As Assistant Secretary for Management at the Department of Education, Wharton alumnus Andrew Jackson serves a critical role in running the business side of one of the nation’s most important government agencies. But the path he took to get there is far from conventional.
Born in Kendall, Florida, Jackson graduated from a public high school in 1988 and went on to attend the University of Miami on a full-tuition scholarship. There, Jackson majored in international studies with dreams of becoming a diplomat. In his junior year he studied abroad in Japan. “I chose to study Japanese because it was so radically different from the languages I already knew and was a huge challenge.” However, after meeting an actual diplomat in Japan, Jackson realized it was too unpredictable of a lifestyle for him and decided to pursue law instead. In his senior year of college Jackson was sponsored for a rotary scholarship to study intensive language and law in Japan for two years. “Wherever I am I always try to find a mentor, and in my second year I learned the most about Japanese law by translating articles from my mentor for publication in US law journals.” Jackson went on to study law at Harvard with an interest in international transactions. “I was really interested in what technology meant for society,” so he started working for a mid-size firm in Seattle before moving on to HP as in-house counsel in California. Jackson worked his way up in the company until he became senior counsel for the CIO. “It was the best job… an incredibly intense job.” HP then sponsored his MBA for Executives degree at Wharton from 2001 to 2003. He continued to work as senior counsel for HP for six more years and to this day calls San Francisco his hometown.
Things took a sharp turn in 2009, when a good friend of his from Harvard was appointed as an Assistant Secretary for the Department of Interior and asked him to join as her Deputy. “It was a great opportunity to serve in an administrative role, I had a lot to offer career-wise.” During his time at the Interior Jackson solved many critical problems, including revamping an IT system that wasn’t centralized and didn’t even have an all-employee email list. “Quick wins are really important in building trust and credibility…people really listened to my advice.” By “pulling in the pieces that made sense” Jackson cut costs by 20 percent in four years. “I realized I loved management and leadership. Business school was an intellectual challenge, yet pragmatic. I don’t regret getting my law degree, but there could have been different ways to get to where I am today.”
In April, Jackson was contacted by the Department of Education and accepted an offer as the Assistant Secretary for Management. Being the smallest cabinet-level agency yet having a budget five times bigger than that of the Interior, the Department of Education was a very different experience for Jackson. “It was a relatively flat system, with less people, more money, more responsibility.” With both of his parents working in the public school system, Jackson was always interested in education and describes it as a policy area that means a lot to him. “Education is a critical success factor, it’s how we provide mobility…it’s the great equalizer.” Jackson’s key interests include transparency and privacy, particularly FERPA and FOIA. “I believe in the freedom of information. It is incredibly challenging to do right, hugely important yet an administrative burden. My goal is to accomplish transparency in my department.”
Jackson’s advice for students going into policy? “Don’t get discouraged. The federal government is getting harder and harder to break into. Develop an area of expertise that you’re passionate about.” He also believes that networking and informational interviews are powerful. “Be thoughtful and strategic about where you want to be. Own your career.”
WG’03, L’97, BA’92
University of Pennsylvania - Wharton - 2003
- Master of Business Administration
- Major(s): MBA