In the 1990s, Carnegie Mellon alumnus Raymond Smith led one of the largest mergers in U.S. business history. As CEO and chairman of Bell Atlantic — one of several regional “Baby Bells” resulting from the court-ordered breakup of AT&T — he acquired more than 30 companies in nearly two dozen countries to create what today is Verizon, the largest communications company in the country.
Driving Smith was foresight that “interactive television” and wireless technology were the future.
“I was beating the drum for increasing the bandwidth into each house, each business,” Smith said. “And it was very evident to me we were going to unwire the country.”
Ivan Seidenberg, Raymond Smith’s successor at Verizon, credits Smith for leading the company “from analog to digital, from local to global, from reactive to proactive.”
In 1999, after retiring from Verizon, Smith founded Arlington Capital Partners, a private equity firm that has invested more than $2.2 billion in government services and technology, aerospace/defense, healthcare services and business services and software companies.
He has a simple investment philosophy.
“You have to move,” Smith said. “Action is the juice. You can analyze, but at the same time you have to be improving the process, changing the rules. Not damaging, not disrespectful, but you have to be a disruptor, or don’t get into business of management.”
Smith earned his undergraduate business degree from CMU’s Tepper School of Business in 1959 and is a trustee emeritus of his alma mater. He has served on several corporate boards and been a special envoy for the State Department.
During his impressive career, he has been CNBC’s CEO of the Year and Bloomberg Businessweek’s Top Manager of the Year. He also has been honored by the NAACP and the National Center for Learning Disabilities for his support of civil rights and diversity.
Meanwhile, he has found time to write 14 books and direct, write and act in dozens of plays. He even paints.
CMU’s Alumni Association is recognizing him with its 2017 Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award. “We are extremely pleased to be honoring Ray Smith,” said Nancy Merritt, assistant vice president for Alumni Relations. “He is truly a renaissance man and embodies everything that makes a Carnegie Mellon education distinctive.”
The first high school and college graduate in his family, Smith grew up in Pittsburgh’s Carrick neighborhood. By 15 he was working in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial room alongside business reporters in an “intellectual atmosphere,” he said, where he developed “an admiration for the people who made things work.”
While at CMU, he said he helped program one of IBM’s first computers, configuring copper wires and processing punch cards.
As a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity, he worked in the house kitchen. Classmate William Bleuel served food alongside his friend.
“Ray is a very honorable person. He has been an inspiration for me,” said Bleuel, a 1959 Tepper alumnus and currently a professor of decision sciences at Pepperdine University. “Ray has always had an attitude of being the best. At school and in his career, he would understand the risks and be willing to take them.”
Smith remembers well his first day of classes at CMU, which he said had been a reach school for him.
“That was the day I decided I was a success. Everything else would just be just icing on the cake,” he recalled.