It has often been said, “Success comes when preparation meets opportunity.” The real truth in this statement is that there are things within our control, but also circumstances that are out of our control. One very successful person I interviewed shared a verse from Ecclesiastes that, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” In the successful leaders I interview, I see this humility that recognizes that there is an interesting element of chance that impacts our lives and destiny. However, this does not mean they take a laissez faire attitude toward life. Instead, they are focused and always striving toward purposeful goals.
I had the opportunity recently to visit with Gennie Lacy Jones, president of The Jones Group, about her very interesting career and the success that she has achieved. From early on, Jones was intentional about growing her skills and planning her career. This preparation allowed her to be ready when interesting opportunities crossed her path. Jones grew up on a family farm near Pickens, and she graduated from Mississippi Valley State University with a degree in computer science. After college, she went off to Chicago where she worked for a car dealership in customer service. She then joined the Navy where she served in military intelligence. After four years in the military and earning her masters in public administration, she began a career in which she obtained leadership positions in the federal government, state and local government and in the private sector.
Jones gained her initial federal experience working in information technology at the Naval Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., and as a network engineer for the Department of Health and Human Services. She then decided to leave the federal government to work at GE Information Services as a senior system engineer. With her private industry experience, she then accepted a position as a senior project officer for the General Services Administration (GSA), which operates more like the private industry. While with the GSA, she was the project leader of a very large contract with USAID. During her tenure with the GSA, she by chance ran into David Malone, who she knew from early childhood, and he recruited her to join him to serve as first deputy of procurement for the City of Chicago. In this role, she was part of overseeing a $2.1-billion budget with not less than 25 percent minority-owned business goals and 5 percent women-owned business goal. She was fortunate to be given a leave of absence from the GSA to serve in this capacity.
Again by chance, she was home visiting her family in Mississippi, and an opportunity arose to come back and serve her home state in the Musgrove administration as director of the Minority Business Enterprise Division of the Mississippi Development Authority and later in the Barbour administration with the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. Back in her home state, she had begun to “pay it forward” by sharing her knowledge and experience with entrepreneurs seeking to do business with the federal government. Post-Katrina, she decided to devote her efforts full time to her consulting company where she helps grow and develop companies by assisting them with all aspects of doing business with federal, state and local governments. With her expertise, she has helped numerous companies become profitable multi-million dollar operations.
Given her wide array of leadership opportunities in the public and private sector, I was curious to learn her perspective on leadership and entrepreneurial success. She first pointed to the life lessons she learned in the military including independence, self-sufficiency and respect for superiors. She noted, “The military was a great opportunity to experience significant leadership opportunities at an early age.” Jones also shared that she learned a great deal at GE about how to design processes and best practices to achieve clear objectives. She shared, “I learned how important it is to understand the end point you are trying to achieve and to create a solid plan to get there.” Jones believes that great leaders demonstrate character, trustworthiness, and are broad minded enough to understand the importance of being inclusive and diverse to develop a strong organization.
I was inspired by listening to Jones’ story and the passion in which she has approached her career and serving her clients. Her exposure to world-class organizations and their best practices are an asset to her clients and this state. I share Jones’ interest in seeing Mississippi develop a culture of entrepreneurship and to see growing companies flourish in our state.