Richard Smith: Business Executive, Alumnus, Adjunct Professor, Triathlon Enthusiast
Richard Smith, B.S. ’78, M.B.A. ’84, is vice president and general manager at the Elizabeth Beverage Company. He shares his expertise in management and marketing with current UB students as an adjunct business professor. In his capacity as a business executive, he has brought a number of applied business case projects to the classroom – real-world examples that he in turn uses to help his company market some of their products. He recently sat down with The Merrick Exchange and shared his thoughts about his career and teaching at UB.
M.E.: Why did you choose to attend UB?
Smith: I was the first in my family to go to college. I wanted to pursue a career in business and needed to work during college to pay my way. UB offered me the ability to stay local, work and get a good business education.
M.E.: How has attending UB helped you in your career?
Smith: By working hard and staying focused on getting the education is one way UB helped. In my career, I have tried to maintain the same focus of working hard and getting the job done that I used to succeed in the classroom.
M.E.: How did you decide on a career in sales and marketing?
Smith: I was originally going to be an accountant. But after several classes, I realized I wasn’t for me. However, I liked sales and marketing, and I was working in that industry while in college.
M.E.: What were your expectations in pursuing a career in sales and marketing management?
Smith: Quite frankly, at 21, I was not sure I had many expectations. Probably, to work hard, build a career and try to have fun while doing it.
M.E.: Where did you get your start? What led you to your current position?
Smith: I was fortunate to be offered a full-time job with the food brokerage company I worked for during college. They made me an account executive and encouraged me to continue for my M.B.A.
After a few years with the food broker, I left to become a buyer for Mars Supermarkets. I found that I missed sales too much and went to work for Beverage Capital Corporation in 1983 as a soda salesperson. Through a series of opportunities and promotions, I excelled into general management.
M.E.: How would you describe your current position?
Smith: It involves developing products that our organization can manufacture, sell them across the Americas and manage the support and sales organization that drive our business. I have both personnel and profit and loss responsibilities.
M.E.: What do you enjoy most about being an adjunct professor?
Smith: Without a doubt it is the students. They are fun, challenging, demanding and inquisitive. They are a lot like customers in my business. They are looking for me to offer them value for their tuition and their time. I try to make the reality of the class experience exceed their expectations. We learn a lot together.
M.E.: What advantages do students gain from industry practitioners teaching in the classroom?
Smith: Practitioners are where the rubber meets the road. I find experiences I have had that I can apply to the subject matter make concepts much clearer for the students. It gives them reality with the theory.
M.E.: You have partnered with the Merrick School to bring current projects from your organization to the classroom. Why is this opportunity of value to the students and your business?
Smith: Practical experience brings value to the teaching process. The projects the students worked on were real-life concepts that they were challenged to research and develop marketing plans around. Their enthusiasm and creativity were wonderful.
M.E.: What advice would you give to students who might want to pursue a career in your field but are undecided?
Smith: My field is food consumables. The good news is people will always have to eat regardless of technology improvements. There will always be a need for salespeople and support people in this field.
M.E.: What's the one job-hunting secret you wish all students knew?
Smith: Try to stand out during the interview. Always send a handwritten thank you to your interviewer immediately.
M.E.: What personal goals have you set for yourself this year?
Smith: I am attempting to compete in four triathlons this summer. I have completed one so far, and I have three left in July, August and October.
M.E.: What does your future look like?
Smith: I am working hard to balance work, family and health. Along with my continued quest to bring value to UB students, the future looks pretty good.