valuable life lesson about just taking things as they come and knowing you that you just can’t control everything, but we’re all doing great things and you’re clearly investing in yourself right now with pursuing this DBA degree. But beyond that, are you doing anything, maybe another tip that you could share that you’re investing in yourself?

Yoo: Yeah, I think that probably the summary of my thirties was that I had to do a lot of soul searching, because I think in your twenties you’re striving, striving, striving and then you hit your thirties and I think that’s a perfect time to really reflect and say, “Wait a second, what’s important to me?” Because I think that we may be especially as women, lose sight of that with our relationships, with our obligations to others. And so, I did a lot of soul searching and right now I’m about to start on my forties, I’m doing those things.

So, I know that you mentioned the DBA but that is a conscious choice that I made to invest in me. The other thing that I did was decided to have a child because we had been talking about that for many, many years never the right time, we own a business so much going on. And I remember I was walking with my husband in our neighborhood, and I said, “So about this kid thing.” He’s like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “You know what, there’s never going to be a good time. But I think that if we look back on our life, we’re going to want to have the joy that a child would give us.” And watching her grow it’s only been two and a half years is just amazing so she’s what keeps me balanced and sane during all of this.

Lord: That’s wonderful. I have a daughter as well her name’s Emily, she just happens to be 20 years older than your daughter at this point. So, I made that early investment.

Yoo: Yeah, you probably have a lot of tips to share.

Lord: And I can tell you there’s just never a good time and you just take things as they come that’s for sure. All right, well Amber, it’s been wonderful speaking with you today, I really appreciate all of your insight and your time and sharing so much about SKY and your nonprofit work. I know that the listeners are gonna really gain a lot from this episode so thank you so much.

Yoo: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me, this has really been an honor.

Lord: It has been a lot of fun and it’s been an honor talking to you and clearly Go Gators, Amber, through and through all the way.

Yoo: Oh yeah, Go Gators.

Lord: For listeners who wanna learn more about Amber and other amazing Warrington students and alumni, visit the Warrington newsroom and follow us on social media @UFWarrington. Until next time, stay motivated and keep investing in yourself.

Learn more about how you can pursue an MBA from UF like Amber by requesting information today.