November 06

The Marriott School’s William V

Dyer Grocer

On William Kerry Dyer’s wall hangs a frame with photos of seven faces.

There’s the Englishman, the ironworker, and the grocery businessman. Then come the three professors before Will’s photo—the last of the seven straight generations with the name of William Dyer.

wgd2The photos were a birthday gift from BYU professor William Gibb Dyer, who answers to his middle name. Family, it turns out, has been Dyer’s life work. He’s taught and researched family businesses at the Marriott School for more than thirty years.

“If I look at my own career, having a father, brother, and son in the same profession has helped me be a better academic,” says Dyer, currently the O. Leslie Stone Professor of Entrepreneurship and the academic director of the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance. “And it’s the same thing in business. Having those family connections makes a tremendous difference.” A point his own family tree makes evident.

His grandfather, George William Dyer, emigrated from Wales as a young man and opened Dyer’s Grocery in Portland, Oregon. The business became a success, providing a foundation for Dyer’s father, William Gibb Dyer Sr., to pursue a career in academia.

After earning a master’s degree from BYU and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, William Gibb Dyer Sr. became the first Dyer to teach at BYU and eventually became the third dean of the Marriott School.

With an entrepreneur for a grandfather and an accomplished academic as a father, Gibb Dyer combined his predecessors’ skills. While working on a PhD at MIT in 1980, Dyer was approached by a professor named Dick Beckhard, a pioneer in the field of organization development. A consultant to a number of family businesses, Beckhard lamented the lack of research on the topic. He suggested they interview a selection of clients from different countries to study family entrepreneurs.

“I sat there for three days listening to them talk about nepotism, conflict, and succession planning,” Dyer recalls. “I had never heard about these types of things in the MBA program.”

The rest is history. Dyer’s dissertation was a historical study of a family-owned business in upstate New York that became the basis of his first book, Cultural Changes in Family Firms. Since then he has published more than forty-five articles and seven books that have been cited nearly five thousand times. And he was recently ranked one of the top ten researchers in the world in the field of family business.

Dyer cowrote one article with his father and a book and two articles with his brother, Jeff, who is also a professor at the Marriott School. Continuing the family tradition, Dyer’s son teaches in the School of Family Life at BYU. Father and son have also collaborated, publishing two articles with another one under review.

“It’s made a tremendous difference to me,” Dyer says of his name’s heritage. “I’ve felt an obligation to live up to the name William Dyer. It has made me recognize that I need to watch myself and try to set a good example for my friends, neighbors, family, colleagues, and students.”

Read more about Dyer’s research on family entrepreneurs in “Family Matters” in the Fall 2014 issue of Marriott Alumni Magazine.

Family Matters in the News

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