Nicole Smith, MBA ’11: Finding a Life that Works, Strengthening the Alumni and Student Connection
For Nicole Smith, MBA ’11, understanding that work and life do not have to be separate experiences — it’s all life, after all — was a transformative realization.
It’s a realization that has served her well as a life coach for executives and as president of the Alumni Board of Governors at the Ross School of Business.
After working for years in the sports marketing industry, Smith pivoted her career in 2018 to start her own Dallas-based company, Smitn, which operates with the mantra of: “You can have life and work. Or you can have a life that works.” In her role as founder and life coach, Smith aims to help professionals fulfill their potential, both in and out of the office. Each week she meets with clients to encourage them in challenging their thoughts about life and work, while collaborating with them to discover which ideas are fueling growth and progress, and which serve as obstacles.
“It's a true partnership where I'm both an agitator — to shake things up and present new possibilities — and an advocate for the outcomes they want to create,” Smith said.
Learning to live a life that works
Smith’s sports marketing career started after graduating with her MBA from Michigan Ross. She leveraged the Ross alumni network to land a position working as the director of brand development with the San Diego Padres. She then became the senior director of growth segment marketing for NASCAR, followed by a stint as the chief marketing officer for the Dallas Wings, the Dallas-Fort Worth WNBA team.
Although she enjoyed the corporate world, Smith found herself burning out. She began to realize her approach to work was taking her further away from who she wanted to be as a person, and away from enjoying a healthier and more satisfying life.
“I wasn’t enjoying the things I wanted to enjoy,” she explained. “I made the commitment that I wasn’t going to live like that anymore, and I made some changes.”
For Smith, choosing to pursue an entrepreneurial path has been very rewarding. She says she’s structured her life in a way that allows her to have the personal and professional experiences she wants.
“I’ve been very deliberate in creating a business structure that reflects what I want my life to look like, not just want I want to achieve business-wise. Aligning those things has made this a really incredible experience for me,” she said.
Giving back as ABOG president
In addition to her work at Smitn, Smith also supports the Michigan Ross community by serving as president of ABOG. The volunteer board strives to strengthen the connection between the school and its expansive alumni network of more than 55,000 members. One of ABOG’s main objectives is to increase opportunities for alumni to engage with students through alumni participation in programs such as Alumni Orientation, Alumni in Residence, Multidisciplinary Action Projects, Leadership Crisis Challenge, and more.
Smith took on the Michigan Ross ABOG president position in 2021. The business school had recently announced its search for a new dean and she wanted to apply her leadership skills to make a greater impact.
“We have this great opportunity with the changing of the guard in the dean role,” she said, referencing the arrival in August of Sharon Matusik, the next Edward J. Frey Dean of Business “I thought, ‘If we want to take advantage of this transition, take advantage of having a new point of view, take advantage of having new energy, and how that can translate for all of us, this board needs to be strong and purposeful.’”
Under Smith’s tenure ABOG has made progress on strengthening the bond between students and alumni. At a recent meeting, the board asked student leaders to join them and share their views on the student experience.
Throughout her career, Smith has reaped personal and professional accomplishments, including being named one of the top 500 executives in Dallas by D Magazine. But she doesn’t hesitate when asked about her proudest achievements.
“My biggest accomplishment is that I didn't let jobs, titles, or incentives define or confine me,” she said. “I'm a risk-taker who defies odds and expectations, and I've stayed true to that. I've created a life and company I'm really proud of and I can't wait to see what's next.”