Jonathan Shar, MBA '95: Transforming the Student Experience as a Business Executive
Jonathan Shar, MBA ‘95, became the president of Barnes & Noble College in the summer of 2021. In this position, he’s revolutionizing the collegiate bookstore experience at universities across the United States.
Barnes & Noble College partners with more than 1,400 colleges, universities, and K-12 institutions. One of Shar’s responsibilities includes overseeing over 800 on-campus bookstores, including for his alma mater, the University of Michigan.
Under his leadership, Barnes & Noble College has significantly improved the student experience in a short time, helping students conveniently purchase required course materials in a cost-effective manner.
“Our mission is to facilitate the student academic journey,” Shar said. “For a college bookstore to remain relevant, it has to do much more than offer great products and services. It needs to provide a frictionless experience for students and guests – both online and in-store. There has been some innovation in this space, but we have recently introduced a new strategy and approach that makes it easier for students, directly supports their academic success, and creates must-visit destinations on campus and online.”
Shar has held various positions at Barnes & Noble College where he’s been making a positive impact in an industry he’s cherished since childhood.
Path to Michigan Ross
Shar grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, where his father was a math professor at the University of New Hampshire and his mother worked at the university counseling center. As a result, he grew up with a life-long admiration for higher education.
After graduating with an undergraduate degree in economics from Tufts University, Shar spent a few years at KPMG as an analyst, providing systems and operations support for company offices around the country. He enjoyed the work, but Shar had been contemplating business school since he was an undergrad and realized that it was a path he wanted to pursue.
Shar researched MBA programs and soon found that the Ross School of Business was an ideal match for him.
“I applied to other MBA programs, including schools that had great reputations especially in the finance track where many graduates end up working in banking,” Shar said. “Michigan took a more holistic approach at the time. There was a focus on general management, but all the key disciplines were an important part of the core curriculum. The other thing that I really liked was the MAP program, which was a really exciting innovation in business school education.”
Success in media and higher education
At Ross, Shar took an interest in media and joined the student-run Monroe Street Journal as a sportswriter and advertising salesperson. The perspective he gained from that role gave him a leg up in his summer internship with Time Inc, where he was hired after he wrote a letter to the hiring vice president and interviewed for the position.
Ultimately, his persistence and experience led him to a full-time position with Time in consumer marketing after graduation.
Shar was at Time Inc. for 12 years, followed by a two-year stint at CNN Money as senior vice president and general manager. In 2010, he left to become the general manager of Nook® digital content at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. He saw this career move as an exciting opportunity to work with a product that, at the time, was revolutionizing the e-reader marketplace. This was the beginning of a long and rewarding career at Barnes & Noble.
In 2018, Shar moved on to Barnes & Noble Education (NYSE: BNED) as the senior vice president of revenue and product development.
“BNED had a great business,” Shar said. “It's a strong service-oriented culture, they ran great stores, but higher ed was transitioning, and we needed to make a bigger impact on supporting the digital transformation goals of our schools and customers. It was vital to add more value for our partner institutions.”
Shar quickly began transitioning the company from an operator of stores to a service provider that’s well-positioned to assist partnering institutions in achieving their goals.
Three years later, he had climbed the ranks and was promoted to president of Barnes & Noble College, which is part of the company’s retail reporting segment and go-to-market brand.
Staying connected to Ross
Along with marrying a fellow Michigan Ross graduate (Marla Simmer, BBA ’95), over the years Shar has maintained close connections to fellow alumni and the Michigan Ross community.
Shar is also an alumni in residence at Michigan Ross, which affords him the opportunity to return to campus regularly and host office hours for current students. He enjoys answering questions and sharing his wealth of industry knowledge, as well as practical advice that helped him as a student.
“As a student, even if a specific discipline doesn’t seem of interest, immersing yourself in all the various areas is very impactful,” Shar said. “I'm not a CFO, but as a business operator I still utilize some of the concepts we learned in finance track courses that were requirements at Ross. I do a better job and have more context in my day-to-day job.”
His interest in being helpful goes beyond a desire to engage with students and impart wisdom. Shar views himself as a steward of Ross, ensuring that future generations receive the same opportunities that were afforded to him.
“I feel it's my responsibility to help maintain and build Ross’ legacy, ensuring that it remains one of the best places in the world to get an education in business.”