William E. Smith Jr.
The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 2008.
William E. Smith Jr.’s special brew is a house blend of business success and visionary community leadership. As chairman of Royal Cup Coffee Company and A+ Education Foundation, he has a distinguished record in both business and civic affairs.
Smith was born in Birmingham in 1942. He graduated from Ramsay High School and Washington and Lee University in Virginia. After two years as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry, he earned an MBA from Harvard.
After graduate school, he returned to the family business, serving as CEO of Royal Cup from 1968 until he became chairman in 1996. As a business executive, he has served on other corporate boards, including Dunn Investment Company and Bank.
However, Smith understands the role of an executive to extend beyond the successful management of a strong company. Beyond the company is the community, and he has given the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama equal time, talent, and energy.
As chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System, he helped create the innovative Kirklin Clinic, merging clinical systems with hospital systems. As one of the creators of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, he raised the initial funding and recruited the director for this respected non-partisan source of data about every aspect of the state. He has served as chair of the Davidson College (North Carolina) board of visitors; chair of the UAB President’s Council; and as an alumni director of Washington and Lee.
In 1982, Smith cofounded Leadership Birmingham and, six years later, Leadership Alabama. Both groups seek to develop visionary leadership to address Alabama’s challenges in ways that overcome the shackles of the past.
The discussions within Leadership Alabama resulted in enthusiasm for education reform, which Smith and others harnessed to form A+. As founding chairman of the group, Smith organized statewide town meetings attended by as many as 25,000 persons. The A+ coalition that emerged from this process put forward a progressive education reform package that almost succeeded in the Alabama legislature. When the package did not pass, Smith and A+ shifted their focus to policy issues around which Alabamians could unite. He has consistently sought to bring people together despite differences of occupation, ideology, party, race, and gender.
He and his wife, the former Beverley Hart of Columbia, South Carolina, have three children.