Jerry Garrett doesn’t just come to Utah Valley University for all the meetings and events he attends. He walks around the campus and strikes up conversations with students, learning about their lives and their experiences at UVU. “Sometimes I have my UVU shirt on, and they ask if I work here,” says Garrett. “I say ‘no, but I might as well.’”
Actually, he does work at UVU—he just doesn’t get paid. As a member of the UVU Foundation Board’s engagement committee, just one of his roles, Garrett has the job of working with other advisory boards to help them increase their impact. He also helps the Woodbury School of Business with outreach and events, and he mentors students.
“Just yesterday I met with a Foundation ambassador who had an idea for a business. I was helping him create a business plan,” Garrett tells me. We’re sitting in a cozy conference room at Keeler Thomas in Orem, Garrett’s investment management company and financial planning firm.
But the largest job Garrett has at UVU is as co-chair of the Gift Planning Advisory Board. He has been the driving force behind the annual UVU Business and Economic Forum since its inception in 2012. The most recent forum brought more than 370 local professionals to campus to hear nationally recognized keynote speakers, earn continuing education credits, network with peers, and learn about University initiatives over a Culinary Arts Institute lunch. It takes a year of planning and working behind the scenes to produce the daylong program.
“The purpose was to create the premier business educational forum in the county, if not the state, and we’re rapidly becoming that,” says Garrett. The forum also includes an exhibit area with a competition for grant money that encourages UVU colleges and departments to tell their stories of engagement with the community as a way of showcasing UVU’s unique outreach. The University also announces the winners of its Community Partners Award at each forum, recognizing community leaders who provide advise and support to UVU.
Garrett recognized that if the University could make connections with the professional gatekeepers to donors and potential donors—the CPAs, attorneys, and financial planners—then those professionals would be better prepared to recommend that their clients support UVU. The Gift Planning Advisory Board’s goal was to fill the ballroom at UVU with these professionals and their clients and to tell them the story of UVU. “If we can show the professionals this isn’t The Tech anymore, we change the conversation,” says Garrett.
Garrett envisions a bright future for the University. “We are a world-class university in embryo. I think we’re going to have collaborative arrangements with technology companies. And the business school is going to lead the way in forming some national relationships,” he says.
As UVU enrollment approaches 40,000, it will need to address the space limits of its main campus. “There are only so many cars that can get off the freeway at eight in the morning, only so many parking spaces that can be had, only so many roads that can be built,” says Garrett. “I think UVU is going to be at the forefront of figuring those things out, and that’s going to continue to make us a leader.” He sees the campus becoming an anchor for surrounding counties, with access through remote locations like the Wasatch campus and through online classes.
“It doesn’t matter where you went to school, if you live in this valley and you’re interested in growth and development, you are a Wolverine. UVU is creating our future clients, our future customers, the people who are going to buy our businesses, our future partners in business,” says Garrett.
Garrett has seen UVU administrators come and go, and he’s seen how that turnover disrupts the University’s budding relationships with members of the business community. The UVU Foundation Board and other boards made up of community members have to do the job of maintaining the continuity of those relationships, he explains.
When former UVU Vice President of Development and Alumni Marc Archambault was hired in 2010, Garrett invited him to lunch. “I was really blunt with Marc, and bless his heart he didn’t get mad, he listened,” says Garrett. “I said you guys come and go, but I’ve owned a business here for over 30 years. I will die here, my kids have grown up here, my grandkids are growing up here. I have a vested interest in seeing this school thrive. We need to have options for our kids. I have grandson. In a few years, where’s he going to go? Likely UVU.”
It’s that kind of passion that drives Garrett to pour his energy into UVU and the Business and Economic Forum. “I’m old enough to have parents who lived through WWII, grew up during the great depression, and they did great things as a group. What has my generation done? I feel this is one area I can make a difference,” he says.
“The best legacy we can leave our kids is an institution like UVU, which will take virtually anybody who has a desire to learn. No other institution is really like that in this state, in this region. UVU is giving people a chance, if they work hard enough. That in itself is creating a culture of can-do.”
Garrett was born in southern California but spent most of his high school years in Florida, where his father worked on the Apollo program. He has made his home in Utah Valley since 1971, and he and his wife, Teri, have three children and nine grandchildren.
Keeler Thomas, with Garrett as president, has clients in 35 states and helps small business owners and high net-worth individuals to be financially sound and to prepare for their legacies. Teri works at Keeler Thomas as well. “She came temporarily for two months seven years ago, and we learned we couldn’t live without her. She’s the voice of the company to our clients,” says Garrett. “We’ve managed to take care of people’s lives honorably and honestly.” He hires UVU interns and prefers them over interns from other colleges, because they’re harder working and seem more grateful for the education they’re getting.
In addition to all the time and energy Garrett spends on UVU, he also serves on the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce board of governors, and he’s the president elect for the Utah chapter of the Financial Planning Association. He and Teri counsel young, single adults in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, helping them to write resumes and coaching them in interviewing. Garrett and a partner wrote a book called, “Pushing Brooms With Jack: How to Get From Where You Are Today to Financial Independence on Any Income!” The story it tells prepares young adults for the financial decisions they will face in their lives.
Eight years ago, when the Garretts first got this calling from their church, most of the students they counseled chose Utah State University if they didn’t get into Brigham Young University, but today most of them choose UVU if they don’t get into BYU. “It’s amazing—what a change just in a matter of a few years!” says Jerry.