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PROVO, Utah – Jan 30, 2020 – Most MBA students hope to graduate from the program with one or two prestigious internships under their belts and then begin their careers in the business field. BYU Marriott MBA alum Thayne O’Brien chose a different route. While an MBA student, O’Brien worked in Grand Teton National Park during the summers. As he neared the end of his MBA program in 1971, he realized the skills he’d learned at BYU Marriott could be used outside of the traditional business field.
When O’Brien started working at Grand Teton National Park for the National Parks Service (NPS), he’d found a place where he belonged. “When I started working at Grand Teton, I walked backwards the whole first day looking at those mountains—I was captivated by them,” he recalls.
The ability to live and work near the mountains was definitely a pull for O’Brien when he accepted a full-time job at the NPS, but what sealed the deal were the values the Parks Service held. “Here was an opportunity for me to live in an area compatible with my ideals and in a job that would give me some economic stability,” says O’Brien. “The idea that land should be preserved for future generations to enjoy was intriguing to me.”
After several years working full-time as a budget and procurement assistant at Grand Teton National Park, he decided to try out the private sector. O’Brien and his brother-in-law started an auto-parts business in Idaho, but the company struggled due to the nationwide economic downturn at the time. Following the difficult decision to close the business, Thayne worked as a credit manager for a furniture store in Oregon, but yearned to return to the NPS. When the phone rang and his old boss at the NPS asked him to come back, he responded, “Please hang up so I can start getting packed.”
Back at the NPS, O’Brien worked as a contracting officer and was in charge of the total acquisition program for Grand Teton National Park. Looking back at his thirty years with the NPS, he is most proud of working to restore the park’s historic buildings and properties. “When I first went to work at Grand Teton, I saw people come from around the world who had saved money most of their lives to be able to see the parks,” says O’Brien. “The park is a part of the living history of the American West.”
Having worked for the NPS for almost three decades, O’Brien had the opportunity to see how the NPS became more inclusive. As the NPS evolved to include more women and minorities, the change was a challenge for many, but O’Brien saw the bigger picture. “The interest in inclusivity gave me a greater understanding of the importance of making sure opportunities are available for everybody,” says O’Brien.
As an MBA alum, O’Brien credits his appreciation for the world and nature to his time in the MBA program. Growing up in Tetonia, a small farming town in Idaho, O’Brien had little exposure to the rest of the world. When he joined the MBA program, his exposure grew. “I’m a much more rounded individual now—I serve my community, my church, and my own family more than I would have had I not had my MBA experience,” says O’Brien.
After enduring the cold Wyoming winters for over thirty years, O’Brien is now retired in St. George, Utah, much to the appreciation of his wife, Corrine. As he reflects on his time with the NPS, O’Brien prides himself on his ability to get things done. “Roads got plowed in the wintertime, roofs got shoveled of snow, we got things done,” he says. “I think I’ll be remembered for being a doer.”