Weatherheadlines sat down with Melvin L. Smith, Assistant Professor in the Department of Organizational Behavior to talk about his research regarding social capital and networks, and to ask him: Why is there all that Pittsburgh Steeler’s paraphernalia in your office?
Tell us a little bit about your life outside of Weatherhead.
My wife and I live in Twinsburg, and we have two sons – 14 and 11. We have a 3-year old Golden Retriever. I’m a musician, playing percussion since I was in the second grade. I’m a drummer from way back. I was in the band in school – the jazz band and the marching band. I play for my own personal enjoyment right now, and I just recently bought a new set of drums.
Music and travel are my two favorite things to do. I recently attended a conference in Hawaii and last year I did some teaching in Madrid, and my wife and I spent some time in Barcelona.
How did you come to the Organizational Behavior(OB) Department at Weatherhead?
I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh – yes, I’m a Steeler’s fan – and I knew I wanted to stay in the Midwest because both my family and my wife’s family are here. So, I narrowed my search to schools in this part of the country.
What I was looking for specifically was a school and a department that focused on practice and research – not just the theoretical aspects but staying in touch with the real world. Case had an excellent reputation in the OB area in doing just that. The school has excellent scholars who are closely linked to practitioners.
Also, the history of the department is rich. It was the first department of Organizational Behavior in the country. I also met Richard Boyatzis at our National Management Conference, and we just clicked right away and it felt like a good fit with the other faculty members when I met them.
What did you do before coming to Weatherhead?
I received my Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management, and my undergraduate degree in Accounting from Purdue University.
After my undergraduate, I worked for General Motors for a year and then I went back to school in Atlanta and got an MBA in marketing. I then worked in a series of sales and marketing positions for IBM, Pepsi and Heinz, before going back to get my Ph.D.
Most, if not all, of your previous experience has been with large corporations – how different is it working in the world of academia?
It’s very different but, after being here 4 years, I see more and more things that resemble the corporate world. The kinds of things that were going on in the corporate world are now happening here.
The academic world is changing, it is experiencing some of the same pressures financially and otherwise – causing the need for reorganization, cost cutting and other things that the corporate world experienced for quite some time. In many cases, the academic world has been immune but some of the same pressures are beginning to affect us.
What do you teach specifically?
Since I’ve been here my focus has been on leadership and Emotional Intelligence from a teaching perspective.
I teach the Leadership Assessment and Development (LEAD) course which is really the cornerstone course of our MBA program, as well as some of our other degree programs. Currently, I’m teaching the full-time MBAs and this year I will be teaching the MPOD students. I started with the part-time MBAs and then taught the Accelerated MBAs and I’ve done Executive Education seminars.
You also conduct research: What is your topic?
My research is in the area of social capital and social networks in organizations. I look at how relationships affect individual and organizational outcomes.
Is it difficult to collect the data on such a sensitive issue?
It is difficult to collect this data, but there are some very interesting things you can learn. I research social capital within organizations, so I find organizations that I can get access to. I ask a variety of questions, I sometimes have people fill out surveys where they share their relationships with their contacts within the organization. Questions like: Who do you share information with, and who do you trust?
Give the readers one word of advice on how to improve your personal social capital?
One of the keys when building social capital is to make contacts in circles that you don’t already have contacts. To truly build your social capital, you need to make new relationships. You need to branch out and establish new relationships and make connections with people who don’t know anyone you currently know. That way you can expand your circle of influence and access.
What is your best stress relief?
I like sports. I play basketball and work out. Most of the time I play with my boys because they are both athletic. I spend time teaching and coaching them.
Are they able to beat you yet?
Not yet, the oldest is getting there but not yet. It used to be that I would not have to try very hard but now I have to compete. When the time comes I want to make them legitimately beat me.
Is there anyone who inspired you or mentored you?
The person who helped me consider academics was a professor I had from Purdue, his name was Dr. Bell and he had a profound impact on me. He was a tremendous role model in terms of the contribution he has made, specifically with minority students.
That is the reason I got into academics. I try to establish a relationship with my students. It was a clear decision that I wanted to make this life-style change and I wanted to give back.
What was that worst job or job experience?
For my very first job out of undergrad – I worked as an accountant for General Motors and I started in the accounts payable department. It became very clear that I was not made out to be an accountant. I very quickly decided to go back and get my MBA in marketing. The lack of creativity, in doing the job, just wasn’t for me.
What was your best job or job experience?
I wouldn’t say there is one best moment – but when I teach an executive seminar or a corporate program I love to see people nodding and getting it. Or when people come up to me and say that what I said really made a difference, that they are going to change they way they do things, having that impact are my best moments.
That’s what is great about what I teach, the courses are based on personal development and growth and it can really be a course that changes people’s lives.
What was the last good book you’ve read, or you are reading now?
I haven’t read a novel in … I don’t know how long? I still haven’t read The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) and that has been on my list of books to read. I will get to it, once I’ve read all the non-fiction I have to read.
If you knew it was going to be your last meal, what would you want to eat?
What would be my last meal? That is an interesting question. I think a nice filet mignon, and maybe a lobster on the side.
What famous person do you share your birthday with?
I have a couple good ones. One is Tiger Woods and the other is LeBron James. I found out about LeBron because I was at the game on his birthday his first year with the Cavs, and they made a big deal of it. I’m thinking, he is making $90 million and turning 18, Tiger Woods is a multi-millionaire – there is something about that birthday. But I didn’t get what they got.
Name a famous person people tell you that you resemble.
The famous person people said I used to look like -- Gregory Hines. Sometimes I get Montel Williams. I had a student even write that on a comment card once.
And now seasonal questions:
Real or artificial tree - Tree... I prefer a real tree but we often settle for an artificial tree,especially if we are going to be traveling over the holidays.
Garland or Tinsel - Garland.
White or colored lights -White lights.
And the big question: Star or Angel - Star