Brad D. Smith Speaks to His New Role as President of Marshall University

“I am being called to follow my purpose,” Brad wrote in an inspired LinkedIn post on November 16, 2021. The purpose to which Brad is referring? Two and a half weeks prior to the post, on the morning of October 28, 2021, it was announced during a Marshall University Board of Governors meeting that Brad D. Smith had been selected as Marshall University’s 38th president. Brad continues in his post to explain that he has been looking for a way back home to his roots in West Virginia for 36 years: “I have looked forward to the day when I could walk up to the front porch of my childhood home, smile at my Mom and repeat the classic line from Forrest Gump – ‘Momma, I’m home.’”

Brad was both overjoyed and humbled by the university’s decision — a sentiment that rang loud and true several hours later when he was invited to speak to his being selected for the role during a university press conference that was live-streamed to the general public. During the press conference, Brad gave a heartfelt speech that paid tribute to his role as a father, spouse, ex-Silicon Valley CEO and Marshall alumnus, while also eagerly looking ahead to the future of the school. Keep reading for a recap of the event.

The press conference first began with Patrick Farrell, President of Marshall University’s Board of Governors, giving viewers and attendees an overview of the presidency selection process and insight into what the university had sought out in an ideal candidate. He explained that the university knew that whoever was coming into the role would have to overcome three main obstacles facing the school: financial stability, affordability and adaptability.

He recapped how 107 people from around the world had applied for the position, how 16 were given face-to-face interviews and how – ultimately – only five were invited on-campus for the final round of interviews. “But after all of that,” Patrick explained, “We discovered that there was only one Brad Smith. Brad Smith is undoubtedly the right person in the right place at the right time to lead Marshall University as our next President.” As the president-elect, Brad was then introduced and given the opportunity to speak to the day’s news — an opportunity he seized with enthusiasm and a calm sincerity that can only be achieved by someone who has found themselves fulfilling their life’s purpose.

Brad began his speech by graciously thanking both Patrick for leading a “transparent and inclusive” search process and Marshall’s current president, Dr. Jerome Gilbert, for his leadership. He then went on to thank the president of the Marshall University Student Government Association, the board of governors, the presidential search committee, and many other organizations and groups within the university, including the staff, students and faculty.

After addressing members of the university, Brad then moved on to thanking those who inspire him in his personal life, beginning with his daughters, Payton and Devon, and concluding with his wife, Alys. In an ardent and tearful moment, Brad credited Alys as his “reason.” There were no dry eyes left in attendance as he explained, “She is the talent in the family. She is a force for good and has a heart of gold.”

Finally, Brad thanked all of those who supported him on his journey to the presidency and all of those who did not. “It was your courageous conversations, your constructive debate; it was your willingness to challenge my qualifications and my track record that exemplified the civil discourse we need to have at Marshall University, and the diversity of thought that makes every outcome better. You made me a better candidate and I will be a better president because of your perspectives.”

In a moment of transparency, Brad recognized that he was the only non-traditional candidate in the final running but explained that his reason for pursuing the opportunity could be summed up in one word: “purpose.”

“My ‘why’ is to level the playing field in West Virginia and in Appalachia. And to invest in those who have invested in me. I see Marshall University and the education that it offers as the great equalizer.”

Brad spoke to his deep connection to Marshall, mentioning that he and his brothers are all Marshall University alumni. He also explained that he believes his work experience has prepared him to be an active contributor to help advance the institution to its “next chapter of ‘great.’”

“I am a West Virginia native. I am a graduate of our K-12 public school system. I am a son of Marshall. None of those things prepared me to be the next president,” He said. ”But they did prepare me for a career that took me throughout the world leading complex organizations…and it’s a combination of my upbringing in West Virginia, my education in our K–12 system and at Marshall, and my leadership experience that’s produced a set of skills and a proven track record of helping organizations lead through transformational change without losing their soul and their purpose.”

Brad then went on to speak to Marshall’s history of prestigious alumni, the university’s journey from an academy to a doctoral university, and the success of the athletic program. Taking on a more serious tone, he also pointed out that, “We don’t have a guaranteed future.” He spoke to the accelerated rate of change being witnessed in society and the knowledge doubling curve. “The net result is disruption and a need for constant reinvention…higher learning is not immune.”

He discussed the effects societal shifts have had on higher learning and how, as a result,  students’ learning preferences are changing. “We’re going to have to continue to adapt and innovate to position ourselves and our students for the 21st Century.”

Brad then recalled his interview process and how when he was asked about his vision for Marshall he quoted Stephen Covey, saying: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” He emphasized that the leadership strategy for Marshall should be a team sport and that together, the school would have to make “bold choices.” To help make these choices, he explained that channeling the right mindsets would be key.

“There are three mindsets I promise I am going to bring to this position: Dream bigger, deliver faster and define excellence.” Brad spoke emphatically to each of these and how they apply to his vision for the university. When he got to the last mindset, he inspired listeners, saying, “We can and we should be the standard to which all other universities define themselves.”

True to his character, Brad concluded his speech by acknowledging that he makes mistakes and has an admittedly “steep learning curve.” And true to his ability to inspire as a collected and approachable leader, he then assured listeners that having him at the helm of the university isn’t as risky as he made it sound. As Brad explained, “At Marshall, it is a team sport. It is not I am Marshall or you are Marshall; it is we are Marshall.”

As a true son of Marshall, his speech ended with “Let’s do this — go herd.”

Watch Brad’s acceptance speech.