In the Classroom
The seeds for the Marriott School of Business 380: Executive Leadership Series course were planted more than 20 years ago when a young Ryan Smith saw well-known Utah business mogul Larry H. Miller coming to BYU campus to teach. That example made such a strong impression on the aspiring entrepreneur that Smith was inspired to create a similar experience for the next generation of BYU Marriott students.
“It’s one of those full-circle moments,” says BYU Marriott dean Brigitte Madrian. “The student has become the teacher.” Madrian, Smith, and Mike Maughan, who is president of the Chairman’s Office at Qualtrics, work in tandem as instructors and facilitators for the course which focuses on leadership and decision-making.
Once best known as the cofounder and CEO of Qualtrics, Smith has since purchased the NBA’s Utah Jazz basketball team from the Miller organization and become a lead investor in Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake and the National Women’s Soccer League’s Utah Royals.
“BYU is incredible. I owe so much of what is good in my life to BYU,” says Smith. “I wanted to give to a new generation of BYU students what so many had given me while I was at BYU. I was teaching regularly at Stanford and Harvard but not doing anything in our own backyard, so I reached out to Brigitte, and she, Mike, and I put this class together to provide an unparalleled learning experience for BYU students.”
The weekly class is open to any student across campus and features a “fireside Q&A” format. “In the workplace, learning doesn’t come through PowerPoint decks,” explains Maughan. “It happens through conversations; this class engages students to learn the way executives learn.”
The course brings in an impressive roster of people. Course lecturers include Utah governor Spencer Cox, three-time NBA champion and Utah Jazz CEO of basketball operations Danny Ainge, author of New York Times number one bestseller Grit Angela Duckworth, host of Freakonomics Radio Stephen J. Dubner, and—in another full-circle moment—Gail Miller, who became chair of the Larry H. Miller Company after her husband’s passing.
Class assignments are simple: students submit weekly reflections based on takeaways from the lecture, and the final paper is a letter to their future selves about what the class meant to them. “This class has been one of the most influential and applicable classes you have ever taken,” James Harrison wrote to himself in his letter. A sophomore studying pre-business, Harrison is one of the 350 students who took the class in fall 2022. “Here are some principles I hope you remember in the future. The first principle may be the most important one: work hard and be kind. Mike would always repeat this, and this is his motto. Other speakers who talked about working hard and being kind were Ryan Smith, Omar Johnson, and Scott Cutler. These should be role models in your life and the kinds of people you want to become. . . . Like Ryan Smith said, ‘You should never do anything halfway; you have to be all in.’”
Being all in is an ideal that Smith embodies—and one that was reinforced during those lectures he attended years ago. Now as host and instructor of the MSB 380: Executive Leadership Series course, Smith and the other course instructors and presenters are all in as they work to transform the next generation.
Written by Kellene Ricks Adams
Photos courtesy of Mike Maughan. Used with permission from the respective individuals shown.