In the last two years, M. Anthony Burns has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Newsweek and Forbes, and has met with Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan and played golf with Bob Hope.
"He travels in circles most of us are not familiar with," said his bishop, G. Louis Ducret, Jr. of the Cutler Ridge Ward, Miami Florida Stake. "You wouldn't know about it, either, unless you quizzed him. He's good for the Church because he's very open about his membership in the circles he associates with. His brief discussion with the pope centered around the LDS Church."As chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Ryder System, Inc., Burns has spearheaded the company's rise from near bankruptcy to the top of America's transportation services industry. Based in Miami, Fla., Ryder has about $6 billion in assets, with revenues of $4.6 billion and profits of $187 million in 1987. Burns is also active in the community, serving as president of the National Urban League in New York City and as head fund raiser for the Dade County, Fla., United Way.
At 45, Burns' black hair has receded a little, but he still has a youthful look about him. He works 70 to 80 hours a week and spends most of his free time with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, Shauna, who is still at home. Another daughter, Jill, just graduated from BYU and his son, Mike, is serving a mission in Argentina.
In the Church, Burns coordinates the family-to-family Book of Mormon program for his stake. He has served in three bishoprics, as an elders quorum president and high priests group leader. Many of the magazine articles refer to him as a "Mormon Sunday School teacher," a calling from which he was recently released.
Despite his success, "he's still a small-town boy," said his sister, Andrea Buchan of Petaluma, Calif. "When we're together - the thing I like best is that he hasn't changed."
"He hasn't lost any of the genuineness that came from his southern Nevada LDS heritage," added longtime friend, BYU Pres. Jeffrey R. Holland. Burns grew up in Mesquite, Nev., population 700, which is located on the Arizona-Nevada border near St. George, Utah. His father, Mike, who died in 1983, operated a truck stop in Mesquite.
"Tony was always a little gifted," said his mother, Zella Burns, who still lives in Mesquite. "I know my father was amazed at how fast Tony would pick up things. One day after Tony had made some comment, my father said, `You know, that boy is going a long, long ways. I hope it's for good.' "
Burns was never a problem as a youth, she explained, always checking in with her when he was going to be late. He still calls her on his car phone as he drives home from work each day. She also recalled how he attained 100 percent attendance at Church during his Aaronic Priesthood years. But what impressed her most about him, she said, was his honesty.
When he was 8 or 9, she related, he was walking to the truck stop, throwing rocks along the way. One of them ricocheted against a power pole and broke the front window of a lady's home. He walked to the lady's side door, knocked and announced that he had broken her window. If she would call the local hardware store and have the window replaced, he said he would cover the cost.
At 12, he began working at his father's truck stop. His mother marveled at her son's persistence in removing lug bolts from truck tires.
"The power tire wrench vibrated so strongly that it made him bounce off his feet," Sister Burns said. "But he liked it. He had to have a ladder to get up into the truck cabs and wash the windshields.
"Sometimes I think his father actually went into the truck stop business because of Tony's love for trucks," she said.
His father also owned a theater, real estate and a portion of the local telephone company. His diversification may have later influenced his son's management style. Ryder has made 93 friendly acquisitions since Burns became president, branching into aviation maintenance, mass transit and school busing, and new car transportation. From his father, Burns also learned to work hard.
"He taught me that it's important in business today to be of service to the customer," Burns added. "You give the customer the best service that you can, and you keep the property clean and appropriate."
When Burns wasn't working or in school, he was playing sports. His high school baseball coach, Karl Brooks, said Burns was a fine athlete and an intense competitor.
"I watched him under pressure," said Brooks, now mayor of St. George, Utah, and a vice president at the city's Dixie College. "You have to understand the level of pressure is relative. You would see him come to bat or go to the free throw line in crucial situations or you would see him in a philosophic discussion and there would always be a calmness in the way he handled those situations. I realized the broad smile and great personality were just fronts for a great depth of intelligence and character."
When Burns graduated from high school, he leaned toward running one of his father's businesses rather than moving on to college. His mother and Brooks felt he should go to college, so Brooks went to Dixie, where he had attended school, and persuaded the baseball coach to give Burns a partial athletic scholarship.
"I took the scholarshipT back and said, `here it is, you ought to go,' " Brooks recalled. Burns took the scholarship and went to Dixie, where he met his wife, Joyce, who was from Heber City, Utah. Last year he made a large donation to Dixie, and the school named its basketball auditorium after him.
"You've got to give back to the community," Burns now says with conviction.
From Dixie, he headed to BYU, paying his way through school by working at a service station. He received his master of business degree from the University of California at Berkeley, where he and his wife leased and operated a service station. After graduation, they faced a critical crossroads in their commitment to the Church. He was a salesman for the Mobil Oil Corporation, living in California and preparing to move east to work in New York City.
"We were having a tough time meeting all our. . .," said Burns, pausing without finishing the sentence before adding: "We just didn't have much money. We sat down and determined we had not been quite as strong in paying our tithing as we had thought we should have been and as we had been taught. We decided that we didn't care what happened, we were going to fully pay our tithing.
"And it is really remarkable," he continued. "From the moment of that decision, the windows of heaven opened."
In nine years at Mobil, he was promoted 13 times. Then he received a call from Don Davis, an old friend who had worked with him at Mobil and served with him in a bishopric. Davis was then a top executive for Ryder System, Inc.
"He said, `This is a great risk but also a great opportunity,' " Burns recalled. It was 1974, and Ryder was in serious financial trouble. The company needed a financial analyst, and Davis recommended Burns, then a manager and controller at Mobil. But after Burns had interviewed for the job, some of Ryder's top executives questioned whether he was the right man.
"I got aggravated at their hesitancy," remembered Davis, now president of the Richmond Virginia Chesterfield Stake. "I said, `I can't understand your hesitancy to hire Tony. He's eminently qualified.'
"I clearly remember saying, `If we make Tony an offer, I guarantee you within 10 years he'll be president of this company.' "
Ryder hired the 32-year-old financial wiz, and he spearheaded a plan to revive a company struggling just to pay interest on debts of $450 million. He went to New York City and met with the top bank executives and persuaded them to back Ryder's refinancing plan.
"They [the bankers] said the numbers didn't make sense, but they believed in us, and that was the only reason they continued to work with the company," Burns related. "That particular meeting made it readily apparent to me that the most important elements in business are integrity, credibility and the ability to do what you say you're going to do."
The company's fortunes slowly improved.
"For a significant period of time, Tony held two full-time jobs," Davis noted. "He was the chief financial officer of our truck rental division, and he was vice president of planning for the corporation. People didn't believe he could do that.
"During a storm you want strong leaders at the helm. At this time, Tony gained a lot of respect among the senior people of the company. He was a leader they wanted to follow. The turbulence provided an environment for him to step forward."
Five years after he joined Ryder, Burns became president and, in less than 10 years, Ryder has gone from $1 billion in assets to $6 billion.
He has an open-door management style. He defines leadership as creating an environment that allows individuals to achieve their potential. Ryder has a decentralized form of organization in which people are allowed a great deal of latitude. It's listed among the best 100 companies to work for in America.
"We have trusted people, and we have been very successful," Burns said. "The company has grown at a rate of greater than 20 percent per year over the past 12 years.
"People are the same," he continued. "You know that when you go into a Sunday School class. It doesn't matter who you are or what you are. . . . Some people have different callings and stations in life, but they're still human beings. They're God's children."
Burns has recruited top executives from the world's most successful companies to serve on Ryder's board of directors. In meeting with these people, he found his Church membership and his standards were benefits.
"A lot of people have trouble understanding that being LDS is an advantageT," Burns said. "These people think that they have to do certain things and act certain ways to be successful, that, from time to time, might be inconsistent with the principles of the Church, but they don't have to do that. And I can sit for days and give you examples of people who will give you testimony that they don't have to compromise their standards."
"Tony has always represented the Church well," added Pres. Davis. "He has been able to succeed in a tough environment while maintaining high standards, and that's a difficult thing to do. Tony is a very competitive guy, and it doesn't matter if he's playing one-on-one in basketball or competing in business, he's going to play fair, but he's going to beat you."