David Smith Pic
David Smith
UNF Degree: B.B.A. – ’82
Employment: Chairman and CEO of PSS World Medical, Inc.

David Smith leads rejuvenated company

 Some may be surprised that David Smith is the Chairman and CEO of a national company, considering he had no idea what he wanted to do when he entered UNF.He recalls he took an accounting course by accident and got an A.

 

"It was the easiest A for me in a course that is the hardest A for others," he said. "So I said, 'Okay maybe this is something I can do.'"

Several years later Smith found himself in a position to become CEO of Jacksonville-based PSS World Medical Inc. after the abrupt departure of its founder in October of 2000. The company was in shambles and investors as well as employees were abandoning ship. Smith and a group of talented managers were able to turn the ship around, resulting in a 600 percent stock appreciation over six years.

 

A Jacksonville native, Smith said UNF was the right place for him after high school. The son of a Navy aviator, Smith is the youngest of five children, all of whom were born in different places because of his father's military career. Staying close to home appealed to him, he says, as did UNF's smaller class sizes and personal attention from professors.

 

Hard work is nothing new to Smith. While attending UNF, he also worked the midnight-to-3 a.m. shift at UPS and did construction on weekends and during the summers.

 

Upon receiving his bachelor's degree in accounting in 1982, he accepted a position with Smoak Davis & Nixon, a Jacksonville accounting firm. He switched to Coopers & Lybrand in 1983, when he had his first contact with PSS World Medical, which was a client. After working on the account for three years, he decided to join the company in 1987 and eventually became CFO.

 

A number of business setbacks at PSS sent the stock price plummeting to $3 per share while threatening the jobs of more than 5,000 employees.

 

"We made a lot of decisions to chase Wall Street's desires and expectations for several years. It weakened the culture of the company and the relationships we had with our customers," he says. "We were not making decisions for the benefit of the company, we were making them for the benefit of the stock."

 

Smith was thrust into the CEO position and, with the help of about two-dozen managers, turned the company around. By consolidating operations, improving efficiency, and enhancing customer service, the balance sheet improved along with the company's stock price. Today, the company boasts more than $1.8 billion in revenues.

 

When he's not working, Smith enjoys Jacksonville and shares a home with his wife, Mary Jane, her daughter, Alex, who is a freshman at UNF and his son, Ryan. Smith loves just about anything having to do with water. He enjoys swimming, fishing and boating or just looking out over the marshes and Intracoastal Waterway from the deck of his home.

 

With his father and two sisters all UNF alums, Smith has maintained strong relations with the University and the Coggin College of Business, where he has served as chairman of the college's Business Advisory Council.

 

Smith has fond memories of UNF, including "Boathouse beer Fridays, fishing in the lakes, and being chased by rattle snakes."

According to Smith, UNF also forced him to focus his considerable energies.

 

"UNF made me realize I really like to be challenged by problems and get great satisfaction from the solutions."

At PSS World Medical, Smith has had ample opportunities to face both.