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Alumni Spotlight

Making the Assist

Under brilliant lights, Mark Dickson spoke to a crowd hanging on his every word. He wasn’t a politician, like you might expect from a native of the Washington, DC, area. Not an actor or a comedian either. Dickson was a 20-something college student refereeing a BYU Intramural Sports flag football game, and for him, the stakes had never been higher.

Mark Dickson in front of building
Photo by Photography by Bradley Slade

He’d just thrown a penalty flag and come face-to-face with players arguing the call, and he knew he needed to find a way to defuse the situation and resume gameplay. Thinking quickly, Dickson interrupted the protesting players with a simple phrase: “I love you too.”

“It may have been annoying to hear,” Dickson says, “but the players had a hard time getting into a big fight with me after that.” The phrase became his go-to method for handling tense moments and unhappy players.

Little did the accounting student know that his time as a zebra would lead him to develop a skill that has become a key part of his career, volunteer work, and family relationships: the skill of mentoring. “I love you too” has remained Dickson’s motto. As principal accountant and managing director at his accounting and wealth management firms, Dickson cheers on the people around him, managing things from the proverbial sidelines so others can go out and play their best game.

Rookie Years

Before becoming a mentor, Dickson received his fair share of mentoring. Growing up in Arlington, Virginia, as the oldest of seven, Dickson had no family ties to BYU. Other young men and young women in his ward, however, returned home with BYU degrees, which inspired him to apply. “They came back having had great experiences, so from an early age, I had an interest in BYU,” he says.

Once Dickson enrolled at BYU, a former companion from the Switzerland Geneva Mission encouraged him to try accounting. Dickson had an affinity for numbers and as a boy had enjoyed computing the batting averages of the Washington Senators baseball team. “It turned out that accounting was a natural fit,” he says.

Dickson continued to be influenced by his connections on campus, including his business law professor H. Verlan Andersen, who later became a General Authority Seventy. Andersen, consistently clad in a suit and tie, would always incorporate a Book of Mormon verse into his lessons.

“I loved my time at BYU, and I didn’t want to leave,” Dickson recalls. He returned to DC after graduating in 1978, with mounting pressure to land his first job. The game changer came through Doug Banks, a partner at Deloitte who was also Dickson’s former Young Men president. “Doug suggested I consider going to a local accounting firm where he’d worked before. He put in a good word for me there,” Dickson says. “Thanks to him, I got my first job.”

In his four and one-half years there, Dickson gained contacts and experience that helped him secure his second job as a senior tax accountant at Ernst & Young. One year later, Dickson went job hunting again. He had an enticing offer from a large company but was waiting to hear back from G. William Miller & Co., a smaller firm started by former United States secretary of the treasury William Miller.

Dickson was more interested in working at Miller’s firm, but they needed another week to make an offer, and the first firm wanted to know his decision. “Isn’t there any way I can have more time to decide?” Dickson asked the placement agent. “No, they need to know by Friday,” came the response.

But Dickson says that as he prayed about the decision, “the thought came to mind, which I attribute to someone above, that the placement agent was bluffing. The next time he called, I told him that if he needed to know by Friday, the answer was going to be no. And after a little back-and-forth, the agent said, ‘Well, they don’t really need to know by Friday.’”

Miller made an offer the next week, and Dickson accepted and proceeded to work for the firm for 19 years. “The prompting had been correct and had taken me in a direction I wouldn’t have gone,” Dickson says.

Mark Dickson working on a laptop in a cafe

Saturday Morning Scrambles

As Dickson’s career grew, so did his family. He met his wife, Melody, in a young single adult ward in northern Virginia in 1980. “I was smitten right away,” Dickson says. The two married in the Los Angeles California Temple, settled in McLean, Virginia, and eventually welcomed seven children.

It was important to Dickson to stay close with each of his children. So from the time that his oldest was about five years old, Dickson took one of his children out for breakfast every Saturday morning. “That became a tradition for more than 20 years,” he says. “It was a great way for us to talk when we may not have had a chance during the week.”

Dickson only had two rules for these outings: (1) there would be no lectures from him and no discussion of the child’s behavior, and (2) only positive, casual topics were allowed. Occasionally the conversation lagged, but Dickson had a play for moments just like that. “My favorite question was to ask them how one of their friends was doing,” he says. “That would always draw my children out and result in good conversations.”

Even with those Saturday morning breakfasts, work-life balance remained a challenge. Dickson credits his wife for her insight. “I found out years ago that Melody is a great advisor on how to manage my time and make personal and professional decisions. It is always better for me to listen to her advice,” he says.

As their children grew up, many of them and their spouses graduated from BYU, including two from BYU Marriott: Dickson’s late son-in-law, Jarem Hallows, who earned a BA in accounting in 2009, and his second-oldest child, Devin. Devin earned a degree in management with a corporate finance emphasis in 2008 and an MBA in 2012. He currently works as a financial analyst for Boeing. As Dickson attended one of Devin’s graduation receptions in the Tanner Building, he watched his son socialize with his teachers, including Jim Engebretsen, a former BYU Marriott professor and current member of the National Advisory Council.

“I could tell that Jim knew Devin well,” Dickson says. It occurred to him that Engebretsen probably knew more about Devin’s student life than Dickson did. “That made me thankful that Devin had gone to BYU and had faculty mentors around him like Jim. I’m so grateful for our association with BYU and the impact it’s had on our lives.”

Free Agent

In 2003, Dickson’s main client at Miller, TAG Financial Institutions Group, sold many of its holdings and decided it no longer needed full-time services, so Miller unexpectedly let Dickson go. Despite the shock, that career change became the catalyst for two powerful new professional ventures.

The first was starting his own accounting company, Mark Dickson CPA. After a few job interviews, Dickson realized that what he really wanted was to be his own boss. He began building his company in 2004—with TAG hiring him as a contractor—while also holding positions throughout the next decade as managing director at Capitol Project Partners, director at Capital Management Group, and CFO at both Energy Technology Leasing and Vaud Advisors.

A second opportunity came to fruition in 2014, although it had been put into motion years earlier. While working with TAG, Dickson was offered a chance to earn the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation so he could participate on an in-house investment committee. After taking several classes, Dickson passed the three-part CFA test and now considers earning the CFA designation to be one of his greatest achievements.

Mark and Melody Dickson
Mark and Melody Dickson

His new skills became central to his work once again when several of his CPA clients expressed interest in getting help with their investments. In 2015, Dickson founded his wealth management firm, Tyndale Investments.

“Without the CFA designation, I would never have thought that would be realistic for me,” Dickson says. “But with the designation, my previous experience, and the opportunity to take over a friend’s investment advisement company, it became an amazing opportunity.”

Looking back, Dickson wishes he would have pursued these challenging experiences earlier in his career. “I wish I had been more ambitious, but I was scared, especially having seen other people fail in their efforts to start a business,” he says. “But if I had acted despite my fear, I may have had more opportunities like this.”

Talent Scout

While Dickson may feel that he missed a few chances for professional growth, he hasn’t missed an occasion to give others a leg up. He currently serves as a board member of Madison House Autism Foundation (an advocacy group for adults on the spectrum), and as treasurer for the DC Forensic Nurse Examiners (a nonprofit serving victims of sexual assault).

For more than 30 years, Dickson has also been a member of the BYU Management Society DC chapter. Once again, it was a trusted mentor who led Dickson to this new opportunity. “Back when I was in my thirties, my friend Brian Swinton invited me to participate in BYU Management Society as the chapter’s treasurer,” he says. “I thought I would make a few friends and give back to BYU, but it stuck with me and became much more than that. It helped me in my business and became a place where I developed good relationships.”

His role as treasurer turned to stints as vice president, president, and now chair for the past 10 years. The current chapter president, Lauren Alston Belnap, first met Dickson when he served in her ward’s bishopric. They later cotaught temple preparation classes. “In every interaction we had, he treated me as an equal,” Belnap says. “As smart and successful as Mark is, he remains curious and willing to learn from everyone. He’s a truly humble man in this regard. Mark is also sincere and never hesitates to compliment others and lift them up. He wants others to thrive and reach their potential. He has certainly helped me in this regard, both as a mentor and as a friend.”

The most important part of mentorship for Dickson is giving hope. “It’s about expressing optimism for that person’s future,” he says. “In my own career there were times when I needed encouragement. To me, that’s the primary role of a mentor—giving the gift of hope to those who are low on it, whether they don’t have a job or they’re not so sure about the one they have. Optimism can go a long way.”

Mark Dickson and family at a BYU game

Career Coach

Dickson’s approach to helping others comes back to his BYU days when he was the ref who loved everyone. “I try to be like Doug Banks: helping people with their job searches and connecting them with potential employers,” Dickson says. “Doug’s example of kindness and outreach definitely affects the thinking behind my actions today.”

In the October 2008 general conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a talk titled “Lift Where You Stand”—and those remarks have resonated with Dickson for more than 15 years.

“President Uchtdorf tells a story about people trying to lift a piano, and one member of the group telling everyone to lift where they stood,” Dickson says. “That applies to everybody. If we just lift others from where we are, we’ll both support individuals and create great communities. Do what you can from where you are, and you’ll help more people than you can imagine.”


By Clarissa McIntire
Photography by Bradley Slade

About the Author
Clarissa McIntire is a BYU grad, current PhD student at the University of Oklahoma, and self-described nerd. She’s all right at Scrabble but rubbish at flag football.

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