Meet GMAC’s New CEO: Joy Jones’ Big Bet On A New GMAT

GMAC CEO Joy Jones

Joy Jones, the new CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council, led the development of the new GMAT as the former chief of product development

For the past two years, Joy Jones has been laboring over a top-secret project that is only now coming to fruition. As the chief product officer-turned-CEO of the Graduate Management Admission Council, she has a lot riding on the new GMAT exam, the biggest change in business school testing since the GMAT went from a pen-and-pencil exam to a computer-based format in June of 1997.

“I don’t have anything to babysit right now,” she says over lunch near the organization’s offices in Reston, Va. “It is about driving forward with innovation and looking for opportunities. These days the cycle times and expectations are really high. There is a lot to be done, but I am excited about the potential and the challenge.”

The first woman and the first African-American to head GMAC, Jones is no stranger to challenges. She spent years with the Associated Press in New York as the newspaper industry was disrupted by digital innovators. Now, with GMAT test-taking at historic lows and more schools than ever making standardized testing optional, GMAC faces a daunting future. But Jones is optimistic that the new test, more details of which are being released today, will help the non-profit organization win back market share from rival test GRE and convince more schools to add testing requirements for admissions.


The new exam shaves nearly an hour from the time it takes to sit for the GMAT, eliminates entirely the analytical writing section of the test, and significantly reduces the number of questions and time allowed for both the quantitative and verbal reasoning sections. The integrated reasoning section, newly named data insights, is expanded to address the increasing emphasis placed on business analytics in graduate management education.

The changes, says Jones, are meant to boost the GMAT’s relevance and value. “We have been working on this for at least two years,” she says. “We spent a lot of time having conversations with schools and stakeholders to find out what they are looking for from a business school perspective. It is a big move for our organization. It is a chance to be courageous and put it out in the world that GMAC is committed to evolving with the stakeholders we serve.”

In all, admission officials, faculty, program directors and deans at 60 business schools worldwide were interviewed for the project. Nearly 5,400 candidates were either surveyed or participated in focus groups to gain a sense of how test-takers are using the exams and to determine the types of changes that would add the most value. “We used that collective feedback to help shape the test,” adds Jones.


She is careful in noting that standardized testing should only be one factor of many in a school’s decision to admit a candidate. “We see the assessment as part of a holistic admissions process,” she says. “We want to make sure we continue to be the gold standard and the preferred test and we saw an opportunity here.”

For both Jones and GMAC, the stakes are high. The pandemic forced more business schools to go test-optional or to be far more generous in granting test waivers. That change occurred as the Educational Testing Service’s GRE exam continued to gain market share. The proliferation of other graduate management degrees along with online MBA options that do not require applicants to take a standardized test also have deeply cut into the organization’s core product. The result: GMAT test-taking has plunged to historic lows, and the organization she now leads has posted losses of $9.1 million in 2019 and 2020, according to public filings. Program revenue in 2020 fell 33% to $60.4 million, down from $89.8 million in 2019.

At the same time, applications to full-time residential MBA programs in the U.S. are in decline, particularly from domestic candidates. Getting more of them in the pipeline is another objective for the new test. “I would love to see more people coming into the pipeline because they are less daunted by the testing requirements,” adds Jones, who took over CEO duties in October of last year.  “I also hope more people see the test as a way to shine. We want to be that option. I want to reinforce the notion that schools are getting a very good read for student readiness for their programs. I hope we are adding more insight and information on the school side to help them better evaluate their candidates.”


Jones had faced a similar challenge at the Associated Press where she spent 13 and one-half years from 2004 to 2017, a time when the rise of social media wreaked havoc on traditional media outlets that AP long relied upon for business. She rose to become vice president of products before being recruited to GMAC by an executive search firm. Jones, who lived in Montclair, NJ., with her husband and two boys, and commuted to work in New York City, welcomed the change. “I was spending a lot of time on the commute and away from them when I would have liked to be a little closer,” says Jones.

GMAC could not have found a better successor to CEO Sangeet Chowfla who stepped down after a nine-year run. A Stanford MBA who scored over 700 on the GMAT when she was in her early twenties, Jones is not merely a believer in an MBA education. She is a unabashed advocate of the test, having sat for the GMAT on her 21st birthday. “I have been a little early on everything,” she observes.

Jones was admitted to Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1993 without full-time work experience. She enrolled at the age of 22 immediately after graduating magna cum laude from UCLA where she had earned her undergraduate degree in math and applied science. “It was extraordinarily unusual,” acknowledges Jones. “I think there was only one other person in my class who came direct from undergrad and that person had health issues that were degenerative. I was the baby in my class by far which was an interesting experience.”

Her early decision to get an MBA was informed by a chance meeting with MBA interns at Procter & Gamble where she was doing a field internship in marketing as an undergraduate student. “They were doing really interesting work with some interesting tools like Excel and Powerpoint,” she laughs. “I didn’t have access to them but thought that was really interesting.”

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