A BYU Legacy
PROVO, Utah – Apr 13, 2020 – As the descendant and grandson of former BYU administrators Abraham Owen Smoot, L. Douglas Smoot, and Ben E. Lewis, BYU Marriott assistant professor of strategy Ben Lewis is carrying on his ancestors’ legacies at BYU while pioneering his own groundbreaking research.
Lewis’ great-great-great grandfather, A. O. Smoot, served as the first head of the board of trustees of Brigham Young Academy and was credited with saving the institution from financial ruin in its early years. His maternal grandfather L. Douglas Smoot served as the dean of the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering, and his paternal grandfather and namesake, Ben E. Lewis, served as the executive vice president of BYU. “People on campus often ask if I’m related to the Ben Lewis of BYU fame, and I say yes, and they proceed to tell me a cool story about his life,” says Lewis. “I wouldn't get that experience if I had a different name or if I taught at a different university.”
As an undergraduate student, Lewis hoped to follow in his grandfathers’ footsteps by becoming a professor and decided to pursue a PhD after majoring in accounting and economics at BYU. “As a professor, you are constantly learning new things,” says Lewis. “You’re still a student, but instead of taking tests you give them.”
After graduating from BYU Marriott in 2008, Lewis completed his PhD work at Cornell University in New York and returned to BYU as a professor in 2013. While he looked forward returning to Utah to work with colleagues and students, he also looked forward to living in Utah because of the many outdoor activities available there. “If I wasn’t teaching or doing research, I’d probably be mountain biking, riding horses, hiking, backpacking, or fishing,” says Lewis.
Since his return to BYU Marriott, Lewis has focused his research on corporate social responsibility. His inspiration for this research came from service trips to Africa which helped him see the value of business in diverse communities. His sister-in-law’s family, who had started a nonprofit in Mozambique, invited him to work with them in 2005. The following summer, he worked for an organization in Kenya that focused on creating a market for coconut oil, a product that is easily made in that country.
Lewis saw the way that business impacted the lives of the people in Mozambique and Kenya, and he loved the idea of making his own impact in the lives of these people through research. “I had this idea that I could be a professor and do research in international countries and travel. The possibility seemed intriguing,” says Lewis.
Since starting his job as a professor, Lewis’ work has shifted from a focus on countries such as Mozambique to focus on the impact of business on society in developed countries. “I do archival work with big data sets, and those sets are more accessible in the developed world,” says Lewis.
Some of Lewis’ projects have focused on the effect of setting a threshold of sustainability as well as the effect of corporate rankings. His next research project will focus on the impacts of shame and praise on corporate actions with the lens of gender diversity on company boards. His research will address if companies increase board diversity to gain praise or to avoid shame. Lewis’ research will help inform organizations on how they can hold companies accountable to make charitable and sustainable choices.
In the classroom, Lewis makes his teaching applicable to the real business world that students will soon be entering. “I read the news heavily, and I’m always trying to update my quiz questions and exam questions with information I’ve read in the news,” says Lewis. He feels that the most rewarding part of being a professor is seeing students learn and apply the knowledge that they’ve learned. “I love to see students get excited and to see the light bulbs go off in their mind.” says Lewis.
As a professor, Lewis sees the unique value that can be found at BYU Marriott. “A lot of what makes the students and faculty of BYU Marriott unique and special ties back to that mission that comes from our faith and focus on lifelong learning,” says Lewis. As he continues his work both in and out of the classroom, he is fostering lifelong learning in his students and creating a BYU legacy of his own.
Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Kenna Pierce