Stephen R. Covey, 79, a one-time management professor at Brigham Young University who burst into global prominence with "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," died Monday at a hospital in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He was 79 years old.
A family statement said Mr. Covey, an avid cyclist, succumbed to the “residual effects” of an April bicycle accident in which he fell while riding in a park near Provo, Utah. Wife Sandra Covey and the couple’s nine children were with him when he died, according to reports.
Mr. Covey, who earned an MBA from Harvard University and a doctorate from BYU, distilled what he called "natural laws" of achievement into a 1989 book, one of a series that sold more than 20 million copies.
Although lambasted by critics as mere motivational fluff, "Habits" caught on with major corporations and leaders including Clinton-era Department of Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary, who, Fortune magazine reported in 1994, was offering Covey-based training to all DOE employees. As his motivational and speaking business grew, Mr. Covey left Brigham Young to concentrate on his firm, the Covey Leadership Center.
In 1997, Mr. Covey merged his firm with time-management trainers FranklinQuest to form FranklinCovey, which offers business training classes worldwide, including frequent seminars in the Washington area.
In 2009, Mr. Covey released a book, "Great Work, Great Career," in which he urged workers to develop a different mindset to meet changing economic times. He said his new book offered something beyond the "positive thinking" for which he and other motivational authors had been slammed by critics.
"This is a problem-solving approach. It isn’t about just having a positive mental attitude," Mr. Covey told The Washington Times in a December 2009 interview. "You’re dealing with the realities that people are facing, plus the opportunities that other people are facing as well. If you are thinking creatively and are synergistic, so you can produce 'third alternative' solutions and become a catalyst … . [You] can produce those results."
In person, Mr. Covey was genial and self-deprecating, making an audience at a D.C. hotel ballroom laugh when telling about the time he mistakenly left his wife by the side of the road one winter’s evening. When telephoned by a highway patrolman, who had Mrs. Covey in his squad car, Mr. Covey insisted she was with him, until he turned around to check. The punch line: Mr. Covey’s self-image of being organized took a small, humanizing hit, to the delight of his listeners.
Mr. Covey, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Utah State University, joined that institution’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business as a professor in 2010. USU President Stan Albrecht praised Mr. Covey for his work on and off campus.
"We at the university know him best, of course, as a scholar and mentor to students, professors and our leadership teams over the course of many years," Mr. Albrecht said in a statement released by the school. "But Dr. Covey touched the lives of people around the world in very personal ways. He was an inspirational leader who was always a powerful voice for individual integrity, strong character and extreme trustworthiness in every aspect of life."
Along with his wife and nine children, Mr. Covey is survived by 52 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
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