David O Smith – Founder – Shoreview Partners

Dave Smith has years of experience in general management and running a variety of businesses in sports, travel, software and other industries. Most recently at Shoreview Partners, he worked with private equity firms providing management consulting and leadership development services. He served as the senior executive for sales and marketing in several firm and as President of Steiner Sports Marketing. David was at American Express for 10+ years in general management and marketing. He has an MBA from Harvard University and a BA from Trinity College.

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What makes a great leader?

I think a very strong set of values that you feel, that the individual really embraces and that they feel comfortable and confident in it. I think the ability to work with others in a sense of trying to look out and help them be successful. I think the ability to influence others happens by really caring about those people around you. I think leadership, a great deal, is vision, so you have to be looking to the long-term. I think a lot of people in leadership positions are very short-term oriented and I think that’s because to some degree, they’re self-oriented. And when you’re self-oriented, you’re really walking around, looking at your shoes. You can’t possibly see in front of you if you’re focused on yourself. So a long-term perspective is critical. The last thing to be a really terrific leader in today’s environment is you have to be prepared to embrace change. And you have to be willing to change yourself. And that comes from really understanding yourself and knowing yourself. Because if you really, really understand who you are, then you won’t be afraid of change. And that’s when you become a really great leader. What are the 2-3 most valuable lessons you learned in your career? I look back on my own career and tried to determine what things I did well and what I didn’t do well and if I look at a lot of people who are coming out of college or business school and just starting out, I think the biggest issue is that a lot of them really don’t understand themselves and a lot really don’t understand their own principles and values. And without that, what happens is that you’re going to go into a fast-changing world, particularly in a corporation, where there are a lot of different influences and it’s very easy to get swayed. And the ability to prioritize, which is really probably the more important thing that you have as you get farther up in an organization, breaks down when you don’t have anything central to base your decisions on. And I think that’s the fundamental mistake that a lot of young professionals make … is that without that core set of principles and values, it’s very hard to make decisions that are consistent and good judgments along the way. And the net result is that the people around you and particularly the people that you need, sense that immediately. And if they get a sense that you’re really out for yourself, they will walk away from you in a hurry. And I think that a lot of young professionals underestimate the importance of building relationships around them and how important those people are to your own success. They’re so focused on themselves and they’re so focused on their own success that they just walk along a very narrow path. And in the beginning, it actually works in your advantage to be focused more on yourself. But you will reach a plateau where it will come back and bite you. And that’s the mistake that I think a lot of young professionals make.

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How do you define success?

How has your definition evolved? Coming out of business school, my concept of success was your picture on Fortune Magazine. That was it for me. It was less so about the money and everything else, but more so about my own fame, if you will, through business, which was a skill that I felt that I had. I think now, if I look at success, I guess the way I would define success today is truly understanding yourself and being able to express that in your profession. And I think that if you can do that, you can be very successful. What is the difference between success and significance? I think the comment that I would make to most young professionals is that there’s a big difference between success and significance. And that significance is really about influencing others. It’s about lifting others to a higher level, not yourself. And that in the end, a focus outwards towards helping others within your organization will enable you to rise up. I think far too many people are focused inward in terms of their own personal development, in terms of their own personal advancement rather than looking and saying, “How can I help others?” I think if you look at those who have been successful, they are the ones who raise the level of everyone around them. I tend to look at sports analogies. Look at someone like Magic Johnson or Larry Bird and while they were great individually, the thing that made them successful … and Michael Jordan’s the same way … and won Championships is that they made everyone around them play at their highest level. I think that’s very important for a young businessperson, to be able to look at the players around you and to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are and to help them play at the highest level. Because if you enable them to do that, then collectively as an organization, you will be much more successful. How do you prioritize your time/values? What are your priorities? My faith is very important, my family is very important. And from a professional standpoint, the quality of my work is very important and I’m committed to make those things work. And I think if I keep those things in balance, I think I would be successful. I would be a well-rounded success. I think the issue for a lot of young professionals today is that they generate too much of their own identity out of their work. When I was developing identity out of my work, I was really out of balance and I couldn’t possibly be successful. There are too many uncertainties in work, there’s too much that you don’t control, even though you think you control everything, you really control very little. And I think over time I think you’ll realize how little control you have and if your identity is wrapped up in something you don’t control, then you really don’t know who you are.

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