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Alumni Spotlight

Melodic Progression

“Citius! Altius! Fortius!” Heralding the commencement of the 2002 Winter Olympics, the 360-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir reverberated John Williams’s “Call of the Champions” across Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Millions tuned in from nations around the globe.

This was Salt Lake City’s biggest moment, and Jon Rowberry and his bass voice were in the thick of it. “The week of the opening ceremonies I kept track of the number of hours my wife and I were either on our way to choir,  at choir, or on our way home,” the 1970 accounting alum recalls. “We put in more  than eighty.” The Latin motto Rowberry and the choir brought to life during the games translates to “Faster! Higher! Stronger!”

The same terms could be  applied to Rowberry’s personal quest for excellence in the business arena. Like a rousing anthem, his career has been marked with staccato passages, dizzying high notes, and a long-building crescendo that saw him named CEO of FranklinCovey.

Perfect Pitch

Entering the upper echelons of management never crossed Rowberry’s mind as a California teen growing up in the 1960s. His future was slated in a legal direction, mirroring his primetime idol—Perry Mason.

His courtroom interest eventually led him to BYU. With law school on the horizon, Rowberry could choose from a variety of undergraduate majors, so he settled on accounting.

But following an LDS mission in Germany, Rowberry’s plans shifted. His family suffered a financial setback that made law school impossible. Rowberry needed to go to work. He secured a position with Deloitte in San Francisco, but only after promising to stay.

“The firm was skeptical of BYU students who would come to California for two years to get their CPA and then move back to Utah,” Rowberry explains. “I billed myself as a native who had no plans to move.”

Rowberry made good on his pitch, remaining in California for twenty-five years.

Up-Tempo

That changed, however, in 1995. Rowberry was in Cannes on the French Riviera, soaking up the scenery as part of a senior management retreat for Swiss company Adia Services. That’s when the phone rang. It was San Francisco on the line.

A college friend who was a partner at Goldman Sachs had become aware of an opening at Franklin Quest in Salt Lake City. The company was looking for a CFO, and there was a possibility of moving into the role of president.

After a decade with Adia and the disappointment of being passed over for the CEO slot, Rowberry was ready to make a change. He just wasn’t sure he wanted to make it in Utah. Despite his hesitations, he flew to Salt Lake City for an interview with Franklin’s founder and CEO.

“I left the interview much more interested than I thought I’d be,” Rowberry admits. “It seemed like a fascinating business.” 

The more Rowberry mulled over the opportunity, the more he realized he’d be disappointed if he didn’t get an offer. When the call came, he accepted without hesitation. In less than a month Rowberry and his family were situated in Utah. 

“It was like lightning,” he says. “Two of my kids were on missions at the time, so I wrote to them to say, ‘By the way, we don’t live in California anymore.’”

Rising Action


Not long after arriving in the Beehive State, Rowberry was introduced to Stephen M. R. Covey, CEO of the leading provider of leadership training and a growing competitor in the time-management-business. The duo began to think that tackling the market together could be beneficial to both. 

Rowberry and Covey signed a personal nondisclosure agreement to begin discussing a potential merger. Nearly one year later, FranklinCovey was born and, shortly after, Rowberry was named CEO.

With stock rising nearly 25 percent in value, the initial results were positive. But the market forces that had already begun to erode planner sales continued. The growth slowed, then stalled, and, finally, reversed. 

Over the next year the situation did not improve. “Some of the institutional shareholders were very upset,” Rowberry explains. “And so the board did what the board does in that type of situation, and they changed CEOs.”

Only two years after composing the combination of Franklin and Covey, Rowberry found himself unemployed. 

Rowberry threw himself into consulting work. Eventually he was approached by former Franklin colleagues regarding a boutique consulting company. The venture would be called The Galileo Initiative. Rowberry decided to jump in.

Key Change


It wasn’t the first time he’d taken that kind of risk. After spending two years as a fledgling accountant in San Francisco, Rowberry was transferred to Deloitte’s new branch in San Jose, California. Only nine years after joining the firm, he became an audit partner. 

But the more he examined the business transactions of others, the more he wanted to “fight for profitability rather than be the referee.”

It was then that Deloitte offered Rowberry an unusual opportunity: a transfer to the Middle East to be the lead partner for one of the firm’s oil company accounts. Rowberry and his wife, Larraine, took the offer seriously, but after carefully weighing the option, Rowberry not only told Deloitte he wasn’t interested in moving to Bahrain but that he was leaving the firm to try his hand in the private sector.

That decision catapulted Rowberry into the fast-paced world of 1982 Silicon Valley, where he joined a small start-up named Envision. The company was short-lived, but the experience provided him with the chance to learn the internal workings of a business, act as CEO, and even manage the complicated process of shuttering a tech company. 
Although it was a trial by fire, Rowberry was still excited about the prospect of joining another start-up. He set his sights on finding the next opportunity, preferably a high-tech private company.

Once again, the phone rang. This time it was a partner at Deloitte. Rowberry’s former colleague had been mowing his lawn when his neighbor moseyed up for an over-the-fence chat. He couldn’t find a suitable CFO for his company. Rowberry’s name immediately sprang to mind.

“I knew what I was looking for,” Rowberry says. “This job wasn’t high-tech, and the company wasn’t private. Since it failed on those counts, I said I wasn’t interested.”
The partner countered, “So you have another job?”

“No.”

“You’re independently wealthy?”

“No.” 

After a knowing pause, Rowberry agreed to meet with the CEO of Adia Services. The pair immediately hit it off, which translated to Rowberry spending a decade at the company as us and then international CFO.

“The fact is that any job can become the right job,” Rowberry reflects. “It really doesn’t matter where you start. You can turn it into the perfect situation.”

Next Movement

That attitude has guided Rowberry in the years following FranklinCovey. 

The decade he spent with The Galileo Initiative proved to be a highlight of his career. The firm was small, and, just like in his start-up days, Rowberry was the CEO, CFO, shipping clerk, general counsel, and janitor.

When the other original founders of Galileo decided to retire, instead of looking for the next right job, Rowberry set out to create it. 

Teaming up with a friend, Rowberry created NextStep Partners, his current venture. The pair spend about twenty hours a week providing CFO services, strategic consulting, and CEO mentoring for small- to medium-size companies.

“I don’t know what we’d do if we took on enough business to work full-time,” Rowberry teases. “It would interfere with our golfing.”

At this point in his career, it’s easy for Rowberry to look over his résumé with satisfaction. He does sometimes wonder what his life would have been like if he hadn’t left the security of the public accounting field, but he makes a point of never dwelling on the tempting question of “What if?”

“I certainly enjoyed what I did, even though it came with its own bumps and bruises,” he says. “At the time I thought I did the right thing, and I still believe that to be true.”

Vocal Harmony

One thing Rowberry has never second-guessed is a decision he made nearly forty-four years ago: his marriage to Larraine Allen. 

Their relationship began in BYU’s Seventy-First Ward as Sunday School team teachers. Together they’ve raised five children.

“They say nobody succeeds without a good partner,” Rowberry says. “Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, the best one was choosing Larraine. Sometimes one good decision goes a long way!”

In fact it was Larraine, a vocal performance graduate, who got Rowberry interested in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She had been singing with the choir for three years when The Galileo Initiative was founded. The employment change for Rowberry meant he had more time for musical exploits. 

After making it through the grueling audition process, he sang in the choir for seven years and now carries business cards emblazoned with the role he’s held for the last three: assistant to the president of the choir. 

“It’s a lot of work, but the pluses make it one of the best jobs I’ll ever have,” he says. “It’s almost unfair that I get so much more out of it than I put in.”

That’s not to say he hasn’t put a lot in. As assistant, Rowberry manages rehearsals, hosts honored guests, and helps wrangle the nearly seven hundred volunteers who make up the choir, orchestra, bell choir, and stage crew at Temple Square. 

It’s an open-ended assignment, and Rowberry has no intention of retiring. Instead, an internal melody—faster, higher, stronger—pushes him forward to whatever the next new job will be—just like it always has.

_

Article written by Megan Bingham
Photographed by Bradley Slade

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