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Core Connections Feature: Dana Smith, Chief Human Resources Officer, American Capital


Core Connections Feature: Dana Smith, Chief Human Resources Officer, American Capital

Today’s Core Connections Feature profiles Chief Human Resources Officer of American Capital, Dana Smith. In addition to holding a rich legacy of organizational human resources leadership, she has been recognized for her leadership by the prestigious HR Leadership Awards of Greater Washington, has been featured in or contributed to articles in the Washington Post, Washington Business Journal, and Smart CEO Magazine, and, as a keynote speaker, she often advises on organizational development. With degrees from Johns Hopkins University and The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Dana is someone that can peer into the inner workings of an organization like no one else and distill her observations down into substantive actions. Without further ado, Dana Smith:


How do you lead differently now than you did 5 or 10 years ago?
I inform others on actions I plan to take as opposed to seeking permission. It still affords colleagues the opportunity to share their feedback and for me to consider it. I have enough experience that I trust my instincts. I’ve learned that one cannot be hindered by a fear of making choices – often bold choices. Risks can be mitigated. I’m a promoter of change for the better, even if it’s an incremental improvement.

Additionally, I ensure I am giving my opinion. I’m being paid for a point of view.

Is there a quote that you always tend to bring up in meetings?
No specific quote but I’m a big fan of being counterintuitive where appropriate. You might hear me talk about letting go or relinquishing control to create space or an openness to garner even more in return. It’s somewhat meditative. I also appreciate the importance of “meeting a company where it’s at ” and not employing a “one size, fits al –  approach. Everything is about timing. It’s about knowing when to pick your spots or when to approach an opportunity (even if others may be exiting). I also say that no one knows talent better than the people closest to that talent.

Is the customer always right?
Yes. They are your customers. You want to retain them, wow them, and have them speak highly of you and your company regardless of setting.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a mentor?
To stay in your own swim lane, that everyone defines success differently — it’s a matter of defining your own path.     There are no right or wrong answers.

Who inspires you and why?
My mother inspires me. No matter what life challenge is thrown her way, she is not one to complain.

What’s the best way to judge if someone is a good fit for your organization?
In my experience, there is no foolproof way of interviewing. A good gauge for fit comes from his or her research of your organization, the questions that are asked, and your assessment of that individua – ?s emotional intelligence. We all spend a lot of time at work so while a successful track record and requisite skills are important, your insight into who an interviewee is as a person is paramount. Pay attention to any “red flags; ” those often can become exacerbated when a candidate becomes a new hire.     When it comes to staffing and selection, a “ye –  is a “yes, ” a “maybe ” is a “no, ” and a “no ” is a “no. ”

What keeps you coming back each day? What’s the best part for you?
Hope of making a difference — or an impact in a meaningful way — on both the staff and the company. Being able to lead and coach a team. To offer the best of my experience to them, to be a supporter and guide, and to get out of their way so they can do their work. In this way, the department flourishes.

Best place to vacation?
Being that I’ve taken twelve cruises, I’d say anywhere a ship can take me. I’ve enjoyed Alaska (twice), Hawaii, the Panama Canal, Mexico, Canada, and several countries in Europe. On my bucket list are Prague, the South Pacific, an African safari, and….

What’s on your iPod right now?
Bruno Mars, Sam Smith, Taylor Swift

Biggest Pet Peeve?
People who make promises and then don’t follow through. It’s better not to say anything at all. I believe in honoring commitments, remembering past kindnesses, and working to “pay it forward ” (helping people with their resumes, opening doors through job contacts, etc.)

What’s something about you that people are surprised to find out?
As a child, I was selected from thousands to be part of the original Broadway run of “Annie. ”

What misconceptions do others have about you?
People who know me would not have this misconception, but I think a general misconception about HR is that we are all about compliance and policing. That is the antithesis of the way I approach the work. Compliance is a “given. ” I’m not at work to be someone’s parent. Most often, people do the right thing. They are adults and want the resources and tools to heighten their leadership effectiveness. I “assume merit, ” take what’s already good, and build upon that.

If you could time travel, what would you want to say to the college-aged you?
Easier said than done, when I think about voluminous Wharton textbooks and bulk packs, but I’d tell the 17-21 year-old me to take even more time out for fun and exploration (beyond the campus borders).

One piece of advice for young, aspiring leaders:
Education does matter – not only the content of what you learn but the decision-making processes you adopt. Your way of thinking, approach to solving problems, and personal maturity evolve.


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