When Brad D. Smith decided to step down from his role as Intuit’s fifth CEO, the announcement came as a shock to the business and tech worlds. Given his success at driving the company to new heights, many wondered why he would pass along the torch when its fire was at its brightest.
“While it was the job of a lifetime, I knew it could not be a job for a lifetime,” Brad later said of the decision.
Once the final paperwork was drawn and signed, the torch was passed and Brad now had time for the goals he’d crafted before leaving, he still found himself in his old routine. Each morning would begin with the same early trip to the gym, followed by a scan of The Wall Street Journal. With a schedule of meetings busy enough to rival that of his CEO days, Brad said that he began feeling rudderless and lost.
To make the move away from CEO truly meaningful, he knew it was time to rediscover the why of his life, a journey that’s perhaps been guiding him since the beginning.
What ensued was a personal development and knowledge collection journey where Brad sought the advice and anecdotes of individuals who had successfully flourished in their self-created next chapters. His findings led to a series of four questions that he’s since used to conduct the creation of his why:
- What things did I regret having sacrificed to-date that I now wish to prioritize higher in my life going forward?
- When in my life (and not simply my career) have I found myself performing at peak levels, filled with genuine passion and purpose?
- In what environments do I seem to perform at my best?
- In what environments do I not perform at peak levels or enjoy the work?
The process illuminated the reality that Brad wanted to exist in — a reality that included working as a champion for the overlooked and underserved and a warrior for human dignity and potential. The best way to put it all into action? By giving back.
“In partnership with my wife, we’re forming the Wing 2 Wing Foundation in reference to our favorite quote – ‘we are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another,’ Brad D. Smith announced. “Our initial focus will be to advance what we see as the great equalizers: education, entrepreneurship, and equality in regions where individuals and communities have lost hope.”
“We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another”Luciano De Crescenzo
The Wing 2 Wing Foundation
The goal of the Wing 2 Wing Foundation is to tackle what Brad and his wife call “the 75% reality.”
According to the Smiths, 75% of the Gen Z population have entrepreneurial goals to start their own businesses, while 75% of all new jobs will be created in start-up businesses. The scales, however, are tipped in favor of three states — New York, California and Massachusetts — whose startups received 75% of venture capital investments in 2018 alone.
“Aspiration and talent are equally distributed, but opportunity is not, and our Wing 2 Wing Foundation will seek to change that reality,” Brad said.
Giving Back to Home
Brad D. Smith has funneled his focus and energy to charitable efforts that prioritize accessible education and business resources for fledgling entrepreneurs. In 2015, Smith and his wife, Alys, donated $10 million to Marshall University to establish the Brad D. and Alys Smith Family Scholarship, which shows preference to first-generation West Virginia and Ohio students. In 2018, they donated an additional $25 million to transform the Marshall University Lewis College of Business. As a gesture of appreciation, the university named both the undergraduate and graduate schools of business after Brad. They have created a similar scholarship program at The Ohio State University, where Alys and their daughter Devon graduated.
In 2019, plans for the Brad D. Smith Business Incubator were announced in Huntington, West Virginia which now serves as a resource space for local entrepreneurs and business students who are seeking entrepreneurial guidance and connection to the area’s larger business community. The building, located in downtown Huntington at Marshall’s Visual Arts Center, provides collaborative space to work on prototypes, seek mentorship and networking opportunities.
In 2020, Brad and Alys Smith gave $25 million dollars to West Virginia University. Their donation focuses on supporting cutting-edge programs that bolster the state’s economy, expand access for students to explore educational opportunities outdoors, and create top-grade recreational infrastructure to help bring communities together. Titled the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (OEDC), WVU’s new initiative is focused on inspiring students through experiential learning in the arts and sciences. The OEDC also launched a 2021 remote workers program titled Ascend West Virginia to support individuals and their families as they relocate to the Mountain State for a high quality of life among the natural beauty of Appalachia.
Similarly, the Science Adventure School is a youth initiative that helps West Virginia students get outside of their comfort zone through adventure-based outdoor education.
Brad’s efforts to inject a dose of his business acumen into the community that raised him is born from his unending love of home and desire to help transition West Virginia into a rapidly growing and evolving technology and business space.
“My passion for West Virginia and the potential I see in its people has only grown over the years,” said Brad during an interview with the Marshall Pantheon. “I want to inspire West Virginia’s entrepreneurs to reinvent themselves and to do so in a space like the business incubator.”