Setting a President

by Lisa A. Johnson

Editorial Associate

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    It’s 8:30 on a brisk Monday morning at the Harvard Business School. A wind that blows in off the Charles River hustles red, orange, and yellow leaves as they chase each other around the ivy-laden brick buildings. Students of all colors and sizes hurry to their classes, the difficulty of the material they studied the night before imprinted on their faces.

    Once inside the classroom they place their name cards in front of them, arrange their notes, and chatter nervously. Who will be called on to open class, they wonder, hoping against hope that it won’t be them.

    “Mr. Fullmer,” barks the teacher. “I believe it is your lucky day. You will open, please.”

    Greg Fullmer leans forward, fingers his notes and begins. He is prepared. He should be. He was up until 2:00 A.M. poring over the text. Greg has to stay up studying a little later than most students because he has so many additional responsibilities. Last year he was elected to serve as the Harvard Business School’s student body president—the first Latter-day Saint to hold that position. School officials and students alike say he is one of the best they’ve ever had—that he did more in the first two months he was in office than most presidents ever do in an entire year. The six-foot-two, broad-shouldered former BYU student body president finishes his statement, and a number of hands shoot up. The discussion has begun.

    Fifteen years ago, if you had told that 12-year-old farm boy from Rexburg, Idaho, that he would someday be a student body president of one of the most prestigious schools in the country, he probably would have smiled. Not laughed, mind you, because he always did believe that if your desires are righteous and if you’re willing to pay the price, you can accomplish what you want to. No, he would have smiled because you had just given him a new goal to work toward.

    But then again, at that point in Greg’s life, you probably would have laughed right out loud when you tried to picture him as the handsome Harvard student who has a number of major corporations trying to recruit him. Greg was short, overweight, asthmatic, and not exactly what you’d call an academic standout. And although he was good-natured and had a positive disposition, he was no angel either.

    “He was always teasing his sister and doing something to get you aggravated,” his grandmother, Loah Anderson will tell you. “I laugh with him now about it though, and tell him that if I had ever caught him, he wouldn’t be where he is today.”

    His grade school bus driver would agree. Not long ago, he stopped Greg in church and said “You know, Greg, you’ve restored my faith in the youth of today.”

    “How’s that?” asked Greg, flattered but slightly puzzled.

    “You used to be the rottenest kid I knew,” the bus driver replied. “I just hated to see you get on that bus. But now I know that if you can make it, anyone can.”

    Greg really wasn’t a troublemaker. He just liked to interact with people, and he was naturally curious. “We’d take him to a cafe,” his grandmother says, “and the kid would be up and out in a second. He wouldn’t sit at the table. He’d be over with the hostess, talking to the waitresses; then he’d go back into the kitchen to see what was cooking.”

    Through most of Greg’s teenage years, he was six to eight inches shorter than his sister—his younger sister. She is 14 months his junior. In junior high school, he got along well with the other kids, but no one took him that seriously. “I ran for student body president in junior high and suffered a miserable defeat,” he said. “I didn’t even make it into the primaries, and that really hurt.”

    So what motivated Greg to keep trying? How did he finally end up in the top student leadership position at Harvard Business School?

    Well, you could say it was faith. Faith in the Lord, faith in himself, and the faith that his family showed in him.

    Greg didn’t come from what most people would call the ideal, stereotypical family background. But he’ll tell you it was ideal for him. His parents were divorced before he was two, and he, along with his mother and his sister, moved in with his grandparents. Instead of lamenting the fact that he comes from a “broken home,” Greg makes the best of it. “I always felt like I had to excel to make up for not having a dad, so actually, it was kind of good for me,” he says. Besides, “it was like having the love and support of three parents, not just two.” His mother had to work during the day but made sure that when she came home she spent plenty of quality time with her children.

    From his mother, Greg learned to listen to people, to understand their needs, and to try to help them. This became one of his greatest assets as he served in various student-government positions. From his grandmother he learned that you can achieve almost anything you want in life if you’re willing to work hard. He attributes his greatest achievements to that conviction, including funding his mission with the money he earned by opening a number of weight control centers in various parts of the country. From his grandfather, Greg learned patience and wisdom. “He didn’t have a formal education, so he’d get up early every morning and read books,” Greg relates. “He’s one of the most intelligent people I know.” Under that inspiration, Greg went from being an average student in junior high to being class valedictorian at BYU.

    When Greg was 12, his family went through another change. After much deliberation, his mother decided to remarry, and although there was occasional strain, Greg adapted quite well to his new father, brothers, and sisters.

    While other boys were out playing little league baseball, Greg spent a lot of time working on the family farm, milking and feeding cows, cleaning out the milk tank, you name it. He doesn’t regret the time spent—it taught him to work hard. But he won’t tell you he loved it either, although he did have a number of ways to make the long, tedious hours go by faster. He took great pride in trying to do the best job he possibly could. If he was working with others, he would talk to them, laugh with them, joke with them, and get to know them better. And then, when he had a spare second, he would dream about what he would try to accomplish in the future.

    “I wasn’t the most athletic kid in the school, I wasn’t the most intelligent, and I certainly wasn’t the best looking, so I decided I’d try to be the friendliest,” he said. “One way to feel good about yourself is to make other people feel good about themselves.”

    Included in his dreams was a desire to be a student body president. He got over his miserable junior high defeat and decided that he would run when he got to high school. But just a short time before he was to announce his candidacy, his best friend told him he’d decided to run and asked Greg to be his campaign manager. Greg complied and helped him win, deciding that he could run for the office when he got to Ricks College.

    But when Greg got to Ricks, he decided to sacrifice his political ambitions in favor of serving a mission in Indonesia. “I had a lot of misconceptions about the mission field,” he admits. “When you hear missionaries come back and say those were the best two years of their lives, you think it’s going to be all roses, but it’s not. It’s the hardest thing you could possibly do, and that’s what makes it great. I really learned to appreciate things I had to work for and sacrifice for. I learned to accept, appreciate, and love people who were different from me.”

    When Greg returned from his mission, he finished up at Ricks, then went on to BYU. He never had satisfied his dream of becoming a student body president, but the thought of presiding over BYU’s 27,000 students seemed overly ambitious to him. His sister Kristie was convinced he could do it though. She helped him find a running mate, served as his campaign manager, and after a lot of hard work, Greg was elected by one of the biggest margins in BYU history.

    “That really helped prepare me for where I am now,” Greg says. And actually, he is quite surprised to be in this position at Harvard. He’d already satisfied his goal of serving as a student body president, and knowing how many hours he’d put into the position at BYU, he didn’t think he could handle it at graduate school. After much prayer and a lot of requests from fellow students, however, Greg decided to give it a try. A lot of hard work went into that election too, and it paid off.

    Even though Greg has won a multitude of other awards and titles, he feels that some of his greatest satisfaction comes when his accomplishments put him in a position to answer questions about the Church. “I’m constantly being questioned about our beliefs,” he says with a smile. “And I’m always happy to talk with anyone.”

    And they’re usually happy to listen. Fellow students scrutinize Greg a little closer than they do other classmates. Not only is he their president, but he’s also one of a handful of LDS people they might know.

    Tomorrow he’ll probably be walking Wall Street, but today, on the brisk Monday afternoon, his class discussions are finished and he walks over to one of the numerous meetings he has each week. Many students call out to him, greeting him by name. Some glance at him with a mischievous look in their eyes and call out, “Hi, LARRY!” That’s Greg’s first name, but he hates to be called that and they know it. On the first day of class this year, the student body gave him a standing ovation and shouted out, “Larry! Larry! Larry!” It’s impossible to take yourself too seriously with classmates like that.

    Still, many of them ask him how he’s accomplished what he has. “My theory of success,” he tells them, “requires two things—that you work hard, and that you pray hard.” Greg slides into his seat at the head of a large conference table, and the other student body officers begin to file in. He is prepared. He should be. He was up until 2 A.M. making use of his theory of success.

    Photography by Richard Chase

    Greg gives a lot of credit to his family for helping to make a little boy’s dream to excel become a reality. Greg didn’t let the fact that he was not raised in a stereotypical family hold him back. His parents were divorced, but he drew strength from his mother and grandparents who helped raise him, and from his step family. “Everyone was so close and supportive,” he says.

    As a boy, Greg dreamed of a mission before he ever thought about student leadership. Now he’ll tell you the time he spent among the Saints in Indonesia was invaluable. The leadership skills he learned were just a small part of his missionary experience, but those skills, along with his sister Kristie (below), did help him win elections at BYU and at Harvard.