OBHR Lessons from the Caribbean
When two young missionaries lost the trail while hiking La Soufière, a volcano on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, Reid Robison had to act quickly. After receiving the news that the two young men had gone missing, Robison, then president of the West Indies Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, immediately flew to Martinique from mission headquarters in Trinidad and brought in twenty additional missionaries from surrounding islands in the mission to help search alongside the local police force.
For three days, headlines such as “Where are the Lost Boys?” splattered the local papers and nightly news. Robison drilled his strategy to the searchers: “Pray, then go.” It worked. Days later, the missing missionaries turned up deep in the marshy forest of the island.
“It was the first time anyone had ever survived being lost in that area of the jungle,” Robison remembers.
In addition to the miracle of finding the lost missionaries, Robison’s tenure as a mission president included countless opportunities to use his organizational behavior (OB) background. Robison holds an MBA from Northwestern University and a PhD in educational leadership from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Though his time among the people and culture of the West Indies stands in stark contrast to his business background as a manager and executive at OC Tanner, Robison cherishes the memories. Spice stands in Grenada, cutlasses in Barbados, and bokits, the traditional fried sandwich of Guadeloupe, stitch together the bright fabric of the Caribbean, where Robison and his wife supervised 186 missionaries of the West Indies Mission from 2006-09.
Though Robison may seem like a classic Wasatch Front grandfather, his experiences in OB far surpass those of a typical classroom education. In addition to his time in the Caribbean, Robison served as president of the Ghana Missionary Training Center from 2014-16.
Presiding over a mission or an MTC is “really a workshop in leadership,” Robison says. “You’re training missionaries to be leaders, and you’re training new members in the developing church to be leaders.”
Today, Robison, now a BYU OBHR professor, applies the lessons in sociology, psychology, communication, and management he learned during his years of missionary service abroad to his curriculum at the Marriott School.
He believes in the value of appreciating and understanding diverse cultures, and he teaches students to “listen to understand” when they work in organizations. He shares with students how he and his wife went to the Caribbean and Ghana thinking, “There is so much we can do to teach and to educate the people there,” but came back “blown away by how much they had taught us.” Robison hopes students will see how much they can learn from any person in an organization.
In addition to teaching classes, Robison develops social innovation projects in his new role as relationship manager for the Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance. He finds partners in the US and Africa to build Ballard Center education and trade programs in underdeveloped areas, including those where he once served. He is currently working to establish a program for students to receive credit for higher education classes that will be held in church buildings across many third-world countries.
“We work to enrich the lives of people in underprivileged countries,” Robison says. “It’s along the lines of, ‘How are we going to teach them how to fish?’”
Apart from their 4.5 years abroad, Robison and his wife, Diane, have lived in Provo for the past 18 years. Of their 18 grandchildren, 13 live within two miles of the Robisons’ home, where the family gathers each Sunday.
“I love cheering them on in whatever they do,” Robison says.
The Robisons also have one granddaughter serving as a missionary in Paris, where Robison first served a mission at age 19.
“French is the language of heaven,” Robison says.