Monique Jones (’93) is vice president of finance and controller for Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, a leading independent finance and production company dedicated to developing high-quality motion pictures and television programming. Jones provides financial analysis and decision-making support to the executive management team. She has also held senior finance positions with Sony Pictures Television International, Icon Entertainment International, Myriad Pictures and PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. She moderated a panel at Anderson's 2016 Pulse Conference in January.Twenty years into her career in the entertainment industry, she looks back at how she aspired professionally.
Q. You began your entertainment career in Los Angeles in 1996, but you’re originally from Omaha. Did you know growing up in the Midwest that you wanted to land in Hollywood?
When I was growing up in Nebraska, my dream was to move to New York City. I didn’t know what I would do there, I just knew it was the city for me. I made a pit stop in Washington, D.C., to attend college at Georgetown University. Although I majored in finance, it was during my college years that I developed my interest in the entertainment industry. Specifically, I wanted to work in the music industry. But before heading west, I moved to New York after graduating from college and worked as an internal auditor in the financial services industry.
Q. What led you to UCLA for your MBA?
After working in financial services for four years, I knew I would never be passionate about a career in that field. That said, I was not prepared to quit my job and take an entry-level position in the music industry. I decided my best strategy would be to earn my MBA at a school in Los Angeles. This would give me the opportunity to pursue a variety of internships during my two years in a full-time MBA program and determine if a career in entertainment was the right fit for me. If it wasn’t, then I would still have earned my MBA and would be able to pursue other career options.
Q. When you were enrolled, did you follow an entertainment concentration?
Yes, I focused on a dual concentration — strategy and entertainment management. I was a member of the Entertainment Management Association. For my internship between first and second years, I was a summer associate in the strategic planning department at EMI Music in New York City. My summer position also led to my second-year field study, which was a project for Capitol Records in Hollywood. Our field study team evaluated growth and expansion opportunities in the R&B/urban music market for Capitol Records. After graduation, I pursued many leads and connections but was not able to find the position that I wanted in the music business. When I was pursuing my degree, the music industry wasn’t seeking the skills of an MBA. With data analytics such a crucial component of the industry now, MBAs find a home there.
Q. You found the film industry more receptive?
As luck would have it, I found my first job in the film business at the Anderson Career Center. I was hired by Anderson alumna Gretchen Humbert (’89) at PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. She was a vice president in the strategic planning department and she hired me as a manager on her team. Even though she’s no longer working in the entertainment industry (she’s the CFO of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), we stay in touch and have lunch at least once a quarter. If I ever win an Oscar, Gretchen is the first person I’ll thank for my big break in entertainment!
Q. So you came to embrace film, even though you were fairly single-minded about the music industry. What hooked you?
In my career search post-Anderson, I discovered that there was a greater appreciation in the film and television business for the skill set that MBAs possess. As a result, the career opportunities in film and television were much more rewarding and challenging. So I made the switch from music to film. Which in hindsight was for the best, considering the state of the music industry today!
Meanwhile, it’s fair to say that companies have to realize they have to adapt to the way people consume entertainment now. The music industry was pushed and has adapted (iTunes, Spotify, etc.) but television (broadcast and cable) is resistant to the way Millennials consume — one song, one show, selectively — not based on a subscription package. They need to find ways to accommodate consumers’ preferences about when they want to watch or listen. Most resistant still is the film business, especially the exhibition component. Exhibitors have invested so much into location-based entertainment that they are not about to share windows with, say, Netflix, television or pay-per-view.
Q. Are you musical yourself?
No, not at all. Not even close!
Q. You’ve worked for big studios like Sony and now head up finance for a prominent but smaller independent company. What are the main challenges and advantages of either?
Working for a big studio gives you the opportunity to continually challenge yourself because you can potentially be promoted into a variety of roles and business units. But being part of the big studio machine often prevents you from having involvement with a project from start to finish. It’s one of the main benefits of working for an independent production company. You’re involved with a project from its initial development stage all the way through the end when it’s finally distributed to theaters. I really enjoy this prospective. At my current company, our CEO and CFO rely on me and my team to perform financial analysis that helps them decide which projects they should “greenlight” and put into production. Very few people have that access and opportunity at a big studio.
Q. In light of dismaying statistics in the Hollywood Diversity Report regarding the dearth of women and people of color in writer, director and producer roles, would you say your side of the entertainment industry is any more diverse?
Unfortunately, the statistics are no better for women and people of color on the business side of entertainment. There’s no easy solution, but I believe the increased distribution opportunities outside of the traditional studio model — OTTs like Netflix and Hulu — will open up not only creative opportunities but also business opportunities for women and people of color. I believe you can see this in the success of programs like Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and BET’s Being Mary Jane.
Q. Who are your role models in entertainment?
The writer and producer Mara Brock Akil and filmmaker Ava DuVernay.
Q. You serve on the executive board of UCLA Anderson’s Alumni Network in the role of chair of affinity groups. What does that entail?
I joined the executive board in this position in July 2015 and will serve a three-year term. The chair serves as the liaison among the executive committee, the affinity groups of the Alumni Network (including: the 5As, Anderson African-American Alumni Association; Anderson Women; Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Management Alumni; and Anderson Latino Management Alumni) and the relevant parties at UCLA Anderson. The chair leads the affinity group presidents, providing support, advice and counsel to promote their development and success. What’s so rewarding about this role is that I’ve reconnected with the Anderson community on many levels — with my fellow alumni, with the faculty and administration and with current students. This experience has reinvigorated my professional network.