Mormons Wield Influence in Business

The Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah.
George Frey | Getty Images
The Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney may be the most recognizable Mormon, but members of his faith, which account for only 2 percent of the US population, have lots of influence in big money—both on Wall Street and throughout the business world.

“When you’re selling religion door-to-door,” one hedge-fund manager, who is a Mormon, told CNBC, “it makes every other business enterprise easier in comparison.”

Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador to China, is a Mormon, as are the hiring bosses at both Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. And it was the former CFO at Citi , Gary Crittenden, also a Mormon, who brought in that hiring boss to the bank.

This summer, 31 graduates of Brigham Young University (BYU), a Mormon stronghold, will work at Goldman , the same number as those from the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Clearly, there’s a sense of being interested in hiring other members of the church,” Gary Cornia, dean of the Marriott School of Management at BYU told CNBC. Mormons jokingly call their tight network the “Mormon Mafia.”

BYU is in Provo, Utah, near Salt Lake City, where the church is headquartered. Salt Lake City, naturally, has a large concentration of Mormons, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the religion’s official name.

The business success among Mormons is almost entirely male, partly because the church believes that the faith is best served if women devote their time to home and family. But another reason has to do with the training that young Mormon men receive and then put to use later in business.

To bring new members into the church’s fold, young men must complete missionary service. These men are called elders, even though they are only around 20 years old. They are paired with a male partner, often in a foreign country, where they live an almost monastic life together in modest housing. During their service, they have scant contact with friends and family back home and the outside world.

Before heading out into the field, the missionaries spend 12 hours a day for two months learning the basics of a foreign language at the Mormon school in Salt Lake City, where some 50 languages are taught. Currently, there are 52,000 Mormon missionaries throughout the world—80 percent of whom are male.

Huntsman learned Mandarin 30 years ago, while fulfilling his own missionary service as an young elder in Taiwan. “It’s akin to experience in the Peace Corps, the foreign service or the military,” said Huntsman. “You learn to live a regimented lifestyle, you learn a language fluently and you learn to deal with people at the street level.”

JetBlue founder and CEO David Neeleman fell in love with Brazil on on a later-in-life missionary assignment in the South American country. He also recognized a business opportunity there.

Upon realizing that virtually no one in the country was flying, due to pricey fares, Neeleman said, “this can be awesome,” and Azul, now Brazil's fastest growing airline, was born.

Brigham Young University is in Provo, Utah, not Salt Lake City, as reported in an earlier version.