(ATLANTA) – From Georgia State student to war hero to corporate CEO to speaker and author, Lamar C. Smith (BBA ’69) has done it all. Today he discussed some of his life lessons as a guest at Robinson’s Executive Leadership Forum sponsored by the college’s Center for Global Business Leadership.
After graduating from the Robinson College, Smith went on to become a decorated Air Force pilot, earning two Silver Stars and six Distinguished Flying Crosses. He then joined First Command Financial Services, Inc., where he rose to chairman and chief executive officer, a position he held from 1992-2007. Under Smith’s leadership, assets of the Fort Worth-based company grew to $18 billion; revenues quadrupled; and profits increased five-fold.
After leaving First Command, Smith became a director of Torchmark Corporation, where his current term extends through 2011. He also has become a writer and speaker and is involved in community service in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where he still resides.
Interviewed at this morning’s forum by center director Jim Senn, Smith offered attendees his “five metrics for living,” which he addresses in his newly published book, There’s More to Life Than the Corner Office (McGraw-Hill, 2009). He says well-being as it relates to the physical, intellectual, emotional, financial and spiritual aspects of one’s being are key ways to measure success.
Smith also talked about leadership, noting that his experience in the military taught him two valuable principles – “have a sense of mission and plan ahead.” He related how important that was as an aviator and how well the message translates to the corporate world.
Other advice from Smith: don’t let circumstances define you; as a leader leverage your strengths and staff to your weaknesses; master discipline; look for “elegant” solutions; and capitalize on people’s strengths not their weaknesses. Smith’s book is available online and in local book stores.
Below is an excerpt from the summer 1998 edition of State of Business, the College’s flagship publication, in which Smith provides insight into his career at Georgia State and Robinson College.
Were it not for a draft notice received one month before graduation, Lamar Smith (BBA ’69) might have become a professional photographer, rather than the chairman and CEO of an international financial services group dedicated to serving military families.
“I was a photographer for the Signal, the Georgia State student newspaper,” Smith explains. “I majored in business because I planned to develop a photography business after I graduated.” Smith came to Georgia State University for an education, but left with knowledge not found in textbooks. The transition from his hometown of Gordon, Ga., to college in downtown Atlanta taught him independence and maturity. Even now, Smith experiences the benefits of a degree from Georgia State.
“I received an exceedingly practical education that gave me insights valuable in the real world,” says Smith. “Since Georgia State is located in the heart of one of the most thriving business communities in the country, students have an advantage over those who go to more traditional academic institutions, and it shows once they enter the business arena.”
Smith’s most significant memory from his days as a business undergraduate is of a mentor who taught him as much about ambition as he did about marketing. He took three courses from the late David Schwartz, an early motivational thinker who served as chair of the marketing department when Smith was a student. Smith remembers, “He exposed me to the idea that a kid from a small, industrial town just might be able to accomplish something…that I didn’t have to be limited in my dreams.”
After receiving a draft notice, Smith became an officer in the Air Force and went through pilot training. His ranking of number one in his pilot training class served him well as he flew 117 missions in Vietnam. His decorations for directing search and rescue missions include two Silver Stars, six Distinguished Flying Crosses and 11 Air Medals. During his seven years as an Air Force pilot, Smith learned a lesson that became a part of his personal philosophy.
“The faster you want to fly, the further ahead you’d better think,” says Smith. “It’s all about thinking ahead and visualizing. You’re taught in aviation to see things in your mind ahead of time. It’s better to detect deviation and make a small correction in your course early than deal with the consequences later. The same thinking applies to business.”