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Julie Jensen: A Passion for Excellence

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Julie Jensen grew up in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood and studied economics as an undergraduate at UC Davis. After earning her master of administration at the Graduate School of Management in 1984, she was hired by HP in Roseville, Calif., as a financial analyst. “It was a great first job and taught me a lot about the importance of understanding changing business models and financials,” she remembers. “I was fortunate to be in a growing division and moved into management very quickly, which expanded my skills—and created a lot of pressure on my family when my children were young.

“With the birth of my third child, I decided to take a few years on the ‘Mommy Track’, although the term had not been coined at that time. To make the change, I also moved to Vancouver, Wash., where the Desk Jet printing business was just starting to take off. I worked part time for about five years, leaving finance to move into quality assurance. I had a role doing customer satisfaction research and leading Total Quality training. The work was a good fit for both my analytic skills and my management experience, as it required both to drive product improvements.”

Jensen’s experience in change leadership opened an opportunity to move into human resources as HP’s first diversity champion for the Vancouver site—“a wonderful role that allowed me to bring many areas of personal passion into my work,” she says. Nineteen years later, she remains in the field.

In 2009 Jensen left HP to head up HR for Wacom Americas, a much smaller company and a huge professional change. “Small business is a different world from multinational enterprise, but I really enjoyed the challenge and the learning opportunity,” Jensen says.

This combination of large and small business experience was the perfect combination for Jensen’s current role as director of human resources, US programs and foundations operations at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “While the organization has only 1,200 employees, we operate in many ways as a much bigger organization, due to our global reach and complex partnerships,” she explains. “I came to the foundation at this stage in my career to leverage my experience and skills for a mission that I feel very passionate about. It is my chance to give back.”

What are you passionate about in your current work?

I am passionate about helping leaders and teams perform at their highest potential. I work closely with leadership teams in the programs I support to ensure that they are collaborating effectively, growing talent in their teams and creating an environment where people can thrive and do their best work. Working for an organization that is trying to improve people’s lives all around the world makes me even more passionate about the work I do every day.

Where is your career headed?

I feel very fortunate that I am working in my dream job, with some of the smartest people in the world, at an organization whose mission feeds my soul. It is also at a time where the organization needs HR leadership to help grow the internal capabilities required to sustain the foundation and become a place where employees can thrive and grow. So I am doing the work I love at a time when the organization needs it most. It doesn’t get any better than this!

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?

When I started at HP, I felt that I was well prepared for the work I was hired to do. Even more, relative to other new hires, I felt that I had developed the skills to work as a team, the confidence to share my ideas and the communication skills necessary to influence others. I had a broader base than other new hires during that time, and this has continued to serve me well throughout my career.

What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

Besides a great career, the most significant thing is being married for 30 years, this July, to Joe Lynch (who I met at UC Davis as an undergrad)—and raising three kids who have all started on their own career journeys. I am especially proud of my daughter, Kelsey Lynch, who is currently teaching in South Africa through the Peace Corps.

Your favorite GSM memory?

There were lots of great things, both academically and socially, but my favorite has to be speaking at commencement. I have always loved public speaking, so being chosen as the student speaker was both an honor and a great experience.

Anything else you’d like to share?

One of my off-work activities is a new passion, which originated back at UC Davis. My husband and I took up whitewater rafting about 6 years ago. We have run the Rogue, the Deschutes, the Salmon and the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. I oar my own boat and love the feel of successfully navigating through difficult water. Our first rafting, many years ago, was through Outdoor Adventures!

How do you support and participate in the GSM now? Why is it important to support graduate business education?

When I was in California, I participated in many GSM activities, but since moving to Washington state it has been much harder. I have been a mentor to a few graduates as they were looking for positions over the years. My three kids went to Washington State University, so I served on the Advisory Board for the WSU Vancouver Business school until I moved to Seattle in August. Being engaged with education and supporting new graduates is important and is a great way to pay it forward.

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