PROVO, Utah — As a student studying marketing and business with only two semesters left until graduation from the University of Utah, Ronald A. Rasband was faced with a heavy decision.
The young husband and father had to decide: Take the job offer from Jon M. Huntsman Sr. or finish his college degree.
“Sister Rasband and I had been praying for meaningful employment after graduation,” Elder Rasband recalled during a devotional at Brigham Young University on March 13. “Like many of you, I had a young family, and we were living on meager funds.”
It was 1976, and Elder Rasband was serving as elders quorum president in his campus ward. He had worked with his adviser from the high council — Jon M. Huntsman Sr. — for a year when the businessman invited Elder Rasband to his office.
“There I was in plush, professional business surroundings — me, the son of a truck driver — when Jon invited me to join his company working in marketing and sales,” Elder Rasband recalled.
Much to Elder Rasband’s relief, Huntsman explained he was not interested in the young man’s academic credentials but, rather, he had seen strengths of leadership and character that were a good fit for his business.
“I immediately responded that his offer was an answer to prayer and I would love to join his company after graduation in the spring,” Elder Rasband recalled. “My college degree was so important to me, my wife and my parents.”
But Huntsman’s offer wouldn’t wait. Either he took the job and reported for duty in Ohio the next week, or no job at all.
Faced with a decision that impacted more than just him, Elder Rasband spoke with his wife as he struggled to know what to do.
“My dear wife, Melanie, was inspired with our answer. She said, ‘Isn’t this what people go to college for, to find an opportunity like this one?’ ”
The couple decided to take the job.
“I am not recommending any of you skip that last, important step,” Elder Rasband told students with a smile.
With the recent death of Jon Huntsman Sr., Elder Rasband has thought a lot about the “tremendous influence” the businessman has had in his life. For his remarks, he shared some of the insights he learned from his employer, mentor and friend.
“Jon built a company from scratch that resulted in 15,000 employees and [many] plants around the world,” Elder Rasband said. “He was always running for a plane, meeting with dignitaries and business icons, looking ahead and, in the process, he amassed a fortune.”
But more impressive than his accumulated wealth was his “great integrity.”
Whether it was in his strong relationship with his wife, “his partner in every aspect of his life — family decisions, on stage, in the gospel, in the community,” the way he treated others, or his “strong, powerful and fair” business tactics, Elder Rasband said his mentor set a strong example of how to live with integrity.
To those who call integrity an “old-fashioned virtue,” Elder Rasband said it stands in “sharp contrast to luminaries whose lives make headlines, but whose characters are sullied by devious, selfish, greedy and lustful behavior. No question, my friends, integrity is a much-needed value in the world today.”
Recognizing students are in a time when they are learning skills that will help them establish traditions in their homes, families and work, Elder Rasband spoke of the need for integrity in all areas of life.
Elder Rasband told of how in the 1980s Huntsman’s young business was struggling, and Huntsman decided to sell 40 percent of the company. After finding a buyer and tough negotiations, both parties agreed on a deal and shook hands. During the months the paperwork was being completed, the market turned and the company’s earnings climbed to five times the original amount.
Lawyers took the position that the oral agreement was not binding, since no paperwork had been signed.
“But, Jon was a man of his word and his handshake was no casual commitment,” Elder Rasband said. “He informed the buyers and shocked the chemical industry with a decision to honor the original agreement. He would lose millions in the deal but to him, a deal was a deal. His handshake was his bond.”
Setbacks, struggles and even failure may come, but “personal integrity is chiseled into place most often by adversity and challenges.”
“Many of you will be asked in the years ahead to bend the rules, to grease wheels, to look the other way, to compromise,” he said. “It may not be a $1 million deal, and some may assume that is the way things are done these days, but your integrity will be on the line and the price will never be worth it.
“Integrity in business, in spiritual and family matters all draw from the same well of strength — our love for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Elder Rasband asked students, “Where do you stand today? Can the Lord count on you and your integrity as a true member of His Church?”
Recognizing the “standards of the world collapsing in every direction,” Elder Rasband encouraged students to stand strong in defending faith, upholding the integrity of the gospel.
“We are most successful when we do things the Lord’s way,” he said. And that includes how a person treats others.
“We are here to ‘feed’ His sheep. You have people who depend on you, who need you, who will be blessed by your attention. Leave here today recognizing that your morality, your ethics and your honesty is driven by the way you treat people.”
Elder Rasband asked students to “spot check” their personal integrity, offering a few points to consider:
• Do you choose to stand in holy places and be not moved? What does it mean to you to hold a current temple recommend and to count it a privilege?
• Do you pray for promptings to help someone the Lord knows needs assistance? Or is your schedule too busy?
• When you make a mistake do you deny it or blame someone else? Or do you face the issue and resolve it?
• When friends are maligning someone or being rude do you step away? Do you take their defense? Or do you join in for the sake of being a part of things?
• How do you keep the Sabbath Day holy? Do you fully strive to live the BYU Honor Code? The Word of Wisdom?
• If you served a mission, are you still doing the work of the Lord or have you slipped back into old habits, setting aside daily scripture study and morning and evening prayer?
• Do you honor and sustain the President of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles? How do you speak of, support and follow their initiatives and teachings?
“When you leave this sacred school setting, what will you be known for?” he said. “The time to decide your epitaph is not at the end of your career but at the beginning. Right now. Will you be moral, ethical and honest?”
For Brandon Czirr, Elder Rasband’s remarks came at a perfect time. The returned missionary and freshman in his second semester of school said he “liked how he shared examples of successful people who could’ve cheated but they haven’t.”
The biology major liked the practical business advice and feels it is applicable to his future as an optometrist. But in addition to the “obvious” take-aways — don’t cheat on tests, be honest, etc. — Czirr appreciated Elder Rasband’s advice to be kind to others.
“How you treat people matters,” he said. “Here there are a lot of people you may never see again, but that shouldn’t change how you treat them. I need to treat everyone with kindness and thoughtfulness.”