Meet Thomas K. “Smitty” Smith, Chief Marketing Officer for Markel Corporation


What is your role at Markel, and what excites you the most about it?

As the Chief Marketing Officer I have an opportunity to be on the front line with our associates, agents, and brokers regularly. I have an opportunity to engage with some of the best professionals in our business, and it makes me very bullish on the future of Markel and our forward-thinking production partners. 

How do you keep it fresh after 30+ years? What motivates and excites you?

I like work. I like Markel. I like the people I work with inside and outside the company. This gives it perspective: One day my niece said she and I had a “jobbies.” I had no clue what she meant until she explained it’s when you combine a “job” with a “hobby.” It pretty much explains it. 

And, I have met and continue to meet some of the most interesting people, I get to visit places I wouldn’t otherwise, and learn about businesses in ways many never get a chance to do. I feel lucky to be where I am.

What is the best advice you have received during your career?

The advice that always comes to mind was given to me in the late 70s before I joined the insurance business when I was a unit sales manager for a well-known consumer products company. A particularly dignified, successful gentleman said to me one day “without suppliers you don’t need customers.” I wasn’t’ sure exactly what he meant until he explained that no matter what you do in business your relationships will be built on trust and competence, and you’d better have plenty of both. I think about that every day and hope someday folks will say about me that I was a man you could do business with because I was trustworthy, capable, and I am fun to be around. 

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give someone that’s new to the insurance industry?

Unless you’re the smartest guy in the room (which I am usually not, even when I am alone), learn who the expert is on any given subject and don’t be afraid to talk to them, ask for advice and learn from them. Some day you will be the subject matter expert, and it is your obligation to help like you were helped.

I had a mentor outside our business, and one day I heard someone ask him why he was so successful. He said it was because he learned how to “connect the dots.” That works well for me too. 

If you were not an insurance professional, what would you like to do?

I would want to be a college football coach. I think being around young athletes and the competitiveness of it would be fabulous.

What do you consider the biggest personal achievement of your career?

I have had many achievements and some failures which make the successes that much sweeter.When I was younger it was all about the “deal.” It’s changed for me in recent years. I am most proud of the young professionals where I think I had a role in helping advance their careers. I got a note recently from a former colleague from almost 20 years ago. She was retiring and wrote to thank me for the success she had saying she wouldn’t have left her job had I not encouraged her to advance her education then go find a career not a job. She did it and honestly I had forgotten about it until I got her note. The feeling of impacting someone’s life like that is humbling to say the least. Makes you want to do it more.

That said I am first and foremost a sales guy. I still love the chase and the feeling of success when a new relationship grows into meaningful business. As a result, there are many business relationships that I count as achievements. I think one of the best for me has been the Markel partnership with Hagerty for collector cars and boats. Not only is the business meaningful in size, but it is fun, the people are exceptional, and I have learned from them. They are such experts at marketing and merchandising specialty insurance products. They make me work harder to keep up with the standard they set for everyone in our business.

Tell us a bit about your life outside the office. How do you like to spend your time?

I used to play a lot of golf but not so much anymore. My wife and I spend a lot of time with our family. We have a wonderful time with our daughter, son-in-law, and new grandson who just moved from New York City to Washington, DC. And we spend time with our son who lives and works in New York City. I’m so proud of them because they are successful in their careers and in their lives. Aside from family, we spend a lot of time with friends attending sporting events of all kinds.

What is your greatest achievement in your personal life?

Aside from the family, it was being a good enough athlete to be a champion gymnast in high school and later play college football. Most people still laugh at me being a gymnast. It’s hard for even me to think of it. My specialty was the trampoline. Too funny, since I looked like a fullback in a gymnast uniform which is exactly what I was. It was not a pretty picture.

Given complete freedom of choice, how and where would you like to spend next week?

At my favorite place: The Greenbrier. If you’re not familiar, it’s a resort and national historic landmark located in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. Of all the places I’ve traveled, it continues as my favorite. In fact, we will be back there again soon for golf, pool, the spa, and the all-important annual family croquet tournament. It’s brutal to the finish, and the winner has bragging rights all year.