As the president and CEO of Stanford Health Care, David Entwistle is used to sharing how he helped navigate an entire healthcare system through a pandemic, but he may not always share the challenges he faced doing so while simultaneously serving as bishop of his local Latter-day Saint congregation. Ron and Debbie Harrison, who both work for Marriott International, have traveled all over the world as executives of the successful hotel company, but they don’t always get to share their experiences as mission leaders in Belgium or in volunteering at events hosted by the Church’s International and Public Affairs office in Washington, DC. And that is the beauty of the Latter-day Saint MBA Conference—there are two unifying characteristics of all attendees: they all have an interest in business, and they want to learn from those who have been successful in the business world as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One hundred and sixty Latter-day Saint young adults convened in an assembly hall on the campus of Stanford University last weekend to participate in the 13th annual Latter-day Saint MBA Conference.
There were several common threads throughout the various speakers and panelists’ remarks. A prominent theme was recognizing the unique responsibility the gospel gives Church members to be a light and a unifying force in a darkening world.
Thomas Griffith, who was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2005 by President George W. Bush before being appointed to the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court, spoke of the encouragement of Church leaders to help create this unity not only at church but in our communities. He specifically highlighted President Russell M. Nelson’s call to build bridges and shared President Dallin H. Oaks’ quote, “On contested issues, we should seek to moderate and unify.”
“Civility is necessary, but it’s not enough,” Judge Griffith said, emphasizing that Latter-day Saints have a special responsibility to be change agents in the present day.
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He used the United States Constitutional Convention in 1787 as an example of people with varying views coming together for the greater good. He highlighted research examining the Constitutional Convention as a model for constructive dialogue. For example, the way in which a specific delegate voted on a certain issue was not recorded from one session to the next. Meaning there was an understanding that if you listened wholeheartedly to someone’s idea or perspective, “you might change your mind.” And that was OK. Still, Judge Griffith emphasized that the “secret sauce” of the convention was the time the delegates spent socializing with one another—this changed their hearts and helped them see one another as real people.
The conference allowed for this opportunity to socialize as students traveled to Stanford from other business schools across the country including Harvard, Wharton, University of Chicago-Booth, and BYU, as well as prospective MBA students and alumni. They came seeking to—as Matt Dicou, who helped organize this year’s conference, put it—“learn directly from top-of-the-house leaders at the intersection of faith and business, government, and religious domains.” Some of the top names in business leadership, including Joel Peterson, former chairman of JetBlue Airways and founder of Peterson Partners; and Liz Wiseman, author of the New York Times bestseller Multipliers, were presenters at the conference.
Wiseman used movie clips to teach lessons about “leading in the dark” or amidst uncertainty. She emphasized that a leader is someone who facilitates conversation and invites the ideas of others—someone who gets people talking. She also taught that admitting what you don’t know is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength.
During his talk, Peterson imparted key principles from his highly regarded course at Stanford Graduate School of Business, “Engineering a Remarkable Life.” He emphasized that while the idea of “work-life balance” may be elusive, we can strive for “work-life harmony” by making service, family, and religion integral parts of our lives. Peterson encouraged the audience to develop a life plan, while also recognizing that flexibility and adaptability are essential.
“Life will not deliver to you what you thought it was going to deliver to you,” he said. “It will deliver you something better.”
They were joined by Latter-day Saints who have seen a great deal of success within the business world in recent years, like Al Ko, CEO of Early Warning (the creators of Zelle), and his wife, Ann Miura-Ko, a convert to the Church and a co-founding partner at Floodgate, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm.
“I’ve learned a lot about what leadership is [by] serving in the Church,” Ann Miura-Ko said in response to a question about how the gospel influences her work. “Number one is [that] it’s a way of finding your talents and magnifying your talents.” She recalled how much she loved a calling to teach the Gospel Doctrine Sunday School class. She said she took what she learned from that calling and applied it in her work settings.
“The other thing is a greater sense of empathy. I think that church is the only place where I’m not just surrounded by a bunch of tech nerds, and it’s extraordinarily refreshing,” she said. “You get so many different types of people who might fundamentally disagree on a lot of things but agree on the most important things, and for me, that’s a learning opportunity. It’s a way of learning about love because I may actually really love someone who I fundamentally disagree with on a lot of political issues, as an example. But I know actually that I love them, and I have to go to church every Sunday and learn to love them all over again and I cherish that.”
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Al Ko, who serves as a counselor in the Menlo Park California stake presidency, added that to this day he considers his mission language (Portuguese) to be a treasure. He emphasized that he has learned that engaging employees is the most important thing in a work setting, and a lot can be learned about engagement from service in the Church. “If a talk or a lesson is boring, it’s tough,” he said.
The Harrisons emphasized making yourself available to the Lord and recognizing the many wonderful experiences that come as we allow the Lord to use us in His great work of unifying people across the globe. As a member of the Church’s Public Affairs Advisory Council, in addition to her role as Global Cultural Ambassador for Marriott, Debbie Harrison recalled being asked by Elder Ronald A. Rasband on behalf of the First Presidency of the Church to represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the White House for the National Day of Prayer during the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Day of Prayer would be broadcast on national television, and she would be expected to offer a prayer.
“Well, how do you say no to that?” Debbie asked. “It was one of the most terrifying things I ever did, … but I really did feel inspired to say some of the things that I said. The point is [to] make yourself available.”
“So, be great in your profession but try to be good so that you can… ’Seek ye first the kingdom of God,’” her husband, Ron added encouraging those in attendance to be “servant leaders.”
Ann Miura-Ko cited the ultimate example of servant leadership as a source of strength in her professional career.
“Really reading the scriptures and understanding what the nature of love looks like—the nature of service through the eyes of Christ—and then thinking about what that means. When you’re in the work world, you’re supposed to apply those things, and what does it actually mean to love your neighbor? What does it actually mean to serve them? How do you work with people that you disagree with? How do you gently suggest something to someone that you think would be better for them?” Ann Miura-Ko asked. “I think those are all things that you can bring into your work life.”
The attendees of this conference are hungry—hungry to work and hungry to make a difference in the world—so Al Ko’s concluding remarks were particularly poignant.
“The most beautiful thing is our philosophy that we [as members of the Church] believe is our eternal progress,” he said. “At the end [of this life], to me, it will just be more work but hopefully more joy.”