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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: From Battlefield to Business World

Spring 2017

USMC veteran-turned-entrepreneur credits continuing education for helping to grow his business.

Whether studying at UCI or serving his fellow veterans, Alfred Lane brings the same sense of purpose and dedication he had as a Marine fighting on the front lines in Vietnam. Never one to sit back and enjoy the fruits of his labor, Lane has pursued a 71-year journey marked by lifelong learning and growth — and in many ways the trip is just getting started.

“The brain is like a muscle, you have to work it all the time to keep it strong,” Lane said. “A lot of people say, why get involved and try something new at this stage? But I think as long as you have a passion and have energy, and you can do a job to the best of your ability, why stop just because you've reached a certain number of years? I'm still feeling the passion a lot, I'm really feeling it.”

That passion led him to strike out in a new career direction at the age of 69. The Fordham University graduate, a custom-framing specialist, has been selling his shadow boxes since 1990, taking sentimental or artistic artifacts that people submit, or using his own photography, and creating unique pieces of art. And through his work with the Veterans Administration, Lane discovered that he could sell his artwork to the government.

But first he'd need specialized training to learn the fine points of bidding on federal contracts. So he turned to UC Irvine Extension — now the Division of Continuing Education — for world-class instruction. Lane enrolled in a Contract Management course and, a little more than a year later, aced it with a 3.9 average.

“When I decided to go back to school, I knew I needed to zero-in on exactly what I needed to know,” said Lane, a resident of Compton, where he lives with his wife Barbara. “I wanted a course that was very specific to my needs. That's when I decided on the UCI Contract Management course. It addressed seven specific subjects of contract management, which was exactly what I needed.”

Lane said the course got right to the bottom line, which he liked, taught by expert instructors who had personal experience in their specialties.

“For instance, the instructor who taught contract negotiation was a lawyer, and she was just great,” he said. “She had a lot of experience in contracts. I have to say, the course wasn't easy, but when it was over I felt very confident to go out and bid on and negotiate contracts, knowing I had the knowledge and support from my instructors. My rapport with the instructors was so powerful that I would never hesitate to consider or recommend them as a consultant.”

Lane, a native of New York City, volunteered for the Marines and served in Vietnam from 1963 to ‘64, where he spent two tours of duty facing heavy combat on the front lines. “I wanted to go back for a third tour,” he said, laughing. “I was young then and thought I was invincible, like most young people. But I saw some really horrible things over there.”

Turns out his years as a Marine formed the defining chapter of Lane's life. Inspired by a sense of duty and unflagging energy, Lane — son of a highly decorated Buffalo Soldier (Purple Heart and Two Bronze Stars) in the 92nd Infantry Division — has dedicated himself to giving back to other vets. It's a mission he feels is a continuation of his service with the USMC.

“I was working with the VA as a medical service associate in psychology, helping some of the vets stay on top of the services they deserve,” Lane said. “You know, a lot of the veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD and need a little guidance. Some of them don't know what's available to them. I help steer them in the right direction, stay on top of appointments and services that are available.”

He approached the work like he always does — with Honor and Integrity.

“Working with the VA, I felt a lot like I did serving on the front lines in Vietnam,” he said. “But I was on the front line of a different challenge. That's how I approach everything in life. You have to find what you're passionate about and go after it.”

His two main passions dovetailed a few years ago. He was working at the VA building in Los Angeles when he noticed the walls were lined with custom-framed artwork on all five floors. So he decided to inquire about selling his own art to the VA. It would be yet another way he could give back to his brothers in arms, provide some beauty and solace, and advance his business, Al and Son Fine Arts, at the same time.

So Lane decided to take the plunge and learn contract management. He already had a strong background in business; Lane got a B.S. in marketing from Fordham in 1974 and spent time in pharmaceutical sales, developing and serving clients among the physicians in Madison, Wisconsin. But he knew relatively nothing about submitting contract bids.

“That's when I decided to go back to school and take the course at UCI,” he said. “I wanted to learn how to get some of those contracts. And the course description sounded like it was exactly what I needed.”

Lane's tuition and books were paid for through the Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation Education benefit. But it was the support of his instructors at UCI that paid the real dividends. The confidence and background he gained through the course has served him well.

“One of the most important things [the instructors] taught me was that it's better to listen during the negotiating process and talk afterward,” Lane said. “They taught me how to successfully submit government bids in writing, how to negotiate to make sure you see a profit. And they gave me the confidence to get out there and compete. It made me feel credible, more substantial.”

Thanks to his UCI training, Lane is combining his two loves in life: creating custom artwork and serving his fellow vets with his own artistic vision. And who knows where his journey will lead from here? Lane plans to keep learning and moving forward as long as he can.

“I've learned that knowledge is very precious, you never have enough,” he said. “That's why you shouldn't ever stop learning.”