All one needs to know about the passion and integrity of longtime business Professor Dr. William C. “Bill” Smith can be gleaned from his own career summation.
“I have never had a single day when I regretted coming to work. This is the best job on the planet,” said Smith, who plans to retire on June 30 after 37 years as a professor and administrator at The University of Southern Mississippi.
Smith is hardly heading into retirement with a whimper. His responsibilities have seldom been more demanding as he currently serves as chair of the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Sport Management, and interim chair of the Department of Marketing and Merchandising.
Since arriving on the Hattiesburg campus as a faculty member in 1979, the Jacksonville, Fla., native has held several academic and administrative positions including: coordinator of British Studies; assistant dean for Corporate Relations; director of Graduate Programs, and the two chair assignments. He has served on numerous community and civic committees, while providing expert consultation to economic organizations and industry professionals throughout the Gulf South region.
“Dr. Smith has taught thousands of students over his tenure and made considerable contributions to their careers through their understanding of creative marketing, principles of marketing, marketing research, sales, strategy, industrial marketing, and economic development,” said Dr. Faye Gilbert, dean of the College of Business at Southern Miss. “He is a transformative educator who enjoys working with people and this University is a better place thanks to his tireless efforts in the classroom and beyond.”
On April 29 friends, faculty, and staff in the College of Business honored Smith with a gala roast and the announcement of a scholarship endowed in his name. Johnny Atherton and Mike Pruitt from Mississippi Power Company joined Steve Strickland and Robert Ingram in roasting, while State Sen. John Polk presented Smith with a resolution from the Mississippi Legislature honoring the professor’s legacy and his impact on the State of Mississippi.
Those paying tribute to Smith’s stellar Southern Miss career included executives and politicians from the Pine Belt. State Sen. John Polk presented Smith with a resolution from the Mississippi Legislature and the State of Mississippi honoring Smith’s legacy.
Established by friends and colleagues and administered through The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation, the Dr. Bill Smith Marketing Scholarship Endowment already approaches $25,000 in value. The scholarship will be awarded to a junior or senior majoring in marketing with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Smith called the endowment humbling and expressed particular appreciation to former students who helped create the scholarship.
“I believe it is the finest way to be remembered,” said Smith, who received the University’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 1980. “Going to college completely changed my life. It was almost like my life started over again. It gives you a great deal of joy to know that students will continue to get the same chance because some gracious people decided to remember you.”
Gilbert, who took over as dean in the summer of 2013, knows first-hand how committed Smith has always been to seeing his students excel. She took classes taught by Smith before earning her undergraduate degree in Business Administration in 1982.
“Bill Smith was a great teacher. He expected a lot of his students and then reinforced great work when you delivered that,” said Gilbert. “He used an ‘information scavenger hunt’ to begin the term so that we would find sources of information in the library that we would later need to complete the project. That one exercise has served me well throughout my career.”
And despite the fact that she now finds herself outranking Smith, she hesitates to use the term “boss” in reference to her former mentor.
“I guess I don’t think of myself as Bill’s ‘boss’. As professionals, we now work together to benefit students and faculty, and that is a wonderful gift,” said Gilbert. “During my first week as dean, he gave me three articles to read on leadership in business schools, so the lessons never stop. As he retires, we all know and honor the legacy of students, faculty and external business professionals who still benefit from the example he sets and the lessons he provides.”
Smith earned his undergraduate degree in business administration (1971) and his master’s degree in business administration (1972) from Florida State University. He received his Doctor of Business Administration degree in 1985 from Louisiana Tech University.
When asked to pinpoint highlights from his illustrious career, Smith salutes the people – students, faculty and staff – who made his time at Southern Miss so memorable. He is particularly pleased to see how generous graduates are in giving back to their alma mater.
During his 35-plus year of working in higher education, Smith has witnessed significant changes in teaching/learning. With ever-tightening budget appropriations from the state, Smith says the University must become less and less dependent upon legislative funding.
“This shifts the burden to the students and their families,” he said. “We are playing catch-up trying to raise enough money to fund all the scholarships we need to enable students to attend.”
He also points out that the advancements in technology have been a blessing and curse to the higher education landscape.
“The rapid changes brought by technology have created a cohort of students more comfortable reading something they Googled on their smart phone than a textbook,” said Smith. “But they still need to learn the value of having a good editor when they read an information source.”
Dr. Chad Miller, associate professor in the Department of Economic Development, Tourism & Sport Management, speaks of Smith in reverential terms. He considers the task of replacing someone with Smith’s expertise and wisdom to be virtually impossible.
“Dr. Smith’s mastery and ability to impart knowledge of marketing is unparalleled,” said Miller. “For years he has taught the marketing component of our accredited basic economic development course, so there is a generation of economic developers who have had the opportunity to gain knowledge from him.”
Smith offered a simple explanation as to why he has chosen the summer of 2016 to walk away from a profession he dearly treasures.
“Mostly, it is time,” he said. “I will have the opportunity to spend more time with my wife, Ginger, and travel. We can go to some places we have never visited and enjoy the ability to spend as long as we like with no hurries to meet deadlines.”
Calling Southern Miss his only genuine hobby, the affable Smith says the additional free time will allow for more reading and the occasional golf outing.
“I have started hitting a golf ball again after 40 years away, so improving that effort will definitely be a focus,” he said.
Dr. James “J.T.” Tisdale, director of external relations for the College of Business, has worked alongside Smith for more than six years in a position that Smith once held. Tisdale suspects that many of Smith’s students never fully appreciate the value of his demanding instruction until much later in life.
“He is one of those rare teachers that everyone feared in the classroom, yet years later they realized the impact he made on their education and their career,” said Tisdale.
As he prepares to close a chapter in life filled with hallowed memories, Bill Smith acknowledges the special rewards afforded those who choose a career in higher education.
“I tell people, ‘roofing is work; teaching is fun.’ That is the real beauty of giving to and teaching at a university – the ripples you start never end,” said Smith.