Alumni Features

Highlights with Leandre Johns ‘02

Last spring Leandre Johns ’02, general manager of Uber Technology for north and west Texas sat down with Dean Thomas DiPiero to share some thoughts about his time at SMU. Below is a selection of the full interview. You can see a video of the highlights here.

Leandre Johns ’02

DiPiero: Did you take Uber to get here? 

Johns: Of course!

DiPiero: How did you decide to attend SMU?

Johns: To me SMU had a lot of things. It had academic prowess. It had a rich athletic history. It had the student body size and classroom size that I really thought I would thrive in—not so big that I wasn’t going to know my fellow students. It was a place that I could also get close to the professors. So all those things culminated into me saying, “This is a place that I know I want to be.” 

I was looking for an ambitious school, a school that hadn’t already arrived. Some of the schools I was looking at were great schools but it was kind of like, “come here and be great with us” as opposed to “come here and help us get to that next level,” and that was SMU. It had a lot of ambition. I had that same kind of drive and so that felt like the right place for me to be. It was a pretty easy decision when I looked across the board at all the things it had to offer.

DiPiero: When you look back on your career as an undergraduate, what are the things that you think were most formative for you?

Johns: Oh wow, you mentioned one of them, alternative spring break. You know, there are so many programs that SMU aligns itself with. I was in Dedman College. That gave me an opportunity to keep a wide lens. A lot of students come in with a broad view of the things they are interested in. Going to Dedman College allowed me to continue to have that broad interest in a lot of the things, and then to drive down and get more narrowly focused as to what I wanted to ultimately have my career go forward with.

DiPiero: What kinds of things led you to the decisions you made?

Johns: On that track, one of the things that I think is great about SMU and coming out of Dedman is that I was pushed. I think I gained a real confidence coming out of SMU. I came out with a sense of confidence that I can do anything because I’d had a lot of success here. At least I felt like it. And I had involved myself in a lot of things.

DiPiero: I’m curious about teaching students about how to fail so that they can turn a failure into something successful, or not be discouraged by failure.

Johns: That’s a fantastic point. I’ve tried to start two businesses and failed—I wouldn’t say I’ve failed; I just stopped. One of the things that we do push is failing fast. Experiment on things that you think will work and sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Along the way you’re going to learn. You’re going to learn what works and you’re going to learn what doesn’t work. You learn how to pivot, as we say in the start-up world, and you iterate on those things. You come back and say, “OK, I’m not going to let this failure keep me down. I’m going to figure out what I did wrong and try to correct it.” Test yourself. Test your mettle. You’re here for four years and make the most of them.