Jeff Dyer is not only interested in anomalies—he is also one himself. He is an experienced business strategist hardwired for organization, but he also believes serendipity plays a crucial role in his life. And as professor at the BYU Marriott School of Business teaching strategy, he continues to balance calculated plans and happy accidents.
Dyer has been a fan of Brigham Young University since he was small enough to crawl through the cougar’s mouth at the old entrance to LaVell Edwards Stadium—a feat which granted free entry for kids to sit in the endzone. It’s no surprise that he earned both his undergraduate degree and his MBA from Brigham Young University. Dyer then planned to pursue a PhD in organizational behavior.
However, a visit to his brother, a PhD student at MIT at the time, changed Dyer’s course. A chance meeting with Mitt Romney and others in Boston who worked in management consulting led to an interview. “It’s the only interview I did out of my MBA program, and I ended up getting an offer to work for Bain and Company.”
Dyer moved to Boston to gain work experience. While working at Bain, Dyer discovered his interest in business strategy. “I began to realize that a company’s strategy—figuring out how to win in the marketplace—is the most important thing to a company’s success,” Dyer explains.
Again Dyer changed course. He decided to leave corporate life to resume his original plans in academia. Dyer applied for PhD programs and chose to earn his PhD in business strategy at UCLA’s business school. “If I would have applied for a PhD program before working for Bain, I would have chosen organizational behavior because it’s what my brother and dad did,” Dyer explains. “I’m glad I went this route because I get to fuel my curiosity.” After finishing his PhD, he accepted a position as a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Throughout all of these pivots, Dyer admits, “I always thought I would come back to Provo someday.” Even so, he didn’t anticipate what would bring him home. “The thing that triggered my moving back more than anything else was my father’s passing,” Dyer says. “I wanted to be around my mom more to support her, and that event was the catalyst for my return to BYU Marriott.”
Once back at BYU Marriott, something new was on Dyer’s radar: helping to start a strategy major and minor at the business school. He worked tirelessly with other dedicated faculty to make this vison become a reality, and in 2008, the strategy program was officially founded. Dyer credits much of his drive to his father—one of the faculty who helped found the organizational behavior program at BYU Marriott years ago, “I was influenced by my father because I’d seen my dad do some incredible things,” Dyer says. “I knew it was possible.”
The program has turned into something that Dyer is deeply proud of. For eight out of the past nine years, students majoring in strategy have attained a 100% job placement rate within three months of graduating. And for the one graduating class with a 96% placement rate, the few students who did not secure full-time jobs within the initial three-month period found employment shortly afterward. “It’s enjoyable to see the opportunities students get as a result of the degree,” Dyer adds. “We want our students to become good problem solvers, and that skill aids them in any endeavor.”
As Dyer continues to allow the anomalous forces of strategy and serendipity to shape his life, he also finds himself drawn to all kinds of anomalies. Dyer tends to be curious, and this leads him to new endeavors that allow him to learn something and say it in an original way. “For me, I look for things that aren’t quite true or don’t work everywhere. I look for anomalies, and then I peel the onion,” he adds. “Digging into a topic can help explain what looks like an anomaly to me.”
Dyer reflects, “It’s interesting how serendipity plays a role in our lives and our careers.” In the delicate dance between plans and chance, Dyer’s personal and professional life is proof that one can embrace both.
Written by Maggie Olsen