Mormon background helped 5 BYU grads make list of world's 50 most important management thinkers

Published: Sunday, Jan. 3 2016 8:50 p.m. MST

Clay Christensen, co-author of "How Will You Measure Your Life: Finding Fulfillment Using Lessons from Some of the World’s Greatest Businesses," is one of five BYU graduates to make the prestigious Thinkers50 list of the best business management thought leaders of 2015.

Courtesy photo

PROVO — The first time Dave Ulrich made the Thinkers50, the world's most prestigious ranking of business management thought-leaders, the 2007 list placed him right between Al Gore and best-selling author Seth Godin.

He was one of three BYU alumni on the list that year, including the Harvard business professor who introduced the concept of "disruptive innovation," Clayton Christensen. Christensen finished first in the biennial rankings in 2011 and 2013. This year, for the first time, 10 percent of those on the Thinkers50 list are BYU graduates — Christensen at No. 2, Ulrich (27), Liz Wiseman (43), Hal Gregersen (46) and Whitney Johnson (49).

Like a smaller boxer who succeeds against bigger fighters, "BYU outpunches its weight," Ulrich said.

But how? Why does BYU make up an outsized portion of the Thinkers50?

The answers range from the mundane — how lists are compiled — to the intriguing — what the dean of BYU's business school calls the Clayton Christensen Effect. Christensen earned an economics degree at BYU and went on to write "The Innovator's Dilemma," which "deeply influenced" Apple's Steve Jobs. His ideas on innovative disruption have had such a broad impact that "disruption" is becoming a household term describing, for example, what is happening right now with cable TV cord-cutting. Gregersen and Johnson have worked directly with Christensen.

Ulrich said a better and perhaps more interesting answer includes the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on all five BYU alumni in the Thinkers50.

"Five LDS people on the list is amazing," he said. "I credit the LDS learning system. BYU, I think, through the missions served by so many of its students, gets that benefit. I don't think the world understands how great missions are for learning. Gospel and theology learning, of course, but also social learning, organizational learning, personal management learning. An 18-month or two-year mission is like five years working at one of the world's best consulting firms."

LDS impact

The idea of an outsized Mormon impact in business and business management has been explored before, most famously in a 2010 Financial Times article, which said LDS culture has given birth to "a professional elite." In 2012, Harvard Business Review published a piece titled, "How Mormons Have Shaped Modern Management."

Two Mormons, Christensen and the late author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey, made the first Thinkers50 lists in 2001, ’03 and ’05. A human resources guru, Ulrich joined them on the list in 2007, ’09 and ’11.

HR Magazine named Ulrich the father of modern human resources in 2012 after calling him the most influential international thought leader for five consecutive years. Last year, speaking.com ranked him the No. 1 speaker in management and business.

Ulrich, who earned a master's in organizational behavior at BYU, is prolific. He is the author of more than 25 books. The latest may be the most ambitious, an attempt to create a measurement tool to help investors evaluate a company's leadership. Released this fall, "The Leadership Capital Index: Realizing the Market Value of Leadership" provides "rigorous" methods for readers to analyze leaders in 10 areas.

A Forbes magazine review welcomed the new idea: "In an era where the analysis of data is seen as central to business success, it makes no sense at all for those ultimately in charge of acting on this analysis to be employed without a similar form of thorough examination."

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