Jake Johnston
Jake Johnston
Home Region

Davison, MI

Undergrad Education

United States Military Academy, BS Mechanical Engineering, 2001

Previous Experience

US Army

HBS Activities

Armed Forces Alumni Association, Section I Education Rep

“Don’t make excuses. If you’re the leader, you own it.”

Jake Johnston learned about leadership the hard way, through two tours of duty in Iraq, first as an Air Cavalry Platoon Leader, then as an Air Cavalry Troop Commander. "I guess that's why executive responsibility tends to be a black-and-white issue for me," Jake says. "When someone like Jeff Skilling claims that off-balance sheet entities were okay because his accountants told him so, that doesn't fly with me. In the military, you learn that you don't make excuses. If you're the leader, you own it."

After officer training at West Point, Jake branched into aviation, becoming a reconnaissance officer responsible for twenty-five pilots, ten Kiowa helicopters, and numerous maintenance personnel. "Our primary job was command and control air support for ground movement," Jake explains. "We were the eyes and ears for our units." All told, Jake put in 1,600 flying hours, with 1,100 of those in mission profile or combat hours.

Learning in preparation for teaching

Jake has been assigned to a new role as a teacher of economics at West Point. "The position requires an MBA," Jake says. "And the degree diversifies what I've already done." A self-described "math guy," Jake feels he has engineering covered. "But I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, so there's this business side I'd like to explore." His family has been involved in large-scale construction, importing screws for Zambonis and ice motocross bikes, and elk breeding. "Ultimately, I'd like to be an entrepreneur in a business that serves the greater good, like green construction or sustainable energy."

"HBS has been eye-opening," says Jake. "I often come into class thinking, 'x,' but I hear enough 'y's to challenge my position. You don't usually get a chance to see issues from so many different points of view. The variety of people and interests at HBS exposes you to a truly global perspective."

International community

While based in Germany, Jake met his wife, Olga. They raise their children, Jascha, three years old, and Evelynn, one year old, on campus. "HBS has a fascinating international community," Jake says. "Jascha's best friend is French. And Olga is active in the Partners Club."

For the summer, Jake will participate in the China trek with his classmates, then spend time with his family. He may also pursue research in economics "that I can use when I start teaching at West Point." His appointment commits him to the school for three years. After that, "I'd like to command a Reconnaissance Squadron prior to completing my military experience and before I go into business on my own. What I like about serving my country is what I'd like to do throughout my career — serve the greater good."