Put in a video CD of Norm Nemrow’s well-known accounting lectures, press play, and you may see him tell this story.
In 1971, he and his brother stumbled upon $5,000 in the back seat of an airplane owned by Howard Hughes. His older brother, who worked as a security guard for Hughes’ fleet of vintage aircraft in Calif., invited Nemrow to keep him company one night when they made the unlikely find.
“We divided up the money and took it,” Nemrow said. “Our mother had a fit, so we gathered the money back up, returned it, and confessed.”
Today many online BYU students know this story as one way Nemrow teaches a hybrid video-lecture accounting class about avoiding fraud.
Considering every BYU business student in the last decade has or will see his face plastered on their computer screens, Nemrow may be one of the most recognizable professors on campus.
Take for example a rally held in 2004, where students petitioned to have the professor release “Norm Nemrow Sings Southern Gospel Hits” on CD. Or how some Statistics 221 students affectionately call the female StatTutor narrator “Norma” in tribute to Nemrow’s narration of his own lectures.
But with all the fame, Nemrow said he thinks it’s a still little weird to see his recordings being played at double-speed on student’s laptops.
“I’ll tap on their shoulder and see how they’re doing,” he said. “They have trouble recognizing me because they’re used to hearing me talk fast.”
So how is it that this “renaissance accountant” — as some students call him — came to teach at BYU, especially without a doctorate? And where do the rumors of him teaching for only a dollar a year come from?
Rewind 50 years.
Nemrow was born in Burbank, Calif., and converted to the LDS Church as a senior in high school with his brother. After serving a mission in Korea from 1973 to 1975, he graduated from BYU with a Masters of Accountancy and went to work for Arthur Anderson & Co. in his home state.
Eventually Nemrow worked his way up the corporate ladder of a real-estate firm and successfully sold it in 1985, securing his financial wellbeing for years to come.
So he started playing golf – every day. Nemrow said he realized two things.
“I realized that wasn't how the Lord would have me spend my time,” he said. “(And) it wasn’t having a positive effect upon my marriage and family life.”
Nemrow then decided to move his family to Provo in hopes of landing a teaching job at his alma matter. Nemrow didn’t hold a doctorate, so he begged BYU to let him teach as a volunteer instructor.
“BYU policy is that full-time faculty need to be compensated for their work,” he said. “So what I’ve done is just donated that back to the university.”
Nemrow’s volunteer teaching has not gone unnoticed. In 2001 he received the Governor’s Points of Light award from Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt for his volunteer service. But Nemrow said it’s not as benevolent as it sounds.
“I donate some of that back to the athletic department and get really good tickets,” he said with a laugh. “It’s not completely unselfish.”
Selfish or not, Monte Swain, an accounting professor who started teaching the same year Nemrow landed his volunteer position, said Nemrow doesn’t allow himself to be defined by his success.
“He has worked hard to unravel himself from the fetters of financial success,” he said.
As an instructor, Nemrow made a name for himself through his engaging accounting lectures.
By 1999 his lectures were stuffed with students eager to learn accounting and hear his famous stories. So Nemrow made his video discs which captured his knowledge — and his humor.
One video lecture on inventory management showed Nemrow acting as if he was “swimming” through the stock of milk gallons in the refrigerated aisle of a grocery store in order to obtain the freshest gallon.
“Be sure to smell the milk first,” he said on the video.
Now skip scenes to 2004.
Nemrow received another mission call – straight back to Korea, where he served before. Some students thought Nemrow would apply his witty humor and accounting know-how to his mission call.
“I suppose he’d be really concerned about the numbers,” former student Sterling Logan said of him before Nemrow left.
But Nemrow said his mission presidency changed his life in ways he didn’t realize were possible.
“It was joyful,” he said with his eyes closed and his head down. “To see our returned missionaries continue on faithful and true on is just beyond my power to express.”
Some of Nemrow’s peers noticed a change, too. Swain said Nemrow must have had his own “Gethsemane experience” in Korea.
“He’s been refined,” he said. “There’s more (Nemrow) to admire now, but he is still full of fire and has his explosive sense of humor.”
Nemrow’s wife Cindy, whom he met at BYU in his graduate school years, said it was the process of trying to think like the Savior that changed her husband.
“In the past he’s been a guy that has just shot from the hip, a ‘loose cannon’ that spoke what was on his mind,” she said. “As a president he knew he had to be careful and thoughtful and it really helped him to grow.”
Cindy Nemrow said her husband exemplifies Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ landmark General Conference talk “Good, Better, Best” because he’s trying to be a better Norm these days, especially with his humor.
“I'm trying to put childish things behind me and become a better man,” Nemrow said of some of his stories. “I want to have humor like President Hinckley, because his was always in proper context.”
Now fast-forward to the present.
Nemrow, a changed return mission president, sits in his office on the fifth floor of the Tanner Building, combing over hours of newly recorded accounting lectures. Nemrow said he has many things to accomplish before he passes on.
One of them is “future-proofing” his video lectures by re-recording them in high definition. Rather than focusing on changing his humor in the lectures, Nemrow said he is trying to make his lectures relevant for the next 20 years.
Skipping around the frames of Nemrow’s life one may see a man who has indeed changed.
From his “Hughes heist” in 1971 to his golfing spree in the 80s to his second mission in Korea, the accounting professor Norm Nemrow may yet be plastered on students’ laptops for years to come.
“I’ll be dead and they’ll still have it,” he said of his lectures, chuckling with that same humor which has become a little more “refined” through the years.