- Fall 2015
Scott Smith is a nationally recognized leader who has used his education, business acumen and experience to distinguish himself as a leader in both private business and government. In an exceptional career spanning over thirty years, Smith has succeeded as a CPA, entrepreneur, business advisor, attorney, CEO of a large company, big-city mayor, and leader of a respected national organization. Over the years, Smith has developed a unique skill set and style that set him apart from others. He has become known for his common sense approach driven by a desire to achieve meaningful results. In short, Scott Smith is known for bringing diverse people together to get things done.
Smith started out his career as an accountant working with organizations big and small. He spent four years with Price Waterhouse & Co. in its Phoenix office. After leaving PWC, he turned to consulting, working with businesses to improve their financial management and strategic planning. He also shared his knowledge with budding business leaders by teaching undergraduate and graduate accounting and finance classes at a local university.
In his late 30's, Smith found himself with a growing family, a mortgage, and an unsatisfying career. He decided to change the direction of his life and return to school to study law. This decision impacted him and his family more than he could imagine.
In his last year of law school, Smith took a job as the CFO of a small real estate company that had been funded by a large group of European investors. The company was formed to purchase and manage real estate assets in Arizona. Just weeks after Smith started working, the company's leadership became embroiled in legal problems due to the methods they used to raise money from investors prior to his working at the company. In response to the company’s mounting problems, the board of directors who were not tainted by scandal cleaned house and asked Smith to take over as president. The plan was to liquidate the small company. Rather than close it, Smith built it. He worked through the company’s legal issues and transformed the business from a small real estate investment firm into a thriving regional homebuilding and development company with nearly 300 employees and
$250 million a year in annual revenue. After four years as president, he bought the company from its European investors. Three years later, Smith sold the business to a NYSE Traded national homebuilder and pursued another passion, public service.
Smith had always been involved in his community, but had never sought elected office. That changed in 2007, when he decided to run for the open seat of Mayor of Mesa, Arizona. Mesa is part of Metropolitan Phoenix, and is the 38th largest city in America. With nearly 450,000 residents, Mesa is bigger than cities such as Atlanta, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Miami. Mesa also has a politically conservative electorate that is perceived to be resistant to most government initiatives. This perception was confirmed recently when researchers from UCLA named Mesa as the Most Conservative Big City in the country. But that did not deter Smith from shaking things up.
Smith was elected by a wide margin in May of 2008, successfully challenging two other candidates who had been serving on the City Council, one of them as Vice-Mayor. Soon after taking office, he was faced with a multitude of challenges, the biggest of which was a significant budget shortfall. The Great Recession hit in full force, and the City of Mesa faced a $65 million revenue shortfall.
Mayor Smith used his private sector experience as a CEO, accountant and attorney to usher in a new era of decisive leadership and civic engagement. He challenged the community to not only survive the downturn, but to thrive. He started by leading the largest reorganization of city government in Mesa’s history. He worked with his Council and City Staff to reduce the number of city employees by 10% and cut nearly 20% from the city’s operating budget. But at the same time he cut costs, he increased efficiency and made government more effective and business friendly. He eliminated red tape and burdensome regulations, and changed the culture in government by instructing bureaucrats to “Facilitate, Don’t Regulate.” Those efforts helped foster the most successful job creation and economic development efforts in the city’s history.
To better focus the city's economic development efforts on its major industries, Mayor Smith introduced the HEAT initiative – which stands for Health care, Education, Aerospace, Tourism and Technology. HEAT formed the foundation for several economic successes.
Faced with the threat of losing the Chicago Cubs spring training home and its hundreds of millions of tourism dollars to Florida, Smith created an innovative way to finance a $100 million spring training facility and keep the team in Arizona, all without raising taxes. Mesa's conservative voters approved the plan by a 2 to 1 margin, the facility was built, and spring training tourism has reached new heights.
Aerospace and technology also prospered under Mayor Smith’s leadership, The City gained the keys to AZLabs, a high-security former military lab that has the potential to become a national aerospace research center. This marked the first time in Dept. of Defense history that a high-security facility had been turned over to
a non-Federal government entity. In addition, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport became the fastest growing commercial airport in the nation, and now serves 1.5 million passengers a year as an alternative to Phoenix Sky Harbor International. And, Apple Computer established a facility in Mesa with an investment of over $2 billion.
Realizing that a strong higher education environment is crucial to producing much-needed high wage jobs, Mayor Smith spearheaded the recruitment of five well established legacy liberal arts colleges to Mesa, including Arizona’s first Catholic university. This influx of new colleges is transforming the educational landscape of the region. Four of the five new colleges will be located along the new light rail line in downtown Mesa, creating a college town atmosphere.
Mayor Smith also championed iMesa, a visionary citizen outreach project. Leveraging technology for civic engagement, iMesa is a grassroots improvement effort where residents submit, vote, comment on, and process ideas that will transform the community. The project led to a citizen-designed $70 million parks and recreation plan that Mesa’s voters overwhelmingly approved in the depths of the recession.
In 2012, Smith was re-elected as Mayor of Mesa. He ran unopposed, as did the three members of the Mesa City Council who were also up for reelection, a feat unheard of in a city the size of Mesa. Voters seemed to be satisfied with Mayor Smith's leadership. In his second term, the City finished several significant transportation projects, including expansion of the region’s light rail line through Mesa’s downtown.
During his tenure as mayor, The Arizona Republic declared that Mayor Smith was Mesa’s MVP, and touted his leadership and vision, writing, “He has strengthened ties with several cities and has gained the confidence of many skeptical residents. The change is so marked that we shudder to think what shape the city would be in without him at the helm.”
Mayor Smith’s leadership skills were also recognized outside of Arizona. He quickly rose through the leadership ranks of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In 2011, he was elected as Vice-President, serving as an Executive Officer with then Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. He took over as President in 2013, the first mayor from Arizona to ever hold that office.
Mayor Smith is often sought after for his insight and commentary on city and national issues. He has been interviewed by and quoted in national publications such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, POLITICO, and Governing Magazine. Mayor Smith has also appeared on or been interviewed by news outlets such as CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox Business, Bloomberg Television, CNN Español, Univision, National Public Radio, and Sirius Radio POTUS. In January 2012, ABC News Anchor Diane Sawyer featured Mayor Smith as a Person of the Week.
Mayor Smith resigned as Mayor of Mesa in April 2014 in order to run for Governor of Arizona. He ran a campaign focused on his common sense conservative approach to governing and his record of accomplishments in Mesa. He was not successful in winning the nomination, but finished a strong second out of five candidates in the Republican Primary despite being outspent nearly 8 to 1 by the winner. During the campaign, he experienced first hand the differences between city leadership, which is focused on solving problems, and partisan leadership, which is focused on adherence to ideology and party. Smith says he prefers the city approach to doing things, and thinks Mayors Should Rule the World.
Scott Smith is a fourth-generation Arizonan who was raised in Tucson, before moving to Mesa in his youth. His father was a highly respected educator who served as a superintendent of schools for over 30 years. Smith is fluent in Spanish, which he learned while serving as a missionary in Bolivia. He earned a BS degree in Accounting from Brigham Young University, and MBA and Juris Doctor degrees from Arizona State University. Mayor Smith and his wife Kimberly have been married for more than 35 years and have three children and five grandchildren.
Read his study group outline America's Cities: Where Government Gets Things Done.