The Smith file Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

Born: Crown Point, Ind.

Education: Purdue University, bachelor of science degree, chemical engineering.

What is the most important business lesson you have learned?

No matter what happens to me in my job and no matter what happens to me in my position, I’m still loved by my family and by God. What that does is it’s liberating. It takes a lot of the pressure off. That’s not to trivialize the magnitude of the decisions, but I think it’s liberating to do your best. I remember the day I realized that. I was an expert witness in a lawsuit as a consultant; I was thinking, ‘Man, I could get barbecued on the witness stand.’ I realized you know, if I do my best, that’s gotta be good enough because no matter what happens here, when I get home, I’m a husband and dad. They couldn’t care less about work. It’s been liberating.

What was your first job?

Cutting grass, seventh grade. I remember the guy changed the deal, and I told him I wouldn’t cut his grass any more. He was going to pay me a certain amount of money to use his riding mower and his gasoline, which was in the shop. A month-and-a-half later, I was still using my gasoline and my push mower. I went, ‘You know, that wasn’t the deal.’

Whom do you admire most in business?

Herb Kelleher [Southwest Airlines’ chairman, co-founder and former CEO]. To see what he built and the way his employees love their jobs is something I strive to somehow come close to. To watch pilots for Southwest on a tight turnaround cleaning cabins. I spend a lot of time on airplanes. It’s the only place I’ve ever seen it. The people that study leaders for a living point to Southwest. They are doing something very right. Some of it is the business model and some of it is leadership. I don’t think he takes himself too terribly seriously either.