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Utah businessman now back in the fold

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For years, the founder of Franklin Quest-turned-Franklin Covey has carried his own day planner — the one his company makes — with a list of his most cherished life goals as the basis for making daily decisions.

The underlying mantra — "What's important is to learn how to do what matters most" — has guided Hyrum Smith in personal relationships, business decisions and spiritual matters.

It made him productive. It helped make him famous. And sharing his philosophy with hundreds of thousands of people around the globe also made him wealthy.

So when he failed to heed his own advice about living daily in a manner consistent with his life goals, it nearly destroyed him — personally, professionally and spiritually.

He came full-face with the duality of his life on an October day in 1998, when a voice he could no longer deny told him to stop pretending he was something he wasn't, to face up to it and fix it.

Watching television at home near St. George with his family that weekend, he saw his longtime friend, Elder Jeffrey Holland, address fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the faith's semiannual general conference. Elder Holland's topic was repentance. Smith told himself then: "I'd better start practicing what I preach."

Of all the meetings he had called during his long career in business, he convened the most difficult one he'd ever held inside his own home.

It was the beginning of what he calls "walking into the meat grinder." He gathered his family and confessed an extramarital affair. Because faithful Latter-day Saints, like many religious believers, live by a strict moral code of conduct that explicitly prohibits such behavior, Smith found himself explaining actions for which — as a lay leader in his congregation — he had excommunicated other Latter-day Saints.

Behavior that, particularly because of his public persona and past church leadership, made him unfit for membership in the LDS Church and threatened what his family considered to be their eternal future together in the hereafter. The bombshell meant much more than an indiscretion.

For a man in his position, it was the equivalent of attempted spiritual suicide.

And that realization turned Hyrum Smith's world upside-down.

Historic LDS connections

A great-great-grandnephew of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, Hyrum is the namesake of Joseph's brother, Hyrum. The two brothers died as martyrs to the fledgling faith in a hail of gunfire while being held in a small-town Illinois jail in June of 1844. Today, thousands of LDS pilgrims visit the site each year to pay their respects to the Smith brothers, and the LDS Church has built a visitors center there where missionaries share the message of what they believe is Christ's true gospel restored to Earth.

The man who founded Franklin Quest in the basement of his Centerville home nearly 20 years ago cut his teeth on stories about his direct-line ancestors, which also include two subsequent presidents of the LDS Church — Joseph F. Smith (a great-grandfather) and Joseph Fielding Smith (a grandfather). So the fact that a young Hyrum served an LDS mission and got to know many of the church's top leaders is little surprise.

To say that a certain level of personal behavior was expected is an understatement. "That's part of what made the whole excommunication thing so painful," he recalls, unwilling to shrink away from who he is and the choices he made.

He counts cousins and many personal friends among the ranks of LDS general authorities and was called to serve as a mission president for the church in 1978 — seven years after graduating with a degree in business from Brigham Young University. Three years of shepherding hundreds of young missionaries and giving both spiritual and motivational speeches convinced him he had what it took to persuade others, and in 1983, he paired with his wife, Gail, and longtime friend Richard Winwood to launch Franklin Quest.

Its specialty: teaching clients to manage time and improve personal productivity by identifying what is most important to them, and using that as the foundation for action.

He put the principles to work at home as well as on the road, awakening his family of six children at 5 a.m. for planning, prayer and practice on their various musical instruments. When he wasn't speaking to business executives from major corporations, he was serving his family and his faith in public ways — lending support to local academic and business groups, carving out time for horseback riding with his children and accepting a variety of LDS leadership positions.

After managing the fast-growing company among themselves for a time, Smith and his partners realized they needed help. He called on Bob Bennett, a former Washington, D.C., public relations executive and now a U.S. senator, to bring order to his burgeoning business affairs. They took the company public, and the resulting cash infusion not only helped expansion, it created a "heady sense of self-importance," Smith acknowledges.

As staffing grew, the company set up shop in West Valley City, eventually creating a campus of buildings to house oversight of not only the seminars, but the production and distribution of day planners, calendaring systems and other accoutrements that made Franklin — and its signature profile of Ben Franklin — something of a household name among major corporations. The company estimates its planner is used by some 5 million people worldwide.

A merger with motivational guru Stephen Covey's company in 1997 resulted in a name change and additional growth for Franklin Covey, which at its peak trained more than 40,000 people each month and employed 4,000 people. A company profile says its client portfolio "includes 82 of the Fortune 100 companies, more than two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies, thousands of small and midsize companies, educational institutions, government agencies, communities, families and millions of individual consumers worldwide."

At the height of it all, Smith was traveling extensively, admired endlessly and honored profusely by organizations local and national for his leadership, business acumen and philanthropy. Among his accolades: three honorary doctorate degrees, leadership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, public service awards by national organizations, membership on several boards, the S.R.I. Gallup Hall of Fame and Man of the Year award and the International Entrepreneur of the Year award from BYU's Marriott School of Management.

But there was an underside to the public face of a man who was — from all appearances — the epitome of success in every sense. A side so hidden, in fact, that Smith managed to "hide" even from himself.

At least for a time.

Rationalization's easy

"There's a great definition for rationalization — it's legitimizing impropriety," he says, looking directly into the eyes of a reporter. No gazing out the window, casting about for words that soften the admission of wrongdoing. No "buts" or verbal gymnastics about "unmet needs."

No excuses.

Though Smith moves easily in a world that worships the politically correct, the carefully groomed public image, the wordsmithing that drives politics and courtroom battle, there is no shaping or shading now about the reason he chose to be unfaithful.

The process of self-rationalization, he says, "that is the mistress, really. You start dancing with a bear and you stay doing that and it will kill you."

But for Smith, that dance came only after long experience in church leadership, sitting "on the other side of the table" from fellow Latter-day Saints who had also waltzed their way into circumstances they came to be controlled by, only to find that in seeking "freedom" from moral restriction they had imprisoned themselves spiritually.

He had seen it dozens of times. He had warned and pleaded with others to run or be run over. And somehow, he decided he was big enough to dance with the bear.

In his new book, "Pain Is Inevitable, Misery Is Optional," Smith describes how mentally framing one's improper actions through rationalization leads to self-deception and the consequences that process has not only for relationships and business transactions, but for spirituality.

To a population with which he is intimately familiar, he writes, "Active Latter-day Saints are usually pretty deeply ingrained with a sense of what is right and wrong, but we are less likely to be taught about the gray area in between where we often find self-justification for our transgressions. From my own experience, I am convinced that sin and transgression are in almost every circumstance a result of some degree of self-deception."

Knowing hindsight is 20/20, Smith easily recognizes the pattern in himself. Yet he readily admits he knew something of what was happening several years ago, the day he realized "there are situations where I can't be trusted. The opportunity (for infidelity) arises, and when it happens you start legitimizing it."

He discovered he was "capable of shutting off any input from the spirit" that many would identify as conscience. "I got anesthetized, and it went on for several years."

What brought him out from under the self-imposed anesthetic, he can't quite say. Remembering how Elder Holland's words about repentance penetrated him, to this day, "I couldn't tell you exactly what he said." But as he spoke, "there was an overwhelming feeling that the only thing that mattered was my relationship with the Savior." Finally coming to terms in his own mind with the magnitude of what he had done was, in one way, "a huge relief" because he realized it meant he wouldn't have to hide — from himself or others — any longer.

After meeting with his immediate family, he went to a son-in-law — his spiritual leader at the time — and told him he knew that excommunication from the LDS Church was the only option available. Then he went to his board of directors at Franklin and offered to resign.

Within days, the personal, professional and spiritual success he had worked his entire life to achieve was in the early grip of a long-grinding transformation that would consume his life for the next five years. "It was a bloody process, but I decided to do it the way it was supposed to be done."

"I knew the road would be difficult, and I remembered the fear that I might lose everything that was dear to me — my wife, my eternal family and my chance to return to my Father in heaven and his Beloved Son," he writes, looking back.

"I found myself reflecting on the entire process, not only the pain and anguish I had experienced, but also the pain and anguish I had inflicted on my family, my wife, my children, and 640 former missionaries who had looked to me for an example . . . the day-to-day process of putting my relationship back together with my Heavenly Father, and repairing my relationship with my wife and children, with my colleagues at work, trying to restore relationships and heal the wounds I had caused . . . and the sometimes overwhelming feeling that I would never survive it all."

Grave consequences

In St. George, there were few people more prominent than Hyrum Smith. His excommunication headlined the local paper's front page.

"When you're a public figure, you can't expect it to be kept private," he recalls, yet the pain of public humiliation still stings to this day. "When the news came out it was like, 'are you kidding me?' I got calls from all over the world."

In a conversation that proved to be prophetic, he discussed his situation with Elder Holland early on and was told, "You know, Hyrum, you're about to find out who your real friends are."

"He was right about that. There were people who took me apart publicly."

The process was more painful than anything he had ever experienced, he says, not simply because his good name was gone but because the consequences in every arena were so severe. "I think Latter-day Saints have a greater challenge admitting they are leading a double life, because the culture doesn't encourage you to fix problems but to hide them."

He believes the two most welcome groups of people in the church "are the righteous ones and the liars. If you screw up and admit it, you get chewed up by the culture."

He has since had "a lot of relatively prominent people say, 'I don't think I'd ever do that, I'd just take care of it privately and not go through it.' That's why 97 out of 100 people who are excommunicated don't come back. That's a scary number, and you ask yourself why."

He realizes that many of those were "caught in their sins, and they just say, 'Screw it, I'm not interested.' But for others, the process takes a long time and you have to go through all those restrictions. They get worn out and say they're not going to tolerate it anymore."

That's one of the reasons he consented to write about his experience — sans any royalties — when he was approached by LDS Church-owned Deseret Book. "I want to help people see that it's worth it. It's terrifically worth it. But (in the meantime) I had to sit in the audience and watch seven friends bless their kids, and I couldn't stand in the circle or bless any one of my kids. All of that goes away."

While his humiliation was intensified by his public persona, Smith says there were compensating factors. Many of the church's top leaders counseled with him and rooted for him during the process.

He remembers having lunch during that time with Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve one day in the cafeteria of the Church Office Building. He found other general authorities openly asking "whether I was getting straightened out. Almost to a person they were asking if I was being taken care of. That was just a neat experience."

Yet there were "people who were not as forgiving."

The actual excommunication proceedings were "quite pleasant" in relative terms, he said, noting the sympathy for his devastation and the feeling of relief that he wasn't hiding any longer. But regaining his membership years later was "a very unpleasant experience. I was interrogated for 4 1/2 hours" by local church leaders, culminating in an interview that ended in a recommendation that he be rebaptized.

The reason he was grilled so long? "I came into the room and I wasn't crying. When you reach a point where you are very sure that the Lord has forgiven you, you know the Lord has and sometimes it takes the church a little longer. I had done all my crying in private. So when I came in for this meeting I was very excited. Several of the brethren couldn't understand that and were offended by it." While the meeting "wasn't pleasant, it ended well."

Spiritual rebirth

Smith was rebaptized into the LDS Church by a son, Joseph, in July 2001, and Church President Gordon B. Hinckley restored his priesthood blessings in November 2002. As Smith sat in the chapel of his southern Utah ward, dressed in white clothing awaiting his rebaptism, a 4-year-old grandson, Sawyer, nudged him and asked why he had to be baptized again. The boy was looking forward to his own baptism at age 8, and didn't understand why a grown man would need to do so.

"I told him, 'Grandpa made some big mistakes and that caused me to lose my membership in the church. Now they're allowing me to be rebaptized.' He said, 'oh,' and that was the end of it. I've taught that lesson (on forgiveness) a thousand times over the years, and it always took me a couple of hours to do it."

The boy's simple acceptance of a process completed is the way he believes God now sees that episode in his life.

Smith says he's not overt about incorporating his spiritual transformation into his professional speaking assignments, which still take him away from home several times a month. "I do make statements about what matters most and bringing what you do in line with that. Only then can you find inner peace."

He is still vice-chairman of the board at Franklin Covey but not nearly as involved as he used to be. The company has sold some of its buildings — like many businesses, it took a hit on 9/11 that it has yet to recover from. He's started a new business venture called the Galileo Initiative with financial backing from Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller and is spending much more time with family on his southern Utah ranch than he used to.

Spiritually, "I've been reborn. It's pretty nice to be rebaptized. If I had been lucky enough to slip and hit my head and die that day I would be home free" without worries about the future or the afterlife, he says.

Through it all, he's developed a deeper understanding of "godly sorrow" and knows if he were to ever sit in judgment of another church member, he would do things differently. "I found myself experiencing some pain going through it in that I did not make more of an effort to help others (that he had sat in judgment on) through the process. I could have done a lot more, played a much more mentoring role in helping people get back. The reason people don't come back is because they feel ostracized.

"We don't talk about it (excommunication) in the church, and it's unhealthy that we don't. There are a lot of people in pain out there who want to come forward but don't have the courage to do it. There's a lot of it out there, a lot of guys who have stumbled — more guys than women, I think, and they're living dual lives."

Fellow church members are often uncomfortable with him for a time, he says, because "they don't know quite how to deal with someone that's open about it. It's like being around a deaf person — they don't like it because they don't know how to communicate." When he sits in a Sunday School class where excommunication is mentioned, "people are uncomfortable because I'm there so I talk about it and they are floored. But I talk about the process and the pain and the fact that it's fixable."

He says Latter-day Saints live with the "myth that you forgive and then you forget. I don't think human beings can do that. I don't think we're mature enough spiritually to do it. But I did discover we're mature enough to know it and let it go.

"No one who knows me will forget that I've been 'ex-ed.' But to their credit, it just doesn't matter any more."

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com