Professor Tom Foster, Former Rock Star

Tom Foster, department chair of marketing and global supply chain at the Marriott School, had never played two truths and a lie—a game in which players share two hard-to-believe truths and one lie about themselves, then the other players must guess which is the lie. But when pressed for three statements, he said:

  1. “I worked as a professional musician.”
  2. “I’ve played in front of twenty thousand people.”
  3. “I had an opportunity to play for Tina Turner.”

All truths—Foster doesn’t tell lies.

He played bass professionally during his undergrad years at BYU, earning a bachelor’s in science operations and system analysis while moonlighting as the bassist in the band Eclypse.

Prior to getting his PhD at the University of Missouri, Foster worked in his first process-improvement role for an insurance company, working with a team to help improve the company by cutting costs and creating better procedures and products.

“I just thought it was really fun work to be able to manage and create change in an organization,” he says. “Not just striving for efficiency, but process improvement on a lot of levels.”

He helped prevent the insurance company from losing $15 million because of quality issues, helping to make the company profitable. As a result of the success he found on the job, he decided process improvement would be a fun way to start a career.

Foster also appreciates the gospel applications he found in the field.

“In the gospel, we say we should constantly be progressing,” he says. “And that’s what organizations should do because the competitive environment demands it, the customers demand it, and the employees really want to do better too.”

Now after twenty-seven years of researching and teaching in the field, Foster teaches global supply chain classes, mentors younger faculty, and sees to other administrative duties as head of the department.

Foster was recently appointed editor of Quality Management, the journal of the American Society for Quality.

“It’s an honor to be able to do this, but also it allows me as a faculty member to be able to steer the field,” he says.

Foster is currently collaborating with BYU global supply chain associate professor John Gardner on a special issue of the journal with a focus on healthcare quality issues, hoping to create interest in the area among his quality management peers.

“It’s an opportunity to elevate John’s name in that area of research,” Foster says. “We also get to help attract really good research to the topic of healthcare quality, which is an important area right now because medical errors cost lives and they cost a lot of money to firms. If we can reduce the number of medical errors, that can actually impact people’s lives directly.”

Alongside his interest in quality management and love of the guitar (he owns ten and plays them regularly), Foster is also an avid skier. He and his wife have skied in many places around the world, most recently in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

“I really enjoy it, and spending time with my wife and five kids,” Foster says. “Skiing isn’t a solitary thing for me; it’s fun to share with others.”

Five Facts about Foster:

First job: Burger King, age 14

Favorite music genre: Rock

Favorite new bands: Black Stone Cherry, Collective Soul, and Zach Wylde

Favorite place to ski: Grand Targhee in Wyoming and Grindelwald, Switzerland

Career advice to students: “Don’t have a plan. Be constantly trying to improve and move forward. I’ve never had a plan.”

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Professor Tom Foster and his wife, Camille, pose together on a ski trip in Zermat, Switzerland.

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Tom Foster performs at Pocatello High School in Idaho in 1974.