From Super Bowl Champ To IE-Brown MBA: The Journey of Jacques McClendon

McClendon arriving on Super Bowl Sunday

P&Q: What was your best moment or favorite memory from business school?

JM: “Honestly, we had a huge team deliverable that I led point on for our last financial class. It was about mergers and acquisitions and how Panera Bread was looking to expand and what their competition was doing in the market. Before this MBA, I probably would not have put myself in vulnerable aspect of leading a project that had mostly to do with acquisitions and numbers. But it was towards the end of school. What was cool in that moment is seeing how quickly I raised my hand and how much easier it was for me to process the entire brief. It all made sense when we were talking about some of these different companies that are close to Panera Bread. I thought back to a case study earlier on Yum Foods — Pizza Hut, KFC — and how uncomfortable I was working through that case financially. Here we are, 8-10 months later, and I was really able to apply and put myself in an uncomfortable spot. I had gotten to the point where I could really work through these numbers and what they meant. I’ve always had a broad understanding of financials. This made me go a lot more granular place. I think you learn most when you get into those uncomfortable places where you have to stretch yourself to do things you haven’t done yet. That’s what I came to business school for.”

P&Q: Tell me two ways how your MBA made you more valuable?

JM: “We’re starting to expand internationally. As a team, we raised our hand and adopted three international markets. I’ve been working hand-in-hand with our international lead, who does an unbelievable job of growing our share and strategizing what may work for our team. In some of these meetings, we’re talking about curating experiences and growing our fan bases in different countries. I think back to the globalization project I did and talking about how the NFL is doing this from a global perspective. I was able to articulate things that not only made sense from a football perspective, but from a business perspective as well. A couple of things that we pitched were actually included in the brief to the NFL to get this off the ground. Once again, it was an aha moment for me, being able to work hand-in-hand with someone who is definitely more fluent than me in this actual structure. Because I’ve been working on these issues in business school, I was able to challenge myself to bring some good thoughts and opportunities to the table. Those were some of the moments where I was actually able to apply what I learned because I was in a global program and able to speak the language of some of my non-American cohort members. Business school has really helped me grow and understand how others from outside the US view the experience.

We also had tracks we could take and I took the leadership track. We each got a professional coach and my coach’s name was Marta Williams. She was very, very hands-on with me and very, very objectively hard…in a good way. We really did a lot of deep dives in my leadership makeup. What were my faults? What can I do to make these things better? There was a 5-6 step process we had to take to evolve.

She even challenged me to apply these learnings on the job in the moment and get feedback. I had to hear some things about myself that you’d never want to hear. I was able to listen to that and take it. Honestly, most of it was true. It was good hearing that perspective from someone who doesn’t know you, but can see who you through certain mechanisms and tests and be able to work off of that. I thought it was very impactful because feedback is necessary, no matter what position you are in or how high you get. When you have a feedback loop — and are able to apply that feedback — in that moment. For example, I learned that sometimes I may work strategy execution, but maybe I need to step back and work debriefs or even pre-briefs. When you add those two steps, you can better optimize an execution piece as well.

In my coaching sessions, we talked about putting yourself, as a leader, in situations where you’re speaking up and speaking up with substance. Sometimes, I may have waited to make a point. Well, sometimes that point needs to be made right now before things steer off too far right or left. You have to keep things in a row; you have to keep things aligned and vertical. She saw in me someone who might be a little conservative in my decisions. She’d say, ‘No, you need to be more progressive because you have that in you. You’re just not tapping into that.’ I’ve been able to apply that in ways where I’ve actually become more aligned with the people under me. As part of the coaching, I actually had to get feedback about what colleagues, co-workers and those who were close thought about my strengths and weaknesses. I had no clue who gave it, and It was a very open way of people giving constructive feedback so we could have conversations and strategize on what I needed to work on. One big thing I picked up that I need to do is learn that sometimes “less is more” in terms of being realistic with my own bandwidth.

Jacques McClendon at training camp before a Rams practice.

P&Q: Looking ahead in your career, tell me two things you hope to achieve and why are they so important?

JM: “Here’s one thing I hope to achieve: maybe everybody doesn’t like you, but people respect you. When you work in places of ambiguity, sometimes the kitchen can get a little hot. Hopefully, you’re respected as someone who is always willing to have tough conversations and willing to push the needle forward in ways that others may not. I think likability is not sustainable, but respect — by being objective and sound in your decisions and treating people fairly — is sustainable. Hopefully, you will be the co-worker that people want to work with because they work with a compass that is always pointed towards that moral north star of being accountable — because accountable doesn’t always mean being liked.

Also, as a former player and African American in the sports space, hopefully I can be looked at as somebody who pushed the needle forward so the barrier to entry I may see (or people before me saw way worse than I did) don’t have it to the same extent. You always want to make it better for the people behind you than what you had it. I hope I do things that make it easier for the next group.”

P&Q: You were part of a Super Bowl team in February. Take us through that experience. What do you remember most? How has it changed you?

JM: “People ask me this question all the time. For me, the coolest part of this experience was that you had dynamic leadership that hired dynamic people. We set goals and one of the main goals was being able to win the Super Bowl and bringing that trophy back to Los Angeles since we were playing at SoFi. I saw so many people on a journey together who sacrificed so much to make it happen. From leadership on down, you see so many people stay aligned with our goals and be able to execute and have that end result. It was the direct result of the collective.

Our culture is we not me. No one is bigger than the team. When you see the people at the top of the pyramid live it, it filters down to everyone in the pyramid living it as well. It doesn’t mean everything is always perfect, but it means we can always have the conversation to stay on the right track. For me, to see a whole journey go from point A to point Z — that main goal — showed the power of the collective, the power of everyone dominating their role. That’s the power of everyone wanting to collaborate and doing things together from the top down. To be able to be part of that and be part of something bigger than yourself is something you will always remember and it is a pretty cool feeling.”

P&Q: What advice would you give to prospective executive MBAs to increase their chances of being accepted and maximizing the value of their time in an MBA program?

JM: “Research each institution that you’re thinking about. Make sure you Reach out to recruiters. For me, I worked with Barbara Coward and having her as a sounding board was huge for me because she understood the landscape better than me. I would highly recommend that people use her as a resource to learn how to market yourself in a way that is attractive to a business school.

I will also say this: The best thing is to figure out is the right fit. Brands and institutions do mean certain things. There is a reason why there are so many b-schools — and it starts with fit for everybody. And it is up to the student more than that institution to find that fit. The way you research: talk to recruiters and go to Linkedin. Talk to people who have been in the program. Interview them. That’s one of the things I did with the IE-Brown, Wharton, and UCLA programs. What did they get from it? What do they think? If they loved it, it tells you all you need to know. If you get a bad review, it’ll require you to look further.

Another thing: find out what the biggest thing you have to do to get the full ROI. That starts with setting your boundaries. Know that business school is a big, big commitment of time. I definitely underestimated my bandwidth. You have to set boundaries to do work in a way that’s optimal for your job flow. You need to set expectations with the people who mean the most to you. For me, that was my wife and my kids and all the people at work. I had to explain to them what I was going through on a weekly basis. I created a color code system: Red, Yellow, Green. It’s a red week, it’s heavy. Yellow is medium and green is good. I had a system to gauge what the weeks would be like for me as a student so I could be whatever I needed to be as a husband, father, and co-worker.  Setting the lines of communication so you can set the expectations is key as well.”

McClendon presenting for Knight Commission meeting

P&Q: What are you passionate about outside of work and class?

JM: “I grew up in a single parent household. I was a free lunch kid. I was always the kid on scholarship. All my friends had both parents and I was the guy who was tagging along on the AAU trips, getting rides to baseball games and basketball practice and getting dropped off at home from another family. A lot of times, I was at home by myself.

My passion in my life is providing my kids with opportunities that I may not have had growing up. My passion is ensuring they become upstanding and contributing citizens within society. I want them to understand the world is full of opportunities and that they can achieve anything they put their mind to. I want them to have a worldly perspective and I want them to think big. I want to see them prosper in ways that are aligned with the vision and values that I taught them growing up. Being a father and a husband and seeing my family grow daily: That’s what drives me to be successful. I didn’t have that at home.

When they see me, I want them to see a father, but also someone they can look up to and give them the tools they need to achieve what they want so that they can be anything. I want to provide the time, resources, and opportunity so they can do that. That is my biggest passion point: Making sure my family stays intact and whole and living a life conducive to the American dream.”

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