About Brad D. Smith
Brad D. Smith is the President of Marshall University and Co-Founder of the Wing 2 Wing Foundation. Prior to focusing on philanthropy and academia, Brad was the Executive Chairman of Intuit’s board of directors, where he served as the company’s CEO from 2008 until 2019.
To know Brad D. Smith is to know his dedication to West Virginia. Having grown up and attended college in the Mountain State, Brad is familiar with the challenges faced by West Virginians. It was his desire to give back to the home that built him that led to his pursuing and obtaining the position of Marshall University’s 38th President and starting a nonprofit alongside his wife specifically designated to uplifting West Virginia. But before Brad dove headfirst into the world of philanthropy and academia, he had a lengthy career as a Silicon Valley CEO to prepare him for his current pursuits.
Brad is best known for the leadership positions he held at Intuit, Inc. During his 11 year tenure as Intuit’s CEO, he was able to transform the business structure from a North American desktop software company, into a lucrative global cloud-based platform company. This transformation was born from a thriving innovation culture built around data-driven decision making and rapid experimentation. The drive to innovate, across all layers of the company, transformed the way Intuit was able to serve its global ecosystem of consumers, small businesses, and partners. This led to historic record growth that nearly doubled the company’s revenue and increased its stock price to more than 500%, while positioning Intuit as the leading company in its space, both presently and in the future.
For Brad, Intuit’s accomplishments mean nothing if the people he served with weren’t filled with passion and operating in an environment where they could do their best work. Brad preserved and strengthened Intuit’s culture as a mission-driven, customer-obsessed organization that empowers all employees through their shared passion for customers and continuous innovation to make a difference in the world, one customer at a time.
It is this union of leadership excellence and unrelenting innovation that left Brad largely recognized as one of Silicon Valley’s leading CEOs, both during and after his tenure. But Intuit isn’t the only page in Brad’s book.
His decision to step down from his position as CEO was born of a desire to pay it forward. In partnership with his wife, Alys, he founded the Wing 2 Wing Foundation in 2019. The foundation strives to advance education, entrepreneurship and equality as catalysts in underserved and overlooked communities. Through their efforts, Brad and Alys seek to champion human dignity while unleashing human potential.
For Brad, it’s all about giving back to the house that built him.
While Brad spent his career in the heart of Silicon Valley, his hometown — “the house that built him,” as he likes to call it — couldn’t look more different.
“I grew up about as far from Silicon Valley as you can get – in a small town in West Virginia called Kenova,” said Brad. “Population 3,100…if you round up.”
The small town sits on the border of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio. Brad’s alma mater, Marshall University, is right down the road and is where football legends like Randy Moss, Chad Pennington, and Byron Leftwich got their start, and the iconic D’Antoni brothers thrilled basketball fans. It’s the kind of hometown where families cheer on the high school team together, where a handwritten note (like the kind his mother taught him to write) is always appreciated, and where everyone knows at least a little something about each other.
Kenova is also the kind of place where everyone is ready to lend their neighbor a helping hand. No questions asked.
In 1970, when Brad was only 6 years old, the town was hit with a tragedy — one that not only taught him that life is a team sport, but one that changed him forever.
Brad vividly recalls being at home with his brothers and parents on a rainy November night, when the television’s news ticker announced that a plane carrying the Marshall University football team had crashed at the Tri-State airport. All 75 passengers, including players, coaches, donors and community leaders, perished.
The memories of watching a nearby mountain burn from his bedroom window, of sirens screeching over the rain, of hoping his older cousins, who were volunteer firefighters and EMTs on the scene, were OK burn bright in Brad’s mind, but the togetherness of community helps eclipse some of the bad.
“I watched a community come together,” Brad later recalled. “[I saw] a university step up in a way that had never been done before. I watched neighboring universities offer assistance, and I saw a football program and its community rise once again – from ashes to glory.”
Brad cites the Marshall plane crash as a moment in time, one where he learned what he considers life’s greatest lessons: integrity, humility and teamwork.
“I’ve carried those values with me through everything I have taken on since,” he says. “And those lessons have made all the difference.”
Career & Education
After graduating from Ceredo-Kenova High School, Brad D. Smith attended The United States Military Academy (West Point) in New York for one semester. He decided to leave the academy and returned to West Virginia to attend Marshall University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration. Unlike graduates who leave their college campuses and allow them to become memory only, Brad’s final day as a student was only the beginning of his lifelong relationship with the institution.
Brad received his master’s degree in management from Aquinas College in Michigan, while undertaking the first stop in his business career — a sales position with PepsiCo. Following that position were stints with 7-UP and ADVO, before he was hired as a Senior VP of Marketing & Business Development with ADP.
In 2003, Brad D. Smith began his journey with Intuit. Before his rise to CEO, he served as vice president and general manager of Intuit’s Accountant Central & Developer Network, before taking senior vice president and general manager position within the company’s Consumer Tax Group and Small Business divisions, which included TurboTax, Quicken, QuickBooks and its portfolio of small business products.
Brad D. Smith became the CEO of Intuit in 2008, a position he successfully held and thrived in for 11 years.
A Lifetime of Leadership
Brad wasn’t born a CEO. His leadership skills have been honed from a collection of life lessons taught by his parents, his martial arts training and the hard-earned lessons from success and failure along the way.
When Brad was 14, he enrolled in a martial arts academy to begin his training. “What I didn’t anticipate at the time was that the greatest lesson would not be the martial art techniques themselves, but rather a leadership philosophy that would guide me through the rest of my life,” he said.
His foray into martial arts training began during a phase that he describes as “unconsciously incompetent,” or what others simply know as the white belt phase. The white, he explains, represents not only purity, but a blank slate in which the thirst for answers and knowledge is the guiding incentive to push forward. As his skills developed, Brad began collecting the answers his younger self was so eager to know, passing along his wisdom to his own students. This was the brown belt phase, and it is perhaps where his path began to carve its way to his future.
“It was at this stage that I became aware my success was no longer singularly dependent on my individual ability, but now depended on my skills in translating that experience into capability in others as well,” he said.
While his martial arts training taught him the fundamentals of how to lead, uncovering vulnerability is what allowed him to unlock the personal growth he needed in order to reach his fullest potential.
At one of his first-ever jobs, Brad’s boss took notice of his West Virginia twang and, unfortunately, did not find it charming. Suggesting that it was an inherent flaw that would lead to stereotyping, Brad was sent to executive communications courses to “fix the bug.” Try as he might, Brad’s vernacular was plagued by the country lilt of a small town boy who couldn’t outrun a humble upbringing.
“I began to feel like a failure, but then I noticed something – whenever I would participate in a group setting or give a presentation, people would ask, ‘Who was that guy with the twang?’ Smith said. “My accent differentiated me from the crowd, and I began to realize it was a good thing.”
As this realization struck, it clicked with an old memory of his father.
Toward the end of his life, Brad’s father was the mayor of Kenova, and a real “man of the people.” Following an “ain’t”-laden Independence Day speech that compelled Brad to offer his father unrequested feedback, it was he who learned an important lesson.
“Son, people prefer their leaders with flaws, because it makes leadership more attainable for the rest of us,” his father said to him. “This is who I am, and each of them in the audience have their own opportunities to improve. But once they recognize that I can be mayor without being perfect, then maybe one of them will be inspired to be mayor after me, because they know they aren’t perfect either.”
Each of these powerful life lessons — acceptance of who you are, quenching the thirst for knowledge of those you mentor, embracing the collective imperfection of the human experience — have helped Smith boil his life down to three attributes — intellectual curiosity, humility and grit. When wrapped in the compassionate leadership philosophy he often cites — “never mistake kindness for weakness” — he has been described as the Mr. Rogers of business leaders.
Distilled into a structure that any of us can follow, these lessons have illuminated life and leadership for Brad D. Smith, as well as anyone who has had the pleasure of working alongside him.
Perhaps that is why the Intuit employees honored him by naming its signature building on the Intuit headquarters campus The Brad D. Smith Building, displaying his signature phrase — Work hard. Be kind. Take Pride.