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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software / Web Developer - ASP.NET

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company produces a wide ra...

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones