July 2, 2012

Cover Story

Built to Lead

Perhaps no Utah governor in modern memory comes to the office with a broad...Read More

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Built to Lead

How Utah and Its First Family Are Positioned to Expand Utah’s Nation-Leading Dynamism

Kimball Thomson

July 2, 2012

Perhaps no Utah governor in modern memory comes to the office with a broader mix of relevant experience in both the private and public sectors than the Beehive State’s current chief executive, Governor Gary R. Herbert.

Governor Herbert credits the strong work ethic and community service emphasis of his Utah upbringing, together with his extensive experience in the private and public sectors, for preparing him to lead the nation’s most dynamic state economy. 

Firmly Planted in Utah Soil
The development of the Governor’s vision and identity has been inextricably intertwined with service to his community and state. Gary’s family moved to Orem in the early ‘50s when he was five. He has a clear sense of growing up together with his home town, watching Orem evolve from a sleepy town comprised primarily of orchards to a metropolitan hub of entrepreneurial energy. Though the Herberts lived in a succession of homes, his parents never moved from that subdivision. Gary grew from child to adult as a member of the same church congregation, and attended the neighborhood elementary, junior high and high school.

A self-described “proud Orem High Tiger,” Governor Herbert was the football quarterback; captain, pitcher and 3rd-baseman for the baseball team; and captain and point guard for the basketball team. After high school, he attended Brigham Young University in the neighboring community of Provo.   

Governor Herbert traces his own lifelong public service ethos and drive to his late father’s example. “My parents instilled in me the idea that giving back through community service is an essential part of life,” he recalls. “My father was my role model. He always wanted to be involved, to give back. They called him ‘Mr. Orem’ because of all of his contributions to the city of Orem.” His father’s service ranged from volunteer service with the Orem Chamber of Commerce and the beautification committee to president of the local PTA.

After serving a two-year volunteer mission for the LDS church on the Atlantic Seaboard, Gary Herbert met, fell in love with and married local girl Jeanette Snelson. Shortly after they married, Gary joined the Utah National Guard, where he served six years.

Entrepreneurial Roots
As the young couple began building their family of six children (three sons, three daughters, 13 grandchildren to date), it became apparent that they also shared a strong entrepreneurial streak. While he built a thriving real estate brokerage, Herbert & Associates, in a tough economy, Jeanette and Gary also launched The Kids Connection, a childcare service that the couple ran for 23 years.

“There is no substitute for competing and succeeding in a free market system, having to hustle to make payroll and deal with business regulations and free-market challenges,” he says. “All of this experience gave me a solid foundation for the challenges of statewide office in a time of economic turmoil.” 

Governor Herbert started his real estate business during the heady 80s, when interest rates were 16 percent and the prime rate was 22-22.5 percent—numbers that are almost unthinkable today.

Despite these challenges, he says, “I learned that freedom and opportunity come from the ability to own private property. This ability for people, through industry and drive, to own property is a major reason America’s economy has grown so much faster, creates more wealth and includes more of the population than most other countries. We were the first come to grips with giving you and me the right to own a little piece of mother Earth.”

This experience also sensitized Governor Herbert to the need to clear away regulatory burdens that impede or cripple economic opportunity. (See Sidebar on Governor Herbert’s vision for Utah.)

Helping Grow a Region
In addition to shaping Governor Herbert’s vision of America’s opportunity culture, the real estate industry also presented him with his entre into public service.

Concerned about the “stagflation” (economic stagnation and inflation) then prevalent in the real estate industry, he began doing lobbying work for the Utah Association of Builders.

“Working with Congress through that body was how I first got into politics, and experienced my first taste of how good it felt to make a positive difference for an industry and the people it employs,” says Governor Herbert. With the encouragement of people within and outside the industry, he decided to run for office. In his first run, for the Orem City Council, he lost a highly competitive race by a total of 36 votes. 

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