It was March 1971 and Larry Kacher had 13 cents to his name. He’d started his day $10 richer, but he’d used that cash as he’d hitchhiked from Provo to Salt Lake City.
Kacher had just spent a month in Provo visiting two friends, Jim Gerszewski and his little sister, Suzanne; Suzanne had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Minnesota, where the three friends had grown up. Now that it was time to make the 1,300-mile journey home, 19-year-old Kacher found himself just outside Salt Lake City, coins in his pocket and thumb in the air.
Raised Catholic, Kacher had attended Latter-day Saint church meetings once while in Provo, and he’d heard a man bear his testimony about praying before hitchhiking. “Everybody hitchhiked back then,” Kacher recalls. “I believed in prayer and decided to give it a shot.”
Within a minute of concluding his prayer, Kacher watched a car pull over. The driver, a young man, was from a neighboring town in Minnesota, and he delivered Kacher to his doorstep 18 hours later. “He was grateful to have me so we could take turns driving,” Kacher says. “He even paid for my food.”
As he reflected on the coincidence, Kacher wondered: “Why did that happen? Did God want me to get away from Utah, or did He want me to prepare to go back?” Kacher decided it was the latter, and he enrolled at BYU that fall. He began taking missionary lessons with Jim’s younger brother, Don, who had also moved to Provo, and the young men were baptized in January 1972.
The important events that occurred during those early days in Utah have steered Kacher’s life as he has traveled the globe working in organizational behavior and serving in the Church—notably as a general authority seventy, an area seventy, and president of the Switzerland Geneva Mission. As with most journeys, the unexpected stops have been most meaningful, and the bumps along the way have proved most beneficial.
Finding Peace in the Powder
There were two things instilled in Kacher from the time he was young: a strong work ethic and a love for skiing. “My father taught me to work. I got my first job at age 13 shining shoes, washing dishes, and cleaning toilets at Minnesota Valley Country Club,” he says. “By age 16, I had started my own business cleaning new homes.”
Kacher’s main goal, however, was to ski, something he learned as a 10-year-old on dated wooden skis with leather straps. Post–high school, Kacher set out for Europe to experience the slopes there. After six months, he returned to Minnesota and soon found himself on the fateful journey to Utah and, ultimately, the gospel.
Kacher continued to ski throughout his life, even working as an instructor when his children were young. The sport turned therapeutic when he was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer while on assignment in the Africa West Area presidency. “When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you reflect on your life,” he says. “Even though I wasn’t necessarily worried about dying, it still weighed on me.”
After 27 total rounds of radiation, one every day with only Sundays off, Kacher completed treatments in January 2019. “My therapy after radiation was to ski,” says Kacher, whose radiation proved successful. “That’s how it’s been my whole life. Being close to God’s creations and the feeling of going down the mountainside—especially in good powder—brings me peace.”
Carving a Career
Despite his love for mountains blanketed in snow, a significant moment in Kacher’s life came on another summit—one at a much lower elevation.
Kacher received a mission call to Tahiti a year after his baptism. The mission home sat on a little hill overlooking the South Pacific Ocean, which Kacher often found himself gazing at. “At one point I said to myself, ‘How did I ever get here?’ It wasn’t a very positive question.” But as he reflected on his baptism, Kacher decided he was all in. “Even though I didn’t know much about the gospel, I knew how to work hard, thanks to my father, and how to be obedient,” he says. “I just went to work and loved the people—loved them with all my heart.”
Post-mission, Kacher returned to Provo and completed three years of college in about 12 months, earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology and marrying Pauline, an adventurous redhead who was studying modern dance, in 1976. He also began BYU Marriott’s master of organizational behavior (MOB) program that same year; upon his graduation in 1978, Kacher was named the outstanding organizational behavior student.
Despite his academic success, Kacher was the last of his classmates to secure employment. “Recruiters couldn’t quite figure me out because I was so laid back,” he says. Kacher landed at Honeywell’s HR training department in Phoenix. Although grateful for the job, he felt bored. “I went to the HR director and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m not doing what I thought I was going to be doing.’”
His supervisor asked Kacher what he thought he’d be doing, and Kacher shared organizational behavior interventions he’d learned at BYU Marriott. “He had no clue what I was talking about but said, ‘Why don’t you just go do what you thought you were going to do.’”
With permission to carve his own path, Kacher began helping the organization function more effectively. “I had a good time and received a lot of positive feedback,” he says. Honeywell’s corporate office—located in Kacher’s home state of Minnesota—hired him two and a half years later as its first head of organizational development.
Then came an opportunity to be HR development director for Honeywell Europe. Kacher, his wife, and their three young children packed their bags and moved to Braine-l’Alleud, Belgium, in 1983, settling in a house on the edge of the Battle of Waterloo battlefield.
At the time, Honeywell Europe had recently acquired several companies and had a new president who was unsure of what to do with those companies. “I had a good track record of linking organizational structure and design with business strategy, so I took the senior management team through a restructuring process,” Kacher says. The changes made the new president look good, and Kacher set his sights on what he thought was his next step: “The head of HR position was open,” he says, “and I wanted a promotion.”
Kacher didn’t get the job, but the president asked if Kacher was interested in being director of business planning instead. “That was a real compliment,” says Kacher, although he ultimately decided to return to Honeywell’s corporate office.
Riding Out a Downhill Plunge
Kacher had spent eight years climbing the corporate ladder, but he felt as though he wasn’t reaching his potential. He opted to leave Honeywell to consult and soon was approached by the owner and CEO of a circuit-board assembly company. It seemed like a good fit, so Kacher split his time between consulting with other companies and working at the assembly company, which was two hours from his home.
“The owner of the company was charismatic and had plans to build the company and sell it. Without doing any due diligence or research, I wrote him a check for my life savings to buy into the company,” Kacher says.
Two weeks later the man approached Kacher with news that made his stomach drop: the owner was filing for bankruptcy, and Kacher’s money was gone. But the man had another surprise as well: he asked Kacher to take over as president. As unappealing as it sounded, “I realized my only hope of recovering my investment was to take this job,” Kacher says.
It didn’t take long for Kacher to learn the truth about the company. “We don’t have money for payroll,” the plant manager reported. “We have a list of debts that haven’t been paid. We’re behind on our lease payments to the city. We have not paid employee taxes to the government.”
Discouraged, Kacher pulled the management team together. They spent the next several months turning the company around—even surviving an IRS visit—but Kacher never got his investment back, even after the company was acquired.
Once free from the manufacturing company, Kacher jumped into consulting full-time for the next 12 years. By fall 1999, he was able to cut back on work and spend more time with Pauline and their six children.
But that setup didn’t last long. One month after paying off his house, Kacher received a phone call that led to an assignment as president of the Switzerland Geneva Mission from 2000 to 2003. “We have our own goals and think we know how things are going to happen, but the Lord usually has something else in mind,” he says.
Upon returning home, Kacher felt restless even though he was consulting again. He decided to run for city council. “I thought there was no way I could lose because I had support from both parties,” he remembers, “but I got killed. I couldn’t understand it at the time—it really hurt my ego—but looking back now, I can see why it happened.”
The loss, coupled with an opportunity to dabble in land development, was the impetus for Kacher to move his family to Midway, Utah. But as the Great Recession hit, Kacher returned to his organizational behavior roots. Norm Smallwood, a peer from BYU Marriott’s MOB program, approached Kacher about a job with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which Smallwood’s firm was consulting, in the United Arab Emirates.
“One of the senior Emirati executives, Majed, asked me if I knew anyone who might help their HR division. I immediately thought of Larry,” says Smallwood. “Larry was extremely successful there and had a big impact not only on the company but also in forging lifelong relationships with many in the Arab community.”
During the process of being hired, Kacher had mentioned the potential job to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who had a home in Midway. “Is there any need to help build the Church there?” Kacher asked.
“Yes,” Elder Holland replied. “In fact, I’m over that part of the world.” After Kacher accepted the job, Elder Holland followed up: “I may call on you; we could use help from time to time.”
It didn’t take long for Elder Holland to make good on that request. One week later, he asked the Kachers to stop by his house. “The First Presidency has approved you to be called as the first area seventy to serve in the Middle East/Africa North Area,” Elder Holland relayed.
That calling opened up an “incredible period” of Kacher’s life. Weekdays he worked with the senior management team that oversaw one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world. On weekends he and Pauline would travel to places such as Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait for Church assignments.
After almost five years in Abu Dhabi, Kacher negotiated a contract that put him back in Utah eight months a year to align with hiking and skiing seasons. But those plans didn’t last either; within days, Kacher was called as a general authority seventy, a call made official in the April 2014 general conference. The assignment included three years as counselor in the Africa West Area in Accra, Ghana, and two years in the Europe East Area presidency in Moscow, Russia.
“If we humbly strive to do what the Lord would have us do and understand our relationship to a higher power, then things work out, because that humility invites the Spirit, and the Spirit can resolve issues in a way that none of us can,” says Kacher, who received general authority emeritus status in October 2022.
Kacher, who has accrued 18 years of living overseas, credits Pauline for making their adventures abroad easy. “She’s someone who can thrive wherever she is,” he says. “So much is mindset. If you come prepared to embrace the culture, to get to know the people and love and respect them, it’s enriching and enlightening.”
While Kacher’s hitchhiking days may be over, his traveling continues. Last fall, he was called as traveling patriarch for the Middle East/Africa North Area, giving upward of 20 blessings each time he visits, with Pauline serving as his scribe. “To see the kingdom of God roll forth in all these parts of His vineyard and to have faith that, despite challenges, God is in charge—gaining that confidence has been amazing,” he says.
Written by Emily Edmonds
Photography by Bradley Slade
About the Author
Emily Edmonds is a former editor of Marriott Alumni Magazine. After receiving this story assignment, she realized that two of her friends had served as missionaries with Kacher in the Switzerland Geneva Mission.