Note from Bob: The 20 Questions that Jack Houvouras asks Brad Smith, Executive Chairman at Intuit, below are a relatively new feature in the Huntington Quarterly where Jack asks the exact same 20 questions of various people. These are a terrific set of questions for you to ask anyone you ever encounter! They are also a great set of questions for you to use to get to know your staff. Thanks Jack for allowing me to share them here with all my Subscribers!
Brad Smith – one of Marshall University’s most accomplished alumni tackles our 20 questions
If you haven’t heard of Brad Smith by now, then you haven’t been following the news. The Kenova native and Marshall University grad rose to prominence a little over 10 years ago when, at the age of just 43, he was named CEO of software giant Intuit. With offices next door to Google in Silicon Valley, Intuit is best known for such products as Quickbooks, Turbo Tax and Mint and employs more than 9,000 people worldwide. Smith’s decade-long tenure at the helm saw impressive growth at the company and earned him numerous accolades. In 2017, Fortune ranked him No. 6 on its list of Top CEOs in the United States, while Forbes named him one of the Top 10 Influential American Business Leaders.
He retired as CEO at the end of 2018 to spend more time with his wife Alys and their two daughters, Payton and Devon. He also wanted to pursue more philanthropic goals. In the last three years he and his wife have donated $35 million to Marshall, one of the largest gifts in the university’s history. Together with the folks at Intuit, the couple is working to ensure that the people of Appalachia are no longer overlooked and are given every possible chance to succeed. They’ve set up business incubators in Huntington and Bluefield, West Virginia, among other efforts.
There are two things you’ll notice about Brad if you ever meet him — he still wears his Marshall class ring, and he still has his West Virginia accent. He may have moved to California to pursue his career, but he never really left home. He is as humble, genuine and charitable as they come. We recently sat down with Brad and challenged him to answer our 20 questions. His answers didn’t disappoint.
HQ1 How would close friends describe you?
I hope they would describe me as someone who is loyal, caring and dependable. We’ve always had each other’s back. We’ve laughed and cried together, and my friends have been kind enough to overlook the fact that I’m the first to go to sleep so I don’t disrupt my morning workout routine at 5:30 a.m. That’s friendship.
HQ2 What is something few people know about you?
I’m a renaissance man at heart. I play guitar and saxophone, I study history and I write poetry. My favorite piece of literature is “Paradise Lost,” the epic poem by John Milton.
HQ3 What is your fondest childhood memory?
Summertime in Kenova, West Virginia. Spending the days at Dreamland Pool and the evenings with friends playing wiffle ball, football or flashlight tag, and then driving to Austin’s with my family to enjoy ice cream. The saddest sound I hear to this day are the late August swells of “back-to-school crickets” that signal the end of summer is near.
HQ4 What is your greatest regret?
I regret saying goodbye to my dad at the Tri-State Airport on December 27, 1996, without saying “I love you.” It was not our nature to say those words as we knew it in our heart, but now knowing that would be the last time I would see him alive, I regret letting that moment pass. As a result, I tell my wife and daughters that I love them every day.
HQ5 What is something you could talk about for hours?
My passion for the overlooked and underserved, and my aspiration to level the playing field of opportunity for all who dare to dream. I’ve been blessed to have the chance to capitalize on opportunities that have rewarded me in ways people more talented and deserving than me never had the chance to do. The reason is simply because they live in parts of the country or world where opportunities are less available, and therefore their talents go undiscovered. I want to change that reality.
HQ6 For the perfect meal, what would be on the menu?
Breakfast in the morning, breakfast for lunch and breakfast for dinner! I’m vegan these days, eating only plant-based and non-processed foods, so eggs, dairy and bacon are no longer on the menu. But breakfast is still the best meal of the day by a long shot.
HQ7 What movie made you laugh the hardest?
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. There’s something not right about hearing kids swear and talk to adults, and the way they do in that movie just cracks me up. That is until their grandmother tells them to straighten up or she’ll “paint their back porch red.” When I hear that line even I stop laughing for a moment — because she is serious!
HQ8 Who is the one person, past or present, you would most like to meet?
Abraham Lincoln. He overcame so many personal setbacks in childhood and his adult life, only to be tasked with navigating the most complex problems in any nation’s moral or political history. Through it all, he found the wisdom and creativity to bring a divided house together and set the foundation for a stronger future. He paid the ultimate sacrifice for his deeds, making him one of the greatest servant leaders in history.
HQ9 What song moves you the most?
The Forrest Gump theme played on piano. It reminds me of my dad, and it reminds my daughters of me. The intersection of those two facts makes me cry every time. If I can only be half the man my father was, I’ll have lived a fulfilled life.
HQ10 What are three books everyone should read?
Even though it is a poem, I have to say “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. It teaches important lessons in self-reflection, empathy for others and leadership. Two other books that I love are Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which provides powerful insight into Abraham Lincoln’s leadership philosophy, and The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara depicting the factual and emotional events that occurred at the Battle of Gettysburg.
HQ11 If you had a day off from work, what would you do?
My wife Alys would say that I’d spend the day worrying about what I’m not getting done at work. With that said, I’d get up at my normal time and exercise, eat breakfast with my wife and daughters, swim in the pool and then sit on the porch in a rocker as the morning slowly unfolded. We’d eat lunch together outside, followed by a mid-afternoon walk along the beach. Then we’d go out to dinner and to the theater to watch a great movie. I’d be in bed by 10 p.m. It’s the simple things that make me the happiest.
HQ12 If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have traveled all around the world, and to have seen incredible beauty and experienced amazing history in many cities and countries. I can honestly say the most beautiful place I love to visit is my home at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. God took extra care when he painted the mountains and the trees, carved the winding rivers and streams, sprinkled in some wildlife and populated it with the kindest angels he had in heaven — West Virginians. I suspect your readers may think I’m pandering to the audience, but ask anyone who’s met me anywhere around the world, and they will attest to this as my sincere answer. There is truth in the saying, “Almost Heaven, West Virginia.”
HQ13 What irritates you the most?
When intellectual certainty takes precedence over intellectual curiosity. I’ve always believed that we should seek to understand before seeking to be understood, or, as my mom would say, “God gave you two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that proportion.” It irritates me when people don’t explore all sides of an argument, fail to consider multiple options to solve a problem or refuse to walk in someone else’s shoes to better understand that person’s point of view.
HQ14 What scares you the most?
It scares me that compassion and caring for others is becoming less evident in the world. I have never considered kindness as weakness, and I reject the notion that someone else must lose for someone to achieve what they seek. We can vigorously disagree and debate an idea without degrading the individual. The world needs another Mr. Rogers.
HQ15 What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
Truth be told, it’s a three-way tie. The first was when my wife opened her apartment door for our initial blind date and I looked into her eyes for the first time. The other two were the births of my daughters. I thought I knew the meaning of love until I looked into their eyes and realized that I would give everything I had for their health and happiness.
HQ16 What talent would you like to possess?
I’m not sure you’d call it a talent, but it’s an attribute my wife Alys possesses that I lack — the ability to be present and enjoy the moment. I’m always preparing for tomorrow which can crowd out the magic of what’s happening today. The talent of living in the moment is what I’d love to develop, because we all understand those moments are finite.
HQ17 What do you like most about Huntington?
The people. A city is simply steel, concrete and glass, and on the surface looks the same as any other city when you travel the world. I’ve been to lots of locations where I momentarily felt like I was in Huntington. That was until I interacted with the people. As I’ve often said, if I could choose any place for my car to break down, it would be Huntington because one, someone would be kind enough to stop; and two, they’d know how to fix it.
HQ18 What is your favorite spot in West Virginia?
My childhood home in Kenova, West Virginia, where my mom and brother still live. As Miranda Lambert would say, “It’s the house that built me.” It’s the place where I buried my dogs, where I learned to play guitar and where my handprints are still embedded in concrete. Most of all, it’s where my family still resides and where I will always be the beneficiary of unconditional love.
HQ19 What brings you the most joy?
The accomplishments of others I’ve had the chance to help in some way, and my daughters. I’ve always believed a parent’s, coach’s or teacher’s job isn’t to put greatness into people — they were already born great. Our job is to create the environment for their greatness to shine. I loved the feeling as a martial arts instructor of watching my students earn their next belt, seeing my daughters achieve milestones they never thought possible and serving alongside fellow Intuit employees who helped change the world for the better. Watching others discover what they are capable of achieving is my greatest joy in life.
HQ20 How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as a servant leader — someone who stood up for the overlooked and the underserved, a champion for human dignity and human potential and someone who fought to level the playing field of opportunity for everyone who possesses the hunger and willingness to try.
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