Charles Jones

In Search of Knowledge, Charles Jones Found Georgia State

Maybe it would be easier to list the subjects Charles Jones isn’t interested in. Jones, who earned his M.B.A. at Georgia State, is an enthusiastic seeker of knowledge on a vast array of topics ranging from the broad (the stock market and the city of Atlanta) to the, well, somewhat more narrow (railroad history and supply-chain management).

And with each of his interests, through every stage of his life, there’s always been a place he could count on for the information he sought: the library.

So it’s not that surprising that when Jones decided to share his resources with Georgia State, he quickly decided on the library as the recipient. His planned gift of $250,000 will be the largest in the library’s history.

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“This is home,” Jones says of Atlanta, and Buckhead in particular. “The whole family goes back to this place since the late 1700s and early 1800s.”

Just as the Jones family history is intertwined with Atlanta, Atlanta’s history is intimately tied to the railroad industry. “That’s why the original name of the town was ‘Terminus’ — It was the end of the line,” Jones points out. “When I was in elementary school, my grandmother lived near the Pershing Point area, and I’d go down to Peachtree Station and see the trains.”

As Jones grew up, he started realizing his interest in railroads could form the basis for a career. It was in a copy of Passenger Train Journal where he found out that the University of Tennessee had a Department of Marketing and Transportation. “And I realized I could go into this area — I could major in transportation logistics and make a career out of it.”

Logistics and supply-chain management, as Jones describes it, is a field that affects the lives of every single consumer in the country — even though many probably never give it a second thought.

“No matter what it is, whether it’s this product or that material, it got here somehow,” he explains. “It used to be that everything we bought would come from businesses fairly close by. Now people are sourcing from all over the world — but that brings with it a certain element of risk.” The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, for example, crippled corporations far removed from the Japanese mainland because they depended on Japanese suppliers for circuit boards, semiconductors and other parts. “But Apple had many semiconductor suppliers, so when those Japanese companies went offline, they still had other suppliers they could fall back on.”

In between school years at Tennessee, Jones would return home to Atlanta. The summer after his freshman year he worked at the Buckhead branch of the Atlanta Public Library. The summer after that, he took classes at Georgia State — an experience that led him to choose the J. Mack Robinson College for business school a few years later.

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Jones’ smile is wide as he rattles off a lengthy list of professors he remembers fondly from Georgia State: Charles Burden. Bruce Seaman. Donald Crane. “Kenneth Bernhardt, I learned a lot from him,” Jones remembers. “Harding Young, who taught business policy — I got a lot out of that class. That was a great class.”

Jones earned his M.B.A. from the Robinson College in 1981 and planned on continuing toward a Ph.D. before getting “sidetracked,” in his words, by taking over the family business. Of course, he didn’t do too badly — Jones says Shasta, his finance and supply-chain management consulting firm, has “grown twenty-fold” since his father started it as a small business years ago.

But he still makes time to pursue outside interests in railroads and historical research. “I’m very interested in some of the trends we’ve seen toward preservation of Atlanta’s business history and rail history,” Jones says. “Business is changing so fast, it’s easy to lose that knowledge. Those old railroad directories I used to look through, when you go through those things now, so many of those companies have been merged away.”

And he still visits the library — not just the public library in Buckhead but also, thanks to the Internet, libraries in Tennessee and at Georgia State. “Now it’s almost as easy for me to use the UT library as it was when I lived there — I just go in through the university website and it’s all digital,” he says.

He hopes that people come to see Georgia State’s library the same way. “This is a fantastic facility,” Jones says, “and my wish is for them to get even more materials, see it expand. This is sort of a public resource that everyone can use through the university, but there are a lot of resources that state budgets don’t provide for.”

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Business is changing, Atlanta is changing — and Georgia State has been changing, too. So far Jones likes what he sees.

“The university has definitely evolved,” he says. “I think it’s been successful in moving away from its ‘night-school’ image. One thing that’s been really good has been the residence halls and actually having students on campus — that’s one of the things that says you’ve matured into the big leagues. The campus master plan is really helping Georgia State rise to a new level of university.”

Jones says his gift is about simultaneously reflecting on the past and heading into the future. “Being the hub of information on campus, the library is really moving everyone toward a digital frontier, and I hope those resources will continue to grow. But I hope they’ll also help make sure our history is preserved.”

And in some small way, he says, he hopes his gift to the library can help the university continue to mirror the entrepreneurship that has come to characterize Atlanta. “Atlanta is such an innovation center right now, and I’d like to see that sparked here as well,” he says. “An urban university like Georgia State, noted for its business curriculum, it’s a great domicile for that kind of focus. . . . I’m hoping that this will inspire others to devote more resources to enriching research, scholarly pursuits and innovation.”

His own scholarly pursuits sound like they might not be over, either. “After I earned my M.B.A., I wanted to take some more classes, I still wanted a Ph.D. I kind of looked at the Executive Doctorate in Business program for a while.” His face breaks into a grin. “I haven’t quite finished looking.”