How Dwight Smith engineered a company turnaround as well as an ESOP — through faith

Dwight Smith, CEO of Sophisticated Systems Inc.

Dwight Smith is not ashamed or embarrassed that his Christian views drive his behavior in his business, Sophisticated Systems Inc., a supplier of information and technology solutions.

“This business is part of my testimony,” the CEO says. “So the blessings that the Lord gives me, if I live according to His will, will come to me and through me to others. I really believe in it.

“I am a very committed person. What that means is I pray about the business plan. I pray over the business every day.”

When Smith puts his life and work in God’s hands, he knows God then uses him.

“I believe in servant leadership,” Smith says. “And I think that when things go poorly, the leader should be front and center. When things go really well, the leader should be invisible.”

A serious business situation taught him that lesson. Smith’s company was about 10 years old, doing well and business was good. Then the red ink appeared, and he had to do some soul searching to find a solution.

“We had a terrible year; we lost almost $700,000,” he says. “When you are losing money that fast, that means you are borrowing money to keep afloat. So just imagine after being in business 10 years, waking up and you are $2 million in debt. And you just had a $700,000 loss.

“I remember getting on my knees and praying, ‘Lord, I’ve messed up your business. I have messed up my business. Will you take it and fix it?’”

Then he waited. He didn’t tell the people in the company the business was losing money until later. Smith didn’t want to panic them and felt confident that with some divine help, he could get out of the situation. With patience and some careful management, things started to look brighter.

“A year or so went by, and we turned it around, and we were making money again,” Smith says.

At that point, he called for a company meeting and made a confession.

“I said to the people, ‘A year or so ago, we almost lost everything,’ and I was looking at the audience, and they were horrified,” Smith says. “So I said to them, ‘How many people in this room tonight would’ve wanted to know that your company was struggling, that we were in bad shape?’ Every single hand in the room went up — and I didn’t know what to say.”

Smith explained that his experience working for IBM had taught him to share information only on a need-to-know basis.

“I just didn’t think the people needed to know,” he says. “I said, ‘The other thing is, I consider this to be a family, a big old family. So I’m the parent and you’re the child, and I’m protecting the children from bad things. I apologize. If we ever go through this again, I will be more open.’”

The following year, the company paid off the $2.1 million in debt and had a $300,000 profit. It didn’t borrow again after that for seven years.

When he heard the support from the employees at the company meeting, it got the ball rolling for another positive change in Sophisticated Systems.

“I can’t believe how many people have believed in this business, who have supported me through thick and thin, who would’ve always been there,” he says. “It is said, ‘For whom much is given, much is required,’ and that is because so many people have given to me, and I’ve asked for absolutely nothing in return.”

Smith, grateful for the support (some employees even offered to take a pay cut to keep the doors open), decided the company should pursue an employee stock ownership plan.

“I think that was the best decision I ever made — sharing the ownership with people whom I care about and whom care about their business, our business,” he says. “Why would the people who work here, who create the wealth and the value — why shouldn’t they be owners? They behave like owners. We ought to do that.”

Employees now own 40 percent of the company, and Smith owns the rest.

Smith is committed to causes outside his company as well. He and his wife, Reneé, founded the Thanks Be to God Foundation to support entrepreneurship and children across the globe. Last year, Smith went to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds. He made it to the summit in 10 days.

“We were hoping to raise $15,000,” he says. “The community came forward, and we raised $60,000 for the climb. All the stuff that I do, I kind of feel like Forrest Gump, where Forrest just ends up in all places at all times. That just made life so enjoyable, so overwhelming. It was such a humbling experience.”

A few of the organizations that have received support through the foundation include Big Brothers/Big Sisters, The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, The TBTG Scholarship fund and others. 

 

How to reach: Sophisticated Systems Inc., (614) 418-4600 or www.ssicom.com

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *