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I Have Come Home

Dean Brigitte C. Madrian often stands in the hallway leading to her new digs on the seventh floor of the Tanner Building and observes the atrium below.

"From that vantage," she explains, "you can see faculty working in their offices, students walking to and from classes, and the dozens of flags representing the countries of the world from which our students hail. As I stand there surveying the school, I feel a profound sense of love and responsibility for the faculty, the staff, and the students. I also feel the weight of the stewardship that comes with this job. But more than anything, I feel great hope and optimism about the impact our students will have on the world after they leave BYU Marriott. I am excited to be a part of the important work of teaching and training this next generation of students."

On 23 May 2018, BYU academic vice president Jim R. Rasband announced that Brigitte Madrian had been named the ninth dean of the BYU Marriott School of Business. On 1 January 2019 Dean Madrian officially began her term as dean, although she visited the campus frequently in the intervening months.

"Every time I stepped on campus, I felt excitement," says Madrian. "And that feeling increased with each succeeding visit. It is clear that at BYU people are willing to build and lift each other as they work toward a common goal. They don't always agree on how to achieve that goal, but there is a unity of purpose that is unique."

Growing Up Cougar Blue

The unique atmosphere at BYU is not new to Madrian. In 1969, when she was three years old, her father, Spencer J. Condie, accepted a job as a professor of sociology at the university.

"That decision shaped my life in more ways than I can fathom," she observes. "When my father started teaching classes, I matriculated into the university's Child and Family Studies Laboratory preschool program. The view from the kitchen windows in my childhood home was of the giant Y on the mountain. My summers growing up were spent swimming on campus and later attending summer camps on campus. I had my first high school crush at Especially for Youth."

Madrian graduated from Provo High School in 1984—the same year the BYU Cougars football team went undefeated and was named national champion, she notes. "That was also the year I performed a solo piano recital in one of the recital halls in the Harris Fine Arts Center and delivered the first of two different commencement addresses from the floor of the Marriott Center." BYU was the only university Madrian applied to. The thought of attending college someplace else honestly never even crossed her mind, she says. She met her husband, David, on campus, and the two held their wedding reception in the Skyroom.

"I quite literally grew up on the campus of Brigham Young University," says Madrian, who was the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management and chair of the Markets, Business, and Government Area at the Harvard Kennedy School until she accepted the position as dean of BYU Marriott. "And it is the only school for which I can imagine leaving Harvard."

An Analytical Thinker

Although Madrian's roots were planted early and deep in BYU Blue soil, in 1989 she left Provo after graduating with both bachelor's and a master's degrees in economics. She and David headed to Boston, where she earned her PhD from MIT and he earned a joint mba/mis degree from Boston University.

Madrian remembers her BYU professors pulling her aside as early as her sophomore year, encouraging her to pursue a PhD. "They didn't realize that I already had that goal in mind," she says. "I can remember the moment I decided I was going to get a PhD. I was sitting in an eighth-grade math class. I don't remember what sparked the decision, but I remember thinking, ‘I want to get a PhD.' So that was my plan from then on."

While Madrian knew she wanted a doctorate, she wasn't certain in which field she was going to get that degree—or any other degrees. "I was thinking about political science, so I took Poli Sci 110 during my freshman year," she recalls. "Econ 110 was recommended for the major as well, so I signed up for that class too.

"I'm an analytical thinker, so I liked the analytic frameworks in economics," Madrian continues. "Plus that intro class didn't have much math—I liked that. What I didn't know is that there is a lot of math in economics. But by the time I realized that, I'd made my decision, and it was too late."

Impacting the Lives of Others

Math certainly hasn't been an obstacle for Madrian. She excelled in school and continued that pattern of excellence throughout her teaching career, instructing first at Harvard, next at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business from 1995 to 2003, and then at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania from 2003 to 2006, before landing back at Harvard, this time at the university's Kennedy School of Government.

She has enjoyed the opportunity to teach, lead, and influence those in her classroom just as her professors had influenced her. But it is perhaps her research that Madrian has become most known for. An expert on behavioral economics and household finance, with a focus on household saving and investment behavior, Madrian and her research in this area have directly impacted the design of employer-sponsored savings plans in the United States and have influenced pension-reform legislation both in the States and abroad. She also uses the lens of behavioral economics in her research to understand health behaviors and improve health outcomes.

Madrian has received the Retirement Income Industry Association's Achievement in Applied Retirement Research Award and is a three-time recipient of the TIAA Paul A. Samuelson Award for Outstanding Scholarly Writing on Lifelong Financial Security. She is a member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Board of Governors, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Academic Research Council, and numerous other advisory boards. Before becoming the dean of BYU Marriott, she served as the codirector of the Household Finance Working Group at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

"If you're in a job where you were automatically enrolled into a retirement savings plan, that is a result of research in which I've been involved," she says. "It's been extremely rewarding to be engaged in work that has had an impact on the lives of people—work that has given people peace of mind and made them more financially secure and better prepared for retirement."

What Makes Us Unique

As a new dean, Madrian hopes to continue her beloved research at some level, although her focus now is on new horizons.

"When I was at MIT, I always planned on ending up at BYU," she says. "Although my journey wasn't as direct as I anticipated, I'm thrilled to be here. And now I can appreciate even more what makes us unique: that commitment to provide our students with a quality education, with academic rigor, but in a context of faith.
"You'll find other religious institutions, but many of them are religious in name only," she continues. "The expectation at BYU to integrate faith into the curriculum and make living a life of integrity the highest priority is both rewarding and refreshing. What an honor to be part of that."

As a wife and a mother of two daughters (Erika, age twenty-two, who studies biochemistry at Tufts University, and Liesel, age eighteen, who is a freshman at the University of Utah), Madrian also recognizes the significance of being the first woman dean at BYU Marriott. "I'm excited about the opportunity to be a leader and role model, to be an example of a woman who has had a successful career, a family, and strong faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ," she says.

Last August Madrian attended the university's annual conference. As part of the week-long event, BYU Marriott's faculty and staff met together. "That meeting was easily the most fun meeting I have ever attended in my professional career," Madrian says. "Important work was done, but there was also time for fun and joy and laughter. Before officially becoming dean, I looked forward to my campus visits in part for that reason; now I am able to be part of that every day. I look forward to my time here and contributing all I can and all I have to furthering the mission and purpose of BYU Marriott. I feel like I have come home."


Written by Kellene Ricks Adams
Photography by Bradley Slade

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