Opportunities to serve come when individuals put their trust in the Lord. That is something the next president of Brigham Young University-Idaho, Clark G. Gilbert, has seen repeated many times in his own life.
Just days after the announcement on Jan. 27, Brother Gilbert told the Church News he is excited to return to Rexburg and follow the footsteps of his friend, President Kim B. Clark, as the university’s 16th president.
“I hope I can help be a steward of those things that are bigger than any of us,” Brother Gilbert said. “There is something about the spirit of Rexburg and the way it changed me, and I think it changes all who touch it, even those who touch it remotely.”
Brother Gilbert, who is the CEO of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media and is an executive of the Church owned media companies, grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is the oldest of Paul and Susan Gilbert’s four children.
Education has always been a part of Brother Gilbert's life, beginning as a child watching the example of his own parent's love of learning. The Gilbert children would spend their summers studying and doing research about topics given by their parents. Many times Susan Gilbert would create entire curriculum based on the destinations of their family trips — having the kids create reports and oral presentations about the places they would visit.
It was also through his parent’s good example that Brother Gilbert first recognized the value of putting the Lord first and serving in the Church.
“I remember as a young boy not wanting to go to a Church dance and my mom said, ‘Clark, you’ll go, because that’s what Gilberts do.’ Even though I wasn’t a big dance-going guy, I learned very early on that we support the Church and Church activities.” The Gilbert’s home had a deep love and appreciation for Church education. Paul Gilbert was very involved at Brigham Young University as the alumni president and taught at the law school for a time.
Although the Church was strong in the area where Brother Gilbert grew up, members were still in the minority. “Part of why I love my Church educational experience is because when I got to BYU I realized that as a people we are strong. And I wasn’t strange or odd, but that I was part of a great people. For the first time I really felt the strength of the gathered Church, and I fell in love with the experience of a Church education.”
It was after his mission to Kobe, Japan, while attending BYU that Brother Gilbert met his wife, Christine, who had been roommates with his sister while on a study abroad to England. After about a year of dating and just before they left BYU the two were married on Feb. 5, 1994. They are the parents of eight children.
“Christine is an incredible mother and educator,” Brother Gilbert said of his wife. “She is very gracious and warm and inviting and really disarms people. I would also say that while Christine is kind and welcoming, she is unyielding when it comes to following the Spirit and the Lord, and doing what is right.”
Right out of college the newlyweds moved to Northern California for Brother Gilbert to continue his education at Stanford University, where he studied Japanese and business.
“We had a great year at Stanford, and it really confirmed my desire to become an educator,” he said. “I also realized that I loved the study of innovation and yet I knew I needed a little more work experience before I went back to school.”
For the next two years they lived in Southern California as Brother Gilbert worked at a strategy consulting firm. During that time their first child, James, was born. Just as he started to make an income, they decided to head east for more schooling.
“We like to say we left the warmth of Southern California with a job to the poverty of graduate school and the cold weather of Boston,” he joked.
When he got to Harvard there was a huge analytical and mathematical requirement in the doctoral program. Brother Gilbert remembers having feelings that it was too hard, and that maybe he should just focus on getting an MBA instead of a doctorate. When speaking to his wife about his concerns, she reminded him that they had moved their family across the country because they knew the Lord wanted them there, so he needed to simply "toughen up and learn the math."
The reminder that the Lord had led him to Boston gave him the courage to keep going — a decision that would impact every opportunity in his later career.
After finishing his doctorate, Brother Gilbert joined the faculty of the Harvard Business School for five years. During that time his boss was college dean — and future BYU-Idaho president — Kim B. Clark. From President Clark he learned many lessons — most important, a reminder to include the Lord in his work.
“I remember early in my career President Clark pulled Christine and me aside and said ‘you are thinking about your research in the wrong way. You think it is just a research requirement and an obligatory part of your job. I believe it has a purpose in the Lord and I encourage both of you to pray about your research.’”
Brother Gilbert had no idea then that his research on digital innovation and the newspaper industry would eventually lead him to an assignment over the Deseret News years later.
It was also during that time in Boston that Brother Gilbert learned a valuable lesson — although he was busy with school, work and a growing family — he decided he would also remain committed to his Church callings.
“In graduate school I had a calling to serve with with the young men in inner city Boston,” he remembered. “I think there is a temptation sometimes when you are early in your career or when you are busy in graduate school … to wait until later in life to serve. As I looked around, there were great examples in our wards and stakes in Boston of people who served whenever they were asked. There was no waiting till it was a good time." While Brother Gilbert served with the inner city youth, his wife was called as an early morning seminary teacher, which was held in the Gilbert's home.
“Making those decisions early … and not waiting until our kids were a little older or our family was a little more financially stable, helped prepare us for when the Lord asked us to do other things later in life.”
Brother Gilbert was on the faculty a Harvard doing research on innovation and teaching in the MBA program when Kim Clark was announced as the new president of BYU-Idaho.
“I remember being so excited for the Church and for the Clark family,” Brother Gilbert recalled. “And that very day President Clark said ‘you watch, the Lord will bring many people to Rexburg who will become part of that work.’”
Little did Brother Gilbert know at that time, that in less than a year he would be packing up his family and leaving Harvard to join his friend at BYU-Idaho.
“We love Rexburg; it changed our lives,” Brother Gilbert said. “In fact, our years in Rexburg were really impactful on our spiritual lives, on our marriage and on our family, and we will always be grateful for that first season in Rexburg.”
His responsibilities at the university included working with the student leadership programs. Later he transferred to the academic office where he had the responsibilities over the student-centered learning model. There he helped create two programs — building online curriculum with remote online faculty and the Pathway Program — both intended to extend the reach of a Church education.
While he was at BYU-Idaho Brother Gilbert was approached to be a part of the planning for the future of Church owned media. In his research at Harvard, he had studied transitions in industries, particularly as they change with new technology.
“I looked at a lot of industries early in my research, but eventually I came to focus on media and the newspaper industry,” he said. “It is really interesting how the Lord directs your path. I really stumbled into the topic because it was a good place to study, not knowing that one day I would be asked to lead a media company and help manage such a transition.”
He was first invited on the board of the media companies and then eventually asked to help the Deseret News transition in a changing industry. While there, Brother Gilbert brought innovation to the Church’s media companies by creating a business model for the future, and by helping turn the Deseret News into a nationally recognized voice for faith and family. Companies ranging from the Boston Globe to the Wall Street Journal to the Dallas Morning News have made the trek to Salt Lake City to study the transformation of the Deseret News.
At a time when the numbers of enrolled BYU-Idaho students on and off campus are at a record high, Brother Gilbert will become the university's next president beginning April 13. With the charge to continue the “steady upward course” of the university, Brother Gilbert hopes to preserve the spirit of the campus and the “spirit of Ricks” with its modesty, humility and consecration while still innovating higher education.
Brother Gilbert hopes to instill that same love of learning he has experienced throughout his life to the students in Rexburg, Idaho, as well as the many online students throughout the world.
“A Church education changed my own life,” he said. “I suppose I was a good kid and a decent student, but when I realized what was expected of me and what the Lord wanted me to become, my own capabilities started to blossom and grow because of being in a Church education environment.”
[email protected] @marianne_holman