Alumnus leads through innovation and results by disrupting the status quo

Disrupting the status quo

When asked how friends and colleagues would describe him, Jacob Johnson (BSBA ’06) doesn’t skip a beat. “Inquisitive is at the top of that list,” he says, “along with commanding, decisive, logical and systematic. I’m the person who will grab the steering wheel and take over if I’m unsure. I’m a fixer.”

Those traits have served Johnson well as the founder of Tulsa-based Gitwit Creative, a team of innovators who translate ideas into actions that drive results for clients. In the nine years since he and Dan Fisher cofounded the agency, it has grown to 19 employees who manage projects for companies ranging from tech startups to an international manufacturer of power tools.

As an undergraduate, Johnson cultivated his innate curiosity by exploring ideas and taking risks in the class- room. “TU gave me the ability to learn how to look for resources, ask questions, vet something and make good decisions. I could do anything. I could try anything. Smaller class sizes and the intimacy of TU’s campus breed the comfort required to be able to ask a question. That’s the culture we try to create at Gitwit.”

He cites as his most formative class a creative marketing course taught by his future cofounder, Fisher. “It was the first class I took that enabled me to apply creativity not just to an advertising concept, but more upstream in areas like prototyping and testing. I knew within two weeks of starting that class that this was the path my career would take.”

An idea at the center of a paper he wrote in Fisher’s class eventually materialized as Studio Blue, the creative greenhouse in Helmerich Hall on TU’s campus. Johnson proposed a new way of teaching creativity in a collaborative, flexible space that would give students the freedom to explore ideas. Professor Charlie Wood shepherded the project, and the space launched in 2008.

Johnson did some consulting work after graduation and called on Fisher to help pitch a project for Hilti, with exceptional results. “That led to Hilti asking us to do more work, and us saying, ‘Let’s take this seriously.’” The pair founded Gitwit with a mission to offer creative services that extend beyond advertising. “We wanted to be an agency that understands the entire product cycle — advertising is just a small part of what we do.”

From concept to market launch, Gitwit can manage any or all pieces of the process. Johnson describes his team members, who have been directly involved in launching nine ventures during the past five years, as technologists and vora- cious learners. Their appetites for continued learning keep the agency on the forefront of digital advancements and the types of problems those advancements seek to solve.

“So many people go build stuff, but our process is to vet before trying to build,” explains Johnson. “Our job is to ask, What are you trying to do? Why are we here? Why do we need this?’ Asking the right questions sets us apart.”

Johnson’s management philosophy also sets Gitwit apart. Perks like unlimited vacation, no set office hours and paying 100 percent of health benefits allow team members to design the creative lifestyle each seeks. Among them are two who have amassed more than 100,000 Instagram followers, one who created a famous dry rub and one who paints dog portraits. “Most companies are afraid to empower employees’ ‘passion projects’ because they might leave,” he explains. “I want to enable them to fulfill those ventures, and I’ll be the first to invest if they want to pursue something outside of Gitwit.”

Of course, building a successful agency hasn’t come without a few challenges along the way. Johnson recalls that in Gitwit’s early days, his natural reaction was to get frustrated by the little things. “But you start to realize that as you progress in your career, those who make it through each level in the process have dealt with the same challenges. They’re not successful because they didn’t run into challenges, but because they overcame them.” He says that as a leader, his role has shifted to forecasting those issues and paving the way for what’s ahead.

And what’s ahead for Johnson and Gitwit? It all traces back to that fundamental trait he cultivated at TU: an eager question-asking mentality. “The biggest disrupters were asking the most fundamental questions. TU does a good job of preparing students to ask those questions, and the most valuable business leader is someone who maintains an inquisitive nature. In a world full of answers, the best question wins.”

For more information about TU’s marketing program, see the Marketing program page.