Phenomenal Women of AltoPartners – Lauren Smith
This week Lauren E. Smith, Managing Director in the Miami office of the Diversified Search Group/ AltoPartners USA and an expert on executive and board recruiting, tells us what inspired her to become one of the leaders in her field. In addition to being a director of the American Red Cross South Florida Chapter, the Women Executive Leadership and Nova Southeastern University’s H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship, Lauren has been honoured as a woman of influence by the South Florida Business Journal. Most recently, Lauren has been recognised as a NACD Directorship 100 Honoree.
How did you get into executive search?
During the first 12 years of my career, I worked at two Fortune 50 companies – Westinghouse Electronic Systems and Motorola. I had the opportunity to create my own roles, lead the marketing function for 20 countries and be an ex-pat in Colombia. I loved what I was doing. However, after working for Motorola for eight years, I found out the international part of our division was being shut down, and my role was being eliminated. After I got over my initial devastation, I turned to a career coach who helped me identify the skills I most enjoyed using: building relationships, developing strategies, and solving problems. I promised myself that my next role would utilize all these skills. Although I had several offers internally at Motorola, I stumbled across executive search through a friend and decided to check it out. I was unfamiliar with the industry, so I interviewed 28 people across five cities in three countries to make sure it was for me! Everyone I spoke with loved what they were doing, and the job description played exactly to my strengths: building relationships, creating strategies and solving problems. That was 21 years ago, and I’ve never looked back!
Making a complete career change is difficult enough even without being made redundant. How hard was that?
Very. But although it was painful at the time, in retrospect, having my role eliminated was a gift that gave me the time, perspective, and professional help to transition into a whole new world. By being open to learning more about myself and potential new professions, I expanded my universe and landed in the right spot for me. And I did my homework. It was a very introspective process and involved talking to a lot of people to learn as much as I could about the industry and the possibilities, and here I am.
Were you fortunate enough to have a mentor? What was the best piece of advice they gave you?
While at Motorola, I had a great boss and mentor who challenged me and backed me up when I ran into issues. The best advice he gave me was to build on my strengths and not focus too much on my shortcomings. He told me that leveraging what I do well would always get me further ahead than chipping away at my weaknesses by making small, incremental improvements. This was invaluable advice, and I can highly recommend Tom Rath’s classic StrengthsFinder for anyone looking to identify and leverage their own strengths.
What advice do you have for your younger self?
Learn to improvise and go to acting classes! Life is a stage, and the earlier that you get these skills, the better. During the pandemic, I have been doing online Improv classes which make me a better listener and a better communicator. They also happen to be a lot of fun. Wish I had started years ago.
Who has been your main inspiration to date, and why?
There were not many women in professional positions when I was growing up. My mother had the option to be a schoolteacher or a nurse. However, my Great Aunt Lucille was a true pioneer and a role model who focused on her career. A veteran of World War II with the Women’s Army Corps serving in Italy and North Africa, she later worked for the federal government in Washington D.C and was the first woman to hold many of her positions. Thanks to her, I was inspired to be fearless, spirited and resourceful, no matter the circumstances.