EMBA Student Spotlight: LTC Josh Spear - USAF, Ret., First Officer, Southwest Airlines and Independent Contractor, Draken International

Picture of Josh Spear

Pictured: LTC Josh Spear

Jan. 22, 2020


For more than two decades Josh Spear (Cohort 18) served his country as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, with the call sign “Steam.” He’s been deployed to Afghanistan; kept an eye on Russian activity in the Arctic and trained fellow fighter pilots at various bases throughout the U.S. and internationally including as a participant in Nellis Air Force Base’s Red Flag operation, the service’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise.

In 2011, he launched his flight career into a different trajectory. Retiring from the military as a Lieutenant Colonel, Spear joined Southwest Airlines. Today he is a First Officer based out of the airline’s Las Vegas hub.

Spear continues, however, to use his combat-training expertise as an adversary pilot for Draken International, a provider of tactical fighter aircraft for contract air services including military and defense industry customers.

As Spear progressed through his civilian career, he began to assess his readiness for transitioning into operational management positions in the highly competitive Southwest corporate environment. At-the-ready to face the challenges ahead, he realized that adding an EMBA to his academic achievements would be necessary for opening doors to new opportunities. Spear holds a master’s degree in aeronautical science from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and undergraduate degree in economics from Central Washington University.

“I talked to some former military friends who had completed EMBA programs and saw how everything they learned, from finance and operations to communication styles, could be applied to achieving my career goals,” said Spear.

Spear quickly narrowed his search for an EMBA program to UNLV.  “Regardless of your specialty in the military or civilian career, an EMBA is a good way to round out your skill set and improve your marketability,” Spear explained.  “I also was excited about the cohort experience. In the Air Force, I worked with incredible people. The UNLV EMBA program provides that same bonding experience with talented and high-caliber professionals and faculty.”

Among Spear’s favorite and most immediately useful classes was leadership.  “The military excels in creating leaders because it provides opportunities for leadership much earlier than the corporate world typically allows,” he said. “However, pilots in particular, have a “fraternity-esque” form of communicating. Both the leadership and negotiation courses helped me to reflect on my own leadership style and better communicate with almost anyone.”

As a commercial airline pilot, Spear faces some interesting time-management challenges. Even though his seniority enables Spear to schedule flights around classes, he often finds himself on lay-overs in a hotel room face-timing with study groups.

“I can’t say enough about my fellow cohort members. The UNLV EMBA program does a great job of creating cohorts of people who want to learn and see each other succeed. They are a source of inspiration and a great resource. Some of them have multiple children, had their spouses give birth, or family members pass-away during the program. To some extent, mirroring my military pilot experience, through good times and tough times,  the bond and support only deepened as we spent time together in and out of the classroom.”

Spear added that the GI Bill helped to make it financially possible to attend the UNLV EMBA program. “Keeping up with all the Veteran’s Administration paperwork required is difficult, but Nikki Liesse, EMBA Executive Director, and Carissa Marquez, EMBA Program Manager, have been great in making sure all the paperwork is completed and submitted on time.”

Spear’s best advice for anyone considering an EMBA is to get out of your comfort zone and invest as much time as you can building relationships. “Everyone is busy and has a lot going on balancing family, work and the program, but you can learn so much about different industries and individual perspectives on business by just talking and learning from your fellow cohort members.”