John Sibley Butler was born on July 19, 1947, in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Thojest and Johnnie Mae Butler. While attending the Washington Parish schools, Butler was in the honor society and played the trombone in the school band; he also was active in Little League baseball and the Boy Scouts.
Butler served in Vietnam in the 1960s. In 1969, he earned his B.A. degree from Louisiana State University. Continuing his education at Northwestern University as a Fellow of Social Change, Butler received his Ph.D. in sociology in 1974. After receiving his degrees, Butler taught M.B.A. programs in Mexico and Japan. Butler was the founding editor of the National Journal of Sociology, which he edited for 15 years. In 1988, the University of California at Berkeley sought Butler for a think tank on Testing and American Organizations.
Butler authored several books, published numerous journal articles, and was recognized with several awards. Butler was also one of the distinguished professors selected for the election committee advisory board for then Texas governor George W. Bush in 2000.
Butler became the chair of the Department of Management in the Graduate School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin in 1999; in 2002, he became the Director of the IC2 Institute where he also held the Herb Kelleher Chair for Entrepreneurship and Business and was the Sam Barshop Research Fellow. Butler served on the board of directors for Morehouse Research Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Langston University National Institute for the Study of Minority Enterprise. In 2006, Butler was appointed by President Bush to the J. William Fulbright Scholarship Board; he was reappointed in 2007.