The end of June 2021 marked the halfway point of my five-year term as dean, an occasion that prompted much personal introspection. One thing that I love about being at BYU is the strong commitment to the mission of this institution. The collective sense of purpose of the employees here is both motivating and unifying. We believe in and want to contribute to fulfilling the mission of BYU.
While I found myself easily talking about the university’s mission, it was more difficult to articulate our mission at BYU Marriott. What is it that sets us apart from other business schools? What is it that makes us unique?
We began having conversations on this topic in the Deans Office. What started as a simple discussion quickly evolved into a yearlong journey to refine our BYU Marriott mission, craft a larger vision, and frame a set of values and a guiding principle that would explain what we are about in a way that is both descriptive and aspirational—descriptive in that the result would get at the heart of what we do and who we are, and aspirational in that it would appropriately challenge us to improve.
We started the process by evaluating the mission statements of other business schools, including other faith-based institutions. We then conducted brainstorming exercises with college leadership (deans, chairs, and center and program directors) to identify the ideas that resonated most with them. Using those themes as building blocks, we formulated a few alternatives and requested feedback from college leadership.
We revised and sent a draft, along with a survey soliciting feedback, to all college employees. We reached out to a marketing and communications consulting firm for an external reaction. We revised some more.
Finally, we spent five hours over two days wordsmithing every single syllable and punctuation mark. We presented the final product to the university’s President’s Council, to college leadership, and to our BYU Marriott National Advisory Council Executive Committee in August. We then officially unveiled our updated vision, mission, values, and guiding principle to the BYU Marriott community at our annual fall kickoff meeting, right before the fall 2021 semester started.
Our Vision is bold and unabashed: We aspire to transform the world through Christlike leadership.
The ministry of Jesus Christ was one of transformation. He transformed water into wine, multiplied five loaves and two fishes into food enough for 5,000 people, healed the sick, and raised Lazarus from the dead. More importantly, He transformed fishermen into apostles and an uneducated 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith into a prophet. His invitation to us all is to offer up a broken heart and a contrite spirit and be transformed through the grace of His Atonement. His invitation is to become like Him.
The world does not need more CEOs who know how to manage IPOs. It needs Christlike leaders who can envision a better future and the path forward to make that future happen. It needs leaders who focus on things of eternal consequence. It needs leaders who recognize the divine potential in each of God’s children. It needs leaders who set high standards for themselves and for others. It needs leaders who exhibit Christlike charity in all that they do.
We develop leaders of faith, intellect, and character, leaders that the world so desperately needs, leaders who will go out and transform the world.
And if we develop such Christlike leaders and equip them with the skills to succeed in business, some of them will inevitably end up as CEOs, and a few of them will have spectacular IPOs, but it will be for reasons that are completely different from the reasons that animate our counterparts at other business schools.
I believe that this vision and mission for BYU Marriott are inspired. They also align with the sentiments of our new Church commissioner of education, Elder Clark Gilbert, who in a recent interview said, “[All the Church schools have the] unifying purpose and mission to develop disciples of Christ who can be leaders in the Church, in their homes, and in their workplaces.”
Along with our updated vision and mission, we have four values that we aspire to adhere to as we carry out our work.
Faith in Christ
We value deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. Our faith gives us the capacity to envision a better future, the confidence to make that future happen, and the courage to act in the face of challenges.
This value of faith was exemplified by the two copresidents of our Pre-Business Student Association (PBSA) last year. David Aguiar and Annica Woolley reached out to me and associate dean John Bingham in April 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic started, to discuss their roles. We talked about the anxieties that our pre-business students were facing as well as the challenges many BYU Marriott students were having in finding meaningful work and professional development experiences over the summer. Although the PBSA was not typically very active during the spring and summer terms, this year presented a unique opportunity, and we encouraged them to think of things that would meet the needs of the PBSA members at this uncertain point in time.
Within weeks, Annica and David designed from scratch a Build Your Own Internship (BYOI) case competition. Students were challenged to design for themselves a personalized summer learning and professional development experience, and they were given the chance to present their proposals to a panel of business professionals on Zoom.
Several dozen students participated, and the top presenters were awarded prizes from generous corporate sponsors; some even received remote internship offers from the judges.
The real story isn’t about the students who participated in the competition—it is about David and Annica, the student leaders who organized it. Of this experience, David says, “Developing the Build Your Own Internship initiative taught me that good leadership includes being adaptable in your approaches to meet your goals. I learned to be more proactive and flexible as we changed our approach to the summer. These are principles I’m continually learning and exploring at BYU Marriott.”
Annica adds, “Because our focus was in the right place, it felt like the idea for BYOI came so easily to us and details fell into place. Don’t get me wrong, it still took a ton of work, but the focus wasn’t on the work, it was on the people, so it didn’t seem arduous. Through this experience, I learned that my focus needs to be on people.”
Annica and David learned that faith is a principle of action. Their faith allowed them to envision a better future for our PBSA students, instilled in them confidence that they could design and implement a new program in two short months, and gave them the courage and confidence to act. They also learned that the most important principle in being a disciple-leader is to love the people whom you lead and serve.
Integrity in Action
We value integrity and hold ourselves to the highest moral and ethical standards. Acting with integrity builds trust, strengthens character, and focuses our ambitions on things of eternal consequence.
One of our ethics professors recently shared with me the experience of a student in his class who demonstrated this value. This student served a mission in Africa, a part of the world where many face significant economic hardships. The student and a former mission companion from Ghana decided to start a small taxi company there. The student lined up an investor to help them buy two taxis. The business did well, and they soon had the funds to purchase a third taxi.
They were preparing to purchase a fourth taxi when the partner in Ghana, who was managing the day-to-day operations, stopped replying to messages about the business. It eventually came to light that the partner had diverted cash from the business to pay for his father’s medical care, ultimately causing their venture to fail.
The student was fearful of approaching the investor with the news of what had happened. But he decided to act with integrity. He admitted to his investor friend that he should have managed the business better, explained what he had learned from the experience, and promised to make things right. At the end of the conversation, the investor told the student that he was one of only a few people that he would trust with an investment in the future. Rather than losing the trust and confidence of his investor, this student learned that acting with integrity both builds trust and strengthens character.
Respect for All
We value respect for all individuals as children of God and recognize the inherent worth, divine potential, and agency of each person. A climate of respect and belonging enhances our learning, facilitates collaboration, and encourages personal growth.
I have appealed to this value frequently in communicating with our BYU Marriott community on how to act in the face of divided opinions on wearing face masks and getting vaccinated against COVID-19. In an email sent out to students before the beginning of fall semester 2021, I wrote:
One tenet of the BYU Honor Code is respect for others. Respect means that we value all individuals as children of God and recognize their inherent worth, divine potential, and agency. . . . Please treat everyone with respect, even if they are making choices with which you disagree.
I received many responses, but a particularly poignant one came from a student who admitted he had struggled to find peace because he had been upset with people who hadn’t received the COVID vaccine. But after my email, this student realized that holding on to frustration and pressuring others to conform didn’t accomplish anything. “The most profound lesson I have learned during COVID is that agency is a precious gift,” he concluded.
Having a well-articulated value on respect for all at the ready made it easy for me to speak to the BYU Marriott community in a way that helped change at least some hearts and minds.
We value excellence in learning, teaching, research, management, and leadership. An expectation of excellence magnifies our influence and motivates us to continually improve.
Although we are not rankings driven, our accounting and MBA programs have consistently appeared in top business school rankings for decades. In addition, several of our programs, including entrepreneurship, information systems, and public management and leadership have been highly ranked in a variety of different polls.
While rankings aren’t our priority, some rankings are valuable indicators of how successful we are at what we are driven by: serving our students. In 2018, Bloomberg Businessweek did a deeper dive into MBA rankings, surveying thousands of recruiters and students about their experiences. The results of that survey reflect our commitment to excellence in learning and teaching.
For instance, when recruiters were asked which full-time MBA program produced the best-trained graduates, BYU Marriott came out on top. In addition, students ranked BYU Marriott’s MBA program number one when asked if their education inspired them to pursue an ethical career and number two when asked if their instructors were inspiring and supportive.
Finally, in addition to our updated vision, mission, and values, we have adopted a guiding principle.
Centered on Students
We evaluate our decisions and actions by the impact they will have on the academic experience, professional preparation, character development, emotional well-being, and spiritual growth of our students.
In our college-level strategy retreat in mid-July, we invoked this principle several times in making decisions about how to allocate both our financial and our human capital resources. We cannot do everything, and our first priority is to focus on the things that will most benefit our students.
As a college, we are excited about our updated vision, mission, values, and guiding principle. We are working to embed them into our culture and our curriculum so that they can serve as scaffolding for all that we do at BYU Marriott for many years to come.
By Brigitte C. Madrian
Photography by BYU Photo