Jesse Tyson is an international business trailblazer, global marketing and operations expert and a recognized name in the multinational energy industry. As President and CEO of the National Black MBA Association®, Tyson develops strategic partnerships that create intellectual and economic wealth in the black community. His strategic focus and bold foresight propelled him to the position of Global Aviation Director in Belgium after being President of ExxonMobil’s Inter-America, capping a 35-year corporate career.
The 41st Annual NBMBAA® Conference in Houston last month, marked a special year, as Tyson steps out of this leadership role. The Conference, themed “Transcend the Power of You: Empowered to Lead, Equipped to Succeed”, was focused on the individual this year. “I can do many things for others,” Tyson expounded in a recent interview with us. “But in the end, what are we going to individually do for ourselves to transcend from where we are to where we want to be?”
Under his leadership, the NBMBAA® has transcended far beyond hosting a career fair for diverse talent to providing access to dynamic connections through five channels of engagement: education, career, leadership, entrepreneurship and lifestyle. “One thing that’s changed over the years is the reality that not all of us are going to go into the corporate world,” Tyson noted. “The growth in our economy is really in entrepreneurship. So, we have created programs to help entrepreneurs develop and gain access to individuals and capital.”
Growing beyond our borders
Throughout his career, Tyson has stressed the importance of diversity of thought, experience, and perspective as being key components of successful business relationships globally. He learned early on that working in a multicultural and international environment is a key asset and an appealing advantage in leading organizations into the global marketplace.
“A lightbulb went off in my head about the possibilities,” he recalled. “1. You accumulate wealth faster if you go abroad. 2. You gain exposure you would never get in the US. 3. Your family gets the opportunity to gain exposure as well. So, it starts to position the next generation to better understand the true value of an international career. There are things beyond our borders they need to be aware of.”
One thing the NBMBAA® had been missing over the years was a focus on the continent of Africa. “Last year, we took a group of 65 of our members to Ghana to expose them to international possibilities. This year, we took a smaller group to Liberia and Ghana also to have dialogue around helping them further grow and develop their economy,” Tyson shared. “We had an opportunity to go to parliament, visit heads of state and their university community.”
Tyson credits his success to constantly challenging himself to exceed expectations and not be afraid of taking calculated risk. “If you don’t try, you won’t fail, but you also won’t succeed,” he advises.
“Jesse is someone who lets you lead in your job and respects you as a leader,” added Rita Parker, VP of Marketing and Communications, NBMBAA®, “He inspires and motivates. It’s very hard to come by leaders who trust you and let you fly. He is a huge advocate for the underserved and is very respected.”
Growing up in segregation as a sharecropper, Tyson had limited access to educational opportunities. “Everything we did had to contribute to the economics of the household, and the school systems were centered around harvest times,” he reflected. His grandparents, however, inspired him to pursue a life-changing education. But when his grandfather passed away, his plan for going away to college changed because he was the only male left at home.
He attended Lane College, an HBCU in his hometown, which was a blessing. “My math professor, who later became president of the college, became a personal friend,” he said. “He really made sure I had access to everything I needed to get up to speed. He knew my background did not prepare me to compete with students coming from big cities.” In honor of his grandmother, in 2002, he established the Lena Taylor scholarship fund at Lane to provide educational opportunities for individuals from underserved communities.
His “big break” came his junior year when another professor from Pakistan encouraged him to apply for an internship with the US State Department and filled out the application for him, so all he had to do was sign. Tyson thought nothing of it until the FBI showed up at his grandmother’s house to do a background check. He was accepted and did four months in D.C. and five months in West Africa. “That was really the turning point for me, because when I returned, I had to decide on my next step in life,” he shared. “So, I went to grad school at The Ohio State University for my MBA before working for ExxonMobil.”
Learning, Earning and Returning
Tyson’s grandmother instilled in him three phases in life: learning, earning and returning. “The learning phase never ends, but it prepares you to earn. If you don’t learn, you’re not going to earn. If you learn well, you’re able to earn more, and it better positions you to give more back,” he explained. “The returning may be the most robust and rewarding of the three phases. If you know you’re doing something good for society, it means more than some of the other things I have been able to amass in life.”
While at Ohio State University, Tyson was motivated to help others make the most of their educational opportunities. He has embraced the mantra of “paying it forward” by establishing transformational scholarships at the Fisher College of Business at the university.
For more than 45 years, Tyson has worked tirelessly with nonprofit and civic organizations. His dedication to Lane and Ohio State has never wavered. He regularly engages with students, and, for many of them, meeting Tyson is a life-changing experience. He personifies hard work and dedication. “I witnessed at our last LOT conference, about 10 students excitedly run up to him,” Parker shared.
In 2012, he established the Jesse J. Tyson MBA Scholarship Fund at Fisher. The scholarship was created in honor of his mentor, Frank Hale Jr., former vice provost at Ohio State. The fund supports scholarships for MBA students from underrepresented groups.
In recognition of Tyson’s and his wife Cheryl’s support of the Fisher College of Business, the Ohio State University officially named the Office of Diversity & Inclusion Student Services (ODISS) The Cheryl and Jesse J. Tyson Diversity and Inclusion Suite, located in Fisher Hall, for the life of the physical facility.
Building a legacy
What is Tyson most proud of? “It is never a job. It’s not anything I’ve been able to purchase or a vacation I have taken,” he shared. “The proudest moments have been to watch and participate in the development of my children to make sure they know what role they play in controlling their own destiny.” He and Cheryl, married 34 years, have three daughters: Tamika, Cormisha and Christina, one grandson, Christopher, and one granddaughter, Carsyn.
“They need to know that legacy is important,” he said. “There’s a reason you know about the Kennedys and the Rockefellers. Somewhere down the road, somebody made an investment to make sure those family names continued. The name doesn’t have to continue at a Kennedy or Rockefeller level, it just needs to continue in whatever space you’re in so that future generations will appreciation who they are and what their family links might be.”
Guided by his faith, Tyson believes, “If you lose your moral compass, it’s hard to find your way back. I am blessed to be married to a strong woman of faith who is not opposed to knocking me off my little pedestal when she feels that’s appropriate. Having her by my side has been heaven sent.”
What lies ahead? “We will likely do more international travel,” Tyson shared. “We will spend more time helping our children navigate their careers and managing how to get to the next level. That’s something I’m looking forward to. We will continue finding ways to give back to the community that’s given so much to us.”
A few of Jesse Tyson’s Civic Memberships, Awards and Related Successes:
- Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity, Inc.
- The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business (Member, Dean’s Advisory Board) n Executive Leadership Council
- 100 Black Men of America n Lane College (Board of Trustees)
- FAMU (Past Member, Board of Trustees)
- Jack & Jill Foundation of America (Treasurer)
- Pace Setters Executive Award Recipient, (OSU Fisher College of Business – highest honor
- Global Diversity Award Recipient (Fisher College of Business)
- International Service Award Recipient (Fisher College of Business) for outstanding performance in international business
- Twelve Good Men honoree (Ronald McDonald House Charities)
- Jack & Jill Father of the Year (Awardee, 2001 & 2004)
- UNCF Alum of the Year Awardee n NAACP Achievement Award Recipient
- National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (Recipient, Presidential Citation)
More about the National Black MBA Association®
National Black MBA Association® is one of the largest nonprofit organizations focusing on creating educational and wealth building opportunities for minority students, professionals and entrepreneurs. The National Black MBA Association® focuses on creating educational and wealth building opportunities for its members through dynamic resources and programming. This includes the Annual Conference and Exposition, which exposes members to the largest career fair where leading Fortune 500 companies seek to recruit and hire diverse talent. Join the NBMBAA in celebrating 50 years in existence in Washington, D.C. at the 42nd Annual Conference and Exposition September 22-25, 2020. Visit: www.nbmbaa.org.