Meet The Michigan Ross MBA Class Of 2021

TJ Banks

Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

“Engineer changing the way we view sports.”       

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Fun Fact About Yourself: I married three months ago, and recently drove from Atlanta to Ann Arbor with my wife, dog, and cat (yup, you read that right).

Undergraduate School and Major: Georgia Tech: Civil Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: S.G. Contracting Inc., Engineering Consultant

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Two moments: Creating a strategic plan for crisis aversion for the city of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management and co-founding an e-sports management company and landing the 2018 top-ranked player in Fortnite.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Support and accountability. I expressed my goal of becoming an NBA general manager and creating a pipeline for people of color within the highest ranks of sports management. I mentioned the internal struggle I had with wanting to truly make a difference and following the money with a “herd mentality” with MBA recruiting. My classmates embraced me with love and support, helping me to focus on the end goal and make conscious steps toward that path.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? MAP. I can’t wait to dive into a new industry and provide first-hand insights to optimize business performance. This opportunity to learn through experience is unrivaled at any other program! It’s basically an internship prior to my summer internship. It’s an opportunity to work in a different industry, without the pressure of recruiting for full-time employment. MAP provides an opportunity to travel, both domestically and abroad. It gives insight into industries that, unless you recruit for explicitly, you would have no opportunity to explore.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am looking forward to the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurship. I recently co-founded an e-sports management company with my mentor and we’re looking to scale it as the future of e-sports continues to expand. We currently manage the top player in Fortnite. I would like to partner with the NCAA and professional sports leagues as the modern-day athlete is redefined. I hope to scale this into a full-time opportunity.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? Why do you need an MBA to enter the sports industry?

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I felt a lack of passion for the work I was doing in engineering. I couldn’t connect with the people I hoped to inspire back home. Ultimately, I wasn’t enjoying what I did on a daily basis and need a change. I felt an MBA could provide an opportunity to switch my career and propel me forward into my industry of choice.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford, Kellogg, HBS, Duke, Simon, Emory

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Fit was a big aspect of me choosing Ross. I wanted a community where I could be myself and still feel “at home.” Ross is somewhere where there are plenty of bright people who are still down-to-earth. Most of what you will learn at business school is universally similar across top programs. What’s different is the teaching styles and the culture of the class. Is your environment more competitive or collegial? For me, I wanted the latter. I also wanted a program with a strong sports brand because that’s the industry I want to enter. For researching culture, aside from reading blogs, I did my best to visit each school at least once (if I couldn’t visit then I would attend a local event).

At these events I looked at the following:

  1. Who attended these events (The crowd they attracted would eventually be my classmates)?
  2. Who represented the school (School’s brand ambassadors)?
  3. How the two interacted (Did the initial relationships seem genuinely cohesive?)?
  4. Could I picture myself on-campus surrounded by these people for two years (in addition to being associated with the brand for life)?

Lastly, I wanted a teaching style that would allow me to learn through experience and no place does that better than Ross’s MAP program. At the end of the day, you have to go somewhere that will make you happy and provide you with the opportunities that are important to you! For me, Ross felt like home!

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are?  When I was a child, my family moved into a new house. Our community looked like several others in the surrounding area. The architect that designed our community had left an impact on my city and influenced my life. This led me to become a civil engineer. As I looked at my work in engineering, I was impactful, but not influential to the next generation. I lacked passion for my day-to-day job and felt it was time for a change. Sports has always been a part of my life, but I didn’t know about the business side until I was an adult. It was simply never made available to me. I wanted a career where I could wake up with excitement for work. I saw that in the sports industry. Basketball has been my escape from the pressures of life for as long as I can remember. Growing up Black in Chicago, we are taught to be the athletes or entertainers, rather than the businesspeople behind the industries. These dynamics are reflected in all professional American sports (NBA, NFL, MLB). The NBA is 75% African American, but only 7% of executive management is Black. This statistic is appalling, yet quite the norm across major sports. My goal is to be the representation for POC to shatter the glass ceiling in sports management!

Where do you see yourself in ten years?  I see myself as an assistant general manager/president of operations of an NBA franchise. This is where I can merge my MBA with my passion for sports. I would still like to work with my startup for e-sports, in more of an advisory role on the board of directors.  Hopefully, I will influence major sports and youth to influence diversity within the business of sports and entertainment.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.