Perhaps the most well-known Utahn of his generation, Stephen R. Covey catapulted himself to international fame and fortune with the 1989 publication of his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
Praised as one of the business world’s most creative thinkers, Covey died early Monday at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls from the residual effects of a bicycle accident in April, his family said. He was 79 years old.
Son Sean Covey said his father had been in Montana on a family get-together when he began to decline and was rushed to Idaho Falls, the closest hospital.
“Our family, all nine kids and our spouses and my mom, were able to gather together again to be with him for the last few hours of his life, which is what he always wanted,” Sean Covey said in an email.
In a statement, the family said, “We extend our heartfelt gratitude for all of the love and prayers that have been showered upon Stephen and our family from all around the globe over the past several months.”
Covey, a former Brigham Young University business management professor, went on to write a string of books playing off “The 7 Habits” themes that reportedly sold more than 20 million copies in 38 languages, became a management guru for companies and government agencies. He was named to Time magazine’s top 25 most influential Americans of 1996 and “The 7 Habits” made several lists as one of the bestbusiness books ever.
In 2011, Covey was ranked 47th in the Thinkers50 list of world’s Top 50 business thinkers.
Lee Perry, a professor of human and associate dean at the Marriott School of Management at BYU, said he first encountered Covey as a missionary when his mother sent him quotes from a 1973 Covey book, “Spiritual Roots of Human Relations.” Perry then took a class from Covey as a BYU undergraduate, and when he returned as a professor of organizational behavior, he occupied Covey’s old office.
“Steve was an original thinker but he was also was a great collector of ideas,” Perry said. “His real genius was in taking a mixture of his own ideas, ideas imbedded in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and from other academics — primarily in organizational behavior — and creating this ingenious blend that resonated with people.”
Jon Huntsman Sr., founder and executive chairman of the Huntsman Corp., called Covey “a dear and trusted friend.”
“Stephen was a brilliant and creative writer, a gifted professor of leadership, and a multitalented man in every aspect of life,” Huntsman said in a statement.
Covey in February 2010 was the first recipient of the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chair in Leadership at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University of in Logan.
Covey was born Oct. 24, 1932, in Salt Lake City. He was raised on an egg farm and in his teenage years suffered from a degradation of his thighbones, according to a 1994 Fortune magazine profile, a condition that led to three years on crutches with steel pins in his legs.
“I was a pretty good athlete, I really was,” Covey told Fortune. “But this shifted me totally into academics, and also into forensics. I got into debate, and speaking, and I got turned on by that.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Utah, an MBA from Harvard University and a doctorate from Brigham Young University.
Covey’s management post at BYU led to “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,”whichlaunched a second career as management guru for the likes of Saturn, Ritz Carlton, Procter & Gamble, Sears Roebuck and Co., NASA, Black & Decker, Public Broadcasting Service, Amway, American Cancer Society and the Internal Revenue Service.
The books have legions of adherents in corporate America who swear by its principles. But critics tend to see them as part of a cult of the self-help American frenzy of recent decades that tends to trivialize big problems.
“It’s miniaturizing and personalizing subjects that cannot be miniaturized and personalized,” Benjamin De Mott, an English professor emeritus at Amherst College, told Fortune. “We do it with problems of race, and problems of class, and we do it in corporate America. You get out of this in the cheapest possible way instead of having to think about who you are and what you do in the larger community.”
“The 7 Habits” spent weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. It was followed by “First Things First,” “Principle-Centered Leadership,” “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families,” “The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness” and “The Leader In Me — How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time.”
Covey’s most recent book, “The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems,”came out late last year.
BYU’s Perry said he had a hard time explaining Covey’s success, but said he doubted Covey’s influence gained through the millions of sales of “The 7 Habits” will be duplicated.
“I doubt there will be other books that will have the same impact as ‘7 Habits,’ ” said Perry. “To think of a book of 25 million copies in print, or something like that, just blows my mind.”
Reaction to death of Stephen R. Covey
Gov. Gary Herbert • “His combination of intellect and empathy made him a truly unique and visionary individual.”
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee • “His insight helped to shape the future of an untold number of businesses, resulting in better jobs and indeed better lives for people around the world.”
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch • “Utah lost a great leader today. His innovative thinking and common-sense approach to business, success and life has been taught to hundreds of thousands of people across the country and around the world, and will be followed for generations.”
Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber • This is truly a loss to our community, to the country and to the free-enterprise system.”
Bob Whitman, chairman and CEO of FranklinCovey • “Stephen was one of the world’s great human beings. His impact is incalculable and his influence will continue to inspire generations to come.”
Utah Valley University • “As a university, we will be forever grateful for his support as a former UVU Foundation board member and as a founding member of UVU’s National President’s Advisory Board, which he remained actively engaged in for many years.”
Utah State President Stan Albrecht • “He was an inspirational leader who was always a powerful voice for individual integrity, strong character and extreme trustworthiness in every aspect of life. This is sad news for the world community.”