11:50am

Mon January 16, 2012
Company Town

D.A. Smith & Associates: The business of better business

Del Smith is the president of D.A. Smith & Associates. He's also a business professor at RIT.

But that doesn't mean he's immune to the pitfalls of running a growing company.

"It's an art and a science," Smith says. "I probably have the science of it pretty much down pat. But, you know, you gotta work through the art piece."

Since mid-2008 Smith has been wielding his paintbrush, helping organizations "move from good to great." He and his five associates work with businesses to streamline procedures, develop talent and find tech solutions.

Now Smith says his firm is moving beyond the startup phase and is hungry for more business.

"We eat what we kill," Smith says of his company's entrepreneurial mindset. "I know that sounds like such a blatant statement, but that really is the case.

"We don't have a large corporate entity there feeding us money, so we gotta go make it happen every single day."

Leaving the nest, seizing opportunities

Until just last month, D.A. Smith & Associates was housed in RIT's business incubator. The firm now has new digs in Henrietta and is tracking down fresh opportunities.

D.A. Smith recently landed a contract to do leadership training for the city of Newport News, Va.

It's also doing the IT consulting work for the Rochester City School District's modernization program.

Smith says being a small consulting firm among the Accentures and Boston Consulting Groups of the world means being nimble by necessity.

"Things that in a corporate world you might spend six months on," Smith says, "in this environment, you spend two weeks on - at most."

And Smith says that has been a major challenge - especially in Rochester.

Corporate mentality runs deep in the Flower City, says Smith. He recalls hiring two seasoned pros - one from Xerox and one from Kodak - in an attempt to give his then-fledgling company a boost of experience.

"That lasted for about four months," Smith says. "We really couldn't get past that corporate mentality."

"Working in a corporate versus an entrepreneurial company is very different," Smith adds. "We don't have set office hours; people come as the projects dictate. And for some people that's not what they're used to."

"Hard, hard work"

As business is growing, so is the workload.

Smith, an Army veteran who started a tech company before pursuing a PhD, says juggling his consulting work with teaching usually means starting at around five in the morning.

"Sometimes I look at this and say, 'Why am I doing this?' " Smith says, laughing. "The challenge is what really keeps me going. So even though I kind of get down and out at times - because I'm probably pulling in 14-, 16-hour days - it's the thrill of the chase."

It may be demanding, but Smith says it's also rewarding. And despite the long days, he says other business owners have it just as difficult.

"If you talk to entrepreneurs, what you'll find is that it is hard, hard work," Smith says emphatically.

Smith would know. He teaches it to his students, works on it with his clients and sees it everyday in the brand new offices with his name on the front door.

"I don't think there's any job more difficult than just being an entrepreneur," Smith says. "Trying to make something out of nothing is very difficult."

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