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Global Business and Mormon Missionaries

How is the Mormon religion capitalizing on languages for praise and profit?

May 19, 2005

How is the Mormon religion capitalizing on languages for praise and profit?

The enormous fluorescent-lit Nu Skin Enterprises Call Center looks like the quintessential 21st century workplace. But it sounds more like the Tower of Babel.

The call center sits in an industrial business park in Provo, Utah, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains in a valley settled by Mormon pioneers more than a century and a half ago.

Today, the valley is populated by thousands of young world travelers with well-honed foreign language skills.
Becca Matsumori, 24, is a phone agent for Nu Skin Enterprises, which sells personal care products in nearly 40 countries around the world.

“It’s amazing that just a row over there’s a Korean speaker and I can transfer to a Spanish speaker or Japanese. It’s crazy to hear all these languages all around you that you have no idea what they are talking about.

Matsumori is blond and has blue eyes. She grew up in Salt Lake City and went to Taiwan on an 18-month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She uses Mandarin to speak to clients.

On working, she says, “Some of them are really surprised that I’m from America and they ask, ‘Are you like American-born Chinese?’ I say, ‘No, you know, I’m white, and I grew up in America,’ and some of the people are very amazed. And they say, ‘Oh you sound just like Chinese. You have a very good accent.’ And I think they are just being really nice, because they are really nice people. It’s fun when they think I’m Chinese.”

What is “fun” for Matsumori yields profits for Nu Skin and other global companies such as Goldman-Sachs, Ebay and Intel.

Ritch Wood is Nu Skin’s chief financial officer. He says, “There is a wonderful, talented, knowledgeable hiring base right here in our backyard. As a result, we can hire a very educated sales employee force, at rates that aren’t extremely expensive because of the pool of people that are looking for work here.”

Provo is a popular destination for returning Mormon missionaries, who come not just for jobs, but also to attend Brigham Young University, where 72% of the students are fluent in a second language.

In a Samoan language class, students recite an ancient fable. Learning diverse languages is a top priority of the school’s sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

The Church reportedly generates close to $6 billion in annual income from its various business enterprises and has worldwide assets of around $30 billion. Bill Brady heads the Business Career Center at Brigham Young’s Marriott School of Management.

Brady says, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is supporting much of what we do with tithes from the full membership of the Church. It’s a global church.”

“It’s a global organization.” He further says, “And, as a result, our edict is to look globally for the candidates who come here and attend school here and to help place those students in locations that they can utilize those talents that they have gained through the church and through the church’s support.”

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings at the Church’s semi-annual worldwide conference at its headquarters in Salt Lake City. Of its 12 million followers, more Mormons worship outside the United States than within it.

So, the conference proceedings are translated simultaneously into 58 languages and then broadcast by satellite across the globe.

Jerrick Mitchell, a conference engineer, says, “We have Mongolian, Samoan, Tahitian, Fijian, Haitian-Creo, Taglog, Arabic, Swahili. Those are just a couple off the top of my head.”

The Church calls itself the “only true and living church upon the earth.” Its book of scripture, the Book of Mormon, has been translated into 175 foreign languages. This year alone, the Church has 51,000 missionaries scattered across the globe.

Church spokesman Mark Tuttle says, “We feel it is a commandment from our heavenly father to go and preach the gospel unto every nation, kindred, tongue and people, as we were told.

“So, we see it as a duty of love, an opportunity to share something that we think is very important and valuable with people throughout the world.”

So much the better if the missionary experience pays dividends for the state where the church is headquartered.

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, a multi-millionaire businessman and former U.S. trade ambassador to Asia and Africa, has pledged to capitalize on the language skills of Mormon returnees – luring businesses to a place where global reach is a religious mission.