Former chemical engineer Jamille Jamison arrived at Stanford GSB yearning to learn more about corporate strategy and committed to bringing a technical mindset to business solutions.
“My technical background allows me to solve problems with the practicality and feasibility of the engineering solution in mind,” says the R&B-singing Chicago native, who expects to receive her MBA in 2023. “While creative solutions are ideal, understanding the engineering requirements helps me set realistic timelines with the business functions.”
Along with her engineering expertise, Jamison also hopes to bring a humanistic approach and an appreciation of cultural diversity to wherever her career takes her. She found mentoring, coaching, and developing others to be the most satisfying part of her career so far, and says the leadership skills she developed during her time as an Arbuckle fellow enables her to help others “uncover their strengths as leaders.”
How has your technical background and work at ExxonMobil influenced your approach to business problems?
During my time at Exxon, I became an expert at improving manufacturing processes and driving operational efficiencies. However, I’ve found this same skill set applies in business settings. I’m able to evaluate existing business operations, products, or systems and find creative ways to optimize them. From working at a manufacturing site, I also learned a lot about how to work collaboratively with people from different educational and cultural backgrounds and communicate well with other engineers.
You’ve said “process improvement” is one of your passions. Looking back, did signs early in your life point you in that direction?
I wasn’t always the kid fixing things from a mechanical standpoint, but I was always inquisitive about the why behind certain things. I was probably a bit intolerable for my parents. Why can’t I do certain things? What’s the reason? I just had this desire to understand why things exist the way they are, and how they could be different or better. I believe this has carried into my career. It’s important to understand why systems exist in order to discover if and how you should enact change.
Have you made mistakes in your career that proved particularly instructive?
I was six months into my first role at Exxon, and we were doing a complicated maintenance procedure that only happens every 15 years. There wasn’t a lot of historical knowledge around it because it happens so infrequently. I made a decision that caused the manufacturing unit to shut down for 10 days and lose over $6 million in revenue. I remember calling our most senior technical person, the chief engineer, at 2 a.m. to let him know what had happened. That was so significant for me, because this was a 24/7 manufacturing unit that does not shut down. My decision had gravity and consequences. What I learned was I could wallow in my decision and its impact, or I could channel my energy into making it better, learning from it, and ensuring it never happened again. It shifted the way I approach failure. When obstacles come, I face them head on and get the job done. And most importantly, I admit when I’ve made a mistake.
What were you looking to gain from your internship at Bain & Co. this past summer?
I loved my time in manufacturing, but so much of it was focused on driving operational efficiencies to deliver immediate results. I felt like I was missing the higher-level strategic view of the company and the decisions that were being made. I felt consulting would be a great way to take that higher-level strategic view and help other corporations develop their priorities based on competitive analysis.
How has your time as an engineering manager shifted how you lead teams?
I led my team of six engineers through what I believe was a particularly tumultuous time: COVID-19, industry layoffs, and the social unrest following George Floyd’s murder. I had no clue I’d face so many challenges maintaining employee morale to deliver results or managing the intersection of professional and personal lives. During this time, I learned the importance of authenticity and empathy in leadership. My parents emphasized the importance of displaying grace under fire and persevering in the face of adversity when I was growing up. However, it wasn’t until I showed more vulnerability and empathy that I truly saw my team follow suit and our performance improve. I found this to be true even in a very technical environment.
You serve as co-president of the Stanford Black Business Student Association and previously served as vice president of ExxonMobil’s Black employee resource group. How do you feel most large corporations are handling diversity issues?
I’ve seen a shift in what millennials and Gen Zers are requiring in the workspace. We were taught a lot of things about what was inappropriate in the workplace — politics, religion, race, any topic that might be potentially divisive — but now those topics are affecting people and their ability to show up and perform. Today, corporate America must take a stand and/or deal with repercussions when they were able to get away with never choosing a side before.
And is corporate America actually doing that?
Some organizations have done better at this than others. However, employers are learning that employees want to feel like their values are aligned with the company’s values. It’s hard to be motivated to work for an organization you’re not aligned with. I believe we’ll continue to see younger generations change careers or companies due to social issues and misaligned values. I chose to lead these identity groups at the GSB and ExxonMobil because I care about improving the experiences of Black students and employees in existing organizations and building psychological safety through community.
What made you apply to become an Arbuckle fellow?
My favorite part of any job I do is coaching and managing others. Looking back, I always had this appreciation for mentorship and paying it forward. At Howard, I became a resident assistant because I wanted to mentor freshmen women and help others feel like they had a home away from home. As an RA, I learned a lot about addressing issues head on, mediating conversations, and being in tune with what people need even if they were not saying it directly. These same skills were put into practice during my supervisory role at Exxon. I felt becoming an Arbuckle fellow was the next part of my leadership journey. In the program, I was able to impact nine MBA1s by helping them uncover their strengths as leaders and supporting them in their career goals. It was one of my most rewarding experiences at the GSB.
Tell us how you developed your passion for music, and how it led you to the role as the GSB Show vocal director.
My family owns two churches in Chicago. One was started by my great uncle, and the other by my great aunt. Nearly the entire choir in both churches are my family members. I grew up around singing, specifically gospel and R&B music. During my time in Houston, I began working with a vocal coach and performing at venues around town. When I got to GSB, I decided to take vocal class through the department of music and performed in a vocal showcase on campus. As vocal director of the GSB Show, I’m arranging the harmonies and vocal parts for the musical pieces in the show. Singing is my creative outlet and when I am most at ease. The root of it all is my family.
What’s a piece of advice you’ve heard at the GSB that you will take forward into the next part of your career?
In class, [lecturer in management] Fern Mandelbaum said, “There is no one right way to get where you are supposed to be.” There can be so much pressure with each career decision or job transition. At the GSB, everyone is so focused on following their passion and/or getting to their dream career. This phrase reminds me that we are all on different journeys, and that my path is just that — mine. I must trust my intuition and chart my own path.
Any experiences at the GSB so far that have had a big impact?
Two courses were transformative for me. One was Strategic Pivoting in Your Next Chapter with [lecturer in management] Allison Kluger and MLB legend Alex Rodriguez. As someone who came to the GSB to make a big career pivot, this class really has helped me outline all the strategic steps I need to take to make my career pivot a reality. The course also helps students build the confidence to go after their seemingly impossible dream. The other class was Touchy Feely [Interpersonal Dynamics]. It was more powerful for me on a personal level. It’s really helped me communicate my feelings and emotions more directly with family, friends, and colleagues. It has transformed me into a much more vulnerable leader and friend.
Photos by Elena Zhukova