Captain Jesse Sommer, JD/MBA ’11, found the perfect way to utilize his business and law training in the military. “The same principles that inform military work also inform what businesspeople do in commercial enterprise,” Sommer said. “The first thing is to inspire those under your charge. Inspiration is about making every person care about the mission.”
Sommer, who is currently the senior prosecutor at Fort Polk in Louisiana, suggests a leadership style of “stewardship.” Leaders, or “shepherds,” are responsible for giving people agency, protecting them, and letting them use their individual talents to move the group forward. “The shepherd keeps people together and figures out how to make the mission accessible by all,” Sommer told Kogod students during an MBA Leadership Luncheon on Wednesday, November 9.
The luncheon series brings in prominent business leaders to talk with Kogod MBA students, giving them a chance to gain inside knowledge from professionals in the field. During his talk, Sommer outlined his work experience and leadership philosophy, and explained how the JD/MBA program prepared him for success.
Sommer told students that the military wasn’t always his goal. Originally from Albany, NY, Sommer got his undergraduate degree in Government before moving to New York City to work as a talk-radio producer. But after six months in the working-world, he realized that two fields governed every aspect of his professional life, and, in order to be successful, he needed to develop those skills. “I wanted to learn the languages of influence: law and business.”
The JD/MBA program at Kogod was the perfect intersection of both fields. “The D.C. location was ideal, and the faculty was very inviting. It was immediately personal, which drew me in,” Sommer explained. The program offers students the chance to gain in-depth experience in both disciplines by concurrently enrolling in the Kogod School of Business and the Washington College of Law at American University. Because of the unique structure of graduate course work and qualifications, students can earn this dual degree in four years.
During his time at Kogod, Sommer learned from professors whom he says were the greatest attribute of the program. “Kogod has done a great job at stocking this program with dynamic individuals. Erran Carmel’s class called ‘Futuring’ changed my perception of my role in world.” In that course, students were challenged to identify and plan for future business needs with products and technology that do not yet exist. “Carmel challenged us to see our place in a world that will exist tomorrow.”
After graduating, the military seemed like the right next step. Sommer saw how his JD/MBA degree could apply to this new field. “Law is about being effective as an individual, and business is about being effective as a team member. In the military you need to excel at both.”
His military training, combined with his education at Kogod, influenced Sommer’s four-part leadership philosophy of inspiration, delegation, empathy, and ambition. “Figure out a style that enables you to do the most good for the most amount of people,” Sommer advised students. “Help individuals find the best use of their talents to better the group. In business, this means that the needs of an investor cannot come at the expense of the needs of the consumer.”
The leadership skills Sommer learned at Kogod and in the Army will suit him well in any role he takes on. While joining the military is the best decision he’s ever made, Sommer hopes to one day return to Albany and work in elected office.
Sommer urges students to take advantage of all that the JD/MBA program offers. “The principles of Law and business are like tools. Once you know their mechanics, you can meaningfully influence businesses and society as a whole.”
There is no doubt that Sommer’s talk inspired current Kogod students to become shepherds that seek to unify their flock. “People are easier to herd than push; to steer than pull,” Sommer explained. “What's important isn't so much the direction, but that the collective moves together as one. The best thing to do is look for commonalities inherit in your unit and nurture those to effectuate the will of everyone.”