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Former CEO Lamar Smith's battle to find work life balance plays out in novel

Lamar Smith, 61, is no stranger to climbing the corporate ladder. He worked his way through the ranks of multibillion-dollar retail brokerage First Command Financial Services and served as its chief executive for 15 years. But after turning 60, Smith said he thought he needed a change of pace. "I didn't want to die with my spurs on, so to speak," Smith said. After re-examining his priorities, Smith left First Command. Now he works as a financial adviser and author in Fort Worth, Texas, instructing others how to achieve balance.

At a luncheon Tuesday organized by the Rotary Club of Tampa, Smith discussed his approach to life and his new book, There's More to Life Than the Corner Office. The novel centers around a driven banker who meets an aging CEO on a flight. Subsequently, the CEO takes the young executive under his wing and tries to show him that it takes more than an accomplished career to achieve success.

What do you think the corner office represents overall?

The corner office represents — that's appropriate to a corporate or business setting — it's the top job. But if you are in the NFL, it might be the Super Bowl ring. Or if you are a politician it might be the governor or the president or senator. If you are in the arts, it might be the Emmy or the Oscar. If you're in publishing, it might be the Pulitzer. … It might even be a relationship goal. People get so wrapped up in "I got to get this guy or this gal to fall in love with me. I just got to do that." They just lose sight of everything else.

In your book, you suggest that Americans get caught up in a dog-eat-dog society instead of pursuing the best possible life. How do you advise that they pursue prosperous and fulfilling lives?

That's for each person to be his own or her own unique self. That's the joy of being the only one of you that there will ever be. And what the book invites the reader to do through the dialogue that's in there is to think deeply on what you are uniquely constructed to accomplish. What are your gifts that are not duplicated or exactly the same mix of any other person, and how do you align your choices and activities with your strengths and your gifts? What is your purpose? Why are you here? When you are 85 and looking back on your life and you say, "This is how I used my time and my talent," will you feel good about it?

In your book, your protagonist says that money is the scoreboard and making and having money is the way people win. Was there a time you used to think like that?

Was there a time that I thought like Patrick? Yes. To some degree. See, I'm both characters. This is largely a conversation between who I am now and who I was at age 28 when I had all the answers. So, yes, there was a time when I was in a big hurry for success and willing to pay almost any price. Making a lot of money was part of the picture. I thought it was a reward unto itself. Found out it wasn't.

When did you come to that crossroads or realization?

When my daughter was born. It was 1986, and we had trouble having children. We didn't think we would be able to. When she was born healthy, I started really examining who I was and what I stood for because I realized that regardless of what I told her I believed, what she saw in my life would be the real message. That caused me to start looking at what I really stood for, and to tell you the truth, I didn't like much of what I saw. The good news is as long as we have breath, we can change.

You finished this book last summer before the economic crisis had taken full swing. What insight does your book provide during these economic times?

It's even more. The business and career options and financial options for many are diminished, and what a great time to look at the other aspects of life that will make life rich. We had people previously that were putting all their emphasis on the financial piece. … Well, it wasn't going to get them all the way to total life prosperity, anyway. You can make a case it's actually a positive for more balanced living. Here's the trick. What happens to us in life is a lot less important than our response to it.

Nicole Norfleet can be reached at nnorfleet@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8785.

Former CEO Lamar Smith's battle to find work life balance plays out in novel 06/02/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 11:32am]
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