Be aware of economic challenges: I wasn’t entirely prepared for the shock of moving from a salary-based position to a commission-only pay model. When I moved from New York to Boston I was newly married and had left a stable job, our families, and our home behind. The first year was a true challenge living in a basement apartment, and some months bringing home a mere 50 dollars in commission. This was a humbling time for me, but it further solidified my passion for radio and achieving success.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Smyth.
Peter Smyth is the president of The Hundred Club of Massachusetts, which provides support and financial relief to the families of fallen police officers and firefighters across the state. He previously served as chairman and CEO of Greater Media for over 30 years and has been inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was fascinated by radio as far back as I can remember. It was an accessible way to transport myself and experience things to which I otherwise had no exposure. The personalities and sounds that came through my little transistor took me from my home in Tarrytown, New York to places I had never been: Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry; Wrigley Field in Chicago; and overseas with nail-biting news reports from Vietnam, Munich and Israel.
While in the hustle and bustle of my career at Greater Media, I was always looking for ways that our team could find ways to support the community. We had days dedicated to volunteerism, grants, scholarships, and involvement in the markets we served. The cornerstone of helping others was always a part of my life, but my path to The Hundred Club was paved by Mr. Norman Knight. Norman introduced me to the Club, where I would eventually serve on several committees. I was immediately touched by the mission of the Club and the families they supported both financially and emotionally. Today, I have an opportunity to bring the Club Norman started over 60 years ago to its next phase as an organization with an even stronger social impact.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Our organization has a rich history of helping the community and the families of fallen heroes. I am continually humbled by the breadth and depth of our impact on the beneficiary families we serve. Most recently, we recognized the widow of a firefighter who died fifty years ago. Our team dropped off an arrangement of flowers with a heartfelt note recognizing her family’s sacrifice. She was so appreciative that the Club has never forgotten her family or husband over the years. There are so many stories like this where the Club remains an everyday part of the families of the fallen. We can never replace their lost family member, but we stand in to always remember and provide support for the families.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In nearly everyone’s career, there are always a few decisions one would make differently in hindsight — from expanding into a geographic market sooner, or practicing more caution with growth strategies. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have a wonderful group of individuals on my “personal board” who have guided me away from many common pitfalls.
One decision I would call a misstep rather than a mistake was beginning my career in Boston rather than New York — funny given most people flock to New York to start their careers! Having grown up in New York, I knew the players and had more established connections. Boston was an entirely new market for me and presented an exciting unknown. But moving to Boston with no connections, network, or salary based job was a risk I was willing to take at the time. Leaving a high-paying and stable job at Nestle, I started my new career as a commission-based salesman. The beginning was challenging, making a mere 53.26 dollars over some months while living in a basement apartment — not very glamorous. I never looked back though, only forward, and this difficult time early in my career became the bedrock of a successful career in radio, never giving up.
From this experience, I learned that a stable and traditional career path is not always the best choice. If you are truly passionate about something, as I was about radio, you should follow that dream. Fearing change and the unknown will ultimately not move you forward either personally or professionally.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The Hundred Club makes a commitment to police officers and firefighters designed to give them peace of mind every time they go on duty. We provide compassionate care and support for surviving families of fallen officers and firefighters — for the rest of their lives. In the tragic circumstance where an officer or firefighter is killed in the line of duty, we provide immediate financial assistance with a 10,000 dollars check to the surviving family. The Hundred Club also provides financial assistance for college and trade schools, financial support for family or individual counseling, social events and outings such as Red Sox games and the Boston Pops, health and wellness programs, legal and accounting assistance and more.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
The stories are both remarkable and heartbreaking. Inspiring and tragic. And there are so many, some from just a year ago, and others from over fifty years ago. Joseph Downing of Dorchester was a firefighter who died after a taxicab gas tank burst into flames in front of him in 1970. These many years later — decades later — his widow and son (who was just four at the time) talk about the immediate and unannounced support their family received from the Hundred Club after this tragedy. To this day, we see the tremendous strength and resolve of these families, and with a helpful hand from the Hundred Club we are able to provide support, comfort, and the promise to always remember.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes, there sure are. First, like any mission-based non-profit that relies in large part on the compassion and generosity of others — please do consider supporting The Hundred Club in whatever way you are able. Second, as America experiences a historic period of reflection around the relationship between police and the communities they serve — please remember that law enforcement, firefighters and first responders of all kinds get up every day to uphold a commitment to protect and serve the people around them. That is at the core of everything they train for: to help others. I think it’s important to keep that in mind as we undertake the very important task of improving policing and strengthening the relationships first responders have with their communities. Finally: the simple act of thinking every day how you might help someone in need is a big step toward solving the challenges all mission-based groups are trying to address. America needs more compassion and caring — for all kinds of people in need. If you are thinking about how you can help and making a choice to do something, you are helping us and many, many others.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Good leadership is inspiring others by seeing, appreciating and maximizing the talents you see in THEM. A great leader is basically like a great coach: they get the BEST that can be gotten from every person in their charge.
You don’t do that by acting superior 8 hours a day: you do it by encouraging and inspiring them by recognizing their talents.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Be aware of economic challenges: I wasn’t entirely prepared for the shock of moving from a salary-based position to a commission-only pay model. When I moved from New York to Boston I was newly married and had left a stable job, our families, and our home behind. The first year was a true challenge living in a basement apartment, and some months bringing home a mere 50 in commission dollars. This was a humbling time for me, but it further solidified my passion for radio and achieving success.
Follow your passion: There were times when I questioned my decision to leave New York for Boston and try to make a name for myself in the Boston market. As the years passed, and I began to achieve more success, I noticed family and friends around me who had played it safe with their careers and pursued a more stable and predictable path. Many times, these friends and families were counting their days to retirement or a major change so they could recalibrate their careers. I have been fortunate to never have those moments — from the beginning I pursued my dreams and followed my passion. Every day in radio and broadcasting was exhilarating, albeit not without its challenges.
Work harder: Working hard and solving problems provides a sense of purpose and satisfaction that no other activities can recreate. I had a wonderful team of talented individuals who helped provide continuous inspiration. Working smart does not replace hard work, and joining the two is a recipe for success.
Find a mentor: Throughout my career, I was beyond fortunate to have Mr. Norman Knight as a mentor. Norman provided unconditional support and guidance to me throughout my career. I sought Norman’s counsel on many decisions both regarding business and personal matters. Finding an individual or group of individuals to fill your “personal board” is instrumental to success. These individuals have your best interests at heart and are not afraid to offer praise or criticism when warranted.
Adapt & overcome: If running a business and starting an organization from scratch was a simple venture, everyone would try. The reality is that business is tricky, formidable, and unpredictable. In order to truly achieve success you have to adapt to the marketplace and anticipate future needs. An inevitable and proverbial storm is always on the horizon with any business, and your leadership must overcome whatever that storm brings.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I spent so many years in the radio broadcasting business, and it was so good to me and my family. The business is going through a challenging period and a transition right now, but I know it will continue to play a crucial role every day in bringing people together and keeping families and communities close.
Radio has been part of the fabric of American life for a century. Literally 100 years. World War II, Vietnam, 9/11 — radio has captured it. Radio informs. But it also comforts and entertains. It is a friend that anyone can have with which a very personal relationship can be developed.
I want to continue to carry that message and remind people every day how the sound of distant voices can be so impactful and influential. The formats may be different. The delivery may be digital as opposed over the airwaves. But audio content is fundamental to our society. And being an ambassador for that idea, I think, can help inspire a LOT of people.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Find your “Personal Board of Directors” — and keep them for life. We all need mentors, and we encounter them through life. But what I’m saying is to take a more active and strategic approach to leveraging mentors for life-long guidance, support, and expertise. You can really benefit from having a business plan for life: what you want to pursue and achieve; where you want to make a mark; how you want to give back and enhance the world around you; and quite simply what kind of person you want to be. Every successful business has a strong Board: and you ought to have one too for the business of life.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Putting politics aside, I would love to have lunch with George W. Bush. He faced incredible challenges during his presidency and even in the face of adversity and opposition showed support and courage to a fragile nation. His support for men and women in the service has been unfaltering. Although I don’t personally know George W. Bush, my perception is that he is an honorable man who exudes integrity and defines leadership.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
The Hundred Club has a great social media presence on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter: