Kiran Smith

CMO, iRobot

Tuck gave me confidence in myself and taught me about friendship, networking, and balance. Those aren’t things you learn in a classroom; they are things you learn by being in that very special environment.

Kiran Smith T’00 started as CEO of Arnold Worldwide with a mandate to write a new future for the storied advertising firm. Arnold’s previous CEO had been with the Boston-based agency 20 years, so it raised a few eyebrows when, after a three-month search, the firm tapped Smith to blaze a new trail through a rapidly shifting advertising landscape. After all, she had no direct agency experience.

The challenge doesn’t seem to phase Smith, who came to Arnold from Brookstone, where she spent three years reinvigorating the venerable retail brand as its chief marketing officer. Her work in marketing, including senior roles at Stride Rite and Shaw’s Supermarkets, taught her the value of creative partnerships and helped shape the philosophy that underpins her leadership at Arnold.

Not coincidentally, that style draws heavily on the high-energy collaboration she experienced at Tuck. The approach is particularly well suited to the advertising business today, which relies more than ever on the marriage of creativity and data-driven insights.

“People don’t realize that a creative agency isn’t just filled with creative people,” Smith says. “What I love about Arnold is that we have so many different skill sets that work together, and that’s what makes the work great,” she says.

Smith says she first experienced the full force of such collaborative synergy in her Tuck study groups, an eye-opening experience for which she credits the alchemists in the school’s admissions office. “Tuck purposely puts people of very different backgrounds together, and you learn so much from that experience in terms of how to work with each other, how you can play on each others’ strengths, and how you can challenge each other in ways that are tough but respectful,” she says.

She enjoys a similar dynamic at Arnold, where she lays down the analytic baseline in the agency’s creative ensemble. She finds the collaboration incredibly energizing. “It’s very rare that you can say you love a job more 60 days in than you did the first day, and I can honestly say that’s the case at Arnold. It’s such an amazing, vibrant place and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”

Smith spent her grade school years in the Bronx and Westchester County. When she was in sixth grade her family moved to Lock Haven, a town of less than 10,000 people in central Pennsylvania. Smith’s parents had emigrated from India before she was born, and though the shift away from the city and its vibrant Indian community was an abrupt one for the family, Smith sank roots in small-town Pennsylvania. She stayed close in her undergraduate years, studying computer science at Bucknell, an hour east of Lock Haven.

It’s very rare that you can say you love a job more 60 days in than you did the first day, and I can honestly say that’s the case at Arnold. It’s such an amazing, vibrant place and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.

Computer science fit her analytical nature and taught her to “break a big problem down into little pieces, solve those pieces, and then put it all back together,” she says. “It’s a mindset for how to approach challenges in business and in life in general, and it has served me really well.”

The degree was also a springboard into a consulting job with Arthur Andersen, where she led teams building sophisticated databases for clients such as M&M Mars. Andersen exposed her to many different business disciplines, and she found that marketing was her favorite.

A mentor at Andersen told her that if she was serious about a career in marketing she should pursue an MBA from a top business school. That planted the seed, and it took root when Smith and her now-husband, Matt Smith T’01, were driving from New Jersey to visit his parents in Montpelier, VT.

“I saw a sign for Dartmouth and asked Matt, ‘Is that the Dartmouth?’ I’d never seen it, so we detoured through Hanover and I can tell you I fell in love with that campus,” says Smith, who was equally taken with Tuck’s people and programs when she started there the next fall. “From the moment I stepped on that campus it was everything I could have imagined,” she says. “It was the perfect place for me to be.”

Matt Smith joined her at Tuck the following year. “He was living in New York and visiting most weekends, and at some point he said, ‘Hold on, this place is amazing. The program looks absolutely phenomenal and these people seem to be having a ton of fun.’”

Smith has high praise for Tuck’s marketing professors and the rigor of its general management program, but says Tuck’s most profound influence stems from its unique culture. “Tuck gave me confidence in myself and taught me about friendship, networking, and balance. Those aren’t things you learn in a classroom; they are things you learn by being in that very special environment,” she says.

“To this day, our closest friends are Tuckies. My roommates and I all moved down to the Boston area together and our kids are growing up together like cousins,” she says. “It’s been such a gift in so many different ways.”

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