2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Aranthan “AJ” Jones II, Cornell University (Johnson)

Aranthan “AJ” Jones II

Cornell’s Executive MBA Americas program, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

Age: 46

“I’m an avid traveler, devoted jazz fan, gastronome, Jean-Michel Basquiat art enthusiast, father and husband.”

Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland

Family Members: My family members include my wife, Oluwatomi “Tomi” Fadeyi-Jones, my eldest son, Adeoluwa “Ade” Jones, 20 yrs. and my young son, Olaoluwadeji “Deji” Jones, is 15.

Fun fact about yourself: I helped deliver my son Deji at our home.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Iowa State University, BS, Sociology; Iowa State University, BS Anthropology.

Where are you currently working? Aranthan “AJ” Jones II is the Acting Chief Communications Officer and Executive Vice President of Public Affairs at Starbucks

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  1. Executive Member; Forbes Communications Council
  2. Member and Board Member of Education Committee; The Economic Club of Washington, D.C.
  3. Corporate Executive Faculty Member; Management Leadership for Tomorrow
  4. Member Board of Directors, Mu Lambda Foundation; Chairman of Public Policy Committee, and Executive Board Member of Mu Lambda Chapter; and Executive Member of Eastern Region Strategic Planning Committee of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated
  5. Member Board of Directors; National Fair Housing Alliance
  6. Standing Guest Lecturer for the Harvard School of Medicine, School of Public Health, and School of Public Health Executive and Continuing Professional Education.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Being able to successfully leverage networking opportunities to drive corporate strategies in an ever-growing and globally dynamic  marketplace.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? This is a challenging question because I have been exceedingly blessed to have so many proud moments of achievement throughout my career. That said, I will highlight one that had a significant implication on a global scale. The date September 29, 2008, at 1:03 pm, became a defining moment in time. At the time, I was the highest-ranking African American policy staffer and the first delegate to serve as policy director in the Majority Whip Office (MWO) within the U.S. House of Representatives (USHR). My influence was an extension of the MWO’s responsibility to ensure legislation passed the USHR’ voting chamber.

The moment had arrived. The vote I’d spent time preparing for and – like a sprinter nearing the finish line- relished that my name would be connected to something that would become a historic victory.

So, imagine my feeling after falling far short of the 218 votes needed to pass H.R. 1424, Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, also known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). At 1:54 pm that day, the vote count was 205 for and 228 against. What followed that final vote tally was a stock market crash. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 777.68 points (the largest point drop in history until 2020), and the capital markets lost $1.2 trillion in market value, the first lost -$1 trillion day ever.

I was embarrassed, frustrated, confused, and incredulous at what had occurred.

However, I learned a new lesson about being a leader from this experience. A leader must know how to immediately pivot when the intended plan fails to materialize. I made a point to reach out to congressional, administration, and financial leaders and helped craft a plan to pass the legislation. My actions helped change the vote outcome because I was able to convince the leaders to leverage third parties. These third parties consisted of public pension funds and beneficiaries, small business owners, and local government leaders.

On October 1, 2008, H.R. 1424 passed the U.S. Senate, passed the USHR on October 3rd, and became Public Law No: 110-343 at 4:28 pm that same day. Yes, indeed, it was a proud moment in my career.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I was fortunate to have several amazing and inspiring professors in my MBA program. It is exceedingly difficult to pick a favorite, however I would like to highlight Professor Robert J. Bloomfield. I felt I could readily connect with him, and we had authentic discussions about the trajectory of my career and intellectual growth as a student. Additionally, Professor Bloomfield taught Managerial Accounting and Reporting and he used User Generated Content (UGC), which heightened my engagement and learning. Professor Bloomfield pushed me to see and leverage my fellow classmates as domain experts to learn from and augment the classroom instruction.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I am a globally focused and experienced C-suite executive with a professional background in financial services, healthcare, technology, philanthropy, retail, and economic development; and significant experience in the corporate, governmental, and civil society sectors. As a result, I wanted to pursue an executive MBA program. I was seeking a program that would allow me to strategically connect ESG metrics, regulatory disclosures, financial risks, sustainable value creation, capital market opportunities, social impact, and public policy initiatives within corporate governance platforms.

Furthermore, I wanted to learn how to better leverage my business development strategies, investor relations acuity, corporate and crisis communications proficiencies, government affairs and public policy acumen, and leadership development capabilities as an African-American corporate executive.

Given my professional and personal objectives, Cornell University’s Executive MBA Americas program, in partnership with Queen’s University, Canada, was the best fit for my needs. In addition, it allowed access to alumni networks from both universities.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA, and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I learned was leveraging the power of negotiation to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in corporate America. Part of corporate America’s failure on DEI rests in the ill-advised framing it as a social problem versus as a business objective. If a company is having trouble advancing the goals of DEI, it must recognize it as a business setback. Thus, once the lack of DEI is framed as a business problem, the entire company can engage, and the power of negotiations can be applied to setting priorities, establishing structures of responsibility, organizing teams of accountability, and advancing outcomes. I bring this perspective to the partner (employee) networks I serve on and as a senior executive at my company.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Before joining Starbucks, I was the Chief Corporate Affairs and Communications Officer for Vanda Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VNDA), a global biopharmaceutical company, where I led the communications, investor relations, government affairs, corporate branding, ESG, corporate philanthropy, and advocacy functions as a Named Executive Officer (NEO). As a NEO and Section 16 employee, I could not tell my classmates about my transition until it was publicly filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This came to a head during the last week of October in 2021, when I had to help lead the reporting of corporate earnings at Vanda, start my new role at Starbucks (the week of its corporate earnings), complete a final exam, and attend a virtual birthday celebration for my father-in-law. With my wife’s assistance and the support of the leaders at both Vanda and Starbucks, I could briefly participate in my father-in-law’s birthday celebration and coordinate with both of my employers to have enough time to complete my examination on time.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? I would offer three pieces of advice.

  • Do not think about completing an MBA program. Just do it.
  • Make your selection based on fit (i.e., cultural, professional, personal, intellectual, and financial) and not simply on perceived rankings alone.
  • Remember, it is an investment in yourself. Go beyond fulfilling degree requirements; seek other aspects of the school’s degree program to advance your network and learning.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is that they will not have the time and support to complete the program. When I talked with many classmates, they delayed starting their MBA over the concern of the time commitment and not having faculty and/or school resources to successfully navigate the quantitative courses. As we settled into our program, it was clear that the school and the faculty were committed to ensuring each student had the support and flexibility to complete the program. 

What was your biggest regret in business school? I started my MBA program at the start of COVID-19 epidemic. As a result, all of my classes were virtual, and we could not meet in person for the first 15 months. When we did have a chance to meet in person, I had to miss it because I was on-boarding into my new position as a senior executive at Starbucks. Therefore, the first time I will meet my classmates will be at graduation.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Apologies, but I will have to pass on this one as there were too many amazing people in the program that I got to know and appreciate.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? This is an easy question. I wanted my classmates to be other senior professionals, and I wanted schedule flexibility that only an executive MBA provides.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have too many long-term professional goals to name in this article. That said, four long-term goals are: 1) to be a chief operating officer and/or chief executive officer of a publicly-traded company; 2) to be a member of a corporate board of directors; 3) to establish a family office; and 4) to become an active limited partner/venture partner in venture capital firm such as General Catalyst Partner.

As I seek these goals out, I will lean on Theocritus and Marcus Tullius Cicero well-articulated eternal Latin phase, Dum spiro spero (While I breathe, I hope).

What made AJ such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“We met AJ Jones II very late in the admissions cycle for the EMBA Americas Class of 2022. He was an incredibly strong candidate, bringing extensive experience in the government, non-profit, communications, and healthcare sectors. AJ also had big goals, and believed that an MBA, specifically from our program, could help him achieve those goals. We excitedly welcomed him into the cohort, and he fully embraced the opportunity.

The Class of 2022 had a program experience like no other. They began the program during the summer of 2020, and their time in the program was heavily impacted by the pandemic. Despite this, AJ adapted and did not let the pandemic distract him from his goals.

Shortly before the end of classes, AJ reached out to share the great news of his new role, Senior Vice President of Global Communications and Public Affairs at Starbucks. He was also proud to share that he is the sole Cornellian in senior leadership at Starbucks, the first African American to hold this position, and the third highest ranking African American in the company.

AJ was a first-generation college student who has utilized education, hard work, creativity, intelligence, and grit to achieve great personal and professional success. The sky is the limit for AJ. We are very proud and grateful to call him a graduate of the Cornell Executive MBA Americas program.

Verne Thalheimer
Executive Director, Cornell Executive MBA Americas Program


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