President and CEO of The Ohio State University Alumni Association
“I don’t want it to be about me. I’m representing them.” This is how Jim Smith quickly summarizes his feelings about being President and CEO of The Ohio State University Alumni Association — 540,000 alumni strong and counting.
His leadership vision recognizes that the Alumni Association is a think-tank for harnessing multiple facets of this great university. “To truly make a difference, we need to continually showcase the strength of academia and research here combined with the knowledge, experience, and business intellect of Buckeye alumni throughout the world,” Jim explained.
Jim’s journey has been full circle (or should we say full Oval?), bringing him back to Ohio State where he earned his master’s degree in sports management in 1991, and later served as associate athletics director. Most important, it is also where he met his wife, Polly.
His career spans 20-plus years, including more than a decade working with the NFL, most recently as executive vice president and chief marketing revenue officer for the Atlanta Falcons. During his tenure, the Falcons’ famous “Rise Up” campaign, starring Samuel L. Jackson, captured the pride and determination of the whole city.
Prior to that, Jim had a successful five-year run leading the Columbus Crew as president and general manager, and an earlier stint with the World Wrestling Federation. “No, I never hit anyone with a folding chair,” he admitted, but he did serve as director of live event programming at a pivotal time in the organization’s history.
Some years later, it was in a room surrounded by NFL team owners that Jim realized he was ready for another career move. David Brooks was speaking to the group about the idea behind his book, The Road to Character, explaining that to build a life of depth and meaning you should first ask yourself: am I living for résumé virtues or eulogy virtues?
Coming to the Alumni Association presented a way for Jim to use his cumulative experience after graduation to give back to the university where he got his start. Ohio State was calling him home.
When he’s not working, Jim’s favorite vacation getaway is the Smith clan’s annual pilgrimage to the happiest place on earth. When Jim and Polly got married, health concerns forced them to move their honeymoon destination closer to home, and Disney World was the best option. They carried on this family tradition as the kids came along. They have four, three daughters and a son.
Family will always be Jim’s top priority. “It’s just that now, the definition has been extended a bit to include the entire Buckeye family,” he said, laughing.