Attorney Andrew Jackson was working as a senior counsel at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, CA when he first started looking into executive MBA programs. With a goal of stepping into a senior management position in the future, he felt that earning an MBA would be the best way to develop the necessary business skills for that type of role.
Jackson was particularly interested in Wharton’s EMBA Program and even considered flying every other weekend to Philadelphia, as Wharton | San Francisco had not yet launched. Fortunately, the timing worked out and by the time he was ready to apply, Wharton | San Francisco was open and he was accepted into the West Coast program with sponsorship from HP.
In addition to the location, another consideration for Jackson was what the school’s environment would be like for him as an openly gay student. “I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I hoped it wouldn’t be an issue since I would be with a more mature group of classmates,” he says.
Once he arrived, Jackson was pleased to find a “welcoming” environment. “I brought my partner to all of the events to which partners were invited and it was never an issue. We did have a funny moment at a welcoming reception before school began where I introduced my partner to a fellow student and he asked what business we were in, but that was just confusion rather than intolerance. I never felt any hostility and it certainly didn’t affect my ability to form meaningful relationships with my classmates.”
In fact, Jackson says that getting to know his classmates was one of the best parts of the program. “We were assigned study groups, but I would have picked each of those people out myself if I had been given a choice,” he says. “We really leaned on each other a lot in the program and still keep in touch. And I met many folks in the program who have become significant professional contacts. The relationships I made at Wharton have exceeded my expectations in every way.”
After he graduated in 2003, Jackson spent several years working his way up to more senior positions in HP’s legal department, focusing on an aggressive IT consolidation program that shaved 20% off of infrastructure costs and moved the company from more than 80 data centers down to five. His work at HP brought him to the attention of a contact working in the U.S. Department of the Interior, which under the new administration had assessed its challenges and was looking for someone with Jackson’s background and consolidation skills.
“I was offered the job of deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior and as much as I liked working at HP, it was a position I couldn’t turn down,” says Jackson, who was officially appointed to the new role in July of 2009. Some of the bigger pieces of what I do now include working on strategy for a $1 billion IT portfolio and overseeing the restructuring of the National Business Center, which is a shared services provider for the department and federal agencies. That group processes 300,000 paychecks every two weeks among many other things,” he says.
Jackson says that while the knowledge he gained in Wharton’s exec MBA Program was very valuable to him at HP, it is “100% applicable” every day at the U.S. Department of the Interior. He explains, “Everything I do is about making a business case for the changes I’m trying to drive through the department. I’m not coming in with a political agenda so much as an effectiveness agenda. I think about what I learned in my strategy and leadership classes all the time even though it’s been almost 10 years.”
He adds, “I absolutely love what I’m doing now. It’s been incredibly rewarding, but I know that without my Wharton education I wouldn’t be here today. The ROI for me on the degree is incalculable in a very positive way.”