about Larry Smith

Our Own Story Is Part of the World Story

I’ve learned, in my career, how our quality of life is strongly influenced by our ability to lead and manage.

It all starts with how well we have learned how to lead and manage our own life. It then includes how well we have learned how to lead and manage our lives in close proximity with other people who are also trying to lead and manage their lives—family and friends, to begin with, and then on to ever-deepening-and-widening circles in school, community, and work in the world.

This personal leadership and management puts us in concert with—and in a context of—ever increasing complexity, uncertainty and difficulty. We become involved with leading and managing in a life that requires harmonizing what may seem to be a paradox of being dependent and interdependent while desiring independence.

We all have our own unique story, which becomes integrated into the story of the world. For most of us our impact will be tiny and virtually unnoticed but it’s still there, nonetheless. Our whole story includes our professional life, along with our community and personal life. We are all dependent, independent and interdependent at the same time. We and life are complex. 

We all have a combination-integration story, too. It includes the what, when, where, why and how we relate to people and the world, personally and professionally, and what the results and outcomes of those interactions are.

The new story that we all need to create, embrace and live into is that everyone has to learn how to lead and manage in life, and to participate in personal, professional, and community organization leadership. That’s what democracy is about. We could think of all that as our real resume, and even our legacy.

My professional resume includes twenty-seven years in chamber of commerce management, with fourteen years as a CEO; the organizational purpose was total community development. People may think of chambers of commerce as tourist bureaus or member networking associations. That’s partly true. Chambers actually have deeper and broader goals. They represent a local or regional business community involved in creating good jobs, building a stronger economy, and participating in making a better community. To enable that to happen the whole community—including its infrastructure, government, education, healthcare and businesses—needs to work for what is right, effectively and efficiently, individually and collectively. That’s why the purpose of a chamber of commerce is continuous total community well-being and improvement.

When I became CEO of a regional chamber of commerce in Lawrence, Massachusetts, it was an organization that was in a deficit position in a community that had lost tens of thousands of jobs as manufacturing left the area in search of cheaper labor, regulations, taxes and other costs. For decades, nobody in the public or private sector was able to revitalize manufacturing, despite trying all of the popular marketing, cosmetic improvements and incentive programs being promoted throughout the nation.

Early in that same year, the City elected a new Mayor and both the City and the Chamber wanted to do something that would work. We each discovered something new and collaborative that proved significant:

  1. The Mayor, Lawrence LeFebre, created a government, business, and labor organization to work together to find innovative ways to grow jobs and the economy. It was called GOAL (Growth Opportunity Alliance of Lawrence) and I was a Board member. That led to us discovering how Japan recovered economically from World War II to become a manufacturing powerhouse twenty years later. We invited Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the person who taught Japanese industrial leaders how to thrive economically in a global economy (at the invitation of the United States), to consult with us. Dr. Deming told us that the real problem was U.S. management: that the U.S. was using obsolete command-and-control management teaching that was not quality-focused and people-focused, and was incapable of enabling organizations to lead and manage successfully in a globalized economy. Dr. Deming came to Lawrence and taught Total Quality Management (TQM), which is a systematic and participative management process. This went on nationally to become the Baldrige Criteria For Performance Excellence and its awards component, the Baldrige National Quality Award. I believe we became the first chamber of commerce in the nation to offer Dr. Deming’s management and leadership teaching in its community. And one of our members changed its management practices and went on to win a Baldrige National Quality Award a decade later!
  2. At a planning meeting of the Chamber Board of Directors, representatives of the two largest manufacturers, employing nearly 20,000 people, said that the most important thing the chamber of commerce could do for them, and to help improve the prospects for manufacturing to stay in the area, was to work with the schools to improve education and get all students to stay in school, do well, and graduate. We  engaged with the area’s school systems, especially in the inner-city, with Adopt-a-School, read-a-book, Academic Olympics, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, and housebuilding. Five years later the Chamber was more than productive and profitable, it received an award from the President in a White House ceremony for its work in the community.

We also were one of the ten-percent of chambers of commerce in the nation to be accredited and we managed a federally-funded Retired Senior Volunteer Program (R.S.V.P.) that provided 325 volunteers who annually donated over 60,000 hours of service to area nonprofit organizations.

During my time with the Chamber, I served for a time as chair of the quasi-public Private Industry Council for employment and training northeast Massachusetts; was appointed to the Governor’s task force on youth violence and the Massachusetts Business-Education Collaboration Committee; was elected president of the Massachusetts and New England Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

I also completed the Academy of Organization Management with the University of Notre Dame and U.S. Chamber of Commerce (with a research project on Total Quality Management), and was named to Staten Island Community College’s Hall of Fame, and listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World.

Before coming to Massachusetts, I earned an AAS degree in electrical technology, a BS in industrial technology education at SUNY-Oswego (with teacher certification in business and industrial technology), a Masters in executive management at St. John’s University.

I served in the U.S. Coast Guard, and was Director of Community Affairs for the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce for twelve years and executive director of the Yonkers NY chamber of commerce for a year.

A second career—learning and teaching a holistic, systems-based form of management—emerged as a result of our work with Dr. Deming and GOAL (started by Mayor LeFebre in Lawrence, Massachusetts). I left the Chamber and went to work with GOAL for about fourteen years, where former Mayor LeFebre was now working full-time.

GOAL had developed an internationally-respected reputation for teaching others the various principles and processes of a participative, customer-and-quality-focused, systems-based process of leadership and management first pioneered by Dr. Deming and others in the 1950’s and which was continuously improved in the decades following.

While at GOAL, I became founding editor of the Journal of Innovative Management. In that role, I provided information for organization leaders to see what innovative organizational managers were doing to improve their management education, product quality and profitability, along with their customer and employee participation and satisfaction.

Shortly after retiring from GOAL/QPC, I spent a year as executive director of the Massachusetts Council for Quality, helping it eliminate its deficit, improving its Massachusetts Quality Award Program, and its connection with the Baldrige National Quality Award Program.

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