When Brigham Young led the Mormon pioneers into the briny emptiness of the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the energetic church president rolled up his sleeves and put everyone to work.
"When the people pulled their wagons into this valley and started setting up a community, they had to have some banking facilities, and they needed a newspaper," said Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve."They did things that would take care of their needs," Haight told The Arizona Republic.
Raised in a culture of obedience to authority, the church members eagerly followed President Young's lead in building their economic and spiritual lives. They reasoned in a saying of the day that "He is a prophet because he is of profit to his people."
That history of building an economy along with a religion made the the church comfortable with business. It helps explain the fact that most top-level spiritual leaders of the church, such as Haight and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, were called to their church positions after successful business careers.
Haight, 84, was mayor of Palo Alto, Calif., from 1961-63 and was a regional manager for Montgomery Ward & Co. department stores. Ballard worked in automotive, real estate and investment businesses.
Ezra Taft Benson, 91, whose role as church president gives him the mantle of "prophet, seer and revelator," began his professional life as a county farm agent in Idaho and was President Eisenhower's secretary of agriculture from 1953 to 1961.
"Most churches are run by preachers who went to seminaries, who decided to be preachers when they were 18, 19, 20 years old," said Rodney Stark, a University of Washington sociologist who has studied the church. "These preachers never met a payroll. They don't know how the world works."
By contrast, LDS leaders "are used to making their own living," Stark said. "By the time they become church authorities, they've run car companies or insurance companies. They know how to do this stuff."
Given the church's wide-ranging financial commitments, business expertise is a necessity.
Donna Marriott, wife of LDS hotel magnate J. Willard Marriott Jr., said, "We belong to a church that believes in work."
The LDS culture honors and nourishes men such as Jon Huntsman, who had a solid background in business and government service in 1979 when asked to take over as president of the church's Washington, D.C., mission at age 42.
After serving three years, he established Huntsman Chemical Corp., now the largest North American producer of polystyrene packaging used for products from toothbrushes to McDonald's Big Mac packages.
Huntsman is ranked by Fortune magazine as the nation's 201st-wealthiest person. He says his "family, church and business are intertwined to the point where they're inseparable."
Among those connections is Haight, Huntsman's father-in-law and a member of Huntsman's board of directors.
Haight juggles an especially broad set of assignments. He has served as a director of church-controlled Bonneville International Corp., which owns television and radio stations nationwide; Bonneville Holding Co., a tax-exempt firm that sends millions of dollars in profits from the broadcasting outlets to the church; Deseret Management Corp., a taxable corporation that forwards profits from two dozen companies to the church; and the LDS Foundation, a tax-exempt organization that moves profits from the church's subsidiaries to charitable outlets, such as the Utah Symphony and the University of Utah.
Haight also has served as director of institutions not controlled by the church, such as First Security Corp., a Salt Lake City-based financial-services firm with assets of nearly $6 billion; and advisory boards to the state-funded University of Utah College of Business and Utah State University.
"We're busy people; you have to organize yourself well in order to get it in, but it can be done," Haight said. "And you have to have an understanding wife.
"We're in business because we've been in those things for a long time, and traditionally, the church leaders needed to do them . . . for the people. They'd have been poor leaders if they hadn't done it."
Although this spirit of mutual obligation and communal concern enabled the LDS people to build a civilization in the Utah wilderness, it has made some of them vulnerable to the frauds of swindlers pursuing what became known as "the Mormon marketing strategy."
Thousands of trusting church members have been bilked by con men who invoke the fellowship of their faith.
In one notorious scam in the early 1980s, entrepreneur Grant Affleck used the prestige of an unsuspecting Paul H. Dunn, then a member of the First Quorum of Seventy, to persuade Mormons to mortgage their homes and turn millions of dollars over to him.
Most never got their money back and the scandal tainted Dunn and the church.
But such scandals have done little to shake the tradition of honoring business activism and success.
At 83, Howard W. Hunter, president of the Council of the Twelve and next in line to become church president, finds time to serve on the boards of at least 12 organizations. He practiced law before becoming a member of the Council of the Twelve in 1959.
"The bulk of my practice consisted of a corporate practice," he said. "As a consequence, I was on the board of about 26 corporations at the time I became" a full-time church official.
Hunter said that when he became an apostle, he asked then-President David O. McKay "if he wanted me to give up my directorships. He said he'd leave that up to me."
Hunter remains a director of Los Angeles-based Watson Land Co. His other directorships include church-owned Beneficial Life Insurance Co. and four subsidiaries; Salt Lake City-based Heber J. Grant & Co., an investment company named after its founder, a former church president; First Security Corp.; church-operated Brigham Young University campuses in Utah and Hawaii; and the church-run Polynesian Cultural Center, one of Hawaii's major tourist attractions.
Hunter described the life of a general authority this way: "He gets up early every morning and tries to clear his desk and never gets it done. We do everything, including emptying the waste baskets."
The pay, he said, is "very modest." Then he added, "I'm really not free to disclose that."Other LDS leaders with especially active secular roles include:
- DALLIN H. OAKS of the Council of the Twelve, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and former president of Brigham Young University. More recently, a board member of O.C. Tanner Manufacturing, a Utah-based jewelry manufacturer not affiliated with the church; also church-owned Beneficial Development Co. of Salt Lake City and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
- RUSSELL M. NELSON of the Twelve, surgeon and medical researcher, has held directorships at LDS Hospital, which was sold by the church in 1974; church-owned Promised Valley Playhouse in Salt Lake City; and the BYU campuses in Utah and Hawaii.
- THOMAS S. MONSON, second counselor in the First Presidency has held directorships of church-owned companies, such as Deseret News Publishing Co., Beneficial Life Insurance Co. and Deseret Management Corp. Has held posts with the Boy Scouts of America, the Utah State Board of Regents and Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph.
- GORDON B. HINCKLEY, first counselor in the First Presidency has held directorships of church-owned colleges, also its communications company, Bonneville International Corp., and the church fund-raising arm, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation.
- MARVIN J. ASHTON of the Twelve and a former Utah state senator, has held directorships at Zions Securities Corp., church-owned Deseret Book Co., and the ZCMI department-store chain, which is controlled by the church.
- RICHARD C. EDGLEY, the church's finance and records-department director, is a director of PacifiCorp, the third-largest electric utility company west of the Rockies, and of Salt Lake City-based Utah Power and Light. He also is on the board of directors of church-owned Deseret Trust Co. and Bonneville Holding Co.