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Employee Spotlight

Finding Business Success, Personal Happiness

As a young man with a limp and a stutter, James “Jim” Ritchie didn’t believe he would be able to compete in life. However, a talk he gave as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed his life. A lifetime of business success later, Ritchie is now a Rollins Center Entrepreneur Founder with the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at the BYU Marriott School of Business.

James "Jim" Ritchie and his wife, Carolyn.
Photo courtesy of Jim Ritchie.

“I had a stutter when I learned to talk and also walked with a limp as a result of polio. As a kid, I honestly felt like I was never going to be successful in life because I had those two handicaps,” says Ritchie. While serving a mission in Scotland, Ritchie was encouraged by multiple leaders who saw his potential even when he didn’t see potential in himself.

To help Ritchie overcome his insecurities, one of his mission leaders had him speak before a congregation every month to become more confident speaking in front of others. Although this experience was uncomfortable, after months of these speaking assignments, someone came up to Ritchie and thanked him for his words. “I finally had given a talk that someone understood. That conversation was the most liberating moment in my life, because I finally believed that I could conquer my problems and compete in life,” he says.

Ritchie’s life continued to change when his mission president shared his formula for a successful and happy life. On one of his last days as a missionary, Ritchie and fellow departing missionaries went on a river cruise with their mission president, David B. Haight, a future apostle for the Church. It was at this activity that Haight encouraged Ritchie to wake up early, work hard, gain an education, find his “oil” (strengths), and make a mark. While Haight guaranteed this advice would make Ritchie successful, it was his next piece of advice that truly made a difference in Ritchie’s life. “He told me, ’Do everything with the intent to give back, serve others, and build the kingdom,’” says Ritchie. “I’ve now been living Haight’s advice for 40 years all over the world.”

Jim Ritchie teaching students in Mexico.
Photo courtesy of Jim Ritchie.

After completing his mission, Ritchie attended BYU. He graduated in 1968 with a bachelor's degree after studying education, accounting, and chemistry. With his degree in hand and Haight's wisdom in tow, Ritchie began building and acquiring businesses in his hometown of Heber, Utah. These businesses eventually expanded into five states.

He began by first taking out a small business loan and building a feed-processing plant. Over time, that one humble plant grew into a diverse portfolio of businesses. Ritchie put a Sears catalog store in front of the plant and through the years purchased a car dealership, an international harvester dealership, trailer parks, motels, a few restaurants, and several residential communities. By the time Ritchie was 35 years old, he had acquired 26 different business and was able to retire. He says the key to his diverse business ventures was saying yes to the right opportunities.

“My special talent is seeing an opportunity, finding someone who has funding and expertise in that area, and then partnering with them,” says Ritchie. “I did few things by myself.”

Jim and Carolyn Ritchie's "best accomplishment", their family.
Photo courtesy of Jim Ritchie.

Even though Ritchie has experienced plenty of success, he has also experienced mistakes and failure. He has learned that while failure is part of the learning process, people often fear failure so much that they don’t even try.

“Fear is often fear of failure, which is an incredibly strong emotion,” he says. “I didn’t let obstacles, handicaps, and fears stop me from trying. I gave a lot of bad talks, had businesses fail, lost a lot of money, and worried about losing everything. But every time I failed, I learned, and I didn’t make the same mistake twice. Failure is not a problem, quitting is.”

Ritchie now dedicates his life to the last ingredient in Haight’s recipe for a happy life: paying it forward. He and his wife have served eight missions for the Church in California, Virginia, Washington DC, New Zealand, Southeast and West Africa, and at BYU-Hawaii. Ritchie currently devotes much of his time to mentoring student entrepreneurs at the Rollins Center and teaching an independent training program, Launching Leaders, to participants all over the world.

Ritchie hopes his experience of overcoming obstacles and adversity to find success—and happiness— will inspire others. “I tell people, ‘Have confidence and faith. Get out of bed early every day and go after life. Be trained and educated, read the right books, and surround yourself with people who are more successful than you and who you can learn from. Then go do something with your knowledge,’” says Ritchie. “People make a lot of mistakes, but once they find their niche, they should develop and use that ability, then spend the rest of their lives using what they’ve received to give back."


Writer: Marissa Lundeen