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Looking Back, Moving Forward: A conversation with BOP alumnus Ted Jackson

Monday, June 4, 2018

Ted Jackson

As Purdue marks the 50th anniversary of the Dr. Cornell A. Bell Business Opportunity Program (BOP) leading up to September’s Homecoming celebration and reunion, BOP alumni are sharing their memories of the landmark diversity initiative and their vision for its future.

In this Q&A, we catch up with Ted Jackson, Vice President of Operations for the Duro Division of Novolex, a $2.5 billion international packaging company and private equity portfolio company of the Carlyle Group. Jackson, an award-winning management consultant, was recently featured by Chicago United in its 2017 Business Leaders of Color publication, which every two years recognizes 50 professionals who have driven transformational change and made an impact in the business community.

How did the Business Opportunity Program (BOP) influence your decision to attend Purdue’s Krannert School of Management?

“I was referred to BOP by a Purdue alum familiar with the program who knew that I was interested in pursuing an MBA. I met Dr. Bell during a visit and tour of Krannert as I explored several MBA programs. As I assessed my options, it became clear that no other school representative came close to demonstrating the genuine passion about the successful matriculation and development of his students both academically and personally as Dr. Bell. He was unique in his enthusiasm and perspective for being vested in my holistic success. After following up with several alumni, understanding the history of BOP, reading about the generations of successful leaders that the program has produced, it was clear that Dr. Bell had a formula for success. This coupled with the strong operations management reputation of the Krannert School made it an easy decision to select Purdue University as the place to pursue my MBA.”  

What are your fondest memories of Dr. Bell and your time as a BOP student?

“Krannert is a very demanding and fast-paced environment. Dr. Bell had a unique way of helping me through stressful times, particularly in my first year as I progressed through the program. It didn’t take long for me to understand that having support from Dr. Bell was an incredible advantage as I successfully navigated both the rigors of the MBA program and my life as a young adult. I learned that I could visit Dr. Bell’s office (most of the time unannounced and at odd hours) as a temporary place of refuge and come out feeling reinvigorated. A good analogy is a fighter going into the corner between rounds during a boxing match; Dr. Bell was my corner man and mentor. We would sit down and discuss my challenges and concerns — both relating to school and life in general. He would provide his wise, direct and honest counsel sprinkled in with his special sense of humor. Often he would challenge me, as ‘Doc’ was no pushover and unwavering in his high expectations.  But he had a special way of motivating me so that I would emerge from these talks feeling encouraged with a strong sense of purpose, ready to go. I was ‘back in the fight’ so to speak. Dr. Bell delivered countless times in situations like this for me.”

What are the most important lessons/skills you took from your BOP experience into your first job?

“There were several, but the key lessons were work ethic, discipline, investing in the right strategic relationships, effective teamwork and leadership. These lessons emerged through a variety of experiences. My BOP class came from a wide variety of undergraduate and professional backgrounds as they entered the program. We were all different, but became pretty good at quickly assessing and understanding our collective strengths, resources and working as a team to help each other succeed academically. It was a competitive but collaborative environment and everyone in the program was determined to succeed; this energy was infectious. This was in addition to the already established cohort teams that were defined via the first year design of the MBA program. I learned to work effectively at building relationships within two great ‘teams’ of talented, diverse and dedicated resources focused on collaborative problem solving and academic success.

“Participating on the case competition team to represent the school at the National Black MBA Association Conference was another fond memory that highlighted effective teamwork while juggling multiple priorities, deadlines and delivering under pressure. I also had the opportunity to lead the Krannert Graduate Society of Black Managers (KGSBM) as President during my second year of the MBA program. In this capacity I was able to work collaboratively with the club membership and other student organizations to creatively expand the visibility of KGSBM, bring in guest speakers and initiate some fun activities while having a positive impact on the Krannert and Purdue community. This was a great early leadership skills development opportunity.”

How did your BOP experience impact your career from a long-term perspective?

“I have been fortunate to enjoy a variety of challenging and rewarding professional roles in my career, ranging from management consulting, corporate turnarounds and leading the profitable growth of companies through operational improvements while making and integrating strategic acquisitions. The foundation of skills and portfolio of experiences gained from my time at BOP and Krannert have been invaluable in my career progression. Examples range from addressing complex, strategic issues that require the leadership of cross functional teams; developing analytical models and data-driven frameworks to structure problems; demonstrating leadership and managing teams in fast-paced, high-pressure situations while cultivating strategic relationships.

“Being in BOP also taught me the importance of mentoring to help others and having mentors to support my career growth. Effective and authentic mentoring was one of Dr. Bell’s special gifts. As a result, I have been inspired to mentor several professionals who are in various stages of their career cycle. I remember how my interactions with BOP alumni as a teaching assistant left positive impressions on me as a student.  Fortunately I have been able to maintain many of those instrumental relationships, some of whom have been great mentors to me over the years. Leveraging the common bond shared by the BOP & Purdue alumni network has also been very helpful in quickly opening doors and facilitating the development of new and mutually beneficial business relationships.”

Why is it important for alumni to support and participate in diversity initiatives such as BOP?

“BOP has had a positive impact on so many. However, it’s not guaranteed that BOP will continue to flourish. Alumni taking a leadership role in the sustainability and growth of the program is critical and it’s personally important for me to see the next generation of BOP students prosper. To ensure BOP’s longevity I am involved in several ways. For example, reducing the economic burden and also competing for students interested in attending the program will continue to be a key differentiator to open up opportunities for high potential students — both at the undergraduate and graduate level.

“Addressing this challenge is a priority for me so I started the Theodore R. Jackson Business Opportunity Program Endowment Fund. This is a fully vested endowment to provide scholarships for BOP students.  More importantly, this is a vehicle that is open to all BOP alumni and program supporters for ongoing tax deductible impact investing to help open financial doors for students. In addition, I have returned to campus to speak, worked with the recruiting office to fill targeted positions, represented my company on campus as a recruiter, and acted as guest panelist for the Chicago City Trek. Through these and other activities, I have been able to develop new relationships and friendships with BOP students that have positively impacted their career paths. As BOP alumni, we need to have a seat at the table to drive the changes and growth in the program that we want to see. Dr. Bell was big on ‘paying it forward,’ so I took this to heart. It’s important that all BOP alumni develop a plan to leverage their unique talents that can include a contribution of time, economics or other resources to ensure that this legacy lasts another 50 years.”