Brad D. Smith and John Chambers Join Forces In West Virginia
For the Fall 2020 issue of West Virginia Executive Magazine, editor-in-chief Samantha Cart wrote about two business leaders with big plans for fostering economic opportunities in the Mountain State. The article featured Brad D. Smith and John Chambers, JC2 Ventures CEO, and explored the work both leaders are doing to improve the communities that raised them.
In 2018, just a day after Brad and his wife, Alys, donated $25 million to the Marshall University Lewis College of Business, West Virginia University released a statement that John Chambers had made substantial donations to higher education as well. After Brad read about the announcement, he immediately called Chambers to figure out how they could work together. Since then, the two men have become close allies in rebuilding West Virginia as a startup state.
Chambers was raised in Charleston, WV, and considers his parents among his best teachers. He described how they instilled him with foresight at a young age. He grew up considering his future in terms of what would happen in 10 or 15 years instead of just one or two. This preference for taking the long-view helped Chambers establish a “disrupt or be disrupted” professional life, emphasizing how businesses can either adapt to change or fail to grow. “I learned that the pain of not changing is much worse,” he said. “It took a while, but I am very comfortable with disruption now.”
Beyond their recent financial and strategic contributions, Cart described Brad’s and Chambers’ personal relationships with the WV region. In particular, Brad’s dedication to Marshall University and its communities came from hard-earned perseverance in times of community crisis. At six years old, Brad stood with other community members to grieve the loss of 75 lives after a local plane crash killed everyone on board. “I saw this tragedy,” Brad said. “Then I saw that community rise from the ashes.”
Brad and his brothers became the first family members to attend college, and they all graduated from Marshall. Shortly after his 2018 donation, Marshall renamed their College of Business’s undergraduate and graduate schools to the Brad D. Smith Undergraduate School of Business and the Brad D. Smith Graduate School of Business to honor his professional success and ongoing support for the region. Before the $25 million donation to the university, in 2015, Brad and Alys donated $10 million to Marshall to develop the Brad D. and Alys Smith Family Scholarship.
Brad’s contributions span beyond his alma mater, as he is dedicated to investing in the young talent throughout the Mountain state. In 2020, Brad and his wife, Alys, donated $25 million to West Virginia University to help start the Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative. Their donation will provide funding for a remote worker program, an initiative to bring young entrepreneurs to West Virginia and help stimulate the economy amid the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brad is also involved with the Intuit Prosperity Hub, which has a central office in Bluefield, WV that trains people for new jobs and helps entrepreneurs establish local, thriving businesses.
With Chambers’ impressive acquisition of 180 companies and Brad’s success transforming Intuit into a global, cloud-based enterprise, it’s hard to find people more qualified to improve West Virginia’s future as a startup state. Their careful philanthropy and humble leadership is helping West Virginia’s economic future stay on the right track.