2023 Best & Brightest Business Major: Jiaying “JaJa” Tong, USC (Marshall)

Jiaying “JaJa” Tong

University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business and Leventhal School of Accounting

“Full-time financial statement enthusiast, part-time music producer, and amateur badminton player.”

Fun fact about yourself: I produce and release pop music with my identical twin Jo, in a band called Goldlove.

Hometown: Greenville, South Carolina

High School: Riverside High School

Major:  Accounting

Minor:  Music Production, Music Industry, Screenwriting

Favorite Business Course: Entertainment Entrepreneurship was my favorite business course at Marshall. Taught by film producer Michael Napoliello, who worked on Jumanji and The Last Samurai, this course explored what it takes to start a venture in the entertainment industry, with the help of renowned film professionals. Students heard from film entrepreneurs weekly and used the skills learned to pitch an original entertainment startup idea to working film executives. From this course, I took away the necessary steps to build an entertainment startup, which I applied to my record label, J&J Records LLC.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, Leadership Roles

  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) – President – providing pro bono tax preparation services to low-income members of the LA community
  • Beta Alpha Psi (BAP) – Vice President of Community Service, Director of Community Service, Student Advisor – Accounting/Finance Honors Society
  • The Free Artists Matchmakers (The FAM) – President – Music Industry Club
  • Songwriters’ Forum – Founder & President – Songwriting Club
  • KXSC Radio – Accounting Manager & DJ – USC’s student-run radio station
  • Residential Assistant
  • Marshall Student Ambassador
  • Leventhal Accounting Cohort Peer Mentoring Program – Mentor
  • Trojan Scholars Society Peer Mentorship Program – Mentor
  • USC Badminton Club
  • 840 West – Business Affairs team – USC’s student-run record label
  • Student Symphony Orchestra – Clarinetist
  • Women in Music
  • USC Presidential Scholar
  • Dean’s List (2019-2023)

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • Deloitte (Los Angeles) – Audit & Assurance Intern
  • KPMG Rise Leadership Institute (Los Angeles) – Leadership Scholar
  • White Mountain Agency (Los Angeles) – Marketing Intern
  • Clyde AI (New York) – Financial Analyst
  • Audtra (New York) – Business Development Intern
  • J&J Records LLC (Los Angeles) – Co-founder

Where will you be working after graduation? After graduation, I will be working in Los Angeles as an Audit & Assurance Assistant at Deloitte.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? My advice for an aspiring business student would be to keep an open mind and embrace new experiences with courage. There are so many different fields within business that picking one can be overwhelming, as I felt in high school. Fortunately, I thoroughly enjoyed a senior-year accounting class that guided me toward the accounting major. Entering Marshall as a freshman with accounting in mind, I learned the value of trying out other fields like marketing and management. Through exploration in my Marshall core classes, I discovered that fields within business are more linked than I thought—I used the data analysis skills from Business Statistics in my brand marketing project, and the accounting strategies from Managerial Accounting to optimize business operations. Keeping an open mind and combining all facets of business has prepared me even more for my chosen career path.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? It’s a relationships business: During my first semester at USC, I was terrified to approach business professionals. Although very outgoing among my peers, I struggled to muster the courage to talk to managers, partners, and other business executives at events. However, as I began to recruit for internships, I discovered the importance of speaking with these potential mentors, fostering connections, and learning as much from them as I could. I realized that, although they were much further in their careers, these professionals had once been in my shoes and knew what it felt like. Swallowing my initial fear, I pushed myself to talk to senior managers and CFOs. I eventually obtained a Big Four internship, as well as mentors who never hesitate to share invaluable advice when I need it. Four years ago, I never expected to graduate with such a vast network of experienced professionals, but am ever-grateful that I am.

Looking back over your experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently in business school and why? In business school, one thing I would do differently is to join business organizations outside of accounting. Unlike most, I entered USC directly as an accounting major, declaring my concentration from day one. I focused on becoming extremely involved in our accounting school Leventhal, holding leadership positions in the tax volunteer organization VITA and the accounting/finance honors society BAP. However, if I could go back, I would take my first few semesters to get to know other aspects of business and the students within them. I would join the consulting, finance, and entrepreneurship clubs at Marshall to learn the basics of each and gain a more holistic perspective of business. All the business fields are closely intertwined, so I would love to broaden my understanding and networks in areas beyond just accounting.

What business leader do you admire most? I really admire Susan Li, who became CFO of Meta (Facebook) at age 36. Starting high school at 11 and entering the Morgan Stanley trading floor at 19, Li is deeply ambitious and not afraid to stick out a little. The childhood stories she recounts show how Li embraces her idiosyncrasies, from being one of the only immigrants at her school to wearing purple jeans instead of blue. As a financial executive, Li used her out-of-the-box mindset to build revenue models for Facebook’s business structure, something especially challenging since its online format had no prior precedent. Reading about Li has helped me view my quirks as strengths and incorporate them into my leadership style and business work ethic.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? My proudest achievement is founding the songwriting club at USC—Songwriters’ Forum—and helping 100+ students release 54 original songs through my record label J&J Records LLC. Besides business, music has always been a passion of mine, so after noticing a lack of clubs focused on making music, I decided to start my own. Now into our seventh semester, Songwriters’ Forum is a community where students collaborate on original music, participate in workshops, and foster relationships through social events. This club allowed me to make dreams come true and build a platform for students to celebrate their shared passion for music. I watched as engineering and business students found belonging within a community of artists. I beamed as freshmen recorded their first songs, performed them in concert, and listened to them with wide eyes on release day. As I prepare to graduate, I am grateful to know that something I built will continue to shape the college journeys of so many more, as it has mine.

Which classmate do you most admire? Hannah Schoettmer, my fellow Resident Assistant and film student, is someone I admire endlessly. Although not a business student, Hannah possesses all the qualities of a successful businesswoman: diligence, passion, and perseverance. Born to write, Hannah spends every waking moment working toward this dream. Last fall, she published her own poetry chapbook, Body Panopticon (I can attest, it’s fantastic), wrote the libretto for an opera (about robots!), and sound-designed a student film. Hannah is one of the most hardworking people I know—spending every weekend on a film set or casually flying out of town to meet with her composer—diligently crafting every detail until her projects are perfect. I have never met anyone as focused or dedicated to her work as Hannah, and she inspires me to be a better version of myself so that one day, I might come close.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I want to thank my twin sister, Jo, for my success. From academics to extracurriculars, she has been my greatest competitor and biggest cheerleader. When we were five, Jo’s lopsided training wheels caused her to accidentally learn to ride her bike without them. Fueled by admiration and—of course—jealousy, I suffered scrapes all summer until I matched her skill. Out of this intense sisterly competition emerged my biggest cheerleader. Jo always keeps me at the forefront of her mind, never hesitating to jump on a call at 3 am EST to help me with a finance question. Although we now live on opposite coasts (NY and LA), our desire to reach higher limits has not wavered. It is this paradox of love and war that pushes me to be the best person I can be.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

1. Start a company that helps artists find more ways to monetize their music.

2. Utilize my bilingual abilities to work on international business in Asia for one to three years.

What are your hobbies? In my free time, I am usually sitting in my bedroom studio, writing a new song on my guitar. I love anything related to music, whether that be learning a new piano piece, recording a friend’s vocals, or scoring a student film. Aside from making music, I enjoy watching Broadway shows, cheering on the US Women’s National Soccer Team, exploring new restaurants in LA, and playing a casual yet competitive game of badminton with my friends.

What made Jaja such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Jaja Tong is an exceptional student who has earned a 3.97 cumulative GPA. Jaja’s interest in business and passion for music brought her to USC and the Leventhal School of Accounting. Jaja is majoring in Accounting and completing three minors in music industry, screen writing, and music production. As you read this nomination, you will notice a consistent theme, and that is Jaja’s innate ability to bring people together. In talking with Accounting students who were forced online due to COVID, JaJa’s name is consistently mentioned as being responsible for keeping the cohort connected and developing a sense of community.

One of Jaja’s accomplishments includes founding a music business that has recorded, released, and marketed six albums during her time at USC. Jaja’s love for music began in South Carolina where she taught herself music production after being unable to find a local teacher. In her first semester at USC, she attended the involvement fair and could not find any music creation student organizations. Therefore, in the fall of 2019, she started USC’s only songwriting club, Songwriting Forum, with the goal of releasing an album every semester managed through her record company, J&J Records LLC. Now into their seventh semester, Songwriters’ Forum has published six albums and held two concerts per semester. Jaja’s Marshall and Leventhal courses around royalty accounting and wealth management helped her correctly budget and track member royalties. Songwriters’ Forum has allowed her to build a platform for students of all majors to collaborate on their shared passion for music. She created opportunities for students to release music onto Spotify, form cohesive marketing plans for their own songs, and perform in front of live audiences – things that some had only dreamt of doing.

Jaja was also the USC Leventhal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) president where she led 74 volunteers through the 2022 tax season to provide $672,000 in tax refunds to 642 low-income household. Unpredictable virtual working environments and large numbers of inexperienced volunteers made the 2022 tax season especially difficult. However, her resilient and optimistic leadership team overcame every challenge, ultimately contributing to one of the organizations most successful seasons.  Furthermore, the 2022 tax season had record growth in volunteer numbers, reaching 74 active volunteers and 23 board members (from under ten in 2020). Through VITA, Jaja helped others and built a community of Marshall and Leventhal students who will continue this legacy.

Throughout her time at USC, Jaja also mentored 20+ freshman through her participation in the USC Leventhal accounting cohort (LAC). As a small-town freshman who moved 3,000 miles to a new city, she joined the LAC where she connected with exceptional upperclassman mentors. This experience had such a positive and profound impact, that starting in her sophomore year, she vowed to provide the same guidance to new students. She joined as a mentor in Leventhal’s LAC, Trojan Scholars Society’s mentorship program, Beta Alpha Psi’s Big/Little program, and even became a Marshall Student Ambassador and First-Year Residential Assistant as a resource for prospective, new, and continuing Marshall students. Through these programs, she has aided over 20 direct mentees in adjusting to college, landing internships, deciding on Marshall concentrations, and more. Now a senior, she is proud to watch her mentees grow and take on leadership positions in Marshall student organizations and excel in their respective fields.

After graduation, Jaja will be joining Deloitte’s Audit practice with the goal of making an impact on the music industry through accounting for the entertainment business.”

Arthur Alba
Director of Leventhal Undergraduate Advising


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