“Scandal” Inspiration, Judy Smith Speaks on Navigating the Business of Success

Kalman, Zabarsky. 2013. Photograph. BU College of Communication, Boston. Web. 17 Sep 2013.

Last week I had the pleasure of listening to Judy Smith speak. You might be familiar with Smith if you watch the ABC hit show Scandal where she is portrayed by Kerry Washington as “Olivia Pope.” After binging on the show this past summer, I was extremely excited to put a real person behind a character that inspires not only women, but anyone who has ever overcome adversity.

Judy Smith is a crisis management expert and CEO/president of her crisis management firm, Smith & Company. Smith served as Special Assistant and Deputy Press Secretary to President George H. W. Bush and her firm has advised such notable people as Monica Lewinsky, actor Wesley Snipes and NFL quarterback Michael Vick. Pretty impressive, huh?

Judy Smith spoke at The University of Texas at Austin as part of a regular series hosted by the African American Culture Committee. She talked on the subject, “Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities into Your Biggest Assets.”

She explained that she would give us three key pieces of advice to help us on our journey to success. But first, she wanted to clear a few things up: she’s never had sex with the president, or any president for that matter, and if you wanted to think of her as a godfather-like figure who orders her associates to beat people up for information – think again. Smith is as ethical as a person can get.  Standing there tongue and cheek, she earned her self a roar of laughter and a round of applause from the audience.

So what did the master of communication have to tell us? Some great advice and awesome quotes:

1. Power in being yourself: “Know who you are and know that’s more than enough”

While working at the District Attorneys office, the president’s press secretary was wowed by a press conference Smith was leading and immediately wanted her to interview for a position at the White House. Smith explained that when interviewing for the position, she never hid who she was—she was upfront about her politics and even shared that she disagreed with many of the president’s views. Being true to herself earned her a job at the White House and a compliment from the president, who let her know that honesty is invaluable.

2. Need to be prepared

How did Smith get the job at the White House? You guessed it, because she was prepared.

Full of humor, Smith went on to tell us that five days before leaving to New York for a job, her life took a detour. She was at lunch with a friend—in tennis shoes she wanted to point out—and met with four attorneys that worked with her friend. These attorneys weren’t just anyone, they helped manage crisis during the Reagan Administration. Tennis shoes and all, Smith made quite an impression, which made the attorneys offer her a job on the spot. The attorneys went as far as calling her new boss and convinced him to let her go, even after she spent her signing bonus.

I’m not sure if it’s preparation or luck with Smith, but through the joking and story telling, Smith made a great point, “If I wasn’t ready for the job, then I wouldn’t have gotten the job.” Good enough for me!

3. Character and ethics matter: “You have to believe what you want is possible”

“Character and ethics matter. Don’t listen to people when they say it doesn’t,” Smith said. In a time where people and businesses walk a fine line between what’s ethical and not, it’s important to set solid boundaries and ethics for yourself. In Scandal, the metaphor “wearing the white hat” is talked about frequently and isn’t far away from how Smith deals with uncomfortable situations. If it’s something she isn’t okay with doing, then she won’t do it, like representing clients such as Casey Anthony and Lacy Peterson.  This mantra is consistently represented by Smith’s character Olivia Pope who constantly talks about “that gut” that helps you know when a situation “smells bad.”

To close her speech, Smith ended with one more powerful statement: “You can try anything you want, but I also believe that there are things you are meant to do and this was mine.” Following this statement she was asked if she’s accomplished everything she wanted to in, which she replied, “I feel like I’m just getting started.”

Judy Smith left a lot of things for me to think about in my own path for success. What key pieces of advice keep you on track? Comment here!

FYI – Why does Olivia Pope wear so much white? Because it’s Judy’s favorite color of course!