When longtime Fox School of Business faculty member Michael Smith said goodbye to colleagues at the end of the work day, he always used a familiar phrase: “Happy trails.”
It was how he signed his emails too.
“When he said that, he meant it. It was a nod back to his childhood and the song by Roy Rogers, and the sentiments of that song, ‘Until we meet again,’ ‘Keep smiling’ and ‘Who cares about the clouds when we’re together’ were all part of the message that he consistently delivered,” says Mary Conran, chief academic officer of Temple University Rome and a longtime colleague of Smith’s.
The message also seems especially relevant now. On Dec. 29, Smith passed away following a lengthy battle with throat cancer. For nearly 40 years, he served as a faculty member in the Fox School, first in the Department of Marketing and then later in the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management (MSCM), which was formed when Marketing merged with the Department of Management Science and Operations Management. In 2012, he was named chair of the Department of MSCM, and he served in that role until 2018.
Despite his health complications in recent years, Smith’s demeanor remained upbeat and positive. He took his diagnosis in stride and, even in the most challenging of times, found a way to have fun. His sense of humor was a constant, and it was a trait that resonated with Smith’s colleagues and students alike.
“He always had a great joke, and he was always light hearted,” says Nicole Stilianos, senior associate director of MSCM. “He had a feeding tube put in, and most people would feel so defeated by that, but he would roll around, and he threw a wig and a t-shirt on the stand, and he called it Candy. He kept an upbeat attitude no matter what.”
Smith earned a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Wayne State University and a doctorate in marketing from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. He was a leading researcher in the areas of supply chain management, marketing strategy and business-to-business marketing, and he completed about 30 peer-reviewed papers and collected more than 2,200 Google Scholar citations. He also served several years in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in the Mediterranean Sea after high school. The experience resonated with Smith as he took up interest in boating later in life and loved to spend his free time on the water, especially with his wife Martha, his daughters Lauren and Adrien and his stepson Jay.
While his research acumen was considerable, his greatest impact was arguably in the classroom. Smith worked tirelessly to maximize the educational experience for students.
“For many years, he was the primary agent and architect in shaping our undergraduate curriculum and a tireless advocate for raising standards for our students’ written and oral communication as well as their numeracy,” says Ed Rosenthal, current chair of the Department of MSCM and a colleague of Smith’s for 35 years. “Think of any effort in our school to innovate, to introduce technology, to improve writing, to enhance quantitative skills, to broaden and deepen understanding of business functions, and how they tie together: it all goes back to Mike.”
While transitioning to the Department of MSCM chair, Rosenthal worked directly with Smith to prepare for the role. Parts of his own leadership style have been modeled after Smith, who was known to be both an excellent listener but also decisive. He also treated everyone with respect.
“Mike was a regular guy with nothing to hide. He didn’t hide behind his rank or leadership positions. He treated everyone the same,” Rosenthal says.
Jennifer Sundstrom-Fitzgerald previously had Smith as a professor while pursuing her Executive MBA at the Fox School. She now follows in his footsteps as assistant professor of practice in the Department of MSCM. The impact that Smith had on her, both as a student and a professional, is considerable.
“He was an important mentor to me and inspired me to do my very best,” Sundstrom-Fitzgerald says. “I remember his courage and grace clearly throughout the years. There were many times when I saw him at the gym, during his treatments, and told him how much he inspired me as a professor and as a human being. My heart is heavy and I will miss him. I hope he is at peace and sailing somewhere beautiful.”
Smith’s family has asked Temple to help memorialize his lifetime of service through a scholarship. Fox has established a fund with the goal of creating an endowed scholarship in Mike’s name to provide financial support to Fox students. Please make checks out to Temple University, c/o Mike Smith Family Memorial Scholarship Fund and send to Temple University, P.O. Box 827651, Philadelphia, PA 19182-7651. Donations can also be made by visiting this website.