Gary B. Smith
President and CEO
Gary B. Smith grew up in the United Kingdom as the son of factory workers. Today he is president and CEO of Ciena, a networking systems, services and software giant. He still draws inspiration from the way his parents raised him.
“My father never said a bad word about anybody, was always very positive and he did it naturally,” Smith said. “While he would do anything to avoid a confrontation, my mother was very direct when she needed to be. I’ve been able to apply these two approaches where they best fit — and always with sincerity — with great success.”
Smith joined Ciena in 1997 as vice president of international sales. He was also chief operating officer and senior vice president of worldwide sales, prior to being named president and director in 2000 and CEO in 2001.
The most important lesson he’s learned in business is it’s all about the people you work with.
“Getting relationships right will be more impactful on your career as an individual and as a future leader than anything else,” Smith said.
He said too many people focus primarily on the technical stuff and the most difficult aspects of their discipline.
“These are important, but it’s the softer side that will limit your career and potential if you’re not paying attention to it. Successful relationship-building and maintenance is probably the biggest determinant of whether you’re going to be successful. It’s also one of the hardest things to measure your proficiency against, or cross out on a daily checklist, but you must find a way,” Smith said.