Mark Smith vividly recalls the day he shook the hand of Dr. Wernher Von Braun, the German scientist who served as director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the effort that propelled Americans to the moon.
Smith had just graduated in 1958 from Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School, and both of his parents were teachers. During high school, Smith became a ham radio buff and developed an interest in science. Upon winning first place in a science fair at Woodlawn, Smith’s prize was a handshake from Dr. Von Braun. The young high school graduate saw this as a grand opportunity and boldly asked Dr. Von Braun for a summer job. Smith went on to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology and over the next three summers, he worked at NASA in Huntsville and Cape Canaveral.
During the summer preceding his last year of college, he was employed with SCI Systems, Inc., and upon earning an electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech in 1962 he began full-time employment with SCI as an engineering manager. In I 969 his entrepreneurial spirit took hold and he left SCI to co-found Universal Data Systems (UDS) – out of his home garage and with $30,000 in savings. UDS, the first data communications company in Alabama, was quite successful, and in 1979 with annual revenues of about $20 million was sold to Motorola. At that time, Smith became president of the DDS-Motorola Division. In 1985, the proven visionary was ready to take on yet another challenge; he left UDS and co-founded ADTRAN, Inc. As CEO and chairman, Smith led the start-up company of seven employees to become a publicly traded company in 1994, the same year ADTRAN announced a $50 million expansion of its facility. Today, with more than 1600 employees and annual revenues approaching $500 million, the company is a worldwide leader in providing high-speed network access products to the telecommunications equipment industry.
During 2000, Smith took time off for treatment of throat cancer, and in 200 l returned to his activities as CEO and chairman, although he admits to slowing down some.
Smith has been honored with numerous awards including an Honorary Doctor of Science in 1986 from The University of Alabama in Huntsville. In 1995, he was inducted into the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame and was also named “Entrepreneur of the Year” in the High Technology/Electronics category-Southeastern Division. He was the 1995 recipient of Georgia Tech’s Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award. In 1998 the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce presented him with the Distinguished Service Award. In 2000 he was selected CEO of the Year by Birmingham News, and a 2003 Forbes Magazine featured Smith and ranked Huntsville as one of the
“Best Places” to do business. He was recognized by the Alabama Information Technology Association and awarded its “2004 Lifetime Achievement Award.” Through his many civic, philanthropic, and business involvements Smith has helped establish Huntsville’s modem identity and he continues to be actively involved today. In fact, he was just named “Person of the Decade – 1990 – 2000” in Huntsville, for his “positive thinking and fearlessness.”
Smith is the son of Gerald A. and Verna Smith. He is married to the former Linda Jones of Greenville, Georgia. They have a daughter, Cynthia Smith McKeman of Houston, and a son, Clay, of Dallas, and seven grandchildren. He enjoys fishing and boating, especially aboard the boat, “High Tide II,” which he pilots up the Tennessee River every two years to watch the Alabama-Tennessee game.