Concerned that a law degree wouldn’t cut it in the post-recession landscape, Bessie Jackson turned to the UBC JD/MBA to become more marketable.
Initially, Bessie Jackson’s plan was similar to that of many students who have a degree in political science: she wanted to go into law.
“I applied to law school before I even knew the UBC JD/MBA Dual Degree program existed,” she says.
But that was in 2007, before the market crash that launched a global recession. Jackson’s outlook changed after she weighed the prospect of starting a career in a less than promising economy.
“I realized I needed to add other tools to my belt, in order to make myself more marketable in the event that I needed to be,” she says.
Research led her to the UBC JD/MBA, a dual degree administered jointly by UBC Sauder School of Business’ Robert H. Lee Graduate School and the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia.
“I wanted to have the option to finish my studies either with a legal career or a business role, or a combination of both, which is where I am now,” Jackson says.
Today, Jackson is in-house legal counsel at the Vancouver headquarters of women’s retailer Aritzia. An avid hiker and dog-lover who calls working in the fashion industry “a perk,” Jackson practices alongside another in-house counsel who also earned her JD/MBA at UBC.
While Jackson weighed up which graduate degree to pursue, she worked as a manager in one of Aritzia’s stores. Not only did that position build upon Jackson’s exemplary work ethic, natural leadership capabilities and strong interpersonal skills, it also helped fund her graduate studies; she saved for a few years before she began pursuing her UBC JD/MBA, and worked shifts in between classes while in the program.
If that sounds demanding, that’s because it was.
“It was very, very rigorous,” she says. “It took a lot of organization, time management and prioritization.”
Turns out Jackson’s retail management experience came in handy during the MBA component of her dual degree. For their final group project, she and her fellow students strategized on the launch of a men’s clothing store.
“I was recruited by some of my peers because they knew I had retail experience,” Jackson says.
Every MBA candidate brings different areas of expertise to the table. So while her fellow students were able to draw on Jackson’s experience in retail management, she was able to learn from their backgrounds in vastly different fields.
“It was interesting listening to their experiences working with clients, working in consulting, or thinking about the big picture in a corporate sense,” Jackson says.
“As a store manager I didn’t get to see the back end corporate side of retail – it’s more focused on sales and customers. With the final project we had to integrate accounting, strategy and finance.”
Another key element of retail? Marketing. Jackson says instructor Paul Cubbon’s enthusiasm for the topic made his course one of the most memorable of her UBC MBA experience.
“Now, whenever a marketing issue comes up I always think back to his class and I say: ‘Okay, marketing is supposed to be creative and attract new customers. How do we do that in relation to fulfilling our legal obligation?’” Jackson says.
After graduation, Jackson completed her articles at a national law firm, where she then worked as an associate for three years.
“A lot of the work I was doing was transactional; buying or selling a business,” Jackson says. “Once we closed a transaction that was the end of it. We didn’t get to see how they integrated or how it helped their business to sell or acquire a company.
“I wanted a job where I could see the results of what I was doing, how my contribution was making positive returns for the business.”
Jackson’s current role as in-house counsel at Aritzia offers her that opportunity. In fact, she uses skills she gained from both the JD and MBA components of her dual degree every day.
“Without a business background I’d be looking at an issue purely from a legal position,” Jackson says. “Whereas with the knowledge and the tools that I gained from my MBA, I think beyond the legal issues – to how they will affect marketing or supply chain.
“It’s definitely a significant asset to understand both the business and the legal side when we’re working with Aritzia to solve their legal issues.”