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Employee Spotlight

Collecting a Legacy

In 1991 Deloitte & Touche Professor of Accounting Monte Swain began teaching at the BYU Marriott School of Business. He was just 29 years old—the same age as half of his students. Now, after 33 years of enriching and inspiring the next generation of business students, Swain is teaching his final semester in the School of Accountancy (SOA).

A young Swain stands leaning against a wall, smiling at something out of frame. His arms are folded and we see the profile of his face as he looks to the right.
Professor Swain was 29 years old when he began his career at BYU Marriott.
Photo courtesy of Monte Swain.

Swain’s love of business began when his grandfather gave him two Swedish krona. “I held those coins and was just transfixed by the idea that these coins have been places I've never been and were part of stories I've never known,” Swain remembers.

As he grew, so did his coin collection—and his passion for business. After he graduated with a PhD from Michigan State University, he and his wife, Shannon, had no plans of coming back to Utah. “We had such a great experience living in Michigan, but BYU made an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Swain says. “We followed with prayer, and that direction brought us back here, much to our surprise and much to our blessing.”

He began teaching courses in the MBA and executive MBA programs. “I kept track of who was younger than me in the faculty,” Swain admits with a smile. “I can't remember who was finally hired that was younger than I was, but I did go shake their hand and thank them for coming so I didn't have to be the youngest faculty member anymore. I never thought I’d be happy to get gray hair, but I am.”

During class, Swain often sneaks running jokes and pop culture references into his lectures. Among his student-coined ‘Monte-isms’ is a saying in reference to financial accounting systems: “GAAP is Crap.” Many of Swain’s entrepreneurial-minded business students have made and sold shirts bearing these sayings. “Then they present me with my shirt,” Swain says, chuckling. “I've gotten, like, 20 of those shirts over the years. My students love to tease me; I think it's because we love each other.”

Swain and one of his students stand with one arm around each other, smiling at the camera. Swain is wearing a blue shirt with the words "GAAP IS CRAP" printed on the front.
Swain's students have made several shirts based on his 'Monte-isms.'
Photo courtesy of Monte Swain.

Swain’s high opinion of his students is a large part of what has inspired him to stay at BYU Marriott all these years. “The students are so fabulous—just lovely, hardworking, committed, focused students,” Swain says. “Being at BYU makes some students feel self-conscious—they think ‘well, I'm not that lovely or committed or hard working,’ and none of us are—I mean, we are a mixed bag of nuts here. Everyone's on their own journey, but everyone is here with high hopes and good intentions, and that's a wonderful environment.”

As he reflects on the years he spent forming strong bonds with those he teaches—collecting memories and mentees the way he collects coins—Swain thinks about the many alumni who have sat in his classroom. “I hope all of them are blessed and strengthened by the experience they had here at BYU. I hope in my classroom they were able to find perspective and insight that will guide their lives,” Swain says. “That business is neither good nor bad—business is powerful in this world and it was created by God in that powerful space. We can use it to make lives better, or we can use it to make our bank accounts better. Sometimes you can do both, but there's always a priority.”

On the wall of Swain’s office, there are two ancient coins hung in a frame. These two prized coins joined Swain’s collection during a trip he took to Israel with his wife. They are a bronze prutah and a silver shekel of Tyre—one the denomination of the widow’s mite, and the other the same kind as the 30 coins for which Judas betrayed Jesus. Swain explains that the two mites would have been about 75 cents in modern currency—such a small investment, yet its influence has extended thousands of years. In contrast, the 30 pieces of silver were about eight to ten thousand dollars, and represent betrayal and innocent blood.

Professor Swain smiles at the camera cheerfully. Behind him on the wall is a frame with two coins encased inside.
Swain has been a lifelong collector of coins and memories.
Photo courtesy of Monte Swain.

These coins serve as a reminder of the two sides business can take. “When we are in a transaction, we are giving a part of ourselves to someone else and receiving something similar from them,” Swain explains. “That transaction can be holy or it can be horrifying. We can lift others, or we can tear others down. That is a core element for my work in accounting and business strategy. I try to teach this to my students, to my children, to myself.”

At the tail end of his career at BYU Marriott, Swain continues to share his wisdom, “Business is more than ourselves. It is a stewardship and a place where we can do good in the world—if we see it as something more than a paycheck.”


Written by Melissa Een