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Bye, Boston. Hello, Boondocks

By Jordan Burke Until this week, Harvard Business School Dean Kim B. Clark had never visited Brigham Young University-Idaho, a college run by the Mormon church. But that was before Clark made what has struck some as an unlikely career move -- accepting a job as president of the school, located in Rexburg, in the southeastern corner of Idaho.

Though the offer was a surprise, Clark accepted the post, which was offered to him by Gordon Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). "It's an opportunity to do something quite different than I've done before," says Clark, who has taught at Harvard since 1978 and has been dean for 10 years (see BW Online, 6/6/05, "Harvard's Case Study in Surprise"). "It's really just an opportunity to do something I love to do."

FRESH CHALLENGE. For people outside the LDS church culture, the move by Clark, a devout Mormon along with his wife and seven children, could be seen as an exit from the business world to move up the ecclesiastical leadership ladder. But that's not the case, he says. Though BYU-Idaho's last president, David Bednar, was tapped in April to become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the church's second highest ecclesiastical body, Clark's move doesn't immediately make him a candidate.

It's just another new challenge for him to work on. "I'm a teacher, a lifelong student," he says. "I love school and love to learn."

At BYU-Idaho, which became a four-year university in 2001, Clark won't undertake any new ecclesiastical function and will be paid as similar university presidents are.

Most LDS church members consider leadership positions as a chance to serve and not something sought after. Though ecclesiastical leaders are not paid, heads of universities and other church-owned businesses, such as the publisher Deseret Book, are paid, principally through their individual company revenues. Church members are counseled to pay a tithe, or one tenth of their income to the church, which helps fund building expenses, proselytizing efforts, and three universities.

POTATO MECCA. So far, Clark hasn't outlined any specific changes he wants to institute, but he says his purpose isn't to add a graduate school. The university will remain a teaching institution he says. "The focus at BYU-Idaho is on undergraduate education," he says of the school, which has 10,500 students. "Our efforts are all going to be directed on creating the best four-year experience we can."

Though he won't be running another business school, don't count out Clark importing similar philosophies. But whether that means the school will bring the case-study method to students remains to be decided. "It's a very intriguing question," says Clark, who adds that the case study participant-centered learning approach does seem "a natural fit" for BYU-Idaho.

Even so, life in Rexburg will be far different from Boston. The rural community was founded by Mormons in 1883, has about 22,000 residents and bills itself as "America's Family Community." The area is primarily agricultural, and major businesses include Artco, a stationery printer, and potato processing companies.

"ONE FOR ALL." "This isn't a normal state school," says Steve Bennion, former president of Ricks College, as the school was known before it became BYU-Idaho, and current president of Southern Utah University. "There's a culture there that is 'all for one and one for all.' It's one of supportiveness, whether it's supporting the faculty or supporting the administration, where people cheer for each other.... There's an unusual blend when you combine the academic and religious."

As for Clark's ties to the business world, he wouldn't say if he will retain his seat as a member of the board of directors at JetBlue (JBLU) and Black & Decker (BDK). Those his decisions will be made later in the summer later this summer after consulting with other church leaders. But there's one thing that's already clear. Clark's surprise announcement will make an interesting case study in unanticipated career moves. Burke, a BusinessWeek contributor, reported this story from Provo, Utah

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