Built for Success

Award-winning CEO Wilson Jones gives back to UNT through his namesake career center.
Written by: 
Lisa Sciortino
Photography by: 
Ahna Hubnik
Wilson Jones
Wilson Jones ('85)

Growing up in Denton, Wilson Jones ('85) would sneak into the former Fouts Field to watch his childhood hero, "Mean" Joe Greene, play football for North Texas.

A peewee football player at the time, "I always thought, 'If I'm decent enough in athletics, maybe I'll play at North Texas one day.'"

Years later, it was the North Texas men's golf team that Jones played for as a first-generation student earning his bachelor's in business administration. Back then, he also worked multiple jobs, which included driving school buses for Denton ISD and a back-breaking gig at a local tire store. As the pressures of his work and education mounted, he briefly contemplated dropping out of school.

"I was at my wit's end. I was struggling with some things personally. I was not very proud of who I was," he says.

During those difficult days, Jones could not have fathomed that he would go on to serve as president and CEO of Oshkosh Corporation, a multibillion-dollar manufacturer of military and other tactical vehicles. Nor could he have imagined that a career center within UNT's G. Brint Ryan College of Business would one day bear his name. The Wilson Jones Career Center opened in fall 2023, established through a $5 million gift presented the previous year by Jones and his wife, Jane.

Attending the center's dedication ceremony last year, Jones said, "To get to the point where we can give back from the great blessings we've had is special, especially to give back to students who are kind of in the same boat that I was back then -- first-generation, struggling and working their way through college."

Jones admits he wasn't a great student at North Texas and struggled in some classes, including a business course taught in the evenings by Dr. Charles Bimmerle. Following his work shifts, Jones recalls, "There were some nights when I would just run out of gas." After "bombing" his midterm exams, "I was ready to throw up the white flag and quit."

After class one night, Jones approached Bimmerle to tell him he was dropping out. Instead, the professor "didn't let me talk.

He said something to the effect of, 'You don't see the potential that I see in you. I think there's a lot of things that you're going to do in your career.' At that point, I thought, 'How in the world am I going to tell him that I'm quitting after that?'" Jones recalls.

"I went back to my room, and I looked in the mirror and told myself, 'You're not believing in yourself right now, but there's a guy who is a lot smarter than you, more experienced than you, someone who you look up to, who believes in you. Let's go with him.'"

Jones put his nose to the grindstone, took heavy classloads and implemented a stronger work ethic that carried him through to graduation -- and beyond. He continued driving school buses and at age 24 was promoted to Denton ISD's assistant director of transportation -- a role that helped him later to become national sales manager for school bus manufacturer Blue Bird Corporation. Following a stint with the Federal Signal Corporation, which makes street sweepers and emergency vehicle accessories, in 2005 he joined Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corporation, which he helmed from 2016 through his 2021 retirement.

In 2018, Jones was named a top CEO by job and recruiting website Glassdoor. Three years later, he was honored with the UNT Distinguished Alumni Award and inducted into the G. Brint Ryan College of Business Hall of Fame.

Giving back is a priority for the Jones family. Early on, Jones says he and Jane knew they wanted to continually make a difference in their church and community as well as the lives of others. At UNT, the couple has previously created the merit-based Wilson and Jane Jones Endowment Scholarship, as well as the Wilson and Jane Jones Extra Mile Scholarship that is presented to students who work in support of their education expenses.

Their gift to the G. Brint Ryan College of Business to create the career center is the second-largest donation in the college's history.

The career center provides guided career preparation for the college's 9,500 students. Services available through the center include career exploration, resume development and critiques, workshops, mock interviews and assistance identifying internship opportunities.

Jones says having such a resource available when he was a student would have been a boon to his career, seeing as how he never had a resume of his own prior to starting with Oshkosh Corporation.

"With so many students, I'm sure it's hard for professors to connect with them all. I know how Dr. Bimmerle connected with me. I don't think he knew what I was going through, but somehow, he said the right things to me."

Jones says he hopes the career center "enables students to get a head start and at the same time, get some encouraging words."

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