The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Jonathan Ward

headshot of Jonathan Ward
Senior Business Consultant
The ICA Group

Degree & graduation year: MPPA/MBA 2014

Current position: Senior business consultant, The ICA Group

What I do: The ICA Group is an economic development nonprofit focused on employee ownership and workplace democracy. I work with start-up companies who are trying to develop a business plan and existing programs who are trying to get their business to the next level.

I lead the business conversion practice, where we help businesses sell to their employees. This could be a retiring business owner who wants to leave a legacy, or an existing business owner who wants to share management, risks, and rewards. In creating those employee-owned democratic businesses, I have to go beyond just financial and business analysis. I help design governance systems for worker-owned businesses. I develop their bylaws to make sure it operates democratically. I work with the employees on culture change and training to help people understand what a co-op is.

How I ended up working there: I was the research assistant for [School pf Public Policy faculty member] Fred Rose at the time he was working on forming the Wellspring Cooperative, which is about using work cooperatives and employee ownership to transform communities. I’d never heard of a worker cooperative before, and all of a suddenly I was hearing about them as a means of social change and economic development in Springfield. The executive director of the ICA Group at the time was on the Wellspring board, and I also saw work done by the current director. Fast forward a year and I saw a job posting for a consulting position for the ICA Group and applied.

The best part of my job: The most rewarding part of my job is when I help strengthen small businesses so they can keep jobs in communities and grow. I work with a lot of home care and childcare businesses, which are pillars of our communities for people who don’t get paid a lot. I also like that I get to talk with presidents from all areas of small business all day long—I learn a lot about how business works by talking to people.

A recent exciting work experience: Whenever we close on a transaction to sell a company to its employees, that’s an amazing feeling. People who’ve not been owners of a company before are now sharing ownership. Last month we closed a transaction with a ten-person business in Illinois. We’d been working with them for nine months, and it was sold to its employees for $400,000.

How the School of Public Policy prepared me for my career: It taught me how to think about big, complex problems. Going through the program, you’re presented with a lot of complex information, and you have to become an expert really quickly, learn how to parse information, how to write a policy memo. It’s the same rhythm I’m in today: I meet with a client and they say, “Our sales are going down. What should we do?” You need to train your brain to hold a lot of information and then develop a plan for how to attack the problem. So many of my classes taught us about the analytical process and developing frameworks to think about complex problems. That’s a good skill to have. 

Advice to students considering a degree in public policy: A degree in public policy can open doors to a lot of different places and provide you with skills that will allow you to be successful in a lot of different careers and situations. It’s a broad skills set.

I didn’t come into the program with strict goals; I just knew I wanted to make the world a better place, and the program was able to support that. I expected my MBA to prepare me to be a business consultant, but it was my MPPA that prepared me to be a successful professional in the social-change field.