Larry Smith

Our own story is a small part of the world’s management story, too

I’ve learned, in my life and career, how our own quality of life—and the world’s quality of life—is influenced by our ability and willingness to learn how to lead and manage.

It begins with the attitudes and learning we have acquired about how to lead and manage our own life in the world. It then expands to include how well we have learned to lead and manage our lives in close proximity with other people who are also trying to lead and manage their lives—parents, family and friends, to begin with, and then ever-deepening-and-widening circles in school, community and life in the world.

Out personal leadership and management puts us in concert and/or conflict with others in a crowded environment of increasing complexity, uncertainty and difficulty. We become involved with leading and managing in cultures that require not only competing but harmonizing in a paradox of independence, dependence and interdependence.

We all have our own unique story, too. For most of us our impact will be tiny and virtually unnoticed but it’s still there, nonetheless. We 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 thoughts, words, and deeds are.

My story includes twenty-seven years in chamber of commerce management, with fourteen years as a CEO. People tend to think of chambers of commerce as tourist bureaus or member networking associations. That’s partly true. Chambers also have deeper and broader goals. They are a local or regional business community involved in Total Community Development, creating good jobs, building a stronger economy, and participating in making a better community.

When I became CEO of a regional chamber of commerce in Lawrence, Massachusetts, it was an organization losing money in a community that lost tens of thousands of jobs as manufacturing left the area in search of cheaper labor, regulations, taxes and other costs after World War II. For decades, nobody had been able to revitalize manufacturing and create good jobs.

Early that year, 1979, the City had a new Mayor. The City and the Chamber both wanted to do something that would work. Some new and collaborative ventures started:

  1. The Mayor, Lawrence LeFebre, created a cooperative 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, three decades earlier, went about building its economic recovery from World War II to become a manufacturing powerhouse. We invited Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the person U.S. leaders brought to Japan to teach Japanese industrial leaders how to thrive economically in a global economy, to consult with us. Dr. Deming told us that the real problem was the American command-and-control style of management teaching and practice. This style cannot enable organizations to thrive in a global economy! What was needed is a transformation of American Management to a practice that is broadly participative with a balanced focus on quality, people, planet, and profits.
  2. We brought Dr. Deming to Lawrence in 1981 and he taught the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM), which is a systematic and participative management process. And I went to Tokyo, Japan, in 1983, on a study-visit with a letter of introduction from Dr. Deming, to learn more about how their quality-management system has been improving over the past three decades. (All this new “transformation of management ideology” went on in America 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. One of our members, a Western Electric/Bell Labs facility (with 10,000-employees), changed its management practices and went on to win a Baldrige National Quality Award a decade later (only to be caught up in the government’s AT&T breakup and is now out of business)!
  3. At a planning meeting of our 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—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. So we  engaged with the area’s school systems, especially in the inner-city, with Adopt-a-School, Read-Aloud, Academic Olympics, Drug and Alcohol Abuse Prevention (including a juvenile diversion program in collaboration with the area’s five school superintendents, district court and district attorney), and an annual house building program with the regional vocational/technical high school. Five years later the Chamber was bigger, more productive and profitable. And we received a top award from the President of the United States in a White House ceremony for our work in the community.


We sought an outside review of our organization and were one of the ten-percent of chambers of commerce in the nation to be accredited. 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, and we even managed parking some parking lots in the inner-city.

Other Activities

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 both 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.

Some Other Things

Before coming to Massachusetts, I earned an AAS Degree in electrical technology at Staten Island Community College, a BS in industrial technology education at SUNY-Oswego (with teacher certification in business and industrial technology), a MBA 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 in 1992 and went to work with GOAL (now GOAL/QPC, with the QPC standing for Quality, Productivity and Competitiveness) for about fourteen years, where former Mayor LeFebre was now working full-time.

GOAL/QPC had grown to develop an international reputation for teaching others the principles, processes and tools for a systems-based, participative, quality-and-customer-focused, leadership and management.

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.

Recently, I became involved as a volunteer in the Town of North Andover, having been appointed by the Board of Selectmen to the Council on Aging, where I’m now serving a term as Chairman.

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