It is 8 a.m., and Dan Liljenquist has a phone to his ear as he drops his dry cleaning off. He is preparing to catch the 10:30 a.m. flight out of Salt Lake City to Nevada, where he will consult with lawmakers there on how they can reform their pension system.
Liljenquist has been doing this type of consulting ever since he got pension reform passed in Utah in 2010 during his term as a state senator.
Liljenquist, while always having had a desire to serve, has not always felt the urgency to help society as he now does.
One of the main factors that led to him becoming active in the realm of public service and governmental reform was a plane crash. While he was on a humanitarian service trip to Guatemala with friends and colleagues in 2008, the small airplane they had chartered to take them to their destination tragically fell from the sky, leaving only three survivors, including Liljenquist. As a result of the crash, Liljenquist lost some close friends and shattered both of his legs.
Facing a long road to recovery both emotionally and physically, Liljenquist said he was able to rely on habits and principles he had learned from a young age.
As one of 15 children, Liljenquist grew up in a busy home. His parents sought to teach him and his siblings proper behaviors and principles. Three important lessons they sought to embed in their children were the principles of hard work, an understanding of the value of education and a love for the Lord. These lessons have stayed with him to this day.
The Lijenquist family home had a half-acre garden behind it that every family member was required to work. “I remember spending long hours pulling weeds in the garden when I was a kid; however, I think we pulled out about as many garden plants as weeds. I don’t remember ever really getting a lot of food from the garden, but the lesson of hard work has stuck with me,” he said.
Liljenquist’s father also encouraged him to put a high value on education. “Your first job is getting good grades,” Liljenquist recalled his father saying.
While studying at BYU, Liljenquist put a lot of effort into his studies. He earned an academic scholarship for the duration of his studies and eventually graduate magna cum laude with a degree in economics in 1998.
“His first year at BYU he hardly left his dorm room. He just studied nonstop, his father said.
Liljenquist took his spiritual education and his relationship with the Lord just as seriously as he did his secular education.
“He read the Book of Mormon about 20 times before his mission,” his father said.
Jordan Hess, who worked with Liljenquist on one of his political campaigns, also recognized his focus on faith.
“One of the biggest things I have learned from Dan is how to increase my faith. I noticed in his personal life that he puts his family and God before everything else,” Hess said.
With a foundation of hard work, love of learning and love of the Lord, Liljenquist was blessed with great success. After graduating from BYU, he attended law school at the University of Chicago, found work at Bane and Co., and eventually became president and chief operating officer of FOCUS Services, LLC in 2006.
And then the plane crashed in Guatemala.
“I never really thought of dying before,” Liljenquist said, “until this experience where I lost four of my close friends.”
In this dark moment, Liljenquist found clarity and purpose. “I feel slowed down on certain things. I tried to spend more time with my family and tell my children every day that I love them. I look them in the eyes and tell them. I make sure to spend more time with them. It has also made me speed up on certain things such as helping society and trying to make a positive impact in the world.”
Liljenquist emerged from these difficult times stronger than ever, thanks to the daily application of the principles of learning and hard work he learned as a child. “With all of the challenges I have had, that daily routine has kept me stable,” he said.
Since the accident Liljenquist has been a state senator, a candidate for the U.S. Senate and has changed his career from being president of a successful business to helping states reform their pension systems.
He has also focused on his family. He now has a garden of his own that he works in with his kids. And like their father did as a kid, they also have pulled out the garden plants as well as the weeds. Liljenquist, in good character, reacted by saying, “Oh well, we will just have plant them again next year.”