Black Girl Magic is in full force in Jamila Abston’s world. After graduating from Florida A&M University with a Bachelor’s in Accounting and earning her Masters in Accounting from the University of Virginia, Abston was recruited to work for one of the most prestigious accounting firms on the planet, Ernst & Young.
(Jamila Abston. Image: Yale School of Management)
Abston swiftly moved up the ranks and became a manager before the age of 27, a major victory for any African American woman working in an environment where masculine energy reigns supreme.
In May 2017, although she had already obtained a master’s degree, she went back to earn her M.B.A. at prestigious Yale School of Management.
Upon graduating from Yale, the 35-year old business mogul added one more accomplishment to her résumé: She was made wealth and asset management partner at Ernst & Young.
It’s obvious why Beyoncé is her favorite music performer; they’re both running the world with their powerful presence (and shining bright with their winning attitudes!).
Black Enterprise caught up with Abston to discuss her transition from Yale M.B.A. to Ernst & Young partner.
When and how did you decide that business school was the next best step in your career path?
I had contemplated an M.B.A. for a few years, but given that I already had a Master’s degree in Accounting, I was not in a hurry to enroll in just any program. When a friend suggested the Yale MBA for Executives, I knew it would be a great fit after meeting with the admissions team, learning about the program dynamics, and spending a couple of weekends on campus observing classes and meeting students.
(Image: Courtesy of Jamila Abston)
What makes Yale Executive MBA program different than a traditional full-time M.B.A. program and how did this program prepare you for senior level leadership?
Yale’s Executive MBA program is one of the most renowned programs because of its global focus and its integrated curriculum. M.B.A. candidates can focus in one of three areas: Asset Management, Healthcare, and Sustainability. The first year, the “core classes” are taken with all three cohorts together—so I had classes with neurosurgeons, bankers, and mining engineers! The diversity of professional backgrounds and the average age of professional work experience (11 years) made the educational experience extremely rich and very beneficial for senior level leadership.
How did you land your role as a partner while you were pursuing your M.B.A.?
When I left Ernst & Young as a manager nearly nine years ago, I stayed very connected to my partners, colleagues, and friends at the firm. I started working for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) immediately post-the financial crisis. I gained an experience that was substantially different from my past years—having been a professional during the advent of the Dodd-Frank Act, Volcker Rule, JOBS Act, and the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
My Ernst & Young network recognized the significance of my experience and checked in periodically to ask about my interest in returning to the firm. After eight years at the SEC and a few months at Yale, I realized how much I missed the consulting part of my former Ernst & Young experience. Each class weekend, I talked with several classmates and professors about regulatory matters and saw myself adding value instantly in the collegiate environment. I reached out to a couple of people in my professional network to talk about opportunities and I am thrilled to be back with the firm.
How was the transition from being a student in an executive M.B.A. program to working as a partner?
I made the transition to partner while finishing up my last five months of my executive M.B.A. program. That was a very busy time, and it took an increased amount of time management and focus. Constant prioritization and communication were critical for a successful transition. Ernst & Young was very supportive of my class days and the split focus on work and school during this transitional period. The time management skills developed while completing the EMBA are leveraged every day as I balance commitments of a partner.
What advice do you have for other women who are seeking to gain an influential voice in the workplace and rise to higher levels of leadership?
Determining your life purpose—and aligning your professional and personal goals are important steps to gaining influence and achievement. It will undoubtedly be difficult to keep rising, but knowing your “why” helps you to stay on track with your goals. When others observe your commitment, focus, and grounding, they welcome your voice and help you to take a seat at the table.