Almost every 19-year-old in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) goes through what one might call executive training camp.It’s an extremely rigorous two-year program: 10-hour days, no TV, no dating, constant rejection. At the same time many American teenagers are relishing their first taste of freedom as college freshmen, these Mormons are entering into the most disciplined period of their lives.
About 55,000 Mormons are dispersed around the world at any given moment, Book of Mormon in hand, preaching the gospel.
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“I don’t think there’s any more demanding profession than being a Mormon missionary,” Harvard Business School professor (and Mormon) Clayton Christenson tells Businessweek.
It’s no surprise that Mormons rank in the high echelons of business. They’re execs for major corporations like Marriott International, Dell, Deloitte, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, for starters — and there’s JetBlue founder David Neeleman, Credit Suisse CEO Eric Varvel, and Gary Crittenden, former CFO for Citigroup and American Express.
Two leading Republican presidential candidates have also come out of the LDS church: Mitt Romney, former CEO of Bain & Company, and Jon Huntsman, former ambassador to China.
In its excellent profile of successful Mormon leaders, Businessweek asked Gary Cornia, the dean of the Mormon-run Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management, why this religious sect has churned out so many CEOs.
“I’m not going to say we beat everybody out, but we do have a reputation,” he says. “And one of the defining opportunities for young men and young women is the mission experience.”
There, 'they prepare to become messengers of the Lord, bringing glad tidings to families around the world,' according to Provo's website.
'The MTC curriculum consists of up to 12 weeks of studying doctrine, learning to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively, and developing excellent communication skills. When missionaries are called to serve in foreign lands, their training also includes learning a new language.'
The other 20% head to training centres in Buenos Aires, Seoul and Manila, among other far-off places.
'Using state-of-the-art language training technology, the Provo MTC fulfils the prophecy that 'every man shall hear the fullness of the gospel in his own tongue . . . through those who are ordained unto this power' (D&C 90:11)' (MTC).
The intensive language training prepares the Mormons for their missions abroad. Bloomberg reports that Neeleman served in Brazil, and after founding JetBlue, he launched Azul Airlines, a domestic Brazilian carrier.
Huntsman served in Taiwan.
These twelve apostles have also experienced worldly success. Take Neil Andersen, who earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and became VP of the Morton Plant Health System.
Andersen was elected to the 'Quorum of Twelve' in 2009.
Men are strongly encouraged to do the training; women serve voluntarily and only make up 20% of the service
This has to do with the Mormon church's beliefs about the role of females in the household. Bloomberg reports that in his 2007 book The Mormon Way of Doing Business, Jeff Benedict says 'the wives' deep commitment to the home ... is vital to the success of these CEOs' performance at work.'
Men are called 'Elders' and women are called 'Sisters.' And whereas men can apply for the program at 19, women can enter at 21.
According to the BBC, about 40% of Mormon males are missionaries.
This includes conservative dark pants and a suit coat for men, and a modest dress for women. Anything fashionable is forbidden. The missionary handbook explicitly states:
'Extreme of faddish styles, including bowl cuts, crew cuts, shaved or bleached hair, or wet-look styles, are unacceptable.'
For many Mormons, dressing up for 730 days straight makes for a smoother transition to the professional world.
Each young Mormon lives with a companion -- whom they proselytize with for 10 hours/day, six days/week
They're called 'companionships.' Throughout the course of a mission, one rotates through two or three companions, which 'forces the development of interpersonal skills,' Joseph Ogden, assistant dean of BYU's Marriott School told Businessweek.
There's no access to the news, and missionaries are allowed only two calls home each year -- on Christmas and Mother's Day
'My missionary experience obliterated class distinction for me,' he says. 'I learned to treat everyone the same. If anything, I have a disdain for the upper class and people who think they are better than others.'
Neeleman's perspective is evident in JetBlue's business approach. There is no first-class section on JetBlue planes. All seats are sold at the same price. All passengers receive the same treatment and are referred to as 'customers.'
For the entire two years, missionaries aren't allowed to date -- or even flirt for that matter, according to the missionary guidebook
This aligns with the church's teaching on chastity and marriage.
Kristen DeTienne, a professor at BYU, told Bloomberg that she 'knows several executives at top companies who express enthusiasm about hiring Mormon employees, in part because they are often faithfully married.'
This teaches young Mormons the power of persuasion. In 1986, there were 6.3 baptisms per missionary, whereas today there are approximately 5.1 baptisms per missionary.
Businessweek reported on how Romney proselytized:
Eager to move up through the missionary ranks, he experimented with innovative means of getting out the Mormon Word, like hosting 'American night' at a local café and staging an exhibition baseball game. According to The Washington Post, he also pitched articles about Mormons to newspapers and even tried proselytizing at bars.
But the surge of new missionaries since the 1970s can be traced to another guy: Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball, who 'issued a call to all young men of the Church, calling them to serve full-time missions.'
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