Stephen Covey: Management guru whose advice spawned a multi-million dollar empire

 

Stephen Covey was widely regarded as one of the most successful management gurus of all time. With his 1989 book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People selling over 20 million copies worldwide in 40 languages and spawning a multi-million pound business empire, Covey was catapulted to fame, winning a global following and a five-year run on bestseller lists by fusing the genres of self-help and business literature.

Named in 1996 as one of Time magazine's 25 most influential Americans, Covey dedicated his life to demonstrating, in his view, how every person can control their destiny with profound yet straightforward guidance. Although critics scoffed at its simplicity, Covey's advice struck a chord with millions, even if many of his principles have become clichés.

According to the Harvard lecturer Barbara Kellerman, his "timing was perfect. He really caught the wave... as people were becoming increasingly fascinated with leadership. He addressed ordinary people's desire to succeed through leadership and management."

Covey's clients included three-quarters of the Fortune 500 companies, and numerous universities and government entities. He also trained many heads of state, including the presidents of Colombia and South Korea, as well as their cabinets. In 1994, President Bill Clinton, a Covey fan, announced that American productivity would greatly increase if people followed Covey's advice.

Guided by his Mormon faith, Covey's book drew inspiration from the Scriptures and from history's great thinkers. He readily quoted Peter Drucker, the management guru who claimed that "effectiveness is a habit." Covey summed up his philosophy in seven "unchanging principles", or habits: 1) be proactive; 2) begin with the end in mind; 3) put first things first; 4) think win-win; 5) seek first to understand, then to be understood; 6) synergise; 7) "Sharpen the saw", i.e. seek constantly to improve oneself.

Covey later said, "We believe that organisational behaviour is individual behaviour collectivised." In 2004, he expanded on this, adding an eighth habit: find your voice and inspire others to find theirs. His lectures were often liberally sprinkled with terms such as "synergy" and "paradigm shift," but he also urged businesses to consider how employees feel.

In explaining his second habit, "begin with the end in mind", Covey urged people to consider how they would like to be remembered. "If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you in the funeral experience," he said, "you will find your definition of success."

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1932, Stephen Richards Covey was the son of Stephen and Irene, a close-knit Mormon family on the outskirts of town. As a teenager he was forced to give up a promising sporting career due to a degenerative bone condition, which left him using crutches for three years. Encouraged by his parents, particularly his mother, who constantly re-enforced the idea that "You can do anything you want," Covey refocused on his studies.

At 16, he entered the University of Utah to read business administration, then had a two-year spell as a Mormon missionary in Britain, where part of his work involved training provincial heads of the church. This experience altered his parents' plans for him to take over the family hotel business. "I got so turned on by the idea of training leaders that it became my whole life's mission," he recalled. He then returned to the US and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Another spell as a missionary in Ireland followed before he completed his doctorate in religious education from Utah's Brigham Young University in 1976. He became an assistant to the university's president and began teaching his self-help ideas on campus to as many as 1,000 students at a time. In 1983, he left to establish the Covey Leadership Centre in Provo, Utah.

In 1997, the Centre merged with a rival, Franklin Quest, founded by Hyrum Smith, a time-management expert, to form FranklinCovey Co, focussing on leadership, strategy and individual effectiveness. It now operates in more than 50 countries and in 2011 had sales of $160.8 million.

Covey wrote further bestsellers about business management, including Principle-Centred Leadership, and became a favourite motivational speaker on the Fortune 100 circuit. He also served as a personal consultant to organisations ranging from Procter & Gamble to Nasa.

In 2011, Covey was named one of the world's top 50 business thinkers by Thinkers50, a group that compiles that list every two years. He received many honorary doctorates and awards, including the International Entrepreneur of the Year Award (2008).

Covey died from complications following a cycling accident three months ago. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Sandra, and their nine children and more than 50 grandchildren.

Stephen Richards Covey, entrepreneur, educator and author: born Salt Lake City, Utah 24 October 1932; married 1957 Sandra Merrill (nine children); died Idaho Falls, Idaho 16 July 2012.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power