Mormon Missions: Path to Success?

In high school, there seemed to be somewhat of a negative stereotype associated with kids who were Mormon. I’ve grown up since then of course and I respect all religions, but I really didn’t realize how many successful and influential Mormons there are in America, especially in business. Mormons represent only 2% of the US population, but there are dozens of Mormons that dominate American business and civic life.

In the Businessweek article, God’s MBAs: Why Mormon Missions Produce Leaders, I learned one of the reasons the Mormon faith creates so many influential leaders: the Provo Missionary Training Center and the worldwide mission trips that around 20,000 Mormons are required to go on each year.

The Provo Missionary Training Center is a huge complex in Provo, Utah that nearly all US Mormon missionaries are required to pass through before going on their missions. These men and women are straight out of high school usually, and they spend one to three months at the training center preparing to spread the Mormon religion. At the training center, young missionaries begin their days at 6:30 am and don’t end until 10 pm. Most of their time is spent in class or studying. They have one day off per week, and not allowed to leave the training center grounds without permission.

The training center not only prepares them for their missions, which begin the day after they complete their training, but it also prepares them for real life. Mormons can be assigned to missions anywhere in the world, and around half of the 20,000 missionaries travel abroad. Where in the world each missionary goes is up to the “Twelve Apostles,” who pray to find out where each individual is needed, which could be anywhere from Ghana to Los Angeles.

The mission trips are usually two years long and are not glamorous. “The wonderful thing is that you don’t experience Korea from the 25th floor of the Hyatt,” says Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who did his mission in Korea from 1971 to 1973, “they don’t have air conditioning, you don’t have air conditioning; they don’t have plumbing, you don’t have plumbing.”

Young Mormons do their missions in pairs, and they spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week together. Over the course of their mission, each individual rotates through two or three companions. This forces the development of interpersonal skills, because you never get to choose who you get partnered with. On the two year missions, they spend 10 hours a day, six days a week spreading The Book of Mormon by knocking on doors and attempting to convert strangers, who often speak another language, to learn about Mormonism. They are met with almost constant rejection, making the missions almost unbearably depressing and demanding. To make it even worse, missionaries have to follow a pocket book guide full of strict rules, they are not allowed access to news and are only allowed two phone calls home EACH YEAR.

Now even though this might seem insane, the missionaries are forced to grow up REAL fast, and they learn many valuable lessons that help them later in life. “You leave your family, your friends, your car, you don’t date for two years, and you’re 19 years old,” says Dave Checketts “I missed my freedom, I missed going out to eat—I was suddenly working hard, knocking on doors, trying to find people who would listen, dressing every day in a shirt and tie…” Soon after his mission, Checketts became president of the NBA’s Utah Jazz at the age of 28, and then went on to become CEO of Madison Square Garden.

He’s not the only Mormon to see success. Did you know that the founder of Marriott Hotels, CEO of Nationwide Insurance, and the CMO of priceline.com are all Mormon? That’s not to mention millionaire Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (mission: France), former Utah governor and Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. (Taiwan), JetBlue founder David Neeleman (Brazil), Credit Suisse CEO Eric Varvel, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People author Stephen Covey (England), and former dean of the Harvard Business School Kim Clark (Germany) just to name a few.

I had no idea about Mormon missions until now. I think it would be a brutal experience that would transform anyone from kid to an adult very quickly, which may be the reason so many Mormons are so successful.

Feel free to leave any comments or suggestions below!

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