Jeff Bednar: Coming Full Circle

“Career goals are worthless.”

This was one of the surprising pieces of advice that Jeff Bednar received as an undergrad at BYU. Roger Christensen, the chief budget officer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Bednar’s mentor, continued: “I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t plan and make goals. You just need to know that no matter what your plan is, your career and life will end up very different than anything you could have imagined.”

Now an organizational leadership professor at BYU, Bednar found this statement to be true, as his own life and career have turned out differently than he expected.

As a student in the Marriott School, he received his BS and MAcc in accounting and planned to continue on to earn his PhD.

“I choose accounting because they had a really great PhD prep track and did an incredible job in placing students in some of the top programs in the nation,” Bednar says. “It seemed like a great opportunity to explore other jobs in the industry.”

But, Bednar’s plans shifted: he ultimately decided against continuing on with accounting, instead pursuing a PhD in organizational behavior at the University of Michigan.

He is currently in his third year as a professor in the Organizational Leadership and Strategy department at BYU. However, coming back to Provo was never part of his plan. Bednar grew up in the South, where his dad took a job at the University of Arkansas. To Bednar, a college town was the ideal place to grow up and he has always imagined moving his own family to a quintessential college town, where they could participate in the various activities of the university. He just never thought it would turn out to be Provo.

“Coming out of my PhD program I interviewed at a few schools and received some offers,” Bednar says. “But I felt like BYU couldn’t have been a better fit. It was kind of surprising because I never thought I would come back.”

Even so, Bednar found that living in Provo is exactly what his family needs. “It is a wonderful community,” Bednar says. “It has a really family friendly environment. One of my favorite things about living here is being able to enjoy the outdoors with my wife and kids.”

Bednar also loves that he has been able to come back to BYU as an alumnus and faculty member.

“My life, in a sense, has been one big circle,” Bednar says. “I have gotten to experience being a student and a teacher here at BYU. I have even had the opportunity to teach courses that I took while I was a student here. It has been a fun and rewarding experience.”

His favorite thing about returning to the Marriott School?

“The quality and capacity of the students,” Bednar says. “I love being surrounded by students that come in already having leadership and international experience. It enables the classroom to participate in some really rich and meaningful discussions.”

Aside from teaching, Bednar has had the opportunity to be a faculty advisor on two study abroad programs in Ghana, Africa. A couple years ago, he was approached by students in the MBA program who had recently returned from the MPA study abroad to Ghana.

“They wanted to orchestrate a similar study abroad program that was specifically tailored toward MBA students,” Bednar says. “Over these past two years, my colleague, Professor Godfrey, and I have taken two separate groups to Ghana. These students get to work with Fortune 500 companies, like Walmart and Ford Motor, in an emerging market. It’s been fun to watch these students exercise their consulting skills and fascinating to learn about Ghana’s retail landscape.”

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Bednar helped orchestrate two study abroad programs for MBA students in Ghana, Africa.

Aside from the academic aspect, Bednar found that the Marriott School community is supportive and loving towards his family during times when they need it the most.

“I have a son who suffers from a genetic disorder,” Bednar says. “My wife puts on a fundraiser to raise awareness and every year we have students and faculty come to show their support. I feel lucky to be part of a community where you know you are going to have people there to strengthen and support you when times get tough.”

So, while not everything has gone according to his plan, Bednar knows he is where he is supposed to be.

“When I think about where I would end up or what I would end up doing, well, it has almost never translated into what is reality,” Bednar says. “The Lord opens doors and opportunities. You go down paths you never knew existed and they provide you with opportunities you never would have considered otherwise.”