Filling in the Gaps
By Janine S. Creager
May 9, 2009
As newly appointed president of EnergySolutions, Val Christensen sees himself as a problem solver. From serving as a lawyer, an executive at Franklin/Covey Co., and as executive vice president and general counsel and secretary at EnergySolutions, Christensen has spent his life negotiating difficult transactions, merging together diverse ideologies and addressing individual concerns.
He recalls an incident in which a business owner demanded a large sum of money during an acquisition. The amount was more than could be spent. Instead of haggling over price or walking away, however, Christensen took the time to understand the real issues the owner was facing.
Christensen learned that the owner was deeply concerned about putting her child through college in the event something happened to her. With this understanding, Christensen was able to negotiate the purchase of a life insurance policy, with a much lower price than she had originally requested, which met her needs, calmed her fears and sealed the deal.
Discerning these kinds of needs has become second nature to Christensen. “It becomes the way you think and feel about things. What was causing [the owners] gap was her fear about the future, her lack of creativity about how to solve the problem.”
In today’s business world, which can be filled with risk, and sometimes, illegal or unethical behaviors, discovering the gaps is part of the process. Once that need is known, Christensen says he can compensate for the missing components with the individual or corporation.
For a man who knows the intricacies of today’s business challenges, Christensen spent his first 13 years in Ephraim, a small Utah farming community, before moving to Utah County as a teen. From these humble beginnings, Christensen learned valuable life lessons, which remain with him to this day.
“On the farm . . . you have to have ingenuity, creative solutions to things, [because you are] limited with respect to assets, tools and money,” he says. “From that culture, where you knew everybody, you [learned to] absolutely tell the whole truth. You don’t shade it; you give them a straight answer about things, and you keep your word. You deliver, and you can’t make excuses. That was certainly the expectations growing up.”
A husband, father of eight and grandfather of 13, Christensen enjoys golf and riding his Harley Davidson motorcycles in his spare time. He also writes poetry and is an avid reader, especially of non-fiction books about historical events or eras.
As president of EnergySolutions, Christensen sees his role as one of helping people “to begin to view what they do as strategic, not just performing their tasks in certain areas. They are strategic players in [creating] greater shareholder value.”
Whether on the farm, in the law office or meeting with corporate executives, Christensen has worked hard to earn a reputation of fairness and honesty.
“I am always respectful and kind, but I tell it like it is and I speak honestly what is on my mind and I don’t cut corners,” he says. “I think I’m very good at being forceful and candid, and honest and direct, and still allow people to feel respected and valued and not embarrassed or shamed by anything I would say.”