Tongan-American Stanford alum and Duke MBA candidate, Jon Lautaha | Fail fast and bounce back


Jon Lautaha talks about his experience at Stanford, his professional growth in the Utah tech industry and the importance of embracing failure in order to grow as an individual. In fall 2019, Jon will start grad school, pursuing an MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.


Tell us about your background and high school experience.

I grew up in Laie, Hawaii and attended Kahuku High School in a low socio-economic community. While I was pretty involved in activities and student groups like football, judo, debate, choir, I found a passion for history.

In high school, I went to Washington DC for 3 years in a row to compete at National History Day. I also joined a debate team called “We the People”, where we debated constitutional topics. My history-related extracurricular activities played a big role in my decision to major in History at Stanford.

In high school, did you feel prepared for the college application process?

Honestly, I didn’t know any better. I only applied to BYU and Stanford. The only reason why I applied to Stanford was because there were 4 other kids from my high school who had applied and gotten in. I almost applied out of ignorance. Looking back, I recognize, wow, that was a long shot, and I was super lucky.


Tell us about your college experience at Stanford.

I loved it. Academically, it was hard, but not overwhelming. The most difficult part was learning how to live on my own and manage my time. College really was a time for me to focus on my emotional maturity.

I was nervous though when I first started college classes. Freshman year, I was afraid to speak up, because I didn’t want to sound stupid. It prevented me from actually participating and learning the material my first year. I was too busy being self-conscious. Throughout the years though, I matured and realized - I may not always be the smartest person in the room, but I will always have something to contribute. It’s a learning process to share your ideas and get critiqued.


It can be tough choosing a major. What did you end up majoring in?

It took me some time to figure out my major. When I entered college, I was pretty set on majoring in history, but hearing people question the marketability of my History major made me second-guess myself. I tried Political Science, but realized I didn’t enjoy politics. I then tried Economics, loved the classes, and ended up minoring in Econ, and concentration for my History major became US Economic History.

Tell us about your career in Utah’s tech world.

Once I graduated, I worked at a tech startup in Utah that makes software for sales teams. I was an account manager focusing on customer success. After one year as an analyst, I got promoted to project manager. I am now working at Solution Reach in an internal-facing role, working closely with executives to make our marketing and sales teams more efficient. Over the past few years, I co-founded Utah Polynesian Professionals to help local Polynesians gather, network and learn from each other. Also, this fall, I’m getting ready to pursue my MBA at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

What advice do you have for students preparing for college?

  • It’s okay to fail. I never had a C in my life until I got to Stanford. One of the most valuable things that young people can learn is to be resilient, so fail, fail fast and bounce back from it.

  • Challenge yourself. I knew I could have taken easy classes to get easy As, but that wouldn’t have helped me grow as a person. Challenge yourself to expand your horizons.

  • Look beyond the grades. When I was in high school, I got good at getting As, but I wasn’t good at learning. Sometimes you forget that the whole point of school is to be successful in your dream career and your future. Recognize the importance of the learning process to achieve your goals.