Don Jackson

Don Jackson left behind a career in financial services to pursue a master’s degree in supply chain analytics at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

Don Jackson grew up in Colorado in a family of gymnasts. His mother had been a gymnast, and his sister was following in her footsteps. Jackson often accompanied them to lessons and eventually, at 7 years old, was also placed in gymnastics classes. He did so well throughout high school that he made the gymnastics team at the University of Iowa, even becoming the NCAA Division I pommel horse champion in 2000.

But Jackson always knew gymnastics was an avenue to something else. While at Iowa, he majored in finance and graduated to a position as a services representative at a financial consulting firm. He went on to earn a master’s degree in finance from the University of Colorado Denver.

Jackson found plenty of success in two decades in finance, working as a stockbroker, branch manager and then a regional manager at Scottrade and, later, a senior escalations manager at Wells Fargo in St. Louis. But he eventually decided he was ready for a new challenge.

The former gymnast had no trouble changing directions, and the University of Missouri–St. Louis ultimately became his springboard.

“I started looking for other opportunities starting within Wells Fargo and then beyond – then realizing, ‘You know what?’ I don’t have to keep doing what I’m doing,” Jackson said. “I felt like I was painted into a corner of only trying to look for financial services types of roles. I started branching out and exploring, thinking, ‘If I could choose what I wanted to be when I grew up all over again, what would I do?’ Ultimately, I found supply chain. Through the pandemic, it became very, very visible.”

After narrowing in on supply chain as his next move, he began researching universities and master’s programs. When he looked into UMSL’s offerings in supply chain and analytics, they “jumped out” at him. He liked the approach of foundational knowledge and the emphasis on analytical skills.

“I think that they go hand in hand and are both very important,” Jackson said. “I don’t necessarily know if other universities have that same approach.”

He started school last August while still working but then got an opportunity to take a full-time internship working at Walgreens in their operations and distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois. He took it and left his job at Wells Fargo last June.

While at Walgreens, he shadowed employees in various positions as well as team leads and managers, learning every step of the process of getting an online purchase to the consumer. He became well-versed in Six Sigma, which provides methodologies and tools for improving business processes by systematically removing operational waste and reducing process variation. Jackson also worked on projects that included implementing systems to reduce damage to products before they’re shipped to customers.

The experience was positive, as has been his time at UMSL.

“I am greatly enjoying the subject matter, which is why I felt comfortable taking the plunge in June,” Jackson said.

Though his courses are challenging, he is enjoying the analytical work and problem-solving. Jackson has also found that many aspects of working in supply chain leverage his strengths. A good deal of his financial skills are transferrable to the field, particularly analyzing data and negotiating.

Mitch Millstein, a professional practice professor in the Department of Supply Chain and Analytics, believes he is proving to be an excellent student.

“It was Don’s great work ethic, positive outlook and collaborative spirit that made me first take notice,” Millstein said. “He is doing great in his supply chain analytics classes and is supportive of his classmates. However, his decision to pivot from a successful career in finance was intriguing. Many people want to make changes to their career, but few people make this difficult decision. It is one of the many reasons why UMSL exists – to help people like Don transform their lives.”

Jackson welcomes the professional transition and feels what he’s learning in the detailed coursework at UMSL and the support he receives from the university will serve him well in his pursuit of a new career path. He’s even been connected to company recruiters by Millstein.

He recalled going to UMSL’s Spring Career Fair, where a recruiter from Ameren was waiting for him after receiving a recommendation from Millstein.

With supply chain being such a vast industry, the exact road Jackson will take is still up in the air, but he is allowing himself to find his way and is leaning toward the analytical aspects of the work. Wherever he lands, Jackson wants to make certain that it capitalizes on his natural enthusiasm.

“I just wanted to hit the refresh button,” Jackson said, “to do something new and different that’s going to captivate me and make me want to go to work each day.”

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Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd

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