Keith Johnson, Deseret News
KAYSVILLE, Utah — James L. Ferrell's life is full of fortuitous \"accidents.\"
He graduated from an Ivy league law school, only to leave his job at a mega law firm and join an emerging company that specialized in peacemaking.
He never saw himself as a writer, but a common Mormon church calling turned him into a bestselling author.
Even as a student at BYU, he didn't foresee bumping into his future wife at a Provo dance.
Meet the man who didn't really have a plan, only a desire to follow his heart.
\"I don't really have aspirations or set big goals. I try to do what feels like the right thing to do,\" the 46-year-old said. \"Whatever happens, happens. But in terms of some big personal goal, that is not how I live.\"
Counsel to counselor
Ferrell's life took an unexpected turn at Brigham Young University in the late 1980s. He was about to graduate and depart for law school when he became acquainted with the daughter of Terry Warner, a philosophy professor at the university. Ferrell was so impressed with Warner that he put off law school for another year and enrolled in two of the professor's classes, finishing a philosophy major.
\"His impact on me is incalculable,\" said Ferrell, who served an LDS mission to Japan. \"I had such amazing experiences in those two classes. They just lit my fire of learning. That year of study was the best year of study I have ever had.\"
Years later, Ferrell was a recent Yale Law School graduate working at a large firm in California when he reconnected with Warner, who was involved in starting something called \"The Arbinger Institute.\" Within a year, Ferrell left the practice of law to be involved with Arbinger.
\"I had a few people say, 'What in the world are you doing?'\" Ferrell said. \"Then, Arbinger was just a fledging startup. I was leaving a big career in law. But I didn't have any worries about it at all. For me it felt like the right thing to do.\"
Ferrell, together with his mentor Warner and two other former students — Duane Boyce and Paul Smith — founded the Arbinger Institute in the early 1990s. Now with operations in 20 countries worldwide, Arbinger is a management consulting firm and scholarly consortium that specializes in peacemaking for various organizations, families and individuals.
\"It was a leap of faith in a way … but this is very helpful and meaningful material for people,\" Ferrell said. \"It brings people together in difficult situations. It helps people to be more effective. It was only a matter of time and figuring out how to put the ideas into ways people could grasp them and put them into practice.\"
As a managing director, Ferrell has taught and advised leaders of corporations and governments around the world.
\"It's been fantastic,\" he said.
Boyce describes his partner as hard working and devoted.
\"He has a natural disposition to be kind and has boundless energy,\" Boyce said in an e-mail. \"He has a great ability to dive into issues and look for solutions — rather than be defeated by problems, and I think this brings out the best in those around him.\"
Elder Gifford Nielsen was recently called as an Area Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He met Ferrell when the two were paired at a Steve Young charity golf tournament in Phoenix more than a year ago. Elder Nielsen, a former BYU quarterback, later became involved with Arbinger and developed a friendship with Ferrell.
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