By JEANETTE BENNETT, utahvalley360.com
Photography by KENNETH LINGE
Franklin Covey founder Hyrum Smith says resolutions don’t work but philanthropy does.
As the founder of the modern day planner, Hyrum Smith understands the concept of time and he doesn’t like to waste it. He speaks quickly and moves from subject to subject easily. In fact, he asked, “Are you with me?” several times during our conversation.
Hyrum can also multi-task. He took a couple of phone calls mid-sentence during our time together on a cold December morning, and he told one caller, “I’m actually in the middle of an interview right now.” Hyrum laughs at his friend’s response and says, “Yes, I’m interviewing to get a job! Will you give me a job? I need one.”
Although Hyrum primarily lives in St. George, he comes to the Wasatch Front often to check on Franklin Covey and oversee The Galileo Initiative, his new venture. He is also a football season-ticket holder at BYU, where his wife played two sports in the ‘60s.
We met for our December interview in his nearly empty office at the Franklin Covey headquarters.
“I hope the photo shoot doesn’t take two hours,” he says. “Forbes spent two hours photographing me, and then the photo was tiny and the article was negative. I guess the reporter didn’t like me much.”
Hyrum has been well-documented in the national media as he’s climbed the corporate ranks with his evolving company, which merged with the Stephen Covey empire in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, in Utah he’s also known for his human fallacy, which led to a lengthy extra-marital affair even while he was promoting values-based living in his books and speeches. As a public figure, this private news hit the headlines. Smartly, Hyrum dealt with the issue and even wrote a book about it titled, “Pain is Inevitable, Misery is Optional,” which Deseret Book published in 2004.
But like any of us, Hyrum doesn’t want to be defined by his faults. Instead, his mark is helping others find their strengths and utilize them to have better lives, families, careers and attitudes. As a new year opens, Hyrum shares his thoughts on resolutions, wealth and why too many Utah County homes don’t have furniture.
Jeanette Bennett, Editor of Utah Valley Magazine: How do you approach a new year?
Hyrum Smith: Frankly, I’m happy to still be alive. Every year is a bonus. I turned 62 in October, and I’ve had a fabulous life.
UV: Do you have a ritual you plan to go through as you prepare for 2006?
Hyrum: There is a very significant emotional bridge I go over every year between Christmas and New Year’s — both psychologically and spiritually. And by New Year’s Day, I’m ready for the new year, and I’m excited. I have a bunch of things I want to do that I haven’t gotten done yet.
UV: What’s your take on New Year’s resolutions?
Hyrum: They are highly overrated. It’s a cultural thing for people to set resolutions, but by mid-February, they can’t remember what they are. They say they are going to lose weight, but they never do it. Quite frankly, the idea of resolutions is a joke in our country. That’s why we have had so much success at Franklin. We have taught a simple but powerful way of identifying what really matters most to you. It’s a way of figuring out your governing values. And once you know what your values are, then those direct the rest of your life. It’s an ongoing process. With resolutions, by the end of the year you think, “Geez, I have got to repent.”
UV: Many couples in Utah and around the country are overwhelmed with both parents working and trying to keep track of their busy kids. Everyone is trying to find the elusive “balance.” What’s your philosophy on balance?
Hyrum: Through all of our research, we’ve decided that people want four things: balance, simplicity, success and to be more effective at what they do. All of these concepts wrapped up together is called inner peace. The basic principles to become more productive and effective have not changed for 6,000 years. I happen to think Stephen Covey is a genius, but his seven habits are 6,000 years old. He arranged them together, and the world went nuts. But be proactive? That’s not a new idea. First things first? That’s a 6,000-year-old idea. So when people ask what we do at Franklin and Galileo, my honest response is that we package very old ideas for the 21st century and we’re very good at it.
UV: Do you think Utahns — and specifically Utah County residents — have their priorities straight?
Hyrum: Some of the biggest houses in Utah are in Utah County, and many of the people living in them cannot afford them. You’d be amazed how many homes in Utah County don’t have furniture in them because people can’t afford to furnish them! In Utah, people think they have to have a big house. And then they’ve got to go out and have three jobs and the wife has to work, too.
UV: And it’s especially bad in Utah County?
Hyrum: Let me tell you an interesting experience. Between 1986 and 1989 I spoke in 140 schools in the state of Utah. It was an anti-drug thing. We put on assemblies for the students, and I was at one of the high schools in Utah County, and it was the rudest group I’ve ever spoken to. A reporter for the Daily Herald came up and asked if the students were always this rude. I said, “Actually, this is the rudest high school I’ve spoken to yet, and I’ve spoken to 80 so far.” The next day my comments were in the paper, and this furor occurred. People were writing letters to the editor saying how great the school was because it had a great football team. No one addressed the fact that the students were rude. So I shouldn’t make blanket statements about things because it gets me in trouble — but people are living beyond their means and it’s acute in Utah County.
UV: Why do you think people spend more than they earn?
Hyrum: People do not know how to delay gratification. For example, Cabela’s is in Utah County. When it opened I was stunned. They needed new traffic lights and parking. People flock there to buy stuff they don’t need. One of the fastest growing industries right now is garage sales because people are discovering that stuff ain’t it.
UV: So what’s your philosophy on wealth?
Hyrum: The minute you have sufficient for your needs and any extra, you are wealthy. The amount you have that is more than you need isn’t yours, and you should do something with it that matters. I’ll never forget the day we went public and I was standing on the floor of the stock exchange. I had the thought, “Are you going to put your money where your mouth is?” So I have given away a lot. There is a scripture that says if you cast your bread on the water, it will come back tenfold. This is a powerful principle. It’s not just fodder for a talk in sacrament meeting. And I try to live this principle and have given to specific causes, such as Tuacahn, which is a charter high school for the arts in St. George.
UV: What made you decide that Tuacahn should receive so much of your attention and resources?
Hyrum: It’s a thrill for me because it has an impact on so many lives. During the summer we have 300 people working there. We have a budget of almost $4 million to run that place. It’s been a financial nightmare for me. We gifted them $10 million to build it, but when they had the walls halfway up, the money was gone. So I started loaning them money. And now I’ve put $23 million into Tuacahn! I say I’ve built my tomb there — I’ll be buried center stage.
UV: Hey, if it comes back tenfold, you’re in great shape!
Hyrum: When someone uncovers that canyon in a thousand years, they’ll think some pharaoh was buried there. But it’s an amazing thing for Washington County. Most arts facilities are lucky if they raise 50 percent of their budget. We now raise 90 percent of our budget through ticket sales and philanthropic donations. I have my hand out all over asking for donations.
UV: Speaking of schools, you and your wife both graduated from BYU. Do you still have strong ties to the school?
Hyrum: My wife graduated from there in 1963, and I graduated in 1971. It took me 10 years to graduate. I started as a freshman in 1961, and then I went on a mission and spent almost four years in the army when I was drafted in the Vietnam War. Now Larry Miller teaches an entrepreneurial class at BYU, and I substitute for him every semester. It’s fun to be back on the campus but not have to take an exam.
UV: What kind of student were you?
Hyrum: I was a lousy student. It’s a miracle I made it through BYU. I did the business management thing because I thought it was easy and not too demanding. I nearly flunked out of BYU my freshman year. When I came back to BYU I was married and had a child, so I was more serious about school. But I didn’t really like school that much.
UV: What did you do after graduation?
Hyrum: I went back to Hawaii, which is where I was raised, and I sold life insurance. I discovered that I could sell things. I was only there for a year, and then we moved to Portland, Ore. The Mormon church then asked me to be a mission president from 1978-1981. I was 34 years old and I was over the California Ventura Mission. Then in 1982 I started H.W. Smith and Associates, but then when we did the Franklin Planner we changed the name of our company.
UV: What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned in the past two decades since you started your business?
Hyrum: Have you read my book, “Pain is Inevitable, Misery is Optional”?
UV: Yes I have.
Hyrum: I’ve learned a lot of things, haven’t I? Yes, I’ve learned some big lessons.
UV: When your book came out about your personal struggles, how was that response different than when your other books came out?
Hyrum: The important thing to remember is that I didn’t do it for money. I get zero money for it, and I wrote that in the foreword. I wrote that book because Sheri Dew (CEO of Deseret Book) pushed me so hard to do it. I met her when she did an article on me for This People Magazine and we have remained friends. She told me that I needed to tell people what I went through. So I did. It was a hard book to write. My situation has been so public. I made the front page of all the papers in the state — “Hyrum Smith is excommunicated.” Those things are theoretically supposed to be quiet. It was a very tough but ultimately rewarding experience because my family stayed together.
UV: What did you learn from the experience?
Hyrum: I learned some horrific lessons. As I look back I think, “How could I be so stupid?” But the company was going crazy. I was on a private jet traveling around the world, and you get sucked into things. You get anesthetized from the success and do some really stupid things.
UV: What have people said who have read your book?
Hyrum: I get letters, e-mails and phone calls from all over the world from people who are going through something similar and say they are glad I wrote the book. I can’t stand to read the book, but I’m glad I wrote it.
UV: I admire you for being open about your personal struggles. It seems like you’ve experienced a lot of things in your life you didn’t anticipate.
Hyrum: Yes. If someone would have told me our company would grow from my basement to 4,000 people, I would have hooted. In the early days, we were just trying to make payroll next week. First there were three of us. Then there were five people. Then 10. Then 20. And now 4,000. It’s mindboggling. And all of this came from our passion to help people get control of their lives.
UV: Did you have a measurable goal when you started the company?
Hyrum: Our goal was never to get rich at it. It never occurred to us that we would get rich. In fact, I have eight ingredients for a successful venture, and one is that financial success must always be the result of some other success. If your goal is to be financially successful, you are three years away from extinction. If you look at the Fortune 500 list from 30 years ago, two-thirds of those companies are gone. What happened? They focused on the bottomline instead of what they are really good at.
UV: When you started seeing huge success, what did that feel like?
Hyrum: It’s funny because we were starting to get on the lists of Forbes fastest growing companies and the Inc. 500. This was very heady stuff. And I’d get interviewed by all of these magazines who asked me my key to success. I’d say, “I don’t know.” They didn’t think that was very funny.
UV: Now looking back, do you know what your keys to success were?
Hyrum: I have eight keys to success that I share with others. I’ll tell them to you quickly.
First, you have to have a product that works and be willing to guarantee your product.
Second is people. You have to surround yourself with blue-chip people who have a shared value system. That doesn’t mean they belong to the same church. I could spend hours telling you about miracles of when we needed someone with a certain talent and they just came along. This picture here on my wall is of all of the presenters teaching our seminars. We teach 40,000 to 50,000 people a month in live seminars.
Third, a sense of urgency. You’ve got to be in a hurry. Sometimes the only competitive edge you have is the speed with which you respond to your client’s needs. I’ve had 50 speeding tickets because I’m always in a hurry even when I don’t need to be in a hurry. I’ll never forget an order from Nu Skin that came in. They wanted 75,000 Franklin Planners in Japan in two weeks. I told them we could do that. When I came to my people and told them what we had to do, they said there was no way we could do that. They asked me if I was smoking something. But 13 days later, we had produced 75,000 planners, but they were in Salt lake City. We leased a 747 and put those suckers on it. So in exactly 14 days, Nu Skin had their 75,000 planners in Japan.
Fourth, you have to have a passion for what you do. You have to believe deep down in your core that what you are doing is going to save the world.
Fifth is customer service. It’s a given if you don’t take care of your clients, somebody else will. It was a red letter day here at Franklin when Nordstrom came to our stores to benchmark our service. In my mind, Nordstrom is the best at customer service, but they thought we were the best.
Sixth is what I already told you — financial success must be a byproduct of another goal, not the goal itself.
Seventh, you have to have faith in yourself. You’ve got to believe you can do it. When I decided to start my business, I was making great money at ADP and had to walk away from that. My wife was panicked for several years.
Eight, have faith in God. This is a vital one, and I’ve said this in speeches a lot of times, and it always offends somebody. But it resonates with 90 percent of people. You have got to believe that you are part of something bigger.
If all eight of these things are in place, you’ll have a successful venture.
UV: I recognize these principles from your seminars and books. Do you ever get tired of giving the same speeches?
Hyrum: I’ve given the time management seminar 2,300 times and it is seven hours. I call it the fast gun syndrome. In the old West, the gun fighter had to be fast every time or he died. That’s the way I see it. You have to be just as good every time because this is the first time these people have heard it. Really what we’re doing is mass-selling people on making an experiment in their lives. I get off on closing sales — that’s my thing. You’ve got to have energy every time.
UV: Do you think your age and experience help you in public speaking or is it harder to get excited after decades of presentations?
Hyrum: If you look at many public speakers who get to be my age, they lose their energy and their fire. They think that because they have a best-selling book that people will listen, but speakers can lose their edge. When I lose that edge, I will quit. I really get off on the energy that I take out of an audience. This helps me never get tired of the same speech. And it’s great because I don’t have to prepare. I only have three speeches, so which one do you want? Bang! You’ve got it.
UV: Do you ever find yourself wondering if you’ve already said something to the group you’re speaking to?
Hyrum: Yes! General Motors was a big client of ours. They decided they wanted all of their suppliers to hear our seminar. So we did three four-hour seminars a day for six weeks, with 200 people at a time. There were many times when I stood there and thought, “Where am I?” I had someone bring me water to keep my voice from cracking, and he said he could tell where I was in the speech by where I stood in the room. I guess I can be predictable like that. But if you go to Las Vegas to see Danny Gans, and then you go the next night, it will be verbatim what it was the night before. But you’ll still love it because he’s got the energy. I agree with the philosophy, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
UV: Does anything make you nervous? I’m guessing not public speaking.
Hyrum: Actually, I’ve never given a speech that I wasn’t nervous for. The good thing is luckily it goes away once I start. I also have to drink Robitussin before I speak because it clears the crap out of my vocal chords.
UV: Do you have a mentor for public speaking?
Hyrum: Marion D. Hanks was my mission president, and in my opinion he’s the best speaker ever. And I’m totally unbiased! But I watched him as my mission president, and I became enthralled with public speaking.
UV: What could you talk about for hours?
Hyrum: The abundance mentality. There are two philosophies in this world. There’s the scarcity mentality and the abundance mentality. The scarcity mentality says, “I’ve got to grab what I can and hold onto it.” The abundance mentality says you can share what you have. There were six companies that broke off from Franklin Quest and started their own planner companies. Nobody could understand why we didn’t go after them. But we knew that even if we had 1 percent of the market for planners, we’d still be a successful company.
UV: If I were to look at your personal planner, what would I see?
Hyrum: You’d see that I’m meticulous about my events of the day, but I don’t take many notes, even though I’ve been teaching people all over the world to do that. I have a record of where I was every day for the past 22 years. I like time. I have watches for cuff links, and they are set to the correct time.
UV: I know you primarily live near St. George where time runs a little slower than Salt Lake City. Do you love southern Utah?
Hyrum: Yes, I actually live in Gunlock. We have 2,000 acres, and I love it. We don’t have curtains on our windows because nobody is around but our horses.
UV: What is your day-to-day life like now?
Hyrum: I limit my travel to six days a month. I just went over 5 million miles on commercial aircraft. I don’t brag about that when my wife is present. This certainly wasn’t an award I aspired to in high school.
UV: Will you be at BYU’s bowl game in Vegas?
Hyrum: No, that’s the night we’ll have 15 grandchildren staying at our house. I’ll need an industrial strength Valium to get through it, but it’s a tradition and we enjoy spending time with family.
UV: Thank you for sharing your ideas with me and our readers. UV
HYRUM ON HYRUM
Age | 62
Family | He and his wife, Gail, have six children
Favorite sound | A rushing river
Favorite smell | Steak cooking on the grill
Tunes while driving | Light classical and show tunes — definitely not talk radio. “It bores me to death,” Hyrum says.
HYRUM SMITH TIMELINE
1971 | Hyrum Smith graduates from BYU
1982 | Hyrum starts H.W. Smith & Associates
1984 | Franklin Institute created
1993 | BYU Marriott School of Management names Hyrum the International Entrepreneur of the Year
1997 | Franklin Quest acquires the Covey company
1999 | Hyrum steps down as CEO of Franklin Covey
2000 | Hyrum steps down as chairman of the board for Franklin Covey and becomes a vice president
2005 | Hyrum steps down entirely from his post at Franklin Covey