If you met him on the street, you'd probably never guess he ran his
own EMS company and is now president of one of Avnet's biggest
division, Electronics Marketing. He's New York born and bred and
would just as soon help change your flat tire as talk the
intricacies of supply chain management. (Conversely, he'd just as
soon tell you where to go if you stepped out of line).
What makes Smith special story is how unusual he is for an industry
executive: he's genuine and he has a helluva story.
I was chatting him up in Seattle when we were giving the winning
Volt in the Drive for Innovation. (Disclosure: Smith's company
sponsored the Drive for Innovation, but honestly I'd write about
him whether they were involved or not
At the show-room floor, we swapped international border crossing
stories (we were delayed in Canada because of some untimely
picture-taking at the crossing), and he launched into a tale about
how these FBI guys burst into his L.A. office some years ago
demanding information about some alleged counterfeit ICs.
Smith explained politely that he wasn't authorized to speak about it
but he'd already alerted his general counsel who would call them
immediately. They badgered and played hard ball, as only the FBI can
do. He calmly picked up his phone and called Janet Reno, then head
of the FBI. He got through immediately and said he had a concern
that some of her big boys were strong-arming him. Problem solved.
How did he know Reno?
Smith's wife was killed in the first attempt to bring down New
York's Twin Towers, and he attended every day of the terrorist
trial. He got to know Reno and her federal colleagues really well.
He became such a fixture at court, that Newsday wrote a feature
story about how he courted his wife over a period of many years. It
was a graceful and touching piece that won the reporter a Pulitzer
The reporter later invited Smith to the Pulitzer awards dinner in
New York. Smith was really excited and making plans and he asked the
reporter who else was sitting at their table. Turned out one of the
lawyers who'd gotten O.J. Simpson off of murder charges.
"You're kidding me, right?" Smith said. "You want me to sit with a
guy who got off a guy who killed his wife?"
He skipped the dinner.
Yours truly, Volt winner Ted Yan and
Avnet EM CEO Ed Smith in Seattle
He was involved in Congressional anti-terrorist legislation stemming
from the bombing, and when it passed, was invited to the Rose Garden
signing ceremony. He passed and sent his mother instead. Why? He was
ticked off that President Clinton hadn't admitted the Monica
Lewinsky affair and just moved on.
Some months later, I was in Smith's Phoenix office saying hi when a
50th birthday package arrived for him from an old friend. We helped
him open it. He drew out a framed print of a New York firefighter
standing in front of the smoldering ruined Twin Towers.
"That's going someplace special," he said, with a huge grin on his