Leonard Smith 1927-2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story

I didn’t know Leonard Smith but I was forwarded a link by John McKenna two days ago to his obituary (originally published in GreenwichTime on Jan. 26, 2014) and I thought it captured the essential personality of people who bring change to organizations in trouble and often start new ones.

Here are some excerpts but it’s worth reading the whole thing (I have bolded a few sentences that highlight key aspects of the entrepreneurial personality):

Leonard Mason Smith, 86, a veteran of World War II and Korea and longtime resident of Pine Island, Florida passed away on November 27th, 2013.

Leonard Smith was a very private man. If you wanted to know his cause of death, he would have told you that it was none of your business. If you asked Penny, his beloved wife, she would tell you that he had cancer, but not to tell anyone. Although his prognosis was dire, he battled on, lived his life and survived several years beyond the experts’ expectations. He did not want his obituary to suggest that he lost a long battle with cancer. By his reckoning, cancer could not win, and could only hope for a draw. And so it was. Leonard Smith hated losing.

[…]

He matriculated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was president of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity and earned an engineering degree. He joined the Army Air Corps after his first term at M.I.T., and attained the rank of colonel, but only on the telephone when facilitating personnel discharges and equipment requisitions. He was discharged as a private. After his graduation from M.I.T., he enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War, and served in Japan and the Philippines. After the war, he began a career as a management executive. He worked for Bamberg Rayon Company, American Enka, Union Carbide, General Dynamics, Cognitronics and Computer Transceiver Systems Incorporated. By virtue of his education, training and temperament, his assignments tended to be companies and divisions that were experiencing financial or operational deficiencies. He liked the challenge.

He was married to Penelope Self on December 4, 1953 in Asheville, North Carolina. They were married for 58 years until her death in 2012. They raised five children together, living in New Rochelle and Greenwich, Connecticut.  After retirement, they resided in Asheville and Pine Island, where they were active with local church groups and charities.

[…]

Leonard Smith hated pointless bureaucracy, thoughtless inefficiency and bad ideas born of good intentions. He loved his wife, admired and respected his children and liked just about every dog he ever met. He will be greatly missed by those he loved and those who loved him. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you cancel your subscription to The New York Times.

Leonard Smith would have thought that this obituary was about three paragraphs too long.

Essential traits:

  • Willing to take on long odds and challenges.
  • Understands how to navigate and negotiate around bureaucracy.
  • Not afraid to address financial challenges and operational deficiencies–growing companies break what’s working as often as mature firms are faced with the need to address changes in their environment.
  • Guided as much by outcomes as intentions.
  • Interested in more than business: committed to family and active in the community.
  • In writing, get to the point quickly.

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