MILWAUKEE — You wouldn’t think he’d get a good reception in Milwaukee. Emmitt Smith was the Hall of Fame running back for the Dallas Cowboys who killed the Green Bay Packers in so many ways over so many years in the mid-1990s. He was, however, warmly welcomed before a crowd at Fiserv Forum. They were there to hear from a successful CEO and real estate investor, Smith’s titles after football.
The keynote speaker at the Commercial Association of REALTORS conference, Smith did talk about his transition from ballplayer to businessman.
“When you become an athlete, you have a lot of folks around that's getting you quality advice,” Smith recalled. “Question is, are you heeding to that advice, or are you just taking that advice for granted? I didn't.”
Smith educated himself while he was still in the prime of his playing career, spending time with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
“Jerry used to allow me to come sit in his office and listen to some of his conversations over my lunch hour. I asked for that and he allowed that to happen. And doing that helped me understand and listen to him negotiate contracts and everything else with various people. It was a great experience, great exposure.”
Now Chairman of E Smith Legacy Holdings, Smith runs companies in fields from real estate to tech. He’s particularly interested in urban renewal, where his name, face, and background add credibility to needed projects.
“To have someone who has not only played sports, but also in business, coming in to see someone who looks like me doing that, that can be motivating,” Smith believes. “All development is not about driving people out of their homes and everything else. Sometimes communities get left behind, and there needs to be some type of infusion in that community to help bring it back to life some way, shape, or form. And there has to be opportunities for people to gain work and be employed in that community.”
Smith said developers can help increase minority owned business participation, by breaking up large bids into smaller contracts. He called it “bite sized” projects that will allow more companies to go for them. “I'm looking to leave something behind they can be proud of as well, but I also want them to be involved in the process.”
As for all those years beating the Packers, Smith was entirely happy to talk about that, joking first, “Well, we were pretty good.” His 90s Cowboys did win three Super Bowls.
On beating the Packers, Smith said it was mostly about execution. “But the Packers were a good team too. I think we were just a little bit better because we had a little bit more talent, overall talent that is,” Smith remembered. “And, we didn't make as many mistakes as they did. Mistakes kill every team. If you're going up against a good team like our team was, and you're making mistakes, you're putting yourself behind the 8-ball.”
Smith started his morning at Fiserv Forum with a small, diverse group of conference attendees. He took a few questions, and also delivered a message moderated by Milwaukee’s Commissioner of City Development, Lafayette Crump. He spoke later with a large group in a session moderated by Mark Kass of the Milwaukee Business Journal and TMJ4 News Anchor Vince Vitrano.