In a lecture hall full of students and future leaders, MBA alum Christopher Clason explained how inspired leaders create value in their professional and personal lives. Awarded the BYU Homecoming 2023 Alumni Achievement Award representing the BYU Marriott School of Business, Clason shared attributes of leaders based on his professional career working in six industries, living in seven different cities, and managing teams in twenty-four countries.
Clason earned a BS in international relations and an MBA from Brigham Young University. He has held leadership responsibilities in companies such as Honeywell, Citigroup, and Chevron. Before retiring earlier this year, Clason served as senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Coterra Energy, where he led the merger integration process that formed the new energy company.
Talking to students pursuing a variety of degrees from finance to biology, Clason challenged them to “be purposeful in who you want to be.” He explained that building leadership capabilities is a critical part of each person’s development and success, no matter the industry or size of the workplace.
To Clason, the best leaders demonstrate optimism paired with courage. “When I say optimism, I’m not talking about the lack of reality,” he explained. “Optimism is not naive. Optimism is incredibly aware of whatever reality is being experienced. And it’s the ability to look beyond that and create momentum from a real set of challenges, whether they are personal, familial, social, or business-related.”
Clason also emphasized that leaders must balance hunger with humility. He described hunger as “passion” but warned that strong drive without humility is dangerous. “It quickly becomes arrogance,” Clason said. “But hunger with humility—this is listening. This is asking questions first. This is seeking to understand, and it’s knowing you’re as likely to be wrong at whatever it is as to be right.”
With cynicism being rampant in the world today, Clason urged resilience alongside poise. After working on building a company for over two years, Clason and the company’s CEO were in the follow-up stages of a large merger, and the situation wasn’t going well. Relations between executives across the two merged companies were strained and at their limit. Clason described having a late-night conversation with the CEO where they decided to push forward but change their approach. Leading with those positive attributes allowed them to develop respected relationships with their counterparts from the other company, and everything “worked wonderfully,” Clason noted.
The key ingredient to the successful merger was “the right leaders—not just good leaders—but the right leaders with the right experience and leadership attributes,” Clason said.
Leaders create value wherever they serve. Clason explained, “There’s a problem to fix everywhere you stand. Simply attach yourself to something that needs you to help fix it. We can’t all fix everything, but we can pick something specific, tangible, and nameable and be a part of making it better and or eliminating it.”
For Clason and his family, education is a key part of building good leaders. He experienced that during his undergraduate and graduate studies, and he sees that in the leaders around him. “The world needs successful business leaders, and I would have a strong preference that they come from you—where most of you get up in the morning and ask your Heavenly Father for support during the day to make good decisions, to be good to people around you, and to create value,” Clason said. “I think if successful leaders are born in institutions, this is a great place for that to happen.”
Written by Stephanie Bentley