My Day with the President

Emily Letterman, Features Editor

Unlike my Day in the Life subject last year, Clif Smart never offered me a beer.

Having followed the Missouri State University president on Twitter for some time, I knew Clif had a sense of humor, but I didn’t know what to expect in a professional office setting. So, when I met him bright and early at 7:20 a.m. April 21 for Springfield Business Journal’s Day in the Life series, I was ready for anything.

I expected the retweet from Web Editor Geoff Pickle back in the office, but when Clif  himself gave me a Twitter nod, I knew it was going to be a good day.

I expected the retweet from Web Editor Geoff Pickle back in the office, but when Clif himself gave me a Twitter nod, I knew it was going to be a good day.

Clif was a man on a mission from the moment I met him. He described his 14-hour day as “typical.” I’d describe the agenda secretary Kristan sent me as mentally grueling. With 10 events on the docket, Clif was booked solid from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m.

And I get lathargic when I have to work past 5 p.m.

The first of seven meetings for the day kicked off at 8 sharp, a precedent for events to come. The Bear president is a very prompt man.

A possible remnant from his years as general counsel for the university, I noticed Clif interjected little into the morning meeting until his input was needed. He is a fact collector, gathering evidence and making a decision once everything is on the table.

During a small afternoon breather – about 15 minutes accrued through prompt morning meetings – SBJ photographer Wes Hamilton and I relaxed on Clif’s large maroon couch as he took to his smartphone for a quick scan of his Twitter feed.

“Do you guys have a LinkedIn account?” he asked without looking up from his phone. “Is there any value in that? I get four or five friends requests a day and I accept them all, but I don’t know why.”

Wes and I both have accounts. We both agree we never use them. We both agree we don’t see the point.

“That’s what I thought,” he said, “but I guess I’ll keep it.”

Clif seems to approach social media the same way he approaches his university work. He continues to collect the facts.

Despite having been up since 6 a.m. and sitting through seven meetings already that day, when we met up with Clif at the Ramada Plaza Hotel & Oasis Convention Center for Springfield Public Schools’ teacher appreciation banquet, he was all smiles. He’s on the downhill slide for the day and this event serves food.

As we departed that evening, Clif said he hoped the day wasn’t too boring. To the contrary, it’s not everyday you get to stand next to the president.

Reporter’s Notebook
Though I had met the man once before – in the receiving line during an alumni night at Busch Stadium – and interviewed him via phone, I didn’t truly know him. Now, having walked 2 mile in his shoes – according to my Fitbit personal pedometer – I can safely say my alma mater is in good hands.

It’s interesting what little tidbits of knowledge you learn when you spend the day with someone. When filming a segment for a student engagement video, Clif admits, “he did almost nothing of value in college, except go to class.”

“I was in a frat, but wasn’t involved in service organizations. I regret that as an adult,” he told the camera crew.

He makes up for it these days through his busy schedule and even finds ways to have fun. Like when he and City Manager Greg Burris agreed they needed to loose weight and started a competition with SRC Holdings Corp. CEO Jack Stack. All kicking in $500, the money goes to the winner’s charity of choice.

“I’m down 7 [pounds] and I know I’m not in last place,” he told me with a smile. “I’m pretty sure Burris has lost nothing.”

Photographer Wes documented the day with nearly 500 photos, but I had my iPhone at the ready.

Coffee in hand, I settled in for Clif’s two-hour morning meeting.

Coffee in hand, I settled in for Clif’s two-hour morning meeting.

My primary view for the day.

My primary view for the day.

Lunch in the Union Club with incoming student government officers. I went to MSU for four years, was pretty involved on campus, but never knew this place existed. The view of my former home was fab.

Lunch in the Union Club with incoming student government officers. I went to MSU for four years, was pretty involved on campus, but never knew this place existed. The view of my former home was fab.

It wouldn’t be a reporter’s notebook without a picture of my food. It also was fab.

It wouldn’t be a reporter’s notebook without a picture of my food. It also was fab.

While Wes was discouraged from taking photos during recording, my silent iPhone captured the action.

While Wes was discouraged from taking photos during recording, my silent iPhone captured the action.

Sometimes I got the upfront seat, sometimes I was shuffled to the back. During the afternoon MSU faculty awards lunch, I stood quietly in the back as the president spoke.

Sometimes I got the upfront seat, sometimes I was shuffled to the back. During the afternoon MSU faculty awards lunch, I stood quietly in the back as the president spoke.

Hands down, the Day in the Life editorial series is my favorite project of the year at SBJ. These are the people we write about on a regular basis, but how much do we really know them? The chance to look behind the curtain and step behind the desk is something I can’t pass up.

A big thank you to Clif for letting me follow him around all day. You made the 14-hour day look easy.

A shout out to Gail Smart for snapping this pic at the end of the day.

A shout out to Gail Smart for snapping this pic at the end of the day.

 

 

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