Lessons from Replacements, LTD CFO Kelly Smith on leadership, values and success
By Stephanie Skordas, School of Business
“How did I choose accounting? When I got to school at Wake Forest, I decided I would try the hardest major there and I thought that was accounting. Trying the hardest major at the hardest school … that prepared me not only for the CPA exam but for life in the business world.”
Replacements, LTD Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Kelly Smith (’86) told the 159 Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA) students attending his orientation keynote on August 19 that he owes his successful career to not just being prepared to pass that CPA exam, but the way the School of Business shaped him to be a business leader.
At Replacements, LTD, Smith’s responsibilities include all financial operations, human resources, inventory management, and facilities for the company, which offers nearly 12 million pieces from more than 425,000 dinnerware patterns in a 500,000 square foot facility. Replacements, LTD serves more than ten million customers around the world.
But Smith is more than a c-level executive in a global firm, he’s also a professional singer, fronting two bands – the NC Revelers Big Band and the Likewise Jazz Trio.
“As an overachiever, I once attended a professional theater workshop to hone my skills. The director was talking to us about the audition process and also about rejection. He told us casting was like decorating a room,” Smith said. “So I may be the most beautiful striped sofa he’s ever seen, but if he’s looking for a polka-dotted chair, it just won’t work. So it’s my job to be the best striped sofa I can be. If I’m really great, he’s going to remember me for a future decorating project. And if I’m THAT great, then maybe, just maybe, he’ll redecorate and find a place for a wonderful striped sofa.”
Smith says the director’s advice boils down to this: if I don’t choose you, it’s not because you’re not talented, but because someone else might have the unique talents needed for the role. So he advised the MSA students to understand that opportunities can arise and fall during the course of a career.
He urged the students to find hobbies and ways to join the community when they enter the marketplace. He considers it crucial for not only work-life balance, but also networking.
“Make meaningful connections with people,” he advised. “Be authentic. Treat people the way you want to be treated. If you don’t know where to start, ask the HR department in your firm.”
Smith also highlighted the LGBTQ-friendly policies and benefits his firm has embraced over the years, such as offering insurance benefits for partners and seeking vendor relationships with firms that offer the same type of benefits and policies. “In the long run, that authenticity has helped make us a more successful company.”
Smith offered the MSA class of 2016 five tips for success:
- Be authentic.
- Know who you are.
- Share your best self with others.
- Do even the most mundane tasks to the best of your ability.
- Be prepared.
“Work hard and do everyday things with your best values,” Smith told the crowd in Broyhill Auditorium. He reminded the students to interview employers to ensure the company culture and values mesh with their personal values. “That authenticity combined with the skill set you learn at Wake Forest will lead you to a lifelong successful career.”