VOL. 131 | NO. 25 | Thursday, February 4, 2016
Alexandria Smith Learning the ‘Undercurrents’ of Politics on the Job
By Don Wade
Part of a series of profiles on Mayor Jim Strickland’s newly installed C-suite leaders.
It would have made a good story, how another stone-hearted stockbroker that thrives on the “action” had been honing all the necessary skills since age 10.
How the future Wall Street wolf used to listen in on her grandfather’s speakerphone calls with his stockbroker and then ask questions, how the grandfather bought her shares in McDonald’s and Disney and Yahoo.
“She had a little portfolio,” said that grandfather, Thomas J. Crump Jr.
And truth is, when Alexandria Smith was 10 years old, she would have told anyone that cared to listen that she wanted to be a stockbroker. When she set off to Duke University, she majored in economics.
Then one day there was a field trip to Wall Street. She had so looked forward it. Then she got there and knew it was all wrong. At least for her.
“I hated it,” said Smith, who would make her career in private sector human resources before joining Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration as the chief of human resources. “The pace and the obsession of Wall Street didn’t align with my values.”
Alexandria Smith is the city of Memphis’ new chief human resources officer. Growing up in Gary, Indiana, she learned all about stock trades, and toeing the political line, from her grandfather Thomas J. Crump Jr.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Yet she ended up drawing on other experiences from her formative years. Business, government and community service were all part of her grandfather’s life. He served on the city council in Gary, Indiana, and was president of Gary’s Airport Authority Board.
And grandfather took granddaughter everywhere.
“The little Crump” tagging along, Smith recalled.
She looks back and says growing up in Gary with her mother and grandparents was a pretty good training ground for public service in Memphis now.
“Memphis has more business, a bigger tax base, is in a better position,” she said, “but crime, blight and litter (Strickland’s points of emphasis), Memphis and Gary have some of the same challenges.”
Not that Smith thought of it that way then or even a few years ago. After she determined she didn’t want to work on Wall Street, she went to the University of Minnesota and earned a master’s degree in industrial relations.
Her private-sector career included stops at Microsoft Corp. near Seattle, Target Corp. in Minneapolis, and serving as director of human resources at Brightstar Device Protection in Miami.
“Every one of those cities had a unique diversity,” Smith said.
She moved to Memphis when her husband Ian’s career brought him back home; they have a 3-year-old daughter, Sasha.
Smith says there is a lot of crossover from the private sector to public life, but she also understands how different the worlds are financially.
“We need to attract and retain the right talent, but at the same time be cost-effective,” she said.
And then there are the differences. Politics certainly are in play in a corporate setting, but in city government the politics tend to go deeper.
“There’s things on the surface, but then there are undercurrents,” Smith said. “You have to be patient and learn what those undercurrents are. That’s a natural part of city politics.
“My grandfather was big into networking and relationship building, so I’m taking time to do that.”
For his part, Crump admits to being “stunned” when his granddaughter told him that she was going into public life. If only because she had carved out such a successful career in the private sector.
His overall, ahem, unbiased view: Wall Street’s loss is Beale Street’s gain.
“I’m just so proud of her, I don’t know what to do.”