In a corporate world driven by money, power and success in the office, 157 business students took a detour earlier this month to fill up on lessons in service, humility and happiness in the home. Latter-day Saint MBA students from nearly 30 of the world’s top business schools, including Harvard, Wharton and Stanford, gathered at Columbia University in New York City on April 8-9 for the first LDS MBA Conference.
Davis Smith, president of the LDS Student Association at Wharton Business School, along with classmates Evan McMullin and Brandon Peay, organized the event so future LDS business leaders could network.
“We created this conference as a way to find each other, connect and build bonds,” said McMullin. “We have an incredible opportunity to help each other professionally and personally. This is bigger than any career or business. We have the opportunity to have a great deal of influence where it really matters.”
The conference was open to all current LDS MBA students. Organizers secured 10 sponsors, ranging from individuals to Bain & Company, and collected $25,000 in donations. Students paid $100 admission.
Gabriel Valenzuela, who attended from Thunderbird School of Global Management, felt the conference was worth it.
“The idea of the best and brightest LDS MBA students from top tier programs meeting together to network, coordinate and inspire each other was something I frankly could not pass up,” said Valenzuela.
Sixteen successful LDS business leaders from around the country volunteered their time to serve as panelists and speakers. They taught leadership principles and offered advice. Steve Jenkins, guest speaker on entrepreneurship, believes in the importance of LDS bonds, especially when business gets challenging.
“They’ll need each other for help, moral support and positive peer pressure to deal with the sacrifices we sometimes have to make because of our standards,” Jenkins said
Students split into breakout sessions focusing on general management, entrepreneurship, finance and public service. Discussions included finding balance, maintaining LDS values, staying humble, and prioritizing family and service. Speakers shared, at times with laughter and tears, personal stories of business successes and failures. Panelists offered counsel on everything from working on weekends to turning down alcoholic drinks. Students, armed with both smartphones and scriptures, asked questions and took notes. The conference inspired Valenzuela and reminded him what matters most.
“Our careers will be far overshadowed by the legacy we leave through raising our families and serving our God,” he said.
Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor known for his study of innovation in commercial enterprises and his theory of disruptive technology, was the biggest name at the conference and the keynote speaker. He encouraged students to make others happy by using gifts God gave them. He promised the students if they seek first to build the kingdom of God, God will magnify them and they will accomplish more with his help.
Julie Edgin, from BYU Marriott School of Management, was drawn to Christensen the moment he entered the room.
“He is a top business leader, but you would never know it just by looking at him,” Edgin said. “There is something greater there. He has the light of Christ and you can feel it.”
When the speeches, meals and formal networking ended, the group attended a New York Mets baseball game.
“The goal is to make friendships that will serve professionally and personally for a lifetime, take away some valuable leadership insights, and just as importantly, have a great time,” said Smith.
Prior to the main event, about 100 students gathered on the night of April 8 to socialize at a local ward building.
The conference was the first of its kind, but Smith says it won’t be the last. He wants the conference to expand, improve and continue on an annual basis.
For information on the conference, visit ldsmba.com.