Helena Hannonen, a professor of the Faculty of Business & Government, retired at the end of the 2019-2020 academic school year. While at BYU–Hawaii, she established the BYU Management Society and helped to build a strong Enactus team. Even after her retirement, she said she is determined to continue serving the BYUH ohana and gives advice for student success.
Although Hannonen retired after 14 years at BYUH, she prefers the term “rewire.” Hannonen said she was brought to BYUH to change things. “Before I left my interview [to be hired with the school], we had already outlined the changes needed for an improved business program.”
Among the changes was an emphasis on proper dress and manners. Hannonen worked with several organizations and collected 33 boxes of business clothing and accessories so students could afford to dress well for job interviews.
During her time as department chair, her team updated the business program by establishing tracks. There were separate student organizations under each track where students could practice what they learned in the classroom.
New tracks helped the department focus on certifications and practical projects on-campus and worldwide, she said. Hannonen also helped BYUH students partner with students from other universities.
For example, she explained leadership and management students worked with their counterparts at Boston University and developed training programs. When NBC News wanted to feature technology in classrooms, student teams presented their projects while the film crew filmed them in Boston and virtually at BYUH.
Other practical projects have included a refugee project for Finland, which started as a community project, but later became a countrywide project to help refugees.
Based on the work of a student team and a missionary, the Student Support Services was started at BYUH to help students transition to the United States educational system.
Hannonen helped establish the BYUH Enactus team from a small program on its last legs to the strong program it is today. In 2007, the school asked Hannonen to accompany the SIFE (now Enactus) team to Dallas, Texas. Her assignment was to evaluate the organization and then close down the program.
“I came back and told them that we needed to have all students participate in this organization,” she stated. “We started with four students after the Dallas conference and worked hard and had 187 students by the following spring.”
As the years went by, more faculty and students got involved in Enactus. Now, BYUH has won the national championship for the third straight year.
Nomungerel Enkhtuvshin, a senior from Mongolia, majoring in psychology, said, “Dr. Hannonen is an extraordinary and compelling professor who has a unique background and varied experience and expertise. When I took her BUSM 310 class, I was sick, yet she helped me catch up and encouraged me to keep on.
“She was firm and fair on assignments and grading, which helped me to be more responsible in my studies. She is very caring and always makes sure students are healthy, safe and fed.”
Starting BYU Management Society
Hannonen shared one of her favorite activities was starting the BYU Management Society chapter at BYUH and expanding to other parts of Asia and the Pacific. According to Hannonen, the society's focus is on building moral and ethical leaders.
“Many of our students became board members and presidents of various chapters around the world. Under that umbrella of the chapter, we started the Women in Business, Global Connection and Annual Global Leadership Award Gala Dinner.”
Hannonen said their goal was to provide students opportunities to lead, give them scholarships and network them to the worldwide membership of professionals. The BYUH chapter received the Dean Gold Chapter of Excellence Award from the Marriott School of Business for over a decade.
Hannonen said she helped BYUH to obtain state-of-the-art tools, such as the Bloomberg terminal and automated all course offerings. These upgrades resulted in BYUH students getting hired by top companies and accepted to great universities for masters and doctorate programs.
Justin Ioane, a senior from Samoa, majoring in accounting and marketing, said Hannonen is a great asset to BYUH. “She is a well-respected mother figure for all business students. She has an enormous network of powerful people. She can read people, and through her classes, she shares that knowledge.”
Hannonen’s former student Ryan Chaffin, now an adjunct faculty member of the Faculty of Business & Government, said she made a big difference in his life. Chaffin was her teaching assistant and served as the BYU Management Society’s BYUH student chapter president under her direction. Of Hannonen, he recalled, “I have relied on her as a mentor and friend ever since.”
Chaffin went on to work on Wall Street, own successful businesses, and teach at BYUH. He shared, Hannonen has taught him many things over the past decade. One of the most important things he learned from her was to take responsibility for his actions, including owning the mistakes he made.
“This meant not making excuses, being honest, correcting any wrongdoings and learning from the experience to improve and avoid future mistakes. During my time on Wall Street, this served me well and allowed me to stand out from my peers and earn promotions and greater opportunities much faster than others,” Chaffin said.
He said Hannonen has always been helpful and giving, not only with her time and wisdom but also in all aspects. “I’ve approached her both as a student and as a professional, seeking out her advice on how to handle certain situations. She has always been willing to understand the situation and offer several perspectives and insights.”
I’ve approached her both as a student and as a professional, seeking out her advice on how to handle certain situations.
Blessings of BYUH
Hannonen said seeing the transformation in students has been rewarding as they have worked hard and discovered their talents and skills. “What they lack in funds and previous experience, they make up in faith and hard work.”
She said she believes each person has a special mission in life, and the Lord is aware of each’s needs. “Going to the temple at the end of the week and getting guidance for the things we should do to benefit the students and the school was such a great blessing.”
Seeing the revelation and inspiration in the lives of students in secular and spiritual things was another blessing. She explained, “It is humbling to hear students pray in their native language and hear them pray for me. They have saved my life. I felt how my love increased as I prayed for each student and class.”
It is humbling to hear students pray in their native language and hear them pray for me. They have saved my life.
Continuing her service
Despite retiring from BYUH, Hannonen will continue to work on the board of the Asia Pacific Region of the BYU Management Society. “There is a great need for home-based businesses in all countries, and we will start webinars in fall to help families start small businesses to bring income to their homes.”
She said she will continue to help students no matter where in the world she is. “I will provide my feedback and expertise when there is a need for my input.”
Chaffin said he admires that Hannonen took her job as a professor seriously by preparing business management students for the business world and advocating for the students at all levels.
“While as students, we may not appreciate a professor with a high standard in the classroom. Upon transitioning into a corporate setting, you better understand all the things she tried to teach you in class,” Chaffin commented.
During his time on Wall Street, he would often recall lessons learned in Hannonen’s leadership and management class, which prepared him for the job. “I would often receive praise from management for simply suggesting a concept or principle I learned from Helena’s course.”
I would often receive praise from management for simply suggesting a concept or principle I learned from Helena’s course.
Working closely with Helena as her teaching assistant and as the President of the BYUMS, he saw her advocate for students. “It was refreshing to know that students had a faculty member on their side, which is something I have done my best to incorporate as an adjunct faculty member,” Chaffin added.
Hannonen joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a young age. She said she has lived by, “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord,” which has taken her around the world. “I never studied on Sunday and was able to complete all my degrees early. I paid my tithing first and always had the money for my needs.”
She also served a welfare-leadership mission in Colombia and lived among Páez Indians, which taught her how to survive and gave her courage. “I learned that I was always a visitor and had to be accepted by the locals,” she said.
Before coming to BYUH, she had worked in the corporate world in organizational effectiveness and leadership development in Europe, South America and the United States, as well as taught at universities in California and Europe. She also consulted for universities, governments and businesses around the world.
Hannonen said going to work in Silicon Valley and being in the corporate world after receiving her doctorate rather than teaching gave her a practical understanding and experience on how to get things done rather than rely on textbooks and conferences.
She added, “Becoming a mother was the greatest blessing of my life, which is above anything else. Also, honoring my parents and heritage gives me strength every day.”
Becoming a mother was the greatest blessing of my life, which is above anything else. Also, honoring my parents and heritage gives me strength every day.
About her family
Hannonen shared, “I am looking forward to spending more time with my family and collaborating on projects with them.” Her son, Markus, lives in Lovelock, Nevada, with his wife, Sarah, an alumna of BYUH. Hannonen said she enjoys traveling with them and wants to continue to do family history.
Her other family includes her “hānai” children around the world. She explained, “I have met so many students who needed a mom or a grandmother. By now, people are used to introductions like ‘my Mongolian son,’ ‘my Chinese daughter,’ ‘my island princess,’ etc. I finished all my courses with a “mamma prayer and blessing” for my students. I also became the universal grandmother, and children just call me ‘mummy,’” she said proudly.
Advice for students
● Show up early. Never miss a class or an opportunity.
● Never leave anything to the last minute. You will miss the deadline.
● Manage your time and schedule. Do all the creative work in the morning.
● Keep records and document your work and achievements.
● Establish lifelong relationships with classmates from other cultures and majors. Speak English all the time and never have a roommate from your own country. Besides your degree, you need to be fluent in English.
● Keep the Honor Code. When you cheat and disobey, you are only hurting yourself. Lies have short tracks and will destroy your character.
● Do your family history and attend the temple. You will have extra help from the other side of the veil. Your problems will go away, or you know how to deal with them. Never be on red with tithing money.
● Get to know your professors. Use your discernment because there are good and bad. Words are cheap. You must always watch the feet.
● Keep in touch with family and friends at home because one day you will return.
● Show gratitude to everyone for the blessings you have at BYUH.
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