The year 2009 wore out Consortium alumna Kim Harris Jones. The 1986 University of Michigan MBA and Consortium member had spent 23 years in the auto industry. That year, as senior vice president and corporate controller for Chrysler, she played a key role in guiding the company through its bankruptcy and sale in a 42-day sprint.
“I was tired,” Jones recalled in an interview with The Consortium. “It was exhausting.”
At that point, the first African American woman to hold a senior executive position at Chrysler decided she’d had enough. On June 9, 2009, Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy. Later that month, Jones started a new job, in a new industry, as senior vice president-corporate controller for Kraft Foods Group.
“I was 49 at the time. I was financially ready to retire, but not mentally ready,” she said. “But it was time to leave the auto industry.”
Today, Jones is both financially and mentally ready for retirement. She took that step just over a year ago. With free time on her hands and an itch to get involved, The Consortium was one of her first phone calls.
Years of Consortium Involvement
Jones spent years attending Orientation Programs to recruit for General Motors, and then Chrysler. Today, she serves as a volunteer on The Consortium’s finance committee and has joined the Eagle Club, among The Consortium’s elite top tier of private donors.
“I decided I wanted to focus on education. The Consortium was the ideal place in graduate education, but I’m looking at the entire educational spectrum,” she said.
Jones first heard about The Consortium from a former professor at Michigan. Dr. Alfred Edwards — a long-time friend of The Consortium (and founder Sterling Schoen) — had advised Jones to jump immediately from undergraduate to business school.
She politely declined, insisting she needed some “real world” experience first. Besides, she said, what about the money? “I said, ‘Let me know when there’s a way for me to go for free,'” she recalled. A year later, Michigan joined The Consortium and Jones’ phone rang. It was Dr. Edwards.
“He called me and said, ‘Kim, I have a way.'” A year later, she applied and joined. The only hiccup? She had to miss her Orientation Program in 1984 — but she had a good reason. She was planning to be on her honeymoon instead.
“I told (Consortium CEO) Wally (Jones), ‘I just got notice of this, but I’ve been planning my wedding for a long time,'” Jones (no relation) said. She attended OP the next year.
Jones emerged from Michigan’s MBA program with a job offer from General Motors — where her father had worked for years on the assembly line.
“The proudest day of my father’s life was when I got my MBA and went to work with General Motors,” she said. He died a year after she took the job, but she was able to memorialize and honor him in a book project by a college friend. Dare to Be Extraordinary — A Collection of Life Lessons from African-American Fathers is an anthology of stories that includes Jones’ story about her own father.
After ending her auto industry career and moving on to the food industry, Jones wasn’t done with tough assignments. She worked on the 2012 spinoff of Kraft into two separate companies, staying with the larger global company — Mondelez International – which includes brands such as Oreo, Cadbury, Wheat Thins and others.
With 30 years of executive experience behind her, Jones looks back and sees change in corporate inclusivity and diversity — but not enough.
The auto industry “wasn’t a very diverse place to be,” Jones said. “The assumption was that I got the job because I was an African American and a woman — not that I earned something. I had to prove myself every day. That was the reality. It wasn’t fair, but I said to myself, just get over this.”
Today, though she’s retired from the executive suite, she’s not done with board rooms. She serves on the board of True Blue, a workforce staffing company. And she’s a member of the Executive Leadership Council, where she looks at issues involving representation on corporate boards and C-suite jobs.
“When all the smoke clears, things have changed a lot in the last 10 to 20 years,” she said. “There is a lot of opportunity to improve.”
“We need organizations like The Consortium to make sure we have the right people in the pipeline. We have to make sure our young people are prepared from an educational and career standpoint.”