David Adkins Published

Marshall Community, Local Leaders Say New President Brad Smith Can Create Entrepreneurial Culture for University, Region


The news that Brad Smith will become Marshall’s next president sparked high interest across the state as the corporate CEO returns home to helm his alma mater.

Community leaders in the Huntington area say they are optimistic for the future of the University.

“I’m a bit biased because I was on the Presidential Search Committee,” said Tracy Christofero, who serves as chair of Marshall University’s Faculty Senate, “What I like about him as a candidate is that he knows Marshall, he knows the environment. He knows the culture of West Virginia, and I believe he has always had the best interest of the university and the region at heart.”

Cathay Burns, Executive Director of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority, said that Brad Smith has been an advocate for revitalization by facilitating economic growth. She said Smith’s selection can create dual connectivities — “not only for the students, but also for business leaders and economic development leaders in the region. And not just the community, but the entire region, the entire state and the surrounding states.”

Huntington Mayor Steve Williams was similarly hopeful that Smith’s corporate leadership background will help him to shape a strong mindset for the future of the state. “Frankly, I can’t be more thrilled for Huntington and for the state of West Virginia that we have him right here to be able to help us create a culture of entrepreneurship,” Williams said.

Having Smith as Marshall’s president means his skills and knowledge can be passed down to students in the region, Williams said. He thinks Smith has the ability, “to lead, to teach, and also to reinforce that we can compete with anybody.”


Marshall University Photos
Marshall University Photos
Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert hugging his successor Brad Smith

Despite the warm reception from community leaders and faculty, some students have expressed concern over Smith’s background outside of academia. Student body president Alyssa Parks said students are slowly warming up to the new president despite some initial hesitancy.

“Brad has been really open to talking to anyone who has had any concerns. I think that’s a really great quality in him. He’s open to tough conversations. He’s open to criticism,” Parks said. “Once he gets into the office, he can start talking to people and people really get to know him.”

The hiring model of selecting a non-academic to lead a public institution isn’t new, Christofero said. “Some percent of the universities now are run by people with non-traditional backgrounds in academia.”

Christofero doesn’t see Smith’s background as being a hindrance if he has the right people around him. “As long as we have a strong provost, that’s really who takes care of the academic side. Theoretically, the president certainly needs to deal with our donors and all of the university, the legislators, fundraising and promoting Marshall to help increase enrollment.”