Optimism to the max
UCI alumni find meaning in travel and mentoring
By Lisa Fung
Andrew Almendras sees himself as an “eternal learner”, an eager student who is always looking for ways to discover new things in unexpected places.
Since graduating from the University of California at Irvine in 2009 with a BA in Spanish and a BA in International Studies, Almendras has continued his personal growth and education through his work, travel, and interaction with people and places. And in return, he lives from sharing his knowledge by looking after and promoting others.
“I like to explore and try new things,” he says. “I like to build, I like to see things grow, and I like to unleash potential.”
This is key to his role as vice president of global creative marketing at IMAX, the global entertainment technology giant. Almendras, 34, leads a large team whose job it is to protect the integrity of the brand, help the company develop and grow, and deliver consistent messages between employees, studios, theaters and consumers.
A native of Glendale, he joined IMAX almost five years ago after working at boutique marketing agency The Sheppard where his Spanish skills led him to lead projects for Herbalife in Mexico City and Asia at the age of 24. This gave him a taste of what would happen to be a lifelong passion: travel.
“I don’t know how my boss trusted me,” he says with a laugh, “but they saw something in me. Later, at the age of 26, I had the opportunity to start a digital campaign in Bangkok. I had the opportunity to travel to Paris to start a live activation. I was very happy. I was very lucky. “
Luck maybe, but definitely a lot of hard work.
“If I’m in Paris for a live activation, I’m up for 16 hours. During the afternoon I work on a proposal for another project. When I’m on a plane, I work. I finish presentations in the car. I’ve done shoots where I’m the producer and coordinator as well as interviewer and director, ”he says. “I’m enjoying it; it’s the adrenaline.”
After only seven years at The Sheppard, where he started as a part-time intern, Almendras was offered a position as Vice President. Instead, he decided to step back and join IMAX as Creative Services Manager.
“I didn’t want to be a big fish in a small pond,” he says. “I wanted to start building brands that I was never involved in. I wanted to build a brand from the inside out. “
Almendras exudes certainty and ability and points out: “I always say to people, the glass is not half empty, the glass is not half full; The jar is actually overflowing with opportunities that you must decide are opportunities and not roadblocks. “
He had some roadblocks on the way to his successes. At first Almendras wasn’t sure where his Spanish major would lead him. Although he had applied (and been accepted) for marketing and communications programs at several other universities, the UCI offered him the opportunity to explore his Filipino and Spanish roots through language. He admits that the transition to college was a bit difficult and he found himself in Spanish class with native speakers. “I did very well in high school,” he says, “but then I went to college and got lost.”
Once a UCI professor advised him to switch to a major other than Spanish. “I don’t know if it was a strategy of his or whatever, but I said to myself, no, I’ll find out. I’ll make it, ”he remembers.
A year later, Almendras studied abroad in Spain, first five weeks in the small town of Cádiz for a pre-immersion program, and then a year in Granada.
“At 20, I said, I have to go somewhere and start over. I had to find myself, ”he says. “That opened my mind.”
Since then, traveling has remained an important part of his life. His IMAX job doesn’t require a lot of travel, but that’s good for him. “I now like to travel for myself. I have attached trips from each of my trips to Bangkok and Europe and all of that to The Sheppard, but I now think it’s very nice to travel in a different light for me, ”he says.
This personal trip would include his Eat, Pray, Love trip in 2019, during which he spent time in Mexico (Guadalajara and Tulum), Bali and Sri Lanka. This trip, he says, brought him peace of mind.
“I absolutely loved Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was amazing. I feel like it was a very special trip for my mother and me. It was spiritual, ”he says, adding that he also enjoyed his trips to Japan, Morocco and Spain. “I had traveled to these places at different stages of my life. How I dealt with people, how I dealt with culture, was very different for each of them. “
When the pandemic brought much of the film industry to a standstill, Almendras faced the familiar challenge of navigating the work environment.
“The most important thing for me was how to create order as quickly as possible through chaos. How do you bring everyone home? How can I empathize with the group, how do I encourage them? But how do I also communicate that work is not going to stop? ” he says. “Pandemic or not, you will encounter pressure points and roadblocks. How do we navigate them? I think people are under immense pressure – and my boss always says that – doesn’t build a character, he reveals the character, how you react to it. “
As IMAX is a global company with more than 1,500 theaters in more than 80 countries, operations have never ceased. Before the pandemic reached the US, “our China team had already gone through quarantine and we didn’t really understand it yet,” says Almendras, who went into problem-solving mode almost immediately when he and his boss formed a task force to respond to plan on a global pandemic.
“It was a ripple effect. When Asia took control, the western hemisphere’s theaters closed and then Asia opened, ”he says. “What that brought to light is that content doesn’t always have to come from Hollywood.”
Outside of work, Almendras stayed busy. In December he bought an apartment in West Hollywood and started working there. But he also had an even bigger, more personal endeavor.
About nine years ago Almendras joined the program of the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters. He was involved in many charitable and philanthropic work while in high school, including serving as an international trustee for Key Club International. He later worked with interns and acted as a mentor at his workplaces. But he wanted to do more.
“I didn’t want to volunteer or do something that is unique and I don’t see where the proceeds go or my hard work,” he says. “I never had a male role model in my life. My mother is a single parent and I am an only child. “
He has been compared to an 8-year-old boy named Diego whose father was imprisoned and whose mother raised him and his three siblings mostly alone. “I really had to figure out how to work with him as he got older,” he says. “My ultimate goal was to get him to college.”
They worked out a plan and met weekly to study when he was in high school. “He would work and ask me questions. Follow the plan, follow the plan, ”says Almendras. “In the fall semester of 2019, his GPA was 3.5. Flash Forward in Fall 2020 and his GPA was 4.83. “
During the pandemic, he made a commitment to phone Diego to check-in. Diego recently found out he was admitted to the state of San Francisco, but “his goal is to go to UC Irvine because I went to UC Irvine and we went to UC Irvine,” says Almendras. “It’s been a great trip.”
While the pandemic shows signs of a turnaround, Almendras is focused on what will happen when the IMAX theaters reopen. A lot has changed in the past year, including the move to viewing at home via streaming services. But he’s not worried.
“There’s something to be said for 2½ hours, 3½ hours of total zero interference in a theater,” he says. “Of course there are capacity constraints, but sharing an experience with a group of people who want to be there and are fans of this franchise, genre, storytelling, or director – that human connectivity through shared experience that ultimately takes you to another world and is an escape that is urgently needed in a very overwrought, overcrowded media landscape. “
He admits that there will be challenges for IMAX, but in his typical style sees them as opportunities for himself and his company.
“Anything is possible,” he says. “For me, the sky is the limit.”