Junior Achievement Special Section
Junior Achievement Special Section
Showing Up and Working Hard
Aaron Schutt on education, business, and the next generation

how up on time and work hard with a good attitude,” is the advice that has guided Aaron Schutt from his first job at Fast Eddie’s Restaurant in Tok through his career path to today as president and CEO of Doyon.

“I’ve changed career paths and education paths so many times. Through all of that it’s about knowing you can be successful if you work hard and spend the time to find people to help you,” says Schutt.

Family and mentors play a huge role in Schutt’s life and career. From the time he was a young man working at Fast Eddie’s through university and the various iterations of his career, having positive role models helped Schutt navigate life. Starting with his parents, who were both teachers.

“The biggest thing that influenced my life was that focus on education and the importance of it,” Schutt says. After excelling in high school, Schutt headed to college feeling nervous but ready.

“When my [twin] brother and I decided to go to university Outside, it helped that I had someone to go with. The culture shock of going from about eighteen kids in your class to a university of 25,000 undergraduates is a huge deal and it’s hard to do. But I had someone with me who was the same age on a similar path,“ he says.

Then he met a college advisor who would both shake him and serve as a life-long motivator.

“I remember my first year, I’d done really well in high school, a rural school, and I get to this big public university and my advisor says, ‘Yeah you’ll probably fail out. Your [high school] grades don’t matter here.’ It was really a negative message,” Schutt says. “It was one of those really motivating points for me. Even though it was negative, I carried that with me for many years. Including now, don’t underestimate people.”

Schutt graduated with honors from Washington State University with a bachelor’s of science in civil engineering. But his educational path wasn’t quite done yet, so he moved further south to attend Stanford University, where he obtained his master’s in civil engineering.

“I avoided business as a profession for a long time. I was trained as an engineer and then I made the switch to law and was very into that. [Business] became an opportunity for me mid-career,” he says.

After attending Stanford, Schutt decided to attend [Stanford] law school on a whim. “My brother had gone to law school about a year before I graduated and suggested I do the same… My advisor was saying, ‘You’re going to stay for your PhD right?’”

So Schutt settled in the matter in the most rational way possible: he flipped a coin. “It worked out for me,” he laughs.

Over the course of nine years, Schutt obtained three degrees before moving back to Alaska to embark on his career as an attorney working in private practice.

Schutt’s career path took an unexpected turn when then-President and CEO Orie Williams asked him to join Doyon. “I gave him what I thought was a very clever answer. I said, if you can convince Marissa [Schutt’s wife] that it’s a good idea for me to come work for Doyon, then I’ll do it. And I thought there was no way that would ever happen.” Schutt was proven wrong.

“She came home and said, I think you should consider going to work for Doyon. I just about fell out of my chair,” he laughs.

Schutt joined Doyon in 2006 and was named president and CEO in 2011 after serving in various upper management roles. And though he never really saw himself working in corporate life, he feels at home at Doyon.

“Doyon’s commitment to honesty and integrity is one of the reasons I chose to come here and one of the reasons I’ve stayed so long,” he says. “Where I grew up, your word was everything. It’s great to work and live around people who share that principle.”

His advice to kids today is to find good mentors to help along the way. “There are lots of great people out there. Mentors have been a huge part of my success,” he says, noting that there have been so many people who have influenced his life in a positive way that naming just one is impossible.

Other advice? “Put down those devices. Read books and talk to people.”

Schutt says the best way for the business community to support the next generation is to offer themselves as mentors and teachers.

“Spend time with them in these various programs [such as Junior Achievement]. Offer them the opportunity to see what everyday life looks like so they can make good choices about training and further education after high school and what might fit best with their interests and personalities,” Schutt says. “And teach them life skills. We have an obligation to make sure our kids can be successful, not just read and write and do basic math but how to apply all of that to everyday life.”

As for his life and legacy, Schutt says there is no one thing he’s most proud of in his long and esteemed career. “I try not to focus on the past. It’s always what’s in front of me. What makes me happy at work is when I see the people around me and our organization succeed,” he says. “At the end of the day, all I really care about is that my wife and my kids love me and that I’m able to come to work everyday and enjoy what I do. And I’ve been fortunate to have all of those things.”

Looking forward, Schutt says he sees a bright future for Alaska’s next generation.

“I’m a huge believer in our state. I grew up here, I’ve chosen to have my professional life here. [Alaskans] have a strong can-do attitude and we have to be tough… and to thrive and succeed and see these Alaska-based companies displacing large global competitors gives me hope. We have such abundant resources here, heritage, and great people. There’s nothing we can’t do as Alaskans.”