Glen D. Smith’s Quest for Impact and Innovation

A Portrait of Leadership, Philanthropy, and Family Values in the Heart of Louisiana

Glen D. Smith is a man who is always asking himself, “What more can I do?” This question has led him and his brother Gary L. Smith to lead Magnolia Companies as both owners and CEO and President, respectively, to its current form as a twenty-company conglomeration.

This question is also what committed them to a life of philanthropy. Their work ethic and devotion to giving back were instilled in them from a young age by their father, Henry A. Smith. Despite leading such a vast group of companies and variety of business ventures, at no point have these brothers ever been out of touch with what their companies do.

“My father had a construction company. In the summers and on weekends, we worked around heavy equipment,” Glen said. “So as far as operating equipment, things of that nature, I don’t think there’s really anything that we own within all the different companies that we couldn’t operate.”

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The work ethic that Henry Smith installed in his sons has found its way through every member of the vast company thanks to Glen and Gary’s leadership. “In ownership, you see the excitement and feel the pain. The name of the game is to try to guide it all through the Magnolia Companies, which are almost sixty years old,” Glen said. “The only thing we have of the original company is one of the dredges, everything else has been developed from there. But the mindset of the persistence and determination that came through my dad’s end is what actually stuck with everybody.”

When I spoke to Glen, the most difficult question for him to answer was what he did outside of work. “I don’t work for a living. I enjoy what I do!”

But when pressed, he expressed how much he enjoys taking part in the cannonball races which are rally races across the country. Last year, they traveled from Seattle to Chicago by way of Canada in a day. But being Glen, a man who always has his eyes on the individuals around him, it was meeting people from all over the world that was his highlight.

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Glen’s goal of prioritizing the individual over profits manifests itself in the vast company group he oversees. “This year we are developing a team member arrangement, and we are working to better every one of our team members to the extent that when you put them all together, the strengths of everyone, it’s going to be very difficult to see who’s leading the show,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to allow people to grow.”

Glen does not view the many employees that make up Magnolia Companies as cogs in a machine, but as people with families and real human needs. “We develop incentives that are really outside the norm when it comes to companies with payroll and bonuses and dividends and things like that,” he said. “We get down to a lot of the day-to-day things that families need to provide for themselves and to see exactly how we can develop more and more incentives.”

Magnolia Companies boast many projects and accomplishments, so Glen naturally struggled to pick just one that he was particularly interested in. But he was quite excited to share about their work with the first movie studio, Quixote Studios, in the River Parishes. “They need certain things on twenty-four hours, seven days a week basis. They work unusual schedules, which aligns itself with the recovery work that we do, the marine work we do, and the gaming work is twenty-four-seven,” he said. “Trying to do some work with the film industry is not that big of adjustment for a lot of our guys and gals, because they do it on a natural basis. It’s a unique arrangement and it continues to grow.”

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Glen is above all motivated by creation, whether that is new business ventures like a film studio, or the smile on a young person’s face when they walk the red carpet at a prom held for kids with terminal illnesses. “The philanthropy work came from my dad’s end. He was like that. He enjoyed giving back,” he said. “We feel that there’s a direct connection between what you get and what you give. We’ve been blessed with a lot over the years, so we enjoy giving back.”

Glen and his brother chose causes in which they felt they could make a real difference. Three causes they champion are aiding senior citizens, supporting law enforcement, and enriching the lives of underprivileged and sick children.

“If you ever have a conversation with a person that’s in their 90’s or a centurion, they have seen so much in their lifetime that it just inspires you to continue moving forward,” he said.

Through Magnolia Companies, Glen and Gary host numerous annual charitable events, including what Glen calls the most tear-joking experience, the GSmith Prom of Champions. This a special night designed for terminally ill kids to enjoy a formal prom complete with tuxedos, gowns, and a chance for their parents to see them walk the red carpet and take a photo with a Saints player. Some of these children were in the hospital the day before, and others have sadly passed not long after. But for them and their families, that magical night remains a source of joy outside of their suffering.

Having traveled around the world, I was curious what Glen felt was unique to his home region. “All of Louisiana, especially south Louisiana, has by far the friendliest people around,” said.

And as any native or long-standing resident of New Orleans knows, the crescent city has a little bit of everything. “In New Orleans you can go from Bourbon Street to the casino, to the nightclubs, to the restaurants, to the Superdome. It’s never ending!”

It is Glen’s relationship with his brother Gary that he credits with overcoming the many challenges of running such a large and successful business for so long. “There’s a relationship there that is second to none,” he said. “We have gone up against some very serious business issues and challenges and that’s always been there.”

To the Smith brothers, the ability to maneuver through each business day is only possible through their relationship of mutual support. They view their business ventures as a ladder, one in which you have to stay humble as you climb, because every time you lift your foot off one rung and bring it to the next, there’s a risk of failure. But Glen said with each risky step they smile toward their next challenge.

He isn’t sure if everything they’ve accomplished with Magnolia Companies would have been possible if their familial relationship wasn’t the cornerstone. The relationship of trust and loyalty has created a cultural ripple within Magnolia Companies that has passed on to their business family. “That is something valuable in itself,” Glen said.

 

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