Standout business graduate enters workforce armed with grit, resilience

Contact: Erin Flynn

Read a special message from President Edward Montgomery for Western Michigan University's 2020 graduates.

Kordell Smith (Photo credit Elizabeth Heinz)

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Leaders are forged in crisis. It comes as no surprise then that Kordell Smith emerged as a standout leader in Western Michigan University’s sales and business marketing program. The graduating senior started his college career with a last-minute decision.

“It was actually a blessing how I chose WMU during such a stressful time for me. It was already April and my back was against the wall,” he says. “I kind of began to lose the excitement of what was a big life decision.”

Smith, who grew up in Southfield, Michigan, had visited three schools. None seemed to fit, and he’d have to choose between sales and marketing if he went to any of them. He’d all but given up when he heard his two best friends raving about their choice: WMU. To his surprise, the school also boasted the top sales program in the nation in the Haworth College of Business and offered a combined major of sales and business marketing.

“I visited the following week, and when I arrived here everything just felt right. I had fallen in love with the atmosphere of Kalamazoo and campus,” says Smith. “I couldn’t have fallen into a better place.”

His tour guide, Lauren Toppen, also played a pivotal role in his Western experience. A member of the Sales and Business Marketing Association, she told him about the networking and learning opportunities the group could open up for him.

“Right away I got involved, and it became one of the best decisions I ever made,” says Smith, who became a board member in his second semester of freshman year. “The resources that SBMA gives us are immense. With employers coming in every week, workshops, company trips and resume-building experiences, it was crucial.”


Since he was a kid, Smith has loved business. He had a knack for negotiating and loved to haggle for bargains at garage sales with his friends. That love has only grown during his time at WMU.

“WMU has deepened my passions by giving me hands-on learning experience,” Smith says. “Role-playing using real products, with real companies, gets us prepared to sell anything at the next level.”

Along with multiple internships, Smith says the leadership and business strategy program—where he picked up a second major—had a profound impact on his success. In particular, he says his leadership management strategy course was more than a class; it was a journey of teamwork, commitment, impact and growth.

“We have to adapt to demand. We use our critical thinking to evaluate our clients’ business, their market, the industry and use our problem-solving to find the root cause of issues, then find a solution,” he says. “If I’m called to lead, I know without hesitation I’m ready and able.”

It’s that spirit that earned him the Sales and Business Marketing Outstanding Service Award and also helped him land his first job, weeks ahead of graduation, as an inside sales representative at VMware in Austin, Texas. While his training may be modified because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s confident his education has set him up for career success—whatever life brings.

“The WMU culture embodies a sense of resiliency,” says Smith. “Losing our graduation to this virus was absolutely devastating. I’m not sure what the future holds for us, but I know that we’ve been instilled with a skill set that will keep us competitive in a market where things will be tight.”

Above all, he’ll emerge from college with pride in the larger WMU community.

“Broncos love and support one another. We’re not just a number, we’re a team here,” he says. “The people that I’ve met, the lessons learned, the memories made, the experiences and opportunities that Western has provided me will forever be ingrained in me.”

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