Craig C. Christensen has always had a flare for business.
As a young boy, he had many projects including selling lemonade on the corner; as a teenager he worked at a glass shop; today he owns and manages businesses in the retail automotive and real estate development industries.
Soon, however, he will redirect the energy he has always devoted to business. A new General Authority, Elder Christensen, 46, was sustained to the Second Quorum of the Seventy Oct. 5.
Born March 18, 1956, Elder Christensen grew up in Salt Lake City, the youngest of Sheron Glen and Colleen Cloward Christensen’s three children.
Craig spent his early years playing with his older brother, Roger, building with their father an F-Troop-style fort what was modeled after a 1960s TV program and, of course, thinking up business plans. Craig sold Christmas cards and popcorn. Once he even sold his brother’s old shoes.
“He has always been focused and has never been afraid to work hard,” said his wife, Debbie.
When Craig was 9 years old, his family built a new home. He enjoyed tagging along with the workmen, watching the process of building, and then selling the crew lemonade. The experience laid the foundation for his own career as a real estate developer.
“I remember the fascination of watching the house go up,” Elder Christensen said.
Soon Craig and his brother were embarking on their own building project: a fort. Their father, a salesman who also served as bishop and then stake president, struggled to catch his sons’ vision of the project.
While there wasn’t a tree big enough for a tree house in the yard, both the Christensen boys insisted the fort be 30 feet high and include a retractable ladder. A commercial today featuring a father helping his son build a fort reminds Elder Christensen of his own experience. The boy in the commercial couldn’t have been prouder of his dad.
The hours spent on that project — and at countless school and athletic events in the years to come — were “all about fathering,” he said.
When Elder Christensen was 11 his family moved to Concord, Calif.
Elder Christensen said his mother might describe his teenage years, which were spent in the East Bay area, as moody. “Like most teenagers, I was struggling with who I was, yet always excited about life and anxious for the future.”
When he turned 15, he saved enough money to buy “a really old Ford truck,” which he fixed up. Just before he turned 16, his brother borrowed the truck and blew the engine out. Together, they started over, rebuilding the engine.
“When we were finished we had one piece that we didn’t know where it went. But the truck ran and we drove it 600 miles before finding out that the piece was a critical piece. We blew the engine up again and started over a third time.”
Tenacity, said Elder Christensen, was another hard lesson learned in his youth.
During his teenage years, he worked at a glass store, owned by a counselor in the ward bishopric. “I liked the business well enough that I found a glass shop for sale.”
With his father’s help, he got a loan for the store and went with check in hand to make the purchase. However, before the deal was final, he changed his mind. There were things he still needed to do, the most important of which was to go on a mission, he said. Second, he wanted to play college football.
A gifted athlete, Elder Christensen participated in football, basketball, track and baseball. He was a high school All-American and was recruited to play football by several schools. Given his desire to go on a mission, he accepted a scholarship to BYU, playing center for two years before serving in the Chile Santiago South Mission, and again when he returned.
Four months before entering the mission field in late 1975, Elder Christensen met his future wife, Debbie Jones. A friendship started and before he even returned from Chile, the young couple knew they would marry. As a daughter of a former mission president (her parents are William Nathaniel and Ellie Park Jones) Debbie knew what was important: “He was a hard worker and he was 100 percent obedient to the Lord,” she said.
Elder Christensen was greatly impacted by his missionary service. His mission president, Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy, had “focused my desire to learn the gospel and serve others will all of my heart.”
The couple were engaged three weeks after he returned home and married in the Salt Lake Temple three months later. During the next two years, two daughters joined their family and Elder Christensen worked toward a degree in accounting. To pay for part of his education, he sold his car and downgraded — four times. After graduation, he and his young family drove to California in a rundown Opel Cadet.
He worked in an accounting firm there for two years before attending graduate school at the University of Washington. Eventually, the young couple moved back to Utah. Elder Christensen held several executive positions; he bought his first company in 1990.
Today, he is the owner of several businesses and teaches business and religion classes at BYU. “I have always enjoyed helping others catch the vision of their true potential,” he said.
Even though Elder Christensen enjoys working, he has always taken time with his family — which now includes four children and a grandson. They spend time scuba diving, water skiing, and playing tennis and golf together. The family’s strength comes from daily 6 a.m. devotionals that include scripture study and prayer. “That is a tradition we have kept going for 24 years now,” he said.
Elder Christensen has spent most of his service in the Church working with youth and young adults. He loves missionaries and their enthusiasm for sharing the gospel. Of their time in Mexico, when he served as president of the Mexico Mexico City East Mission, Elder Christensen expressed that his family grew closer and felt more blessed than any other time in life.
“We loved the people. We loved each other. We got to go to work together everyday. Now we have the sacred opportunity of serving together once again.”