By Steve Eaton
At an awards banquet in September, Gary E. Stevenson was honored with the top award that the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business bestows, its Distinguished Executive Alumnus Award.
Gary graduated from Utah State with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration in 1979. While attending USU Gary co-founded Icon Health & Fitness, Inc., that went on to become the world’s largest developer, manufacturer, and marketer of fitness equipment.
He has served in the LDS church as a missionary in the Japan Fukuoka Mission, as president of the Japan Nagoya Mission, as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and as President of the Asia North Area. In fact, he was in that last role in March, 2011, when the tsunami hit Japan and the country experienced 1,000 earthquakes. He was deeply involved in the relief efforts that followed there.
In March 2012, he was named the Presiding Bishop of the LDS Church, a position with enormous scope and responsibility in which he oversees many of the physical affairs of that worldwide organization, including the relief efforts the church launches after natural disasters strike. Between 1985 and 2011 the church reports that it spent $1.4 billion on humanitarian assistance in places like Japan, Haiti, Chile, Pakistan, Samoa, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. Some 179 countries have received humanitarian aid from the Utah-based church since 1985.
Bishop Stevenson, as he is called in his new position, also has responsibility for the distribution and accounting of member contributions, including tithing, offerings, and other donations. He oversees programs that assist the poor, and directs the design, construction, and maintenance of places of worship.
Gary has been refining his business skills since he was about 10 years old, when he started selling programs at the Nelson Field House and at the old Aggie football stadium. In college he soon became a part of the Huntsman School of Business, known then simply as the College of Business. That’s when he and Scott Watterson, a grade-school classmate, teamed up.
“During the summer of 1977 we had a choice between working for the water department or doing something on our own,” Scott said.
He and Gary both served LDS missions in Asia, so they decided to take advantage of that experience. With the help of another friend and Huntsman student, Brad Sorenson, they launched a new business importing kitchenware, tableware, and marble products from Taiwan in 1977. Scott credits the school, the professors, and the culture there at the time for encouraging them to think like entrepreneurs and get their business off the ground. Several ventures later, in the 1980s, they began manufacturing trampolines, starting on the path that led them into the health and fitness industry.
In November 1994 their company became ICON Health & Fitness, Inc. Some of the company’s best-known brands include NordicTrack, FreeMotion Fitness, ProForm, Weider, Health-Rider, Image, iFit, and Weslo, Tour de France, and Boston Marathon.
Gary served as ICON’s president and chief operating officer until his call into full-time church service in 2008. He is still a member of the company’s board of directors. Scott has served as chairman and chief executive officer since the firm was founded.
Scott said that Gary always paid attention to the details, took copious notes, and was an excellent communicator. He said he remembers a time when a large retailer in the southeast had a concern, and after talking about it on the phone with the customer, Gary felt more had to be done.
“He just jumped on a plane and was at the office of that particular buyer that same day, and it kind of startled the man,” Scott said. “It showed the commitment that the company has and that he had to making things right.”
Scott said that Gary was an effective, hard-working business partner but also a loyal and true friend. “We always had each other’s backs,” he said.
Gary Stevenson’s son Brett, who is now a Huntsman student, said he predicts his father will do well in his new calling.
“He’s a natural leader,” Brett said. “He’s very caring and compassionate about the individual. Programs are important, but he’s more interested in the people who he works with. He’s very interested in knowing you personally, and I think that’s what makes him a great leader.”
He said his roots run deep when it comes to USU and that he has fond memories of his time there and feels an allegiance to the Huntsman School of Business.
“It was in some of those classes that our minds were stimulated to the extent that we thought we wanted to apply these business principles that we were learning ourselves in a practical way, so we started a business,” he said.
He said he feels “honored and undeserving” of the award.
“I am impressed with the progress and direction of what is now the Huntsman School of Business, and I think there is a great level of respect it is receiving,” he said. “I think its stature just continues to grow and increase under the leadership of Dean Anderson, and the great faculty and students who are there now.”