Skip to Content

Darla Moore School of Business

Joel Smith: Taking the risks that shaped a career

March 29, 2016

“The more self-awareness you have, the better prepared you are to meet challenges,” says Joel A. Smith, III, who served as dean of the Darla Moore School of Business from 2000 to 2008. Smith believes taking the risk of moving out of your comfort zone helps you discover your strengths and recognize your weaknesses. Smith has spent much of his life taking those kinds of risks by placing himself in unfamiliar positions.

After growing up in Columbia, Smith traveled to Sewanee, Tenn., where he earned a degree in political science and economics from the University of the South in 1967.  After graduation he married and joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a navigator aboard a guided missile destroyer. 

“I found it daunting to be in command of men much senior to me in age and experience,” he says. “Ultimately, it was my job to chart the course for a warship carrying 425 men – a real challenge for a 22-year-old.”

After military service, he returned to Columbia, "exchanging fighting for finance." Smith began a banking career as a credit analyst with Bankers Trust in 1971. By the time he retired, Banker’s Trust had become Bank of America, and Smith had become president of Bank of America East. The bank division under his management had assets of more than $90 billion with 20,000 employees and spanned almost the entire east coast.

“The move from commercial banking to higher education was the most challenging change of my career,” he says. “It was as much of an adventure as it was a risk, and I learned a lot about myself. I found a deep passion for helping young people develop into capable managers and business professionals. I loved working with a faculty that shared this passion.”

As the first non-academically trained leader of the Moore School, Smith found the risk and the challenge stimulating – intellectually and socially.  In assessing his career, Smith says that his tenure at the Moore School was the most rewarding of his many positions.  

“The friendships I made, the professional relationships I built and the reward of working with a dedicated team to move the Moore School forward, was the most satisfactory experience of my professional life,” he says. During his tenure as dean, the Moore School reached record levels in international rankings, enrollment and academic achievements. His focus on critical assessment, communication feedback-loops, and strategic branding charted new course with administrators, professors and students all on board.

Since retiring from the Moore School in 2008, Smith has remained engaged.  From encouraging the development of the new building, to fundraising and participation in leadership events, Smith’s dedication to the school and to excellence in education remains unwavering.  

This year’s Smith will be honored at the 32nd Annual Business Leadership Dinner as he accepts the 2016 Distinguished Service Award. The Distinguished Service award is presented to an individual who has rendered extraordinary service to the Moore School.

He continues to be civically involved and enjoys spending time with his wife, Kit, and their three children and their families, including seven grandchildren.  He also enjoys golf and traveling the world.

By Jessika Markland

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.