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Life in Perspective

As a seasoned author with six award-winning books under his belt, Jeff Benedict is still accustomed to having to sell his book ideas, but his boss practically demanded he write The Mormon Way of Doing Business. An offhand comment he made about the prevalence of Mormon CEOs and their prosperity both at the office and in the home quickly turned into a pitch his boss made-unbeknownst to him-up the chain of command for a business book that revealed their secret of success.

Benedict came to HBS on February 1 to participate, along with two of the eight business leaders he interviewed for his book, in a panel called “Leadership and Success through Faith and Family: A Panel of LDS CEOs” convened by the Latter-Day Saints Student Association.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or LDS for short) was founded in the United States in 1830 and has grown rapidly from then on. From 1947 to 2003, membership grew at an annual CAGR of 4.5%, missionaries increased 25-fold, and the number of countries with an official Church presence jumped from 29 to 165. One of the Church’s principal tenets is the eternity of the soul and the perpetuity of familial relationships. Therefore, those members who practice what they preach are renowned for their dedication to their children and spouses. The Church is commonly referred to as the Mormon Church (and its adherents as Mormons) because in addition to the New and Old Testaments, Church canon contains three more Scriptures including the Book of Mormon.

HBS professor and LDS member Clay Christensen moderated the panel that included Jeff Benedict; Jim Quigley, CEO of Deloitte & Touche; and Rodney Hawes (HBS ’69), former CEO of Life Re and benefactor of Hawes Hall. In addition, Bonnie Quigley and Beverly Hawes were on hand to answer questions from their perspectives as the wives of CEOs.

Jeff Benedict boiled down the secret sauce of the LDS CEOs he interviewed down to extremely effective time management. He found that the CFO of American Express, Gary Crittenden, would use his commute to email his son, call his father, and write love letters to his wife. Kim Clark, former dean of HBS, asked to be interviewed during breakfast because that was the only slot he had available in his frenetic schedule, while David Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue, requested that the interview take place in his car. Their time management techniques focused not only on squeezing every second from the day, but also purposefully planning and using their discretionary time. In the words of Kevin Rollins, the former CEO of Dell who took his wife with him on 90% of his business trips, “True character is what you do when you’re alone. What do you do then?” Benedict emphasized that employees who do not blindly focus on work are more productive, quoting Rollins, “It makes me a better man, when I’m not at work.” Probably the most striking example of commitment to family that Benedict provided was that of David Neeleman, who-benefiting from the perks of being an airline CEO, of course-regularly flew back from intense daylong meetings in Florida to attend his nine children’s sports games in Connecticut. Neeleman summed up his ethos with a simple maxim, “It’s good to have dad around.”

“I’m amused by some of life’s paradoxes,” Jim Quigley began. According to him, when new communication technologies such as the BlackBerry were introduced, pundits speculated that businesspeople would become so productive that they would not know what to do with all their newfound leisure time. Instead, he lamented ironically, “These tools make it possible to never stop working!” Quoting the management guru Peter Drucker, he advanced, “A great manager is someone who has no control over their time.” In his experience, maintaining an open door policy has meant that from the drive to work until dinner he is under a constant barrage of questions and meetings. If he were to close the door he might feel more productive, but it would make everyone around him less so. Yet even this philosophy has its limits, “You have to learn how to say NO. N – O.” That means turning off the BlackBerry, zoning off some personal time, and prioritizing family activities; otherwise, “It’s possible to jump on that treadmill and run until you can’t run anymore.” Quigley prefers the term integration over work/life balance: “I don’t like to decide which one is winning.” Key to maintaining emotional and psychological stability, he declared, is upholding this integrative approach, having a supportive spouse, and “allow[ing] yourself to be your own psychologist.” Reflecting back on his thirty-three year career, he reported, “Every child believes I was there at every baseball game. It’s not quite true, but it’s almost true.”

Rodney Hawes delivered an emotionally charged speech sharing the most pivotal experience in his professional career: when he found himself CEO of Life Re upon the tragic death of his predecessor. At that moment, he realized the integral part that each employee in his company played, much like every person in an orchestral production has an ineluctable role, from the first violinist to the piano player’s page turner. He said to himself, “Ready and willing or not, I’m it.” From that point forward, he resolved, “If I can find the best people, I can do this.” And to compensate everyone for their contribution, he ensured that “everyone, including the guy in the mailroom” received a share of the company. The results were spectacular; “People would stop me in the hall and tell me how to save a hundred dollars.” The lesson in this, according to Hawes, is to just treat people right, “That’s the only question we ever have: is it the right thing to do?” Indeed, Hawes advocated what he calls the Saint Peter Principle, the adage that everyone must accept the consequences of their actions in the afterlife, adding, “When you leave this life all you take with you is who you are.”

In the Q&A period, Hawes reiterated his stance on honesty and fair dealing, “Never compromise your integrity. You can blow [your reputation] in a minute.” Asked what he had learned about leadership from his wife, Quigley responded that she taught him about the importance of empathy, communicating effectively, and listening carefully. In the end, the question that provoked the most debate was directed toward the speakers’ wives, “Is it possible to have it all?” Speaking to the women in the audience, Bonnie Quigley told them not to forget, “You have the most important job.” In her view, the responsibilities-and rewards-of being CEO pale in comparison to those of being a mother.

February 20, 2007
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