Ever since she started working for daddy Bush’s White House and even for the U.S. Attorney’s office when former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was first convicted in the ’90s, crisis management expert Judy Smith has been making power moves. The founder and CEO of Smith & Co. emerged from behind the scenes last year out of necessity. Being low-key was a must for the type of business she’s in: crisis and strategic communications. Not so much for her new title as a Hollywood power player.
Smith has represented high-profile clients like Michael Vick, Monica Lewinsky, the Chandra Levy family, and others trying to survive an imbroglio. Before the airing of ABC’s “Scandal,” starring Kerry Washington as the beautiful and fashion-forward Olivia Pope, Smith wasn’t listed in the phone directories and didn’t have a website. During an interview with Spelman College’s Dr. Jane Smith, she admitted that she’d just ordered her first set of business cards.
Now that she’s co-creator of “Scandal,” Smith’s 20-year career as a crisis manager is being played out on camera to the tune of 7.5 million viewers during it’s season one finale episode in May. Hold your applause for now! That’s one of many feats. Also, playing the character based on Smith’s life, Washington is the first black woman to play a lead role on network television in 30 years. The dynamic trio: Smith, Washington and the show’s producer Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice”), are all black females who are shaking things up in Hollywood. The show’s impact and story line are unprecedented. The hit drama depicts a powerful black woman who’s dating a white and married President of the United States, with a strangely open first lady. This drama is too hot even for TV.
Here Smith, the author of Good Self, Bad Self, talks marriage, balancing family and work, and overcoming negative perceptions.
Keeping a strong marriage …
I’ve known my husband since college. First and foremost, a basis of friendship is key. The other thing is a level of respect. He [husband, TV writer and producer Bill Boulware] has the utmost respect for me as a person. I respect him and what he does. We lift each other up. We are supportive and there is no jealousy. He is successful in his own right. There’s support and encouragement. [Recently], I was [stressing] about a report that was due the next day. He said, “You are tired; let me help you with that.” You have to remember to hold on to things that are important. I have to remember it as well. When I’m going through some stuff and having a bad day, it is that person in my life, my family and my friends [who are there for me]. While I work very hard, my family [husband and two adult kids] always come first. Once I worked with a client in Saudi Arabia and informed him that he only had me for three days because I had a PTA meeting coming up. If I couldn’t get a [commercial] flight, I was going to need for him to arrange a private plane.
Overcoming negative perceptions …
Reality is important when affects someone’s perspective [seriously]. In some cases, for employees in the workplace, it’s important to know what that perception is. It may not be a reality, but perception does become reality in the workplace. You have to own what the issue is. I err on the side of reality. You need honesty to grow. If you’re in the workplace thinking that you are doing a great job and are up for a promotion the next year and that’s your perception but the truth and reality is that won’t happen [because] people think that you are too abrasive, I would want to know that. For me, I think that I am tough. I also think that I am a very nice person. I think you can successfully be both. Sometimes people make the mistake of taking kindness for weakness.