This Alum Is Leading the Powerful Michigan Ross Black Business Alumni Association, Creating Impactful Connections and Giving Back to Students
As president of the Black Business Alumni Association at the Ross School of Business, Kendra Jackson, MBA ’12, is able to witness the strength of the Michigan Ross Black alumni network firsthand.
From reaching out to fellow Black alumni to help navigate career advancement to mobilizing BBAA members to make a difference in the lives of current and future Black students at Ross, Jackson sees the community as a constant resource that she can rely on – both on a personal level and to achieve the association’s goals.
Moreover, Jackson has been extremely successful in leading BBAA since becoming president two years ago, fostering an engaged membership base and serving as an important connection between Michigan Ross and its Black alumni. She also continues to be an impactful voice for the Black community at school and beyond.
From young advocate of the Black community to Michigan Ross MBA
Jackson found her voice as an advocate for the Black community at a young age. Growing up a mixed-race child of an Italian-American mother and Black father, she recognized the importance of driving change and sharing Black stories, prejudice, and bias. Part of that drive came from her father, James Jackson, who worked at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research’s Program for Research on Black America.
“I grew up with an expectation and sense of service to the Black community,” she said.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University, Jackson pursued a career in higher education at Georgetown as a coordinator of student programs. “What I loved about working in higher education was that they were having these conversations around diversity and were concerned about DEI issues,” she explained.
However, Jackson decided she wanted to drive larger change and felt she could make a greater impact in the business world. To do that, she decided to obtain an MBA, knowing it would teach her the business and leadership skills to be successful with her career pivot.
“I picked the Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA Program because I wanted a school where I would not be out of place, that offered opportunities to gain hands-on experience through action-based learning, and that was committed to sustainability and social impact,” she said. “Ross stood out to me because of the student population and because of its focus on intrapreneurship and positive leadership, which made it different from what other schools were doing at the time.”
An important voice for the Black student community at Michigan Ross
As a Michigan Ross MBA student, Jackson joined the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and became president of the Black Business Student Association in her second year. It was a time of change at Ross, with a new dean joining the school, and she was actively involved in discussions with leadership members about what diversity at Ross meant and how to increase the number of Black applicants to the school.
“My time as BBSA president was focused on ensuring that we give back in service to those who might come after us,” she said. “I worked with the administration to bring to light the importance of ensuring the legacy of large representation of Black students at Michigan Ross and found ways to showcase the amazing alumni and student experiences of the Ross Black community to prospective students as we sought to drive up acceptance of offers of admission.”
Jackson also worked to build connections with Black alumni to help them see the value of their Ross education and foster connections between alumni and students.
“That was my first experience with how powerful the Ross alumni network is,” she said. “Alumni are instrumental in recruiting and closing deals with prospective students, so engaging that community was very important.”
Driving change and increasing diversity at Goldman Sachs
Upon graduating from Michigan Ross, Jackson landed the post-MBA job she wanted at Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City.
“My goal was to join a company that invested in its people as a priority because I knew I had a lot to learn if I wanted to be a leader at a large organization,” she said. “At Goldman Sachs, I had the opportunity to come in and make a lot of change. I was fortunate to lead the Black affinity network, which started off with 12 professionals, and I was able to grow it to more than 100 by the time I left less than five years later. I also was able to learn a ton about leading teams and different forms of diversity, too, including religious diversity.”
Jackson has held several senior leadership positions at tech companies, including global operations manager at Qualtrics and director of customer experience at Riot Games and Dr. Squatch. She became a member of Portfolia Funds – investment funds designed for women who want to back entrepreneurial companies for returns and impact – and the Georgetown Angel Investment Network and moved on to be vice president of customer experience at The Flex Co. Throughout her post-MBA career journey, she leaned on the Michigan Ross Black alumni network for support and guidance.
“From a career perspective, my Michigan Ross network and Black alumni network have helped me understand if career moves were good, and they’ve been a big part of keeping me sane in tough times and in making me feel like I was not alone in my personal journey,” she said. “I’m one of two Black employees and the only Black executive at my current company, I was the only Black executive at my previous company, and was the most senior Black female executive at Goldman in Salt Lake City.”
Paving the way for the next generation of Black students at Michigan Ross
When she became president of the Black Business Alumni Association, Jackson immediately began working hard to add value and create spaces for the association’s 1,300 members to meaningfully connect through in-person networking events, talks, and more.
“I knew alumni were already so engaged, but I really wanted to leverage alumni who know how hard it is to be a Black executive so that they can help others just as they have for me,” she said.
Another key effort that Jackson has led is to support current and prospective students. That includes supporting the Black Business Solidarity Campaign at Michigan Ross, which was launched last year by then-MBA Council President Jen Nwuli, MBA ’21, to create an endowed fellowship for BBSA members in their second year.
“The scholarship is significant because it aims to create opportunities for underrepresented communities in business by awarding a scholarship to a second-year Full-Time MBA student and member of BBSA who has impacted Ross in a meaningful way,” said Jackson.
Last year, $83,000 was raised toward the campaign, with many donations coming from alumni.
“This year, we are continuing our efforts to help the BBSA raise $100,000, which will allow us to endow this scholarship,” Jackson said. “We held an event for alumni to hear from the inaugural winner, TJ Banks, to help alumni understand the impact of the scholarship, and we were also able to offer a match on Giving Tuesday.”
Looking ahead to Black History Month
As Black History Month approaches, Jackson said she is looking forward to the 46th Annual Alfred L. Edwards Conference, the longest running conference at Michigan Ross, where the next BBSA Fellowship recipient will be named.
“For me, Black History Month has always been about bringing the community together to celebrate and support each other,” she said. “The pandemic and the death of George Floyd brought in stark perspective that the community is as critical as ever to ensure that, as business professionals, our Black alumni have psychological safety and networks of support that lead to opportunity and happiness.”