The M. Keith Weikel Leadership Speaker Series presented Jake Wood, co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon, on February 4th. Wood discussed his past as an athlete, Business Badger, and Marine during the presentation. He was born and raised in the Midwest but also had the chance to live in Austria at a young age, which helped shape his global perspective. Though an hour seemed like a small amount of time to discuss all of his experience, the information and stories shared will definitely stick with me.
Wood recalled a time while living abroad when his parents had taken him to a Nazi concentration camp–a trip he remembered vividly, and which ultimately opened his eyes to the world and made him think how evil some can be. This memory stuck with him after moving back to the United States. Wood always considered joining the military when he grew up, but when his football career advanced and he accepted an athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, his military dream was put on hold. He spent four years on the team and graduated in 2005, enlisting in the Marine Corps shortly after.
In 2007, Wood was deployed to Iraq and discussed his time working in the Triangle of Death, an area south of Baghdad where there were major combat activity and violence. In 2008, after completing Marine Scout-Sniper School, Wood was deployed to Afghanistan. Though the time in combat was challenging and scary, he was able to remember times of humanity and love that were shared between Marines and locals. When he was given the opportunity to leave the Marines, he took it. After being out of the Marines for 60 days, he recalled turning on the tv and seeing the earthquake that devastated Haiti. He knew he had to help.
Wood began reaching out to organizations to see if there were ways he could help, and after many urged him to donate money instead of providing hands-on help, he refuted their advice. He formed a small group to help in the rescue/recovery efforts in Haiti. When it came time to decide upon a name for the effort, the term ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ came to mind. Considering flying to the Dominican Republic and then crossing the border into Haiti, he and his team felt that action as their Rubicon. From there came the name: Team Rubicon.
Team Rubicon is now a nationwide non-profit that provides military veterans with an opportunity to continue their service by responding to global crises and natural disasters. What began with eight members has grown to 120,000 volunteers. They have since aided in 650 operations. In dealing with difficult situations and learning from strong leaders in the military, Wood has been able to continue growing Team Rubicon, and in 2018 he received the Pat Tillman Award for Service.
One word of advice that Wood mentioned before answering some questions from attendees was, “if you don’t know what the problem is, you have to get up and stick your nose in.” To be a successful leader, you must be willing to dig in when things are going wrong and commit to finding the root of the problem. I thought this was great advice for future business leaders. Being proactive and taking the time to talk to people within an organization can have tremendous impacts and you may learn something you didn’t know.
Wood finished by highlighting how incredible the Badger network and fan base is. He mentioned that whenever he wears a Wisconsin shirt, someone will always notice and begin a conversation. It is true that Wisconsin Badgers are everywhere and our network is one of the strongest!
Thank you so much, Jake, for your time and for your continued service.