E. Follin Smith’s (MBA ’85) path to the C-suite wound from her hometown in rural Alabama, through Davidson College and the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, to CFO positions at Armstrong Holdings and Constellation Energy Group.
"Darden changed my life," said Smith, who received the Charles C. Abbott Award at the State of the School event on Saturday, 28 April, during Reunion 2012. The Abbott Award is the highest honor the Darden Alumni Association bestows on members of its alumni.
After graduating with an MBA from Darden in 1985, Smith joined a team of 13 men — graduates of the nation’s top business schools — at General Motor’s treasurer’s office in New York City, in an atmosphere The Wall Street Journal described as a "shark tank."
"One day, as we were working on option valuation, a colleague who graduated from Wharton said, ‘We can’t value that!’ and I said, ‘Oh yes, we can!’" Smith explained that Darden had equipped her with a superior toolkit.
"Darden taught me how to take a gnarly business problem and crack it open … and then articulate my vision in a compelling way, said Smith. One finance professor in particular had shifted her interest as a student from marketing and fashion to finance. That professor was Darden’s Dean Bob Bruner.
Subsequently, Smith rose to become executive vice president, chief financial officer and chief administration officer of Constellation Energy Group, a role she held until 2007.
These days, Smith serves on multiple boards: those of Ryder Systems, Discover Financial Services, Davidson College and CenterStage. For the past nine years, she has been a member of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees, for which she led the Audit and Finance Committee as chair and served as a member of the Investment and Compensation committees.
She has also been a longstanding and generous contributor to the Darden Annual Fund and is a member of the Darden Hickory Club and the Darden Society.
She explained that each year she and her husband sit down and discuss how they are going to tithe back to the institutions that have changed their lives.
"Darden inspires you to be more than you realized you could be," said Smith. "It teaches you to be competitive and gives you a compass that points to the true north in business ethics. I want to support that paradigm and give back in a meaningful way."
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