Spotlight Story

Jim Kelly MBA 10 Finds Success Is More Than Academic

You recently embarked on the latest step in an already successful and varied career: as the GSM’s new assistant dean for finance and administration. What opportunities, decisions and events have shaped your professional life?

My career path to date is…winding. It does not make much sense when you look at it: 20 years in nonprofit management of international operations, a year as a stay-at-home dad, an MBA, two years as a transportation executive, and now at the GSM and stepping into the assistant dean’s position. What has made sense to me, however, is that I have been able to pursue opportunities at every turn that satisfy my natural curiosity about how organizations work and my drive to improve organizations for the sake of the people they serve and who work in them. The important lesson along the way: it’s never too late to make a change.

What are your hopes and goals for your new position? 

The GSM has several important strategic initiatives in the works as we continue to grow as a business school. We also have opportunities to operate more efficiently and effectively. Put simply, my hope and goal is to ensure that we are fiscally solid as we undertake those initiatives and to contribute to maintaining the GSM as a great place to learn, teach and work.

What are you passionate about in your work?

For the position of assistant dean—financial alignment and rational procedures! A mentor of mine would say that an organization’s most important mission statement is the budget.  Whatever we say our goals are, how we allocate our resources says more. I get passionate about making sure that our resource allocations reflect our values and mission. I also believe strongly in rational procedures that get the job done with a minimum of effort and fuss.  

Where is your career headed?

Looking back, anything I say about where my career is headed will be suspect. Certainly for these next years I hope to make a positive impact on the sound financial and operational management of the GSM, and in the assistant dean’s role to contribute more broadly at UC Davis.

How are you a game changer? Or how are you making a positive impact in the world?

I’m not sure I would describe myself as a game changer. I subscribe to the notion that “all change is incremental.” If I get up every day and look for the ways that I can make a positive impact in those 24 hours (less a few for sleep), it may not change the game but it might be more fun for more people to play.

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

I picked up some extremely useful skills and tools at the GSM. Even more importantly, I acquired the ability to look at the world through a business lens. This was key to my success at MV Transportation, and absolutely essential during the past two years as I have worked with sponsoring companies to develop Integrated Management Projects for our MBA students.

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

Joining the GSM as a staff member and getting to know the school from this perspective. The changes from when I was a student have been terrific. The opportunities for our students to get out in front of corporations, especially due to the work of the Career Development team and the Integrated Management Projects, makes for a qualitatively better experience. There is no way for current students to appreciate this, of course, but it is nice to see as an alumnus.

Your favorite GSM memory?

Too many to select one! Sloshball was certainly memorable, and my brief tenure after graduation as a finance lecturer in the tech minor program was very illuminating, and the final simulation in Negotiations (bruising…still need to repair some friendships), and all of the final IMP presentations where our MBAs engage in serious dialogue with senior executives about strategic issues. I’m just looking forward to my new role and the memories it will bring!

Why is it important to support graduate business education? 

It’s not just what we teach in the MBA program, the context and how we teach the next generation of business leaders is also significant. I believe the GSM provides a unique opportunity for people to learn about business in a community that mirrors what matters:  collaboration, respect and a genuine concern for how our decisions affect others. As a business school we are also that scrappy newcomer that is hungry and willing to walk the extra mile and work the extra hour to be better. I can get behind that.