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All Sky, No Limit: New Dean’s Advisory Board Member Sees Bright Futures for UCI and The Paul Merage School of Business

June 16, 2022 • By Keith Giles

Anthony Jones, who recently joined the Dean’s Advisory Board at The UCI Paul Merage School of Business, understands the power of high expectations. “When you first go into an organization, people don’t always recognize how incredible they can be,” says Jones. “So, you have to demonstrate it to them. Eventually, they begin to live up to their own expectations once you raise them high enough.”

Jones has worked in the healthcare sector for over 40 years. During that time, he’s served as a hospital administrator in New York, Detroit, Chicago and Houston. When he finally retired just over a year ago, he was the system executive vice president of operations for CommonSpirit Health, the most prominent Catholic healthcare system and second-largest nonprofit hospital chain in the United States. Before that, he served as the chief operating officer for Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) out of Denver.

“At CHI, as the COO, I had 103 presidents and CEOs reporting to me across the country and eight different regional presidents,” says Jones. “I spent most of my days working with doctors and nurses in patient care, trying to help them and supporting their work. It’s been an extraordinary journey to this point. I’ve learned a lot by doing that.”

 

Humble beginnings out East

Jones describes his life as a real rags-to-riches story, beginning in Memphis, Tennessee. “To be honest, the healthcare industry and university life seemed pretty far away and out of reach for me growing up in the inner city,” he says. “I lived across the street from the projects in Memphis, and there weren’t a lot of positive role models for me at that time.”

He got bored with high school and worked diligently to graduate early, entering college at 17. As a young college student, Jones supported himself by taking a full-time job working the night shift as a janitor at Baptist Memorial Hospital. “I cleaned a lot of bathrooms and mopped a lot of hallways in my life,” says Jones.

As a custodian, one of his responsibilities was to clean the hospital’s executive suite. “When I worked there, Baptist Memorial Hospital was one of the largest private hospitals in the world with over 2,000 beds,” says Jones. “After six months on the job, I got to know some executive administrators. One night, they asked me to sit down with them, just to talk to me and get to know me. I thought, ‘Man, these are some pretty old guys.’ But they were probably 29 years old, which to me at 18 seemed pretty old,” he laughs.

 

It's never too late to course correct

Unaware at the time, that conversation changed the trajectory of his life. “They asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told them I wanted to be a lawyer,” he says. “One of them said I didn’t have the personality for a lawyer and suggested I consider doing what they do.”

Both of those men were outstanding individuals who would run some of the largest healthcare companies in the country. One of them became the CEO of United Healthcare, while the others played their parts, running Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis for nearly 35 years. “Those two men were kind enough to sit down with me, taking an interest, and teaching me about what they do,” Jones says. “About four years after sitting down with them that evening, they wrote me graduate school recommendation letters—I got accepted.”

 

Home is where healthcare is

Anthony Jones didn’t remain in Memphis for long. “I’ve lived all over the place,” he says. “I’ve moved around a lot. Atlanta, Georgia, is where I call home, but I’ve lived in Marina Del Ray, California, eventually moving to Houston, Texas. I spend ample time in Irvine and Newport Coast as well. I’ve always been comfortable no matter where I was.”

After retirement, Jones started looking at opportunities to put down roots, UCI being a natural fit for him. Alongside his 40 years in healthcare, Jones taught at Central Michigan University’s Graduate School for Health and Hospital Administration, teaching finance, managed care, and healthcare services.

“I’ve always had an extraordinarily strong academic interest, if you will—which is quite odd because I wouldn’t consider myself such a stellar student when I was in college,” he laughs. “I was more of a fraternity brother who was always made sure I was present for whatever function was going on. So, it’s ironic, I guess, that I enjoy teaching so much.”

 

Build it, and they will come

After moving to Newport Coast, Jones found himself in various conversations with people in the healthcare field. “Dean Ian Williamson’s name kept popping up in my conversations with people whenever I mentioned my interest in healthcare education,” he says. “Honestly, I already had The UCI Paul Merage School of Business on my list, but I was impressed that, even though Ian is relatively new, the people I was talking to were always mentioning what a wonderful job he was doing at UCI. I knew I had to meet with him, and when I did, I realized why so many others spoke so admiringly of him. He’s a very down-to-earth guy who knows his business.”

In one of his first Advisory Board meetings, Paul Merage spoke about the future of the business school, and Jones remembers something that resonated with him. “Paul said, ‘build it, and they will come’, which to me, means that if you build something great, people will flock to it. I truly do believe that,” he says. “I’m a strong believer in the idea that people can be whoever they want to be, and they can do whatever they want to do. I often think I’m an example of this.”

 

Check your mindset and be the best

When Jones looks at The UCI Paul Merage School of Business, he sees incredible growth potential. “I sincerely believe that UCI has everything necessary —in my humble opinion—to become one of the top ten schools in the nation,” he says. “I’ve never said this to anybody, including Dr. Goldstein, but throughout my career, I’ve always believed in being the best you can be. I don’t care who you are. Even if you’re a janitor like I was, be the best damn janitor. If you’re the CEO of a medical center, a doctor, or a nurse, be the absolute best one you can. I look at the world that way. No matter what you’re working on, you have the potential to be the best at what you do if your mindset is right.”

 

Moving Forward

The Financial Times recently recognized The UCI Paul Merage School of Business as an international top 50 business school. “One of the reasons they received such an honor was because UCI does a great job reaching out to bring international students into the program,” says Jones. “I think honors like this are important as we move forward. I would say that the university and the business school have some excellent bones. As long as you’ve got the bones—the basic framework—all you have to do is to put meat on those bones, so to speak, in terms of the faculty you recruit, the students you attract, the research that you contribute and the support you get from the donor community.”

As far as the future goes, Jones has nothing but high hopes. “When I look at UCI’s business school, I see how fantastic it already is, but I also see how much extraordinary potential it still has. My goal is to help them achieve every bit of that. We’ve got the right leader and the right people.”