Making Memphis beautiful is a family tradition for Robin Smithwick.
Robert “Robin” Smithwick III is managing principal of the Memphis office of Diversified Trust, a comprehensive wealth management firm which provides investment, trust and financial advisory services to families and institutions. He also helms the Greater Memphis Chamber Chairman’s Circle moon mission to advance green space for citizens here.
But on many weekdays and most weekends, Smithwick is a cyclist. He pumps the pedals of his light and sleek Cervélo R5 road bike through the streets of Memphis, the Greenline and through Shelby Farms Park.
On his rides, he’s seen the volume and the diversity of the people on the city’s bike lanes and bike trails grow and grow. Helping to expand outdoor opportunities, he said, was one of the main reasons he gravitated toward the green space mission.
But his love of making and keeping Memphis clean and beautiful for all first came through the stories he heard about his great-grandfather, former Memphis Mayor E. H. Crump.
Crump would drive around town, Smithwick said, while his secretary took notes in the car. Crump would tell her of potholes that needed fixing, trees that needed planting, or parks that needed cleaning.
Crump was focused on improving conditions in Memphis, Smithwick said, because citizens needed a nice place to live. Now a hot trend in economic development, professionals today would call this “placemaking.”
“He really turned this city around from a sort of bleak river town to making it one of the most beautiful in the country,” Smithwick said. “That’s always been in my DNA I think, growing up and hearing those stories, and understanding how important that was within my family.”
Robert Fockler worked with Smithwick for 10 years as Smithwick served on the board of the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, where Fockler is president. He said, of course, that Smithwick is a professional but that he also has “a genuine love of our community and a passion to make it a better place.”
“I look forward to Robin’s leadership on any community initiative, but particularly on the Chamber’s green space moon mission,” Fockler said. “I know that Robin will bring all of the available facts to the table and then bring the mission to a meaningful solution. He cares about Memphis, and he cares about our green spaces. The Chamber couldn’t have asked a better leader to head this mission.”
Smithwick left Memphis in 1980 for Washington & Lee University for an undergraduate degree in history, thinking that he’d later study law. Family was a big draw for his move back to Memphis, but there was more to his decision to return home.
Several other Memphians also studied at Smithwick’s college in southwest Virginia, and he said they were sometimes given a hard time for talking about Memphis so much. From the music, the culture and the food, they couldn’t stop talking “about how cool our town was.” After graduating, he decided to return to build a career in his hometown. “Sometimes you have to leave a place to appreciate how good it really is,” Smithwick said.
Before he came home, Smithwick’s career plans took a turn. An investment and finance class in his senior year caught his interest. So he decided to work in in finance for a while and head back to graduate school if the profession wasn’t the right fit.
“I’m now in my 30th year in this industry and I think it’s a little late for grad school,” Smithwick said.
He spent 10 years at Morgan Keegan and joined Diversified Trust in 1995, one year after the firm was founded in Memphis. In 2012, Smithwick was promoted as the Memphis office’s managing principal. Today, the company has four offices, 82 employees and over $5 billion in assets under management.
Diversified Trust is 100 percent employee-owned, he said. The employees throughout the company are active in their local communities. For example, many of the firm’s Memphis employees sit on nonprofit boards and committees throughout town and serve in leadership positions with many of these organizations. “Community service is central to our culture,” Smithwick said.
Smithwick pulled from his family experience, again, for a model for running his business. His grandfather, E.H. Crump, Jr., grew his father’s insurance brokerage firm into the ninth largest in the country. Smithwick said his grandfather was “probably the biggest catalyst” for all he’s done in business.
“Watching how he managed the business and managed people gave me a lot of ambition to try to follow that track,” Smithwick said. “He was always about honesty and integrity and forthrightness. I’m trying to engrain that in the way I manage my business and the people who work with me. Be honest with yourself and with clients and a lot of success will follow.”
When Smithwick is not working, biking or serving the community, his attention is focused on his family. One daughter just graduated college in Boston and moved to Los Angeles to begin a career in the film business. The other daughter is a ninth-grader who keeps him busy with her active athletic and social calendar.
His wife of 25 years is also a life-long Memphian and runs a local business. The two of them like to travel together and do so as often as possible. But they always enjoy coming home to Memphis.
Story by: Toby Sells
Photo by: Troy Glasgow