I was running Jobs Now, a fledgling economic development organization, and anxious to seek out thought leaders who could guide my efforts and validate my belief that entrepreneurship and private capital were important to future economic prosperity in the Flathead. I asked Bob to think about what I should be doing. We met in the corner of the Buffalo Café. Bob showed up with a concise, well-thought-out action plan and case statement for the need for private capital. I still read it over every now and then for focus. Fast forward, Bob Smith stepped up to become the chairman of Frontier Angel Fund in 2003. He was pivotal in the fund’s formation, operations and investment decisions. Bob characterizes himself as someone who always overreached. Mentor lesson: when you overreach, extraordinary things can happen. Bob has always believed in trying something new and counts that among the ways we age with more satisfaction: try something new.
Bob grew up on a farm in Iowa. He knew very early that he didn’t want to farm. He considers his mother his most important early mentor. He excelled in math and attributes that to a teacher who was also a mentor. At 18, Bob spent a summer in New York City. His lifelong love of motorcycles was born that summer in 1958. That summer also gave Bob Smith a deep appreciation and understanding of diversity. His first college experience at a small, rural college didn’t go well. Bob eventually found his niche in chemistry, physics and math at the University of Nebraska.
Along the way he met and married Glenda. They had similar farm backgrounds, she from a Missouri farm family, keen intellects and shared interest in travel. Bob always considered Glenda a partner, independent and self-reliant.
Throughout his life, Bob always had multiple jobs. He worked for a printing company in Omaha while pursuing his masters. The company was breaking into a new industry; pressure-sensitive adhesives (self sticking). Mentor lesson: If you want to be successful, be part of a new industry. Bob’s mentor in the pressure-sensitive adhesive business offered him a chance to open an operation near New York City. Glenda agreed, and they went. Bob was 25. He learned how to put projects together, negotiate contracts and lead teams. In two short years, the senior partner sold the startup business. The sale netted him his first capital. He went on to the Chicago area to nurture a similar startup business, which four years later was acquired by Litton Industries. His next venture would last 25 years. He was part of the executive team that took Avery Dennison from $300 million to $3 billion in sales. As a corporate officer, he held several key roles at the vice president level in the ongoing business, as well in product and market development activities. At 54, he decided to retire, but continued to consult with Avery Dennison and headed up the team that took what may be the government’s greatest adoption, the sticky postage stamp, to market. Then he led the manufacturing startup and commercialization of the on battery pressure-sensitive energy meter for Avery & Duracell. At 57, he hung up the tie and suit for good.
Bob and Glenda have always made five-year plans for their life activities, while planning financially for the long term. Realistically it’s hard to see much beyond five years at a time. Both have long-lived genes so Bob, in his mid-70s, has a number of planning increments ahead.
The Smiths knew that to really “retire” they would have to move to a new location. The emphasis was on a rural location where they could raise animals and enjoy solitude. Of course, skiing, hiking, boating, and golf were important … sounds like the Flathead Valley!
Glenda booked a trip to Whitefish in 1993 and bought property. They made the move to the Flathead full-time in 1997. I asked Bob how he managed their transition from global corporate lives to the Flathead. Bob had a plan. He began identifying groups he wanted to associate with. He joined and became the secretary/treasurer for the Montana Blacksmith Association. Bob enjoys blacksmithing. He served as an officer for SCORE; he helped establish the Northern Rockies Chapter for the Antique Motorcycle Club of America; he served as founding chairman of Frontier Fund; and he was a pilot and had a group of friends in aviation. Bob’s pattern is to always be branching out, learning and building.
He readily admits he is not the idea guy, but he knows how to put teams together, put process and structure around something and make it work. Being self-aware is important at all stages in life, but particularly as we age and our time and energy decline. Bob is already planning projects of a more intellectual nature for his 80s and beyond. He is interested in literacy and doing more work with nonprofit organizations. He is transitioning out of motorcycles to antique cars. He is doing more 5-mile hikes than 10-mile hikes. He and Glenda both ski. Like all who are active in their 70s, they adopted health as a lifestyle long ago. Bob and Glenda ran together every morning before work when they lived in California when he worked for Avery. During this time, Glenda ran a very successful business with another partner. In fact, Bob says many in the community knew him only as Glenda’s husband.
Bob Smith has mentored many people and I count myself very fortunate to be among them. He is a very quiet and unassuming man and I was surprised he allowed me to share his story.
While Bob didn’t know how his life story would unfold, he carries a card he gives out that is the guiding principle for all he has done and will do:
“Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past … than education … than money … than circumstances … than failures … than successes … than what other people think … or say … or do. It is more important than appearance … giftedness or skill. The remarkable thing is that each day we have a choice regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. After all, life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. Often the problem is not the problem … the problem is our attitude toward the problem.”
Liz is fascinated by the various approaches to aging – from denial, to plastic surgery, to running marathons, to depression. Given our current demographics, Liz thinks there is a lot to explore, celebrate and learn from those living and aging in the Flathead Valley. Contact her at Liz@frontierangels.com.