Mormons in Management

19 October 2012 at 4:59 pm 9 comments

| Peter Klein |

There’s an old joke about God calling the Pope. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that I’ve answered your prayer — I’m uniting all the world’s religions under one church and one leader.” Great, the Pope responds, what’s the bad news? “I’m calling from Salt Lake City.”

It’s commonly observed that the academic fields of strategy, organization, and entrepreneurship are over-represented by scholars from the Mormon faith: Christensen, Clark, Barney, Hoskisson, Dyer, Whetten, Zenger, and Felin, to name just a few. Often this is explained by superior social networking and the role of BYU as an anchor entity. But I don’t know any systematic academic research on the phenomenon.

A Wednesday HBR blog entry, “How Mormons Have Shaped Modern Management,” takes a different tack, focusing on the beliefs and practices of the Mormon church. An interesting read. See also a 2011 Business Week piece on the role of the Mormon mission.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, People, Strategic Management.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bo  |  20 October 2012 at 3:03 am

    As interesting as this may seem, I fail to see any need for “systematic academic research” on this topic. While it may be of relevance and consequence that a potential president of the US is Mormon, it is hard (for me) to see any relevance to management academia. Although I am not as good at name dropping, I think a similar exercise with focus on other Christian faiths would yield equally interesting results (statistics can do this!). As would, perhaps, focus on gender, age, socio-economic background, ethnicity etc…

    A person’s faith is something…well personal and although one may argue that Mormons (or others) are better networked, have better access to resources and may be more affluent on balance, the choice to become a management scholar is probably not determined by faith…and the rise to prominence in management academia not either I would suspect..Each of the individuals named above should be judged on their academic merits independent of their religious (or other) affiliations….suggesting otherwise is (in my opinion) dangerous and wrong..

    So, is it really interesting that some prominent management scholars are Mormons? I think not..

  • 2. Rafe Champion  |  20 October 2012 at 3:07 am

    The principles articulated in the HBR link clearly represent an admirable code for living and leading (leading as a servant, as per the scripture that was read out when prefects were inducted in our school). Add to that, the Mormons, like the Quakers, do not seem to have the dogmatic and authoritarian subtext that is the downside of most “true belief” religions.

    The principles of classical liberalism need to be beefed up to include a robust moral framework in addition to the usual pillars of freedom, rule of law, limited government etc.

    The same things come through in the Covey principles of living and managing.

    We seem to be short of research on value systems generally although years ago I saw an interesting comparison of different European nations. You can find the reference and a summary if you fast forward through this file to Winter 1996 (it is a series of one page roundups that I wrote for the quarterly magazine out of the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney)

  • 3. Rafe Champion  |  20 October 2012 at 3:24 am

    Another international comparison (another old roundup piece), not on management but on values. Tangential to the topic but interesting.

    Andrew Greeley, ‘The Other Civic America: Religion
    and Social Capital’, The American Prospect,
    May 1997.

    Greeley claims that religion can indeed be a source of social
    capital, in this case, by encouraging people to contribute their time
    (unpaid) for worthy causes. He drew upon two studies of volunteering
    in 16 countries, carried out in 1981 and 1991 .

    The United States led the way, with 47 per cent of the population reporting some form of volunteer activity. Canada came close behind, with the rest of the field well back, between 20 and 30 per cent.

    ‘The North American countries, often dismissed as selfish and
    materialistic, are the most likely to have higher rates of voluntary
    service, and those rates rose in the 1 980s while they remained
    stable in Europe. This generous, religiously driven “habit of the
    heart” makes a major contribution to the economy and the general
    welfare of the country’.

    If was not hard to identify the characteristic which was most
    often associated with volunteer activity – religious affiliation. But
    despite this, US commentators rarely note the integrative effect of
    religion and prefer to see religion as exacerbating conflicts.

  • 4. Ty Mackey  |  20 October 2012 at 11:27 am


    Thanks for the love. You get an extra scoop at the ice cream social. With that said,

    Number of Nobel Prizes owned by Jews: >200.

    Number of Nobel Prizes owned by Mormons: 0

  • 5. Sameer  |  21 October 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Names like Christensen, Clark, Barney, Hoskisson and Dyer means a lot to me…They are to me a symbolic apex of intellectual curiosity of the field I chose to study….and the last thing I can see in them is their religious affiliation……..

    Something in life are very secular…intellectualism is one of them….

  • 6. Peter Klein  |  22 October 2012 at 10:14 am

    Bo and Sameer, the issue (for the typical O&M reader) is not theology or doctrine, but social networks and the relationship between belief systems, culture, and organizational practices. Some of the most interesting organizational and institutional questions involve small, close-knit groups that share formal and informal beliefs and practices. Think of Avner Greif’s influential work on the emergence of long-distance trade, for example. And just imagine putting this information and NetMiner in the hands of some intrepid PhD student….

  • 7. Bo  |  24 October 2012 at 12:23 pm

    ? So, you think that mormon management scholars share represent a close-knit group that share formal and informal information beyond the “traditional academic channels”?

  • 8. Peter Klein  |  24 October 2012 at 1:18 pm

    That is my working hypothesis, yes.

  • 9. Daniel  |  25 October 2012 at 6:26 am

    It’s also commonly observed that mormons excel at business. A recent article in the economist titled “The Mormon way of business” points to several possible explanatory factors including the role of the mormon mission.

    The final note of the analysis is particularly amusing.

    “Missionary work also teaches young Mormons to persevere despite harsh odds. They must sell a product for which there is almost no demand: an idiosyncratic version of Christianity that teaches that Christ made a post-resurrection visit to the United States, that the Garden of Eden may have been in Missouri and that drinking alcohol is a sin. After that, selling airline seats or life insurance must be a doddle.”


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