Emory Report
August 28, 2006
Volume 59, Number 1


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August 28, 2006
Keeping up with the Jones

BY Eric Rangus

Late August is orientation time at Emory. Students return to campus, the vast majority of them freshmen in Emory College. The University welcomes them with wide-open arms and several days of orientation events culminating in Convocation, one of Emory’s most valued traditions.

But the undergraduate Class of 2010 is not Emory’s only newcomer. Oxford College has a freshman class of its own, and each of the professional schools introduce themselves to their new classes in their own way.

Running point for Goizueta Business School’s new class of full-time MBA students is Kembrel Jones. “What we are doing is training business leaders who don’t moan, whine or complain,” said Jones, associate dean and director of the full-time MBA program at Goizueta, previewing part of his opening speech to the new students. “We’re not perfect, and to be a part of our family, they have to come up with ways to make us better.” And in Jones’ opinion, this MBA class is well suited to brilliance.

“This is the class we’ve always aspired to bring in,” he said. This year’s 150-member class averages 28 years old, with five years of work experience; 35 percent are international; 12 percent minority (up from 7 percent last year); 28 percent are women; and the class’s cumulative undergraduate GPA is 3.4. But even more than raw numbers, he said, the members of this class have the personality and leadership ability to really shine.
“I told them that on paper, this is the best class we’ve ever had,” Jones said. “Now they have to prove it.”

While the incoming class is getting ready for business school, Jones’ second-year MBA students will be diving into a completely different project. They will be establishing a clinic at the Gateway Center, a downtown Atlanta homeless shelter. Second-year MBA students from Goizueta will be running workshops for Gateway’s residents, whose stay at Gateway is engineered to be their first step back toward self-sufficiency.
In fact, the second-year MBAs will be spending their first week of school––which is devoted to community service––at Gateway sprucing up the place, which is a converted jail on Pryor Street.

“We’ll be collecting histories of folks at the center to capture their stories,” Jones said. Some of the more inspirational quotes the students pull will be painted onto walls at Gateway. “We also want to pull together a multimedia presentation based on the stories we hear. We’re going to use our marketing skills.”

The project is quite appropriate for Jones, who also is an adjunct professor of marketing at Goizueta. The idea for helping out at Gateway began last spring following a campus appearance by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who spearheaded the center’s creation. There were lots of volunteers to help with tasks like cooking, but not many people stepped up to help the homeless find jobs. In stepped Goizueta.

“Students can go the center on Friday—we don’t have classes that day,” Jones said. “There is no homework and they can just work with these folks.”

It’s a creative way for Jones to lead an effort that fulfills his institutional goals of community service. And creativity and hard work are two things that have been hallmarks of his career both before he got to Emory and while he’s been on campus.

Since both of his parents are professors, Jones grew up on college campuses. Some of his earliest memories are riding a car up the long driveway to the president’s residence at the University of Alabama—where his parents were graduate students—to attend events.

It also made him very comfortable around top university administrators. Jones’ first job after earning his B.S. in marketing and management from the University of North Alabama was doing outreach for his undergraduate fraternity, Sigma Chi. In two years he traveled to some 120 colleges and universities around the country, and he made those trips count.

“When I was doing that, I’d go to the president’s office to see if I could get myself an interview,” he said. Jones eventually met with 87 college and university presidents. He knew he wanted to go to graduate school, so Jones asked about that. He wanted to know what their lives were like, and since Jones’ eventual goal is to be a university president, he asked what he needed to do to get their job. Several of the presidents suggested he go to Harvard.

“I never would have thought I could go to Harvard had they not said that,” Jones recalled. The reason? “I’m from Alabama.”

Jones even said that in conversation, but his concerns were turned around. His home state should serve as a driving force. “Diversity” is more than race or age or sex. It’s also geography.

So, in 1985 Jones earned a master of education degree from Harvard—his first of two from that institution—and also served as president of the Harvard Graduate Student Government Association. After going home to Alabama and serving several years as dean of students at Birmingham Southern College, he returned to Harvard, where he earned a doctor of education degree in administration, planning and social policy with a concentration in leadership studies.

Jones’ dissertation was a study of five college presidents who were hired to stabilize struggling universities. “The concept of turning something around really interests me,” Jones said. “I love to build things.”

One of the things Jones learned was that for these college presidents to be successful, they had to know something not only about education but also marketing and finance, and they had to be talented communicators. All of these are inherent in a strong MBA program. Following that realization, Jones knew what he wanted to do next. He just needed to find a place to do it.

Having spent several years in Massachusetts, Jones longed to stay home in the Southeast. Following his Ph.D., where he finished first in his class with a perfect 4.0 GPA, Jones held both alumni relations and faculty positions at North Alabama. That’s when he found Emory.

While an MBA student, Jones served as president of the Goizueta Student Government Association, which was just one of his many activities on campus. He also met frequently with then-Dean Tom Robertson and Jones said he wasn’t shy about speaking his mind.

“I discussed ways we could do things differently than other schools,” he said. “We could do things in a caring way where you have empathy with people. Yes, go make money, but help the world with that money.

“If I was just helping kids get richer, I wouldn’t do this,” Jones continued, shifting his view to the present, although he has held this view for years. His use of “kids” is a term of endearment, as many of his MBA students are several years out of college, but it also speaks to his strong ties to them. “But if I can feel good about 200 kids leaving here as good people who will serve their communities, then I am doing my job,” he said.

Jones’ work on campus as a student resulted in his receiving the Marion Luther Brittain Award in 2000, Emory’s highest student honor. It also got him a job.

“I was student body president one day, then I went home, put on a tie and the next day I was a dean,” Jones said.

Jones served as assistant dean and director of the MBA program from 2000–04, when he was promoted to associate dean. In that time, he has a played a role in Goizueta’s rise through the rankings of the nation’s best business schools—Goizueta is a top 20 performer across several lists.

“I just love Emory,” Jones said. “My alarm clock has not gone off in nine years because I literally cannot wait to get here in the morning.”

It’s that kind of drive that makes Jones good at his job—but there can be other consequences as well. In April 2005, Jones was in the middle of his hectic recruiting schedule.

Upon returning to his hotel room in Washington, Jones tried to ignore a growing case of indigestion. He sat down, but quickly started to sweat. He got short of breath. Then his left side went numb.
Fortunately, Jones was just three blocks from George Washington University Hospital.
Upon learning he worked at Emory, Jones’ cardiologists—as they hooked him up to various wires and machines—couldn’t stop talking to him about the place. They also informed Jones that he had had a heart attack.

Jones, who is 45, but has the energy and appearance of a man 10 years younger, doesn’t smoke and he exercises frequently. But his family does have a history of heart problems. He had a 30 percent blockage of an artery and a small piece of plaque broke off and covered that artery. Two stents have solved that problem. Jones now takes medication and he has been in excellent health since.

“Anything that happens here at the business school, I take responsibility,” he said. “And I like to give myself this title. I feel like I’m the ‘Director of Happiness.’” As if his actual title wasn’t long enough.

“I know you can’t keep everybody happy all the time, but I try,” Jones continued. “But then, of course, you aren’t happy yourself because you are always worrying about someone else. I’ve been trying to get out of that mindset. If 90 percent of the people are happy, that’s good enough!”