Paul Jacobson | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Paul Jacobson

Background:  

Delta Air Lines flies passengers to more than 300 destinations around the world. Its headquarters and largest hub are at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. 

The Mistake:

When I was 7 years old, my dream was to become an airline pilot. That’s all I ever wanted to do. I took pilot ground school classes as a teenager and went to college to become a pilot. I read about what pilots do; they get into the ROTC programs and study engineering. So I enrolled in engineering at Auburn University — and in Air Force ROTC — and had lots of successes early on, with the exception of engineering. I was always really good at math and was pretty good at physics, too, but you have to take calculus-based physics in engineering. So I switched my major to aviation management.

My sophomore year, I had the aptitude test, the leadership, the grades and physical fitness tests — all lining me up for a coveted pilot slot in the Air Force. But I self-reported that I had asthma until I was 14. And even though I had outgrown it and never required medical treatment, I was medically disqualified. I didn’t have the financial wherewithal to put myself through private flight training to become a commercial pilot, and it really shattered that dream.

When I was 7 years old, my dream was to become an airline pilot.

The Lesson:

I learned at that point why you never put all of your eggs into one basket. It wasn’t meant to be. I still had a passion for the airline industry so I went back to business school. I showed up at Vanderbilt with a single purpose, and that was to get a job in the airline industry. For two years, I did well in school and interviewed with every airline, and I got rejection letters from all of them. Just when I thought that this really wasn’t going to happen, I was introduced to a Vanderbilt alumnus who was working in finance at Delta. I’m a pretty spiritual guy, and I believe that it was one of those things that was meant to be. Everything lined up perfectly; I was hired at Delta as an analyst out of business school. I’m a firm believer that if you’re passionate about what you do, things are going to work out.

Follow Delta on Twitter at @Delta.

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