Author’s note: Lesley University welcomes a new face into the community, Dr. Jonathan Jefferson, chair of the Business Management program. Dr. Jefferson comes to Cambridge after a unique career that took him all over the world. This informative interview shows that he intends to leave his mark on our campus.
What attracted you to Lesley?
The opportunity to help the school revamp its business program and to help it obtain programmatic accreditation. I like to build and transform organizations, that’s where the majority of my experience has been. So working at Lesley gives me the opportunity to do some of things at which I’ve been successful.
What are some of the goals you have envisioned for the school in the next five to ten years?
First is to obtain programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). We’re also launching a new Master’s of Science and Management program, so to make that a successful, ongoing program. We plan to launch a dual degree program in which students will obtain both the Bachelor of Science in Business Management as well as Master of Science in Management. We’re looking to change all of our business specializations. We will probably get rid of the specializations and replace them with Business Minors. There are nine to ten that we are potentially looking to offer. The list includes marketing, entrepreneurship, digital business, sports marketing, accounting, nonprofit management, environmental policy and management, brand design and marketing, and international business. The minors will be 15 to 21 credits; for a few of the minors, students do not need a business background, and there will be some specifically for business majors. We’re also looking to redevelop the school of Management. Lesley had a school of management, so we’re looking to redevelop it as a separate school.
What developed your passion for business?
[Laughs] It’s funny because I initially wanted to be a doctor. But when I was a sophomore in college I found out that I didn’t like the sight of blood and that it made me nauseous. So, my dreams of becoming a cardiologist, which would mean I would see blood all the time, went out the window. So, I was looking for something to do that I could both be good at and like. With that in mind, I majored in math for undergrad. I actually hated Business; I thought Business was a waste of time and Business majors didn’t do anything worthwhile in school. Then, I went to graduate school immediately after completing my BS degree and earned a Master of Engineering in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering, which is an area of applied mathematics. I was an engineer for a number of years. But, as I was initially working I saw that business concepts like being able to understand an income statement or a balance sheet was very important. So over the years as my career went on and I grew in leadership and management positions, I went back to school to study Organization and Management. My areas of expertise include business and information technology transformation, operations improvement, business process reengineering, leader development, and mentoring. So, after receiving a Master’s in Organization and Management, I obtained a doctorate in Management. I knew that one day I would come back to teach, which is what I did more than ten years ago. I was a business school Dean for two universities, and the director for the Institute of Leadership at the Coast Guard Academy before I came to Lesley. It was a long to road to discovery that business makes the world go round and I needed to be a part of it.
You spoke very confidently that you knew you were going to teach. What made you so sure, and how does does that affect you at Lesley, an institution known for its school of Education?
I went to Morehouse College for undergrad. Morehouse College is one of only three all male schools left in the country, and also happens to be a historically black college. I observed what my professors did, and how they treated their students. I had great mentors and great professors there. As a matter of fact, I would visit my mentor every single day for three and a half years. Every day that we were in school I was in his office, just sitting down and talking to him. He was a great professor and kicked my butt in several classes. He gave me my first C in Math; it was a very tough class. But I knew that I wanted to do what he was doing. He had worked in industry for a number of years, went back to school and got a PhD in Statistics, and then came back to teach. He was also an actuary. I said, “One day I’m going to come back and do that.” So once I achieved some success in my career that including rising to partner in a major Management Consulting firm, I knew that it was probably time for me to do something different. That’s when I knew I was going to teach. Yes, Lesley is known for education, but Lesley was also known for business. I’m here to help Lesley reignite its reputation as a place for business.
Could you talk about your most significant accomplishment to date in your career?
I would consider raising two children my most significant accomplishment. I’ve had an opportunity to see a number of different things because I’ve worked on four different continents consulting with more than thirty-five companies. There are some things I’ve done early in my career that made a big difference in industry. I recommended supporting a fledgling company that was developing signaling switches for the Public Switched Telephone Network. If that small company sunk, it would have caused a lot of problems for the entire telecommunications industry. Based upon my recommendations, the bank extended a loan to the company, and it became a multi-million dollar company that sold for over a billion dollars. I also helped to develop the first advanced 800 service with interactive dialing. The process would be done in the network as opposed to a customer premise. In addition I worked on the development of a company that created satellite phones. So I’ve had opportunities to work on several things in business that are significant to the country and the world. Educationally, I’ve developed new programs and fundraised to get new internships and programs. Those are some major highlights.
You’ve done business on four different continents. Can you describe your cultural experience, and the impression it’s left on you.
I think every person should take the time to learn more than just who they are in the country in which they live. I think it’s important to gain a perspective of how other people live. You immediately gain the perspective that Americans live better than almost everyone in the world. But you also understand that people function differently. How they live differently is built into their DNA, so you develop an appreciation for differences. Different points of view are very important, so being able to take other cultural perspectives into account when making business decisions help to make you a better individual. I’ve learned many different things about the French and English, when it comes to framing and pace. Working in China was interesting because this was the first time I was working through an interpreter. So you wonder if your meaning was conveyed when you say five words and the interpreter says twenty. In Argentina, part of the business environment is that they greet each other with a peck on each cheek. Initially, no one did that because they didn’t know how an American, and more specifically a Black-American, would respond to it. But as the project grew over two months, they adopted me as one of their own. Each person greeted with the two pecks whether it was a man or woman, and I really became a part of the team culture. I thought that was great. So opening up yourself and allowing yourself to experience other people and the way they do things has informed the way I teach, interact with other people, and approach what I do for a living.
Can you talk about a challenge you’ve faced in your life?
Early on in my life, I was born with an oversized head. As a result, I struggled early on in school. I don’t know if the two are correlated but I did struggle. Initially my educators thought I was going to be developmentally challenged but it turns out that wasn’t the case at all. I actually just needed an opportunity to work at my own pace in my own way. Once my teachers discovered that, I blossomed. My reading and math levels improved tremendously and I began to believe that I was a good student. It enabled me to succeed, and I was actually able to skip my last year of high school and go directly to college. So, I had a Master’s degree from Cornell at age 21. So I struggled early on in my education career, but I had mentors and teachers that took notice of me and allowed me to flourish. I got over that challenge and stigma.
Describe your ideal weekend.
I like to eat pancakes. They have to be done a special way; they have to contain fruit: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and bananas. They must be homemade, not from a restaurant. So, I want to eat them and relax in my sweats or pajamas all day long while doing nothing at all. Now when it’s warm out I like to cycle, but for the most part I like eat junk food and do nothing. I like this because I spend a lot of time thinking and creating so Saturday is my time to relax and recharge.