Professor of Marketing Jacquelyn (Jakki) Thomas’ foundation in mathematics comes in handy in her unusually quantitative approach to marketing research. Historically, the space has explored behavioral insights but struggled to quantify efforts such as DEI initiatives, a key focus for Thomas. Thomas is out to change that.
The impact of her research is clear from her more than 7,000 citations noted in Google Scholar. Her impact at SMU Cox School of Business, where she has recently been promoted to full professor and is a Frank and Susan Dunlevy Endowed Faculty Research Fellow, goes even further.
As a Cox School professor and the vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) for INFORMS Society for Marketing Science, Thomas pursues two passions: empowering students and furthering DEI through quantitative research. This spring, Thomas will bring a DEI conference to SMU Cox through a partnership with top marketing journal “Marketing Science” — an effort that could bring global recognition to the business school and, she hopes, further the conversation around DEI.
Get to know more about Professor Thomas, how she fosters important conversations about diversity at the institution and how her research is making a real-world impact.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. What excites you most about your areas of research?
A. Corporate social responsibility and DEI, and how these areas are really impacting companies and their actions. I’m at a place in my life and my career, where, to me, it’s not about just publishing the next paper but how can I actually make an impact. I can see myself being able to do that from a research perspective.
Q. What’s something about your area of research that you’d want your colleagues or students to know?
A. Things don’t have to be perfect to provide insights. This is my philosophy on both research and teaching. To excel in the business world, you need analytical and quantitative skills — but you can’t just have that. Those who rise to the top are going to have judgment; they’re going to be able to explain the story and what it means.
I think, as a field, we become infatuated with the perfect model, with the perfect scenario, and that just doesn’t exist. We make things so complicated, when the insight — the thing that is actually going to drive the business — is sitting right before us.
Q. What has been one of your most memorable moments during your time at the Cox School?
A. One moment I really enjoyed was sitting on the committee to select students to be named SMU President’s Scholars, the University’s highest merit-based scholarship. I feel like, in those roles, you have an opportunity to really change somebody’s life — to really give somebody an opportunity who maybe wouldn’t otherwise have it. Those are the things that are important to me. But there are lots of small moments as well — personal interactions I’ve had with students in the classroom, times students have opened up to me or when I feel like I’ve had an impact on underrepresented minority students.
That has been really important to me. These interactions are meaningful because I feel like I connected to some of the students beyond the classroom. When I can talk to people on that level, it means a lot to me.
“Diverse perspectives are really important in our education. The more we can introduce them into our Cox world, the better prepared our students will be.”
Q. So, you have been a champion for nurturing conversations about diversity inside the classroom and out.
A. SMU has, from a student perspective, a fair amount of affluence that some are less accustomed to being around. When I was teaching undergraduates several years ago, we were talking about luxury products. All the students were saying one thing, and there was a young man in the back of the class who wasn’t typically very vocal, but he became vocal that day, and that made me really proud. He spoke from a different lens than the other students had thought about, and I encouraged that, because I think diverse perspectives are really important in our education. The more we can introduce it into our Cox world, the better prepared our students of all levels will be, because that’s what the business world really is today.
Q. How does the DEI conference you’re spearheading tie into your goals?
A. I’m really excited about this. I’m facilitating a first-time partnership with “Marketing Science,” a top journal in marketing, to publish a special issue or section on DEI. On March 24-25, we will host a conference to which people interested in being in the journal will submit papers and come to SMU Cox to present. It will be a nice interchange of ideas. This initiative serves so many purposes. Perhaps most significantly, it’s moving the DEI conversation beyond awareness to research, and that’s a necessary and important step. Historically, in marketing science, it’s been hard to publish things related to DEI. Prior marketing conference discussions around DEI tend to stick to raising awareness and bringing to light various issues. The goal of this conference is really to go further and quantify the impact of DEI and help enact change.
Q. What do you enjoy doing with your time outside the classroom?
A. No. 1 is I have four dogs, and that’s a dumb thing to do. But I love my dogs and I enjoy walking with them. Sometimes I see Dean Matthew Myers when we’re out walking. One thing people probably don’t know is that I’m a golfer. I grew up golfing, and my daughter also used to golf competitively. Sometimes, that will be our Sunday activity. I love going to movies and going out. My husband and I have done date nights for the almost 30 years we’ve been married. Truly, first and foremost, I am a family-oriented person; I don’t put work before my family. But my children are getting older now — only one is still at home — which is giving me more freedom to pursue professional interests.
Professor Jacquelyn Thomas is a marketing professor and the Frank and Susan Dunlevy Endowed Faculty Research Fellow at the SMU Cox School of Business. She serves as vice president of DEI for INFORMS Society for Marketing Science.