Greg McKeown sat on an airplane on the way to Salt Lake City from England praying his heart out. He had no job, no housing arrangement and he was not quite certain how he would get from Salt Lake City to Provo. All he had for certain was an acceptance letter from BYU.
“I applied to BYU sometime in July, which was very late,” he said. “Two months later I got a phone call. They said that they never do this, but if I was there by Tuesday I would have a spot.”
Within 13 years of that flight, McKeown co-authored a Wall Street Journal bestseller and became CEO of his company THIS, Inc. He was recently named one of 2012’s Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum.
According to McKeown, his success can be traced back to a key moment in his life, which took place in the LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.
“After serving my mission in Toronto, I returned to England to complete law school,” he said. “Not long after, an old mission companion asked me to come to his wedding in Utah.”
While he was there, he said he visited BYU campus and initiated a meeting at the Church offices to discuss an idea about curriculum for returned missionaries that would help them more easily adjust to being home. He met with Elder Gerald N. Lund who was working on a similar project.
Elder Lund told him if he was considering staying in Utah he should help them with this project.
“Quitting, switching studies, moving to another country — these choices always exist, but they are not real to us,” McKeown said. “Elder Lund was giving me permission to not do what I was doing. I learned the importance of saying no with a purpose.”
After some intense personal reflection, McKeown realized there were a lot of things he wanted to do with his life, but law school was not one of them. His parents were supportive of his sudden life change, and in a matter of months, he found himself on that stressful flight from England to Utah.
Greg McKeown’s older brother, Justin, said he feels their family knew he was destined for great things.
“As the youngest of a pretty competitive group of siblings, he had to work hard to get his share of the voice around the family dinner table,” Justin McKeown said.
According to Justin, before even reaching high school Greg was proving himself to be committed and entrepreneurial.
“Greg had gone door to door in the neighborhood to offer his car washing services,” Justin said. “He established regular paying costumers and then paid older siblings to help clean the roof of the vehicles that he couldn’t reach.”
Justin said Greg always dreamed big but, unlike most, he actually tried to make those dreams happen in real life.
“When Greg was still at high school, he managed to convince our father to take time off from the business he was setting up to drive across Europe,” Justin said. “This journey became a great bonding experience that both of them treasure.”
With support and love from his family, Greg obtained a B.A. in Communications with an emphasis in journalism from BYU. Everything seemed to work out. He found housing with an old mission companion and a job at the MTC. He even met his wife, Anna.
“The Daily Universe actually shaped my life in an interesting way,” Greg said.
Anna had recently read an article about Greg in The Daily Universe when she found his scriptures at the MTC where they both worked. Some time later he read about her in The Daily Universe and not long after, they started dating. Several months later, they were married.
“We might have found each other by some other means, but I feel like that newspaper played a big part,” he said.
After graduating from BYU, Greg obtained his MBA from Stanford University.
His Wall Street Journal bestseller, “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,” was published about two years after he graduated from Stanford.
“The book focuses on leaders and why some make us feel less intelligent and less capable, while others bring out our brilliance,” Greg said.
It is this idea that helped create THIS, Inc., Greg’s company that teaches leadership and strategy workshops and advises senior executives at companies in Silicon Valley and around the world. THIS, Inc. was only created in January 2011, but the group has already taught at companies like Google, Apple, Twitter and Facebook.
“It’s all about leadership by design,” Greg said. “We aren’t supposed to just be spectators. The world is being inspired by someone no smarter than you are. We’re supposed to be designing the world we want to live in. You’re not supposed to just live in the country you live in. You choose, be deliberate. And this is what we tell ourselves we’re not supposed to do. We have to say no with a purpose.”
Justin said he likes that his brother is never prepared to accept that he has “made it.”
“Even when he achieves things that others might see as the pinnacle of their careers, he is already moving on, raising his sights to the next challenge,” he said.