Mormon Business Leaders

Religious and educational background contributed to 5 BYU graduates being listed on prestigious Thinkers50.

In 2007, Dave Ulrich, a well-known business management professional, was listed on Thinkers50, the world’s renowned ranking of business management thought leaders. He was just above bestselling marketing author Seth Godin, and under former Vice-President Al Gore. Apart from Ulrich, there were two other Brigham Young University (BYU) graduates who made the list. Clayton Christensen is one of them, a Harvard business professor who is known for his introduction of the idea of “disruptive innovation.”

BYU is located in Provo, Utah, and is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its population is 99% Mormon.

The year 2015 showed an even greater achievement for BYU and the LDS church. Deseret News reports: “This year, for the first time, 10 percent of those on the Thinkers50 list are BYU graduates — Christensen at No. 2, Ulrich (27), Liz Wiseman (43), Hal Gregersen (46) and Whitney Johnson (49).”

There is varied speculation on why BYU has produced so many forward-thinking leaders that made it to the prestigious list. The dean of BYU’s business school cites the “Clayton Christensen Effect.” Christensen possesses a degree in economics at BYU and wrote “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” literature that “deeply influenced” the late great Steve Jobs. Two of the LDS members that made the list, Gregersen and Johnson, have done work with Christensen. Jeff Dyer, a BYU business professor, Gregersen and Christensen co-authored The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.

Ulrich comments: "Five LDS people on the list is amazing," he said. "I credit the LDS learning system. BYU, I think, through the missions served by so many of its students, gets that benefit. I don't think the world understands how great missions are for learning. Gospel and theology learning, of course, but also social learning, organizational learning, personal management learning. An 18-month or two-year mission is like five years working at one of the world's best consulting firms."

A famous 2010 Financial Times article by James Crabtree, entitled “The rise of a new generation of Mormons,” explores the phenomenon behind the emergence of Mormons as thought leaders in business, politics and entertainment. Crabtree writes: “Where its most famous acolytes were once the Osmonds, leading lights now include politicians such as US Senate majority leader Harry Reid (a Democrat) and Romney (a Republican); Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight vampire saga; Glenn Beck, the popular conservative talk-show host; and self-help guru Stephen R. Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Crabtree cites the prediction of Rodney Stark, a religious sociologist, that “the LDS will in the latter half of this century become the first new world religion since Islam.” Although the LDS church has had its share of criticism and persecution, its influence is undeniable, its growth consistent and its contribution to politics and business cannot be overlooked.

While acknowledging that making the list are due to “primarily individual achievements,” Lee Perry, dean of BYU’s Marriott School of Management, emphasizes that church experiences do help in honing minds.

"I think the experiences we have in church help us become more sensitive to leadership and organizational issues," Perry said. "I don't think it's just happenstance BYU had one of the earliest and strongest organizational behavior programs. We basically have a laboratory for leadership opportunities in the LDS Church that come with maybe even some additional challenges because it's a volunteer organization."

Ulrich agrees. "I think the LDS culture creates an organizational DNA," he said. "BYU magnifies those early instincts.”

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