After more than two decades in the entertainment industry, from sorting mail on Dirty Dancing to producing legendary hip-hop music videos, Martin Jones chose a mini-MBA to jump from entertainment to business.
No Business Like Show Business
Wandering through his dad’s darkroom, looking at processing film, Martin Jones was fascinated by storytelling at just five years-old. After school, he spent hours narrating fantastic tales over old cassette tapes. As he got older, he started hanging out with his siblings in the neighborhood cinemas. Soon, he secured his first job – a gig as a projectionist at the theater.
“There were a few people in the entertainment industry in Columbus, Ohio, that let me experience so many things: From my first film shoot for a documentary, seeing incredible films from all over the world, and meeting world-renowned, Oscar-winning directors … I was exposed to all of this before I could drive,” Martin said, laughing. “That’s when I realized I could make this a career.”
Continually rubbing elbows with creatives encouraged Martin to pursue film school at Denison University, a top liberal arts college in Ohio. He remembers one incredible moment that changed the course of his career.
“I was on campus and met alum, Michael Eisner, the President of Paramount Pictures (later to become the turnaround CEO of Walt Disney). He was giving a speech and had left his notes in the car. So I asked if I could walk with him – He worked for the company that made The Godfather. I asked him for one piece of advice, and he said four words: Move to Los Angeles. So I did,” Martin said.
To raise money for his cross-country move, Martin developed a plan only a creative entrepreneur could accomplish. He wrote and filmed a movie about White Castle hamburgers and screened it for his local community, charging patrons a fee to enter. In one screening, he made enough money for the move. Once he graduated college, he packed all of his belongings and ventured West.
Moving to L.A.
Once in the home of Hollywood, Martin worked in entertainment in every form, in every role. He began as a prop master and set dresser in horror films, then moved into the mail room at the same company that made Dirty Dancing. He also found a mentor in Steven Reuther, who produced Pretty Woman.
The entry level roles led to more opportunities, and Martin began making music videos. During his time in California, he worked on over 100 music productions. From Snoop Dog to LL Cool J, Eddie Murphy, and MC Hammer, Martin worked with stars from all over the world.
Eventually, Martin moved to Virginia to raise a family and take on the role of Head of New Millennium Studios. After countless other projects including commercials for companies like Chrysler, Jeep, and Chevy, Martin had created a career that his five year-old self could have only dreamed of.
However, Martin’s career has not been without hardship. During the financial crisis of 2007, he left the entertainment industry, cognizant of the devastating effects of the economy on film and television. But his hiatus wouldn’t last long.
A Career Shift: Mini-Mba Pivots Entertainment to Business
After much convincing from his peers in the industry, Martin took a job as Director of Austin Studios, operated by the Austin Film Society, a nonprofit film organization in Austin, TX. He realized this role looked a lot different from the entertainment positions he held in the past. While he had decades of management and production experience, his new role also required financial acumen.
“I told myself I didn’t need an MBA – I could just hire one! But I felt like I wanted greater mastery over the story that numbers tell, and I wanted to understand that story for myself. That’s who I am. I can understand an idea or story and divine it from paper into a production or movie. I feel comfortable with budgeting and can do that in my sleep. It was the organizational pieces like balance sheets and financials that I needed some help with,” he said.
Martin began looking more seriously at programs that could provide him with the tools he needed to succeed in his new role.
“The first program that spoke to me was the Invited MBA program. It was the right fit for me because as a full-time leader, I didn’t have the time to drive to class, take a long program, or spend thousands of dollars on education.”
After enrolling in the Invited MBA, Martin dedicated himself to learning financial concepts. He was surprised at how the experiential learning of the program simulations related directly to the challenges he was facing at work.
“The virtual cohort made it so much fun to have a global classroom,” he said. “The simulations were also so impactful. The Invited MBA has real-life experiences presented in a virtual way through the simulations, which made it easy for me to see how I would apply it back in my day-to-day job.”
Making the Deal
Immediately after the completion of the program, Martin was able to directly apply the knowledge and practice he did during the Invited MBA.
“Right after the Invited MBA ended, I undertook a really big and risky project at work. We were able to pull off this huge deal, and it was transformative for our organization. It’s cool that it was birthed when I was in the program, because I was taking case studies and working on group projects that applied directly to my job and daily life,” he said. “It gave me new tools and a new language to help conceptualize a complex opportunity and put the right people in the right seats that led to a very successful outcome.”
What might have seemed like an impossible, risky task just a year ago, Martin felt confident and capable to conquer given his newfound financial and business knowledge. And Martin is the first to admit that nothing is impossible.
“I put a sign up on all the doors when I start filming a new movie – It’s kind of fun to do the impossible, from Walt Disney.”
He said, “That’s just the outlook I have on my life. Every time I film a movie, I’m putting together people who have never worked together to manufacture a product that started with imagination. That script is my roadmap for visuals, effects, performances, pacing, and music. You put all the crafts together and you make something that’s thought-provoking and inspiring. But then you release it to the public and start all over again. That can seem impossible at times.”
Martin looks back at his experience in the Invited MBA and recognizes it not only helped him close a big business deal, it also has helped him frame other challenges in the workplace.
“The skills I gained in the Invited MBA will benefit me beyond just a one-time, successful deal,” he said. “The most valuable thing that came of the Invited MBA for me was the comfort and awareness of finance terminology and telling financial stories inside of a business. I’m a storyteller, and I feel like I can tell that story now.”
When Martin walks through the lot at Austin Studios, between the television sets of CBS’s Walker or to the sound stages utilized by new media company Rooster Teeth, he loves sharing his adventures in entertainment. The 20 acre lot has seven sound stages, dozens of buildings, casting agencies, a camera and lighting rental company, and a Covid-19 testing facility.
While many things have changed since Martin entered the industry, one thing remains – Martin’s resilience. From entertainment to business, what started as childhood passion has become a successful career in one of the most volatile industries. And Martin encourages those looking to level up their own careers to explore a mini-MBA.
“I would recommend taking the Invited MBA to people looking to level up their career. I’m a wordy person, so I’m careful about how I describe things, but the Invited MBA opens up opportunities and increases possibilities, no matter why you take it.”