Penn Perspectives: A Q&A With Jesse Jacobs, C’97, WG’04

Jesse Jacobs, C'97, WG'04
President, The Chernin Group
Major: English and communications
Location: Los Angeles

How has your liberal arts degree been influential throughout your career?

My English and communications majors have been invaluable in my career. Most importantly, in these majors at Penn, I learned and experienced what people find emotional and personal in their lives. Story-telling is also something that was pervasive throughout my undergraduate career, whether it was reading books or understanding how people communicate—both written and oral.  

Too often, I find that people who didn't have a liberal arts background have trouble with basic forms of written and oral communication—how to write a note to a colleague, how to get a point across to a small or large group without rambling on, et cetera. We were never taught these things explicitly as undergrads, but I believe that the underpinnings of Penn's English degree helped us become effective in these areas.
 
I was grateful to go back to Penn to get my M.B.A., but it is my liberal arts degree that I am most proud of. I believe that experience enriched both my professional career and my personal life in ways that few other things have.

What is the value of the Penn network, and how has it played a role in your career?

Everywhere I go I find people who went to Penn. The common bond among all of us—older or younger—is always there and brings us together. And, it's not only Penn, but I find that our collective experiences in the city of Philadelphia stick with us and provide a shared history that we're proud of. Penn liberal arts grads tend to look out for each other.  

What advice would you give students at the College who are trying to decide what career path to pursue?

Don't overthink it. In fact, don't think about it that much at all. Just take a first job in an area that you're interested in with good people from whom you can learn. And, don't sweat the money at all in that first job ... or probably the second or third, either. Those first few years after college should be a continued exploration for you to learn, make mistakes, take some risks, and find out what you like to do and with whom you like to work. Just don't stress over it. Please.  

What was your favorite course at the College and why?  

My favorite course at the College was Introduction to Cultural Studies, taught by Peter Stallybrass. Professor Stallybrass was an inspiration. Looking back at it, I can't even explain what the class was about and it feels like he was just given a class to instruct students to read the books that he thought would be most meaningful. And, it worked so well. The books we read were so varied and were all deeply personal about how even the most fleeting events, random physical objects, and unexpected interactions with people can shape our lives forever. And, most importantly, I met my future wife in that class.