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Great Sport: Shawn Smith '88

While in middle school at Providence Day, Shawn Smith ’88 received a valuable message from his basketball coach Sam Caudill: You always represent your organization to the larger community, so be sure to represent it well.

Smith has held onto that philosophy — and his love for athletics — throughout a long and distinguished career. It has carried from his undergraduate degree as a Boilermaker at Purdue University (where he played baseball) to earning his master’s degree from Syracuse University’s prestigious Newhouse School to a long career in professional sports.

He worked in Major League Baseball for 15 years as the General Manager/President of minor league affiliates of the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and Houston Astros organizations, during which he was instrumental in the construction and management of five new ballparks while winning numerous national and local honors for business achievements. His tenure included two World Series Championships for the Red Sox, in 2004 and 2018. After baseball, he transitioned to the National Basketball Association for nine years, during which he had the role of Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer of the NBA Development League.

He then became Senior Vice President & General Manager of the Lowell Spinners, a former affiliate of the nine-time World Champion Boston Red Sox until a Major League Baseball restructuring last year.  He is now Senior Vice President of From the Stretch, a boutique executive level consulting firm, and is currently working with the Boston Red Sox on a variety of development projects.

Smith proudly represents the #AlwaysACharger slogan, grateful for his time at PD and citing many from his era for their personal influence on him.

“It set the foundation for me educationally, professionally and most importantly personally. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the people who helped mold me,” he says. In addition to Caudill, he fondly remembers teachers including science teacher Bentha Johnson and English teacher Kathy Taylor as tough but there for him when he needed help. Their demanding classes helped him grow in ways he never imagined, he says. “Kathy was tough, and the real world is tough. And she prepared us for the real world.”

He’s grateful for his relationships with Jim Cerbie, Brick Smith, Jeff Lucia, Bill Rodgers, and Dave Price. He is thrilled that he has been able to develop and maintain relationships with many of these PD teachers and coaches throughout his life. And he’s still close with classmates Boris Bunich ’88, Himanshu Desai ’88, Trey Harris ’88, Chris Brown ’88, Keith O’Connell ’89, and Tom Paylor ’88. They have a group chat that they use regularly, and Smith refers to them as his “family” and “brothers.”

At the beginning of his career, Smith had no intention of entering sports management. “I never in a million years imagined I’d be working in professional sports. My goal was to work in television. I thought I wanted to be on air.” But due to his love of behind-the-scenes work, coupled with his side job of working as a short order cook at a local bar, “I got the opportunity to network and meet some people in sports and one thing led to another where I was offered a job to work in the Houston Astros organization.”

He recalls: “It was a surprise to work in the baseball industry….I’ve always been a baseball person but I never imagined I would have that become a career move for me.” Years later, the NBA reached out to Smith in an attempt to hire him as a VP. After he declined the first time, the NBA persisted and asked him a second time - successfully.

In his over two-decade career in sports, Smith notes that a huge change for the industry has been big data. “Big data is the driver of business…. The one challenge is that data does not replace experience. I am a big believer that you need people that can evaluate regression analyses and be able to take a look at spreadsheets to be able to determine trends, but it doesn’t replace the people in the field doing the work.”

Smith’s dedication to maintaining the human factor in business extends beyond hypotheticals. Pre-pandemic, he would often drive to someone’s office instead of sending an email or giving them a phone call. Smith is concerned due to the decline of presence of “soft skills” and the increase in use of text and virtual communication. He attributes his ability to “read a room” to his father, a skill Smith uses daily.

Smith has three big memories he remembers with pride. The first is spearheading the construction of five sports stadiums. Despite the fact that he “had hair before that started” (said with a chuckle), the stadiums were rewarding and an overall incredible experience, he says. Second is learning the lesson of the importance of preparation, which has become a keystone in his career. From high-stakes presentations to stadium construction, Smith always put his best foot forward in preparing himself and his teams for what was to come.

Third, and most importantly to Smith, was “In 2018 having the opportunity to celebrate the World Series with my daughters - that has got to be the top moment.” His daughters, now 14 and 17, were working alongside their father during many summers. “There is no greater joy than to see them develop and grow…. Baseball is a very big part of our relationship.”

Smith offers a pointer to graduating students and young alumni looking to pursue careers in the sports industry. “Don’t ever walk into a job interview with no experience, or fill out a resume and not have experience. Providence Day and your local business or local church communities have great opportunities. Get a part time job and learn how to deal with people and learn how to use your time wisely…. Because when you're out in the real world you’re going to have to do that and there’s no one to hold your hand….

“The best thing you can do is get experience when you're young.”  

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