Lifelong Learners: Growing a Business by Helping Others
It’s not an understatement to say that education is a lifelong pursuit for Willie Jones. He completed his BS in Business Administration in ’09, and his Master of Information Systems Management (MISM) this summer, and has enrolled in the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree program at Walden, which he will start this fall.
His interest in technology started in high school, when he absorbed everything he could about the subject after class. “Technology has been a never-ending fascination of mine,” Jones says. But he had to overcome more than a few obstacles to become the successful entrepreneur he is today.
After a tour in Vietnam, Jones was honorably released from the U.S. Army in 1972 but realized he didn’t have the financing he needed to pursue a four-year degree and re-enlisted in 1974, launching a military career that totaled 26 years. Education, however, never disappeared from his life. He earned an associate degree in psychology in 1983 through a satellite learning program. “It was a sacrifice to attend class after you’ve worked 16 hours,” Jones admits. “But it was a welcome challenge.”
And when Jones officially retired from the Army in 1998, he went straight back to school—this time for a two-year degree in computer information systems from a local technical college. After graduation in 2000, he worked as a systems administrator for a bank and oversaw its technology and software systems. “It was an awakening for me, in terms of being in the civilian sector of information technology,” Jones explains.
In 2006, he says, “Another light came on.” Jones founded Systems Solutions in Hinesville, Ga., to land some of the information technology contracts he knew were available. “I had always wanted to own my own company, to be an entrepreneur,” he explains. Systems Solutions offers services that range from in-house and mail-order computer hardware and software repair to subcontracting for other companies across the United States.
Shortly after launching his business, Jones applied to Walden University for his BS in Business Administration. He was encouraged by Sheryl Stroud-Jones (then his fiancée, now his wife), who had enrolled at Walden as a Doctor of Education (EdD) student the same year. “When I researched Walden, it was like something jumped off the screen and said, ‘This is it,’ ” he explains. “I also knew it would prepare me to be a better entrepreneur.” Jones earned his bachelor’s degree in 2009 and immediately enrolled in the MISM degree program, which he graduated from this summer.
He credits Walden with giving him the skills he needs to excel. A course in entrepreneurship helped Jones start planning how to expand his business globally, and he’s recently jumped into e-commerce to sell information technology services.
Other courses taught him how to market to his client base. As a result, he’s expanded Systems Solutions’ advertising, which has helped him land subcontracting partnerships with companies in Minnesota, Ohio, and West Virginia. “We want to be sure we are reaching an area much larger than our own local community,” Jones says. Combined, these courses gave Jones the business savvy he needed not just to survive, but to thrive in a difficult economy.
But owning and running his company isn’t enough for Jones; he has an innate sense of community service. For example, he partners with local colleges to create internship opportunities for students. “There’s nothing more valuable than learning something in class and then being able to put it to practical use,” he says. “When I was attending a local technical college, I saw employers turning graduates away because they didn’t have experience. I want to give people the skills they need to find reliable employment.”
Jones instructs a crew of 25 to 30 interns annually on how to do everything from repair computer operating systems to run computer forensics. “Over the years, the program has been very productive,” Jones reflects. “Some of my interns have gone on to major positions with the federal government. That’s a huge plus for them. I’m just happy to be able to help.”
Jones eventually hopes to teach at the university level and to be an even greater positive influence on his community. “It humbles me that I can achieve all of these goals,” he says. “Whenever you achieve something of magnitude at any time in your life, you should strive to give back as a result. I want to give back by sharing what I’ve learned.”
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