Ultimate CEO Smith-Baugh On Not Taking ‘No’ For An Answer
by Jeff Zbar
That’s because since 2006, some of the programs Smith-Baugh and her team pioneered here have been used throughout the country, with Broward serving as a local lab for national initiatives.
Smith-Baugh, who oversees 90 employees and a $12.5 million annual budget, has a simple formula for such success: Don’t be shy in asking for help, and don’t take “no” for an answer.
When people said the Urban League’s Community Empowerment Center she envisioned couldn’t be built, Smith-Baugh scoffed. She shared her vision, rallied community support and fundraising, and in 2012 oversaw the completion and grand opening of the $9 million center, which offers career training, health education, and other vital community services.
Such is her style.
“I came in with a pretty serious focus, not because I wanted to build a building,” she said. “I knew the physical space would be transformative for the organization. If they get mission-focused, the rest of it we can fill in.”
President, CEO, Urban League of Broward County
Birthplace: St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.
City of Residence: Lauderhill
What characteristics make you an effective CEO? One is my ability to genuinely connect with people. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a billion-dollar company, or you are jobless on a street corner, I have a unique way of connecting with people where they are. I really listen, and I’m not afraid to tell people my story. When you’re not afraid to be appropriately vulnerable, people are willing to talk to you.
And I dream in Technicolor. As CEOs, we’re getting pressured from all over the place. Our being innovative and visionary can get dulled a little bit. I challenge other CEOs to not lose that inner drive to dream in Technicolor, to jump off the page. That’s what really excites people and attracts them to you and keeps them there.
Greatest community accomplishment? I’m really proud of the work I’m doing with my church, the First Church of the Open Bible. I’ve really been able to meld my Urban League work with my work there. Every first Saturday in December, we do a community church breakfast. I’m proud because, once again, of the impact I feel I’m having on children and families. At the end of my time and it’s all done, that will mean something to me.
When did you know you wanted to be a nonprofit CEO? I read a book my junior year in high school called Kaffir Boy. It was about apartheid from a young South African boy’s perspective. I knew apartheid was on its way out the door, and I wanted to be an architect so I could go to South Africa and rebuild the shanty towns. I attended UM school of architecture for a year and figured out quickly that I could talk and chat much better than I could draw. I realized I didn’t want to be an architect because of the love of architecture. I realized I could be an architect of community and community change. That’s when I realized I wanted to be involved in a community-based nonprofit.
What’s been the most surprising lesson you’ve learned in business? How many “yeses” you can get just by asking.
What’s left for you to accomplish in your career? I’m relatively young in the CEO world, and I’ve been at it for a while. I don’t quite know what’s next. But I know whatever is left in my career, it’s about leaving my handprint on the hearts of people.
Advice to your 21-year-old self? Just trust and it will all be OK.
Personal note: I founded SISTUHS, [which] has had approximately 4,000 members since inception. I started it at FSU dedicated to women of color working together to understand themselves. It’s in its 20th year.