Values of People: Jennifer Mitchell, Chief of Staff
An experienced higher education administrator with a heart for coaching, Jen Mitchell was hired at U3 Advisors to be the first Chief of Staff. Her title of Chief of Staff belies the full breadth of responsibilities, which include a range of operational and strategic duties that ensure everything runs smoothly so that every one of U3’s clients receive the full benefit of the firm’s expertise.
How did you end up at U3?
I was introduced to U3 Advisors in 2016 while working in the Provost’s Office at Drexel University. I got to see, firsthand, the incredible partnership and impact of U3’s work at Drexel. In 2019, I moved on to George Washington University (GW) in Washington, DC as the Director of Administration for the Provost’s Office. At GW, my role included working with the facilities and real estate departments. This exposure to the non-academic side of higher education expanded my knowledge and led to my interest in a role at U3.
In 2021, the pandemic allowed me – as it did for many people – to take a step back and think: “Do I want to continue to work in higher education? Is this a time for me to do something different?” Up to this point, I had built a career in office administration, communication, and operations in higher education. I was on track for advanced positions but wanted a change of pace. I left GW in September 2021, with the hopes of finding a role that would allow me to combine my office experience with my goal of executive coaching in a different business model. My job search led me to U3.
Right away, I had great conversations with Jaime [Flaherty, Managing Director and CFO] about how my skills and interests could benefit U3 in a period of growth. Subsequent interviews cemented my intuition that U3 is a right fit for me at this time in my life. Leaving higher education and a team who I had worked with for six years was a big transition but my wonderful colleagues at U3 welcomed me into the fold with respect, trust, and limitless opportunity.
How does your previous work in higher education relate to your work at U3?
I started working in higher education because I wanted to support students in a crucial stage of their life development. I really wanted to support non-traditional adult learners like me. What I discovered along the way is that coaching students, peers, and executives to achieve success in the workplace comes naturally to me and is a great passion. I’ve worked for large and small teams supporting numerous executives directly. My duties have included everything from scheduling to international travel planning, to planning large events and commencements, to crisis management, all with a through line of strategic thinking and risk assessment. Working in different settings throughout my career gave me tools that are complementary to the operations of U3, which makes every day in my role collaborative and rewarding.
Along the way of establishing my career, I was getting my undergrad and Masters’ degrees. I realized that my specific niche is being the person in the room that an executive can confide in safely: he or she can talk about strategy, long-term planning, et cetera, and I can filter back to them and say, “This is what’s going on with the team. This is what’s going on with the organization. This is what I see externally.” I am the red team, confidant, and executor of visions. At U3, I am unique on my team because I am not currently supporting clients; I am supporting the company by improving the systems and processes and helping to preserve our incredible culture.
How do you describe U3 to people who may not be familiar with the company?
Very simply, U3 Advisors is a firm that really digs in deep to meet client’s identified needs to make organizations and communities better. We fill the gap between what’s great for a community, what could potentially benefit all stakeholders, the mission of the organization that hires us, the leadership, and the political landscape — U3 fills that third “U space” between urban and university. Our advisors accomplish this by bringing together data, innovation, strategy, and heart, which is unique among consultancies. It’s delightful to have a front row seat to the way my colleagues work. I truly believe that I work with the best and brightest.
I think that sometimes it’s hard for clients or people we’ve met through the years to understand the breadth of our capabilities, expertise, and portfolio. This is what makes the story of our practice areas so compelling. U3 truly cares about communities and the impact of our work, but is also so data driven. I’m consistently impressed with the way my colleagues see and interpret quantitative and qualitative data into storytelling that drives change. When combined with our artistic and design aesthetics, there’s just this way of thinking in the firm that allows for limitless possibilities and opportunities.
To that point, how would you describe the culture at U3? The firm is growing; what does orientation look like for new employees?
Every day, I get to do work that enhances a great culture for a company that already has a high-performing, high-achieving team. I used to write college papers about this topic! When I talk to new employees, I say to them, “It took me my whole career to get to this place, and you can do it right out of undergrad. How incredible is that?” [laughs]
We are enriching our training module this year. Orientation is a two-week training period where we bring new advisors to our home office in Philadelphia for individual training with each member of the team for a deep dive into our methods and approach. Using our own case studies and other training tools. Training will focus heavily on our six practice areas and research. After the initial two-week training period, on the job training will begin. Every project and client engagement are an opportunity for our advisors to learn, grow, and hone their individual skill sets. What U3 does exceptionally well is provide training along the way.
U3 Advisors is a great case study for culture. Our leadership brings the same heart to our internal culture as they bring to client engagements. Continuing this legacy is the best part of my role as Chief of Staff.