The Latter-day Apostle’s Multi-Million Dollar Stock Gain Over Long Corporate Career Fits Church History

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The revelations that a Latter-day Apostle could earn nearly $ 1 billion in wealth as a cornerstone of his long professional career success shouldn’t shock followers of Mormon history, academics say.

Since the days of the pioneers of the faith, there has been a well-documented interweaving of ecclesiastical affairs and affairs in the lives of many leaders who reach the upper echelons of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. , including founder Joseph Smith and his successor Brigham Young.

A substantial number of those called as full-time general church authorities since 1830 have been successful businessmen, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and those with management expertise.

“It’s no secret,” said Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University in Logan. “It has never been a strange thing because it all goes back to the early days of the church.”

But the story of Apostle Gary E. Stevenson and his prospect of making $ 911.9 million from owning stocks he raised as a co-founder of iFIT Health & Fitness, based in Cache Valley stands out in other respects, notably by the amount of capital involved. .

“That’s a terribly big number,” Mason said. “You put so many zeros behind it and it sort of becomes unfathomable how much money there is out there.”

Stevenson’s role in the business also involved a special exemption among Latter-day Saint Apostles, according to a church spokesperson, giving the church leader a transmission of the two-decade-old rules that aim to discourage general authorities from sitting on boards of directors.

Spokesman Doug Andersen said “such permissions are considered and granted in exceptional circumstances on a case-by-case basis and are rare.”

Stevenson, who is 66, owns 43.4 million shares of the exercise equipment company he helped create, including co-founding a predecessor in 1977 and as president and chief operating officer. iFIT from 1988 to 2008, according to reports filed ahead of a planned initial public offering of its shares.

The October 7 IPO was expected to bring iFIT’s valuation to just under $ 7 billion, but it was postponed due to sharp market swings.

Documents relating to the delayed share launch also revealed that Robert C. Gay – formerly a member of the Church’s Quorum of the Seventy and a long-time capital manager in his private career – owns 18 million shares of the same company, with a potential of $ 385.9. million gains to his personal fortune.

(Keith Johnson | Special for The Tribune) Robert C. Gay, member of the Presidency of the Seventy, speaks at the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on October 7, 2018 , in Salt Lake City.

The $ 100 billion link

Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess joined others studying Latter-day Saint culture and history to phrase the deals in terms of “$ 100 billion.”

The currency has remained stranded since a whistleblower complaint in late 2019 alleging that church-owned investment accounts managed by Ensign Peak Advisors in Salt Lake City were overflowing by $ 100 billion or more in reserve funds.

“This news about the enormous wealth of an individual LDS leader seems in line with the astronomical wealth of the church as an institution,” said Riess, author of “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church” .

“I doubt most members see this as a problem,” she wrote via email.

“Most didn’t criticize the church when it turned out to be racking up over a hundred billion dollars in investment,” Riess said, “so I guess they’ll take this news in stride or even consider Brother Stevenson’s impending billionaire status as a sign of the Lord’s favor.

Foreigners, however, “will see it as yet another example of churches and religious leaders thriving,” she added, “as other people struggle or starve.”

Matthew Bowman, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, referred to a “prosperity gospel” that takes root in the church, under a philosophy that equates religious and spiritual success.

“In the same way that American culture somehow treats the massively successful people financially as heroes, as role models and archetypes, people to be admired,” Bowman said, “this is also true within the church and successful people who are wealthy tend to be people who move up in the church hierarchy.

Noting Stevenson’s “compassionate heart” – evident, she said, from her General Conference addresses – Riess urged the apostle “to send a wonderful message to the world about what the Saints really are. last days ”by donating all manna to the poor.

Like many other Latter-day Saints, USU’s Mason joked that “at the very least the church can expect a very big tithe check.”

Why Stevenson got a policy exemption

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Gary E. Stevenson speaks at a press conference at the Church Office Building in 2015 after being named an Apostle.

Stevenson and Gay are cited among the biggest shareholders of iFIT. Securities and Exchange Commission records also name them among the 15 officers proposed to serve as future directors on the board of directors of iFIT.

This seemed to put them at odds with a long-standing appeal from the governing First Presidency of the faith, made in 1996 under then-church president Gordon B. Hinckley, that general authorities stay on the sidelines. boards of directors of companies and churches to devote more attention to the needs. a growing number of members around the world.

It was still common for general authorities to sit on the boards of directors of various church-owned companies such as Deseret Management Corp. and Beneficial Life Insurance, even decades, said Bowman, after an evolution from this model began in the 1960s.

The statement issued early in Hinckley’s tenure, the historian explained, reflected his desire that “church leaders become, primarily and almost exclusively, church leaders.”

Bowman said he has known of no other example since then of the kind of exception granted to Stevenson, who resigned from iFIT in 2008 for a full-time mission in the church and served as its presiding bishop – overseeing the vast finances, real estate, investing and charitable operations – from 2012 to 2015, before being elevated to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

A church spokesperson said the special dispensation was granted by church officials because of Stevenson’s “inherited actions and his role as a co-founder of the company.”

The church did not respond to inquiries about whether other Latter-day Saint Apostles have been granted similar exemptions.

The 70-year-old gay was appointed to the church’s first Quorum of the Seventy in 2012. Church leaders announced at the recent general faith conference that he had achieved emeritus status, similar to a semi-retirement from the daily role. functions.

Members of the Seventy typically join the ranks of emeritus and withdraw from full-time church service after the age of 70.

This, according to the church, had exempted him from the board membership policy, at least as his name appeared in iFIT’s IPO documents. Gay, founder of Palo Alto-based Huntsman Gay Global Capital, has been a director of iFIT since 1994, according to its IPO.

Being an apostle, like Stevenson, on the other hand, is a lifelong call.

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