Prof. Ken Smith

Globalization is redefining many industries today, and that means most industries are undergoing some form of restructuring. Some companies will merge, some will buy out others, some will sell, and some will shift their focus. But how do owners and managers know the best approach to take?

“As a strategy consultant, much of my work has been helping strong companies build the scale and scope needed to compete,” says Prof. Ken Smith, associate dean of executive programs in the College of Management and Economics. He recently joined the U of G faculty after some 25 years of strategy consulting. “This also raises interesting research questions:  how do companies succeed in a restructuring industry?  How will global restructuring change our industries and our economy?”

Smith earned his B.Sc. in mathematics at York University, followed by master’s and PhD degrees in mathematics at the University of Toronto. He began his career at Imperial Oil Limited, initially under through an industrial post-doctoral fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). He completed his MBA part-time while at Imperial Oil and then began his career in strategy consulting with McKinsey & Company. Most recently, he was with SECOR Consulting, where he was elected chair.

Smith has worked with companies in almost all major sectors, across Canada and internationally. “You do a little of everything in consulting,” he says, “but mostly I have worked on issues of business and public policy relating to restructuring industries, including mergers, acquisitions, and overall corporate direction.” This work has included industries such as nuclear power, financial services, media, telecommunications, airlines, couriers, mining, pulp and paper, oil and gas, and nuclear medicine.

Now he brings that depth of experience to the College of Management and Economics. “U of G has an outstanding reputation, but the graduate business program is small compared to what it can be. I’m hoping my industry experience can be applied to help grow our programs,” says Smith. He says the vision for the college – “Leaders for a Sustainable World” – is compelling in the current business climate and relevant to his work in globalizing industries.

Smith is now putting some of his ideas and experience down in print in a book on merger and acquisition strategy to be published by McGraw-Hill. “It’s a big subject,” Smith admits. “I have over the years developed a lot of analysis on mergers and acquisitions trends, and on which deals tend to succeed and which fail. I have found some key success factors that relate directly to strategy, and that’s what will be in the book.”

Some of those success factors may surprise his readers, he adds. “Some of the most successful mergers or acquisitions are those oriented towards growth. Those aimed at cost-cutting, the typical focus in consolidation, usually fail.”

Smith believes the book is important because almost every major industry is undergoing restructuring, a process that inevitably involves mergers and acquisitions. “As a result, I believe every executive needs to be good at mergers and acquisitions, yet there is not much taught about this in most business schools.” A by-product of the book, he promises, will be a course in the subject.

Smith also values giving back to the community. He is a director on the national board of the Arthritis Society, a member of the national steering committee on financial literacy and chair of the Ontario chapter of the Institute of Corporate Directors. He has led many pro bono consulting assignments, including strategy development for the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Altruvest.

Like many people who work “in their heads” much of the time, Smith enjoys less cerebral activities in his off-work hours. “I like to build things. If I had more time, I’d build houses,” he says. “I learned all the trades from my dad, and I do repairs and renovations myself.” Hockey is another passion; Smith tries to play a couple of times a week, but took a break at the start of this season after breaking his ankle during the first shift of the first game he played.