New CEOs of the Year are recognized.
Barb Smoot, President & CEO, Women for Economic and Leadership Development
About: WELD works to help communities understand the importance of having women in leadership positions and helps women to attain those opportunities.
In position: Since 2010
Previous: Vice president, business develop, in-retirement, VP & product manager, individual life insurance, officer and senior actuary, Nationwide Financial
Before she goes to bed each night, Barb Smoot likes to write down the day's accomplishments. Then first thing each morning, she consults the day's to-do list.
Some might view those practices as great leadership tips, or share Smoot's personal critique that she needs to work on being a little more patient.
“Sometimes I don't know when to take my foot off the accelerator,” Smoot confesses, and then quickly adds, “But when you love what it is that you do, it's not work. It really isn't.”
The president and CEO of Women for Economic and Leadership Development is Columbus CEO's 2017 CEO of the Year for small nonprofits.
Smoot practices her leadership around five key principles developed throughout a career that began with work as an actuary at Nationwide Insurance. Her principles include nurturing a positive legacy, picking a good team, taking a long-term view, having a strong group of personal advisors and giving back.
“I aspire to build a legacy of interactions with people that they strive to remember rather than choose to forget,” Smoot says. She hopes she will have inspired people to be kinder and to give equal opportunity to all. And for her three children, “When I take my last breath, … what I want them to really say is, ‘Well done, Mom.'”
Smoot didn't start out with notions of being a leader, but once colleagues began seeking her out as a mentor and she got involved in WELD, she realized how much she liked helping to develop leadership in others.
“Decades ago, I was the first African American person (at Nationwide Financial) to finish the actuarial exams; the first African American in the financial services company to achieve certain types of position and levels in the company,” she says, prompting others to seek her help in their own careers.
“So I started mentoring and I found I really liked it,” Smoot says, adding, “When you mentor, you find you get so much back; more than you give.”
Now Smoot says she realizes, “Everyone is a leader; you don't have to have a certain title or be appointed or be dubbed a leader by the fairy godmother of leadership inside your company. If you want to be a leader, there are so many ways to get involved in the community where you can be a leader, build your leadership muscle and your relationships.”
She also champions diversity and inclusion; she finds it especially valuable on leadership teams and among those she has relied on as personal advisors.
“Whether the diversity definition is gender or whatever, it's not enough to say you had a diverse pool of candidates. … When you pick diverse teams and have a collaborative leadership style, the dividends you reap from that are incredible,” Smoot says.
She loves learning new insights and perspectives from those “who don't necessarily look like me, think like me, have the same background as me. I go to all sorts of events (held by) different ethnicities, you name it, all different facets of diversity.”
From an Ohio Asian Awards event years ago, she borrowed one of her favorite sayings: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” It fits with her principle of holding a long-term view, even as she struggles with goal-oriented impatience.
Among those she credits with helping her be a better leader are Craig Marshall of EY, former state Representative Tracy Maxwell Heard and former Mount Carmel St. Ann's Hospital CEO Janet Meeks.
“Good is everywhere, talent is everywhere, contribution is everywhere,” Smoot says. “It's not limited to a select few. And those companies that understand that and get that and can harness that will be the ones that will still have their logos prominently (displayed) 100 years from now.”
Small Nonprofit Finalists
Brian Ross, President and CEO, Experience Columbus
Brian Ross keeps the welcome mat out year-round as he works to draw conventions, trade shows, meetings and vacationers to central Ohio as president and CEO of Experience Columbus.
Ross had 17 years of hospitality experience working for Hyatt Hotels and Resorts in cities across the country before joining Experience Columbus as vice president of sales in 2007. He took over leadership of the convention and visitors' organization in 2013.
One of the big wins under Ross' tenure is booking the 2019 annual meeting of the American Society of Association Executives here. ASAE draws 5,000, many of whom will later schedule their own groups' conventions in the ASAE host city. That meeting alone is estimated to produce $16 million in direct spending and then to generate local revenue of $500 million in the subsequent five years.
In 2016, the tourism industry brought nearly 40 million visitors to Columbus, generating $6.4 billion for the local economy and supporting 75,000 jobs. City of Columbus bed tax generated a record $44.5 million, up 4.3 percent over 2015.
Ross also serves on TourismOhio Advisory Board, Franklin County Conventions Facilities Authority Board and Greater Columbus Sports Commission.
David Brown, Founder and Creative Director, Harmony Project
Making music and building community are second nature to David Brown. That he has been doing it with the Harmony Project in Columbus since 2009 is worth celebrating.
Brown has 26 years' experience in bringing musicians and volunteers together to create concerts, events and programs that unite participants and audiences to give back to their communities. His work in Columbus has been cited as a global model for uniting diverse participants through music to benefit altruistic causes.
The Harmony Project unites vocalists of all abilities in diverse choirs and volunteer projects that include planting trees, painting murals, and doing other community projects. Choir members and other program participants are required to provide eight hours of volunteer service each season.
Brown has also created afterschool arts and service classes at South High School, arts and service programming for formerly homeless residents and music therapy for inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.
Previously, Brown produced and directed concerts in New York City at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Apollo Theatre and Madison Square Garden. His Metro Mass Choir performed for the first gathering of United Nations representatives after 9/11.
Rebecca Asmo, CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus
Rebecca Asmo has been CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus since 2010.
She stepped up to lead the organization after serving for two years as its director of development.
During her leadership, the organization has grown from two to seven clubs, with clubs housed in schools, community buildings and stand-alone facilities, and more growth is expected. Asmo has tripled the nonprofit's budget over the past three years to serve more kids.
In 2016, Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus served more than 5,800 youth aged 6 to 18 with afterschool and summer programming designed to give them support, guidance, tools and skills to succeed in life and prevent learning loss during school breaks.
Membership of $5 per child per year entitles youth to unlimited Club access.
The nonprofit's mission is to empower youth to reach the full potential as productive, caring, responsible adults.
Prior to serving Boys & Girls Clubs, Asmo worked in development positions for the Ohio Historical Society (now the Ohio History Connection) and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
She is a native of the Washington, D.C. area.
Mary Yost is the editor.