Take a ‘Big Picture’ Approach to Business
March 14, 2022
Jason Morales shares how his liberal arts background and English major helped him develop the critical thinking and communication skills that have proven crucial to his success in business, earning him a reputation as a creative problem-solver. Nurturing his intellectual curiosity has led Jason to increasingly exciting and challenging opportunities that keep his work fresh and engaging.
Jason Morales, Scott Muir
So there were five of us in my senior apartment. Two are lawyers. One is actually a professor of law. One is a practicing attorney. One is a detective in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department. One is an orthopedic surgeon. And I work in finance. One was an anthropology major. One was a [political science] major, one was a history… We were able to study all of these different things and end up in various roles that are really fulfilling for all of us.
This is What Are You Going to Do with That?, a podcast where we explore everyday folks' decisions to study the humanities as undergraduates and their pathways to fulfilling careers. I'm Scott Muir of the National Humanities Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting the value of the humanities on campuses and in communities. In previous episodes, we've heard Kate, Catherine, and Annie reflect on how their humanities education provided an adaptable skill set that enabled them to make the most of exciting opportunities they couldn't have anticipated. The advantages of this adaptability are particularly striking in the vast dynamic world of business, where new industries and career fields are constantly emerging. In this episode, we meet Jason Morales, who serves as manager for financial analysis and analytics at affordable care, a leading provider of dentures and implants. Jason stayed open as he proceeded through college, making the most of the opportunity to explore a range of disciplines before choosing to pursue an English major. Jason trusted that if he kept challenging himself intellectually, he would continue to grow, and the rest would work itself out. Indeed it has. Jason has continued to hone the fundamental critical thinking and communication skills he developed in humanities classrooms, leveraging those skills to land increasingly exciting and challenging opportunities. Those skills helped him earn a reputation as a trusted partner and creative problem-solver. Staying open has not only led to better and better professional opportunities, it's kept Jason's work fresh and engaging. He wouldn't have it any other way. Let's return to his story now.
I didn't arrive at Davidson [College] knowing this was what I wanted to study or this was the career that I wanted to go into. And so for me, it was kind of an exercise of figuring out, you know, what did I enjoy at the time? What did I think would be something that would continue to stimulate me and keep me interested? And so I enjoyed writing. I enjoyed reading. And you know, an English major was a good combination of those two things. At Davidson, you don't choose a major until the beginning of your junior year, and so [I] was able to spend two years, you know, just kind of exploring. And so I spent some time doing some of the foundational requirements. Going into my junior year, it was, I really enjoy reading, I really enjoyed the English classes that I've taken so far. I really enjoy the professors. I love the way that they teach. You know, it's kind of a combination of learning history, of learning how to write, how to think about things, how to turn your thoughts into some sort of communication to others.
Maybe tell me a little bit about some of the memorable courses that stand out to you. And it could be in English, it could also be if there are other kinds of humanities courses that stand out. But any “aha” moments that sort of stand out from those courses.
One that stands out was a Shakespeare class I took with Randy Ingram. And I wasn't necessarily expecting to be blown away by the class or really, to love it. It was just one that I needed to take to get an English major. But he made it incredible, and made it fantastic and fun and interesting. And I think part of the way that he did that—and I think this is kind of wrapped up in the concept of the benefit of a humanities degree—he provided the context for the class, and the context of the times for Shakespeare and Shakespeare's contemporaries and what was influencing his writing and stuff like that. I think toward the end of the class, we went to the professor's house there at Davidson. We were all of age at the time, I think we were all seniors, but I think he served mead. And [he] made it this very of-the-times experience. He would place himself in the times, like, as an actor in the time. I think he dressed up, if my memory serves me correctly. But he really kind of brought it to life for us. And so that was another kind of “aha” moment. And just understanding the context of things and letting yourself kind of be surprised by what you can learn and what you can take away. And I think the other thing that was really beneficial was that a lot of the classes at Davidson were grounded in discussion. So we were sitting around, you know, 10 to 12 of us, with different experiences of our own and context of our own that we were bringing into discussions. And so, you know, you read a text, and you interpret it differently based on whatever that context is that you bring to it. And so being able to sit in that small group, and listen to those different experiences, that different context, and apply it to how you interpret something, I think was super beneficial. And I mean, for me, it was just a new thing and it has really proven beneficial in my career now—being able to understand different people's context and the experiences that they're bringing to any situation.
So my first job out of college was at a company called INC Research, which was a contract research organization that supported pharma[ceutical] companies that is now Syneos Health. I knew that I wanted to work with a good group of people that, you know, weren't doing boring heads-in-the-sand kind of stuff. And so I actually got connected with another Davidson grad, who was working for this company at the time. So he kind of brought me on and was able to kind of kickstart my career. And so started out there. And I think I was there for a year and a half or so and then transitioned to RTI. And there was a role in their contracts group managing a portfolio of contracts. And so my role was very much one of support and being able to help both the external clients and the internal clients navigate contractual issues. And so it was a lot of negotiating. You know, you have an issue that you're trying to solve, we have an issue that we're trying to solve, we have this contract that says X, Y, and Z, how can we get both of us to a common understanding and to a common goal of accomplishing this work? I think that having a humanities background has been super helpful in being able to see things from point A to point B, and to get the successful conclusion of these big projects that we undertake. You know, I think half of the job is relationship management. And not just, you know, researching and providing answers or providing suggestions, but understanding, or being able to figure out why that answer is right for that particular person. And so there are likely often, you know, oftentimes there are different solutions to any given problem. But being able to figure out what is important to another person, what their hopes are given what they're trying to accomplish or gain through that solution. I think being able to understand all of that, and communicate all of that, and be perceived as a trusted partner that can help them with that is really important. There isn't necessarily a class for that. I mean, it's a skill that you can develop and learn. But it isn't necessarily one, you know, you can't sit down and take like a business partnering 101 class necessarily. So I think the humanities [background] was, you know, foundational. So that was kind of the lens that I took, or how I approached the role. And so again, I did that for seven years. And, you know, I mentioned why I chose an English major was wanting to continually be challenged and continue to face different questions and issues. And so I was getting somewhat bored by the same challenges in the contracts role and wanted something different. And so I decided to go back and get an MBA, and to join our corporate finance team, which takes kind of a different, it's a much more high-level view. But still managing people and managing relationships.
Do you see a role and kind of your humanities background in terms of preparing you to do that sort of bigger picture thinking?
Yeah, absolutely. Accounting may be the language of business, but supported by how you can actually communicate with people. And so you can put a spreadsheet together that shows a net present value for a project that you want to do, but if you can't explain the value proposition of the project, the numbers aren't necessarily as meaningful. I think the humanities helped with that value proposition standpoint, understanding the big picture. And also, as we talked about, the writing skills, being able to communicate that, being able to understand what's beneficial to one party versus another. I'll say, I went to a very good business school and there were people that were there that just couldn't write. We were on teams and doing group work together. And I don't mean, they couldn't write; just different levels of different capabilities when it comes to being able to put a paper together, and then also a presentation together. And so it's easy to put numbers on a spreadsheet and make one plus two equal three. It’s harder to be able to convey why one plus two equals three, or why it's important that one plus two equals three. I think being able to think critically about something and then being able to communicate, not only the answer, but how you got to the answer, I think those are the fundamental skills that I feel like I took away from a humanities background.
The next challenge that I wanted was to be in a more senior management role, and to have a team and to build a team. And so for a while I had been talking with a buddy from business school about the company that he was working for, it's called Affordable Care. And the timing was just perfect. They had brought on a new CFO, who he really liked, who he thought I would really like. They were in a big growth period, a period of transition within the company itself. So I interviewed a couple of times with them, and the fit was perfect. So managing revenue coming into the company, expenses, managing a full P&L for the entire company. And so that's what was most inviting, being in a management role. Having a team to kind of help and support and grow. It was just a perfect opportunity. So yes, I am involved in like the full roll-up view and understanding every component of the business and how it contributes to a certain endpoint. It's about being able to see the forest for the trees. And being able to say, here are all of the inputs, how do we take these inputs, turn them into a presentation for our board on a monthly basis that says, here's what happened this month and here's why it happened. And here's what's going to happen, going forward. Trying to forecast where we're going to land at the end of the year. Being able to start saying, alright, here's where we are through three quarters of this year, what does that mean for next year and doing budgeting and planning going into next year? So, yeah, it's all about being able to roll everything up, take all these little details and form a story out of it. So yeah, I think being able to kind of take in a bunch of information and distill it into a theme has been a really important part of the role. And is also possible because, you know, there's a ton of practice in it, both from high school and college and previous roles.
So it strikes me as a theme, from college to now, that it's about keeping it open and about choosing what seems like the most engrossing experience.
I think very simply, it's about not being bored. I, personally, thrive on change, and being continuously challenged and wanting to find new ways to do things. I think the opportunity is that you aren't necessarily pigeon holed. I think the gift of it has been being able to learn about different industries, being able to learn about different jobs, being able to have more of an opportunity to cross over into different fields. You know, a humanities degree isn't necessarily like a utilitarian degree to get this specific job, right? But it provides the foundation to be able to explore all sorts of different roles and different jobs, which I think is the big benefit. It’s interesting, even now I have a wonderful job. And I like what I'm doing. And I think it's challenging, and I'm good at it. And I enjoy the people I work with. It's not necessarily what I think I may be doing again, in five years or ten years. And so I left Davidson with a great education and knowing how to communicate and think and talk to people, but not necessarily knowing like, here's the job that I want, right? It was more, I want a job that's going to be challenging, where I'm forced to think critically about things. I think for me, it's less about a specific role, and more about to your point, kind of a broadening of experience and responsibility. The role that I'm in now, you know, I support our operations group. I support our marketing group, I support our executives, I support the people out in the field in different ways. And so I'm learning more about what's happening on the operation side, in the marketing, etc, etc. I mean, every week, I'm learning something different. It is incredibly complex. There are a lot of moving pieces. And so I'm still learning a ton. So it's that: it's continuing to learn, continuing to grow, have new experiences, and have a broadening of responsibilities. And I think with a broadening of responsibilities comes advancement in one's career and having people working with you that are smart, and that are always challenging you as a peer, as a boss, as an employee. I think those are the kinds of things that I think about when it comes to my career. And not necessarily, this is the job that I want to begin in X many years. What was so beneficial about Davidson and a humanities degree was this concept of learning how to learn and thinking critically and trying to navigate challenging issues. It gives you the skill set for doing those things and doesn't limit what your options are. I feel like more and more companies are looking for people that can communicate why things are happening the way that they are and build relationships and help navigate challenging issues for their company. That's the value proposition of a humanities degree.
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