Wheaton magazine

Volume 21 // Issue 3
Wheaton magazine // Autumn 2018
Alumni News
Alumni Profiles

Leading by Listening

When Steve Smith '78 was a kid, he dreamed of becoming a Chicago White Sox shortstop. His dad, a legally blind piano and music theory teacher at Moody Bible Institute, wanted him to hone his musical career. Even after law school and ten years with a Chicago law firm, no one would have predicted that Steve would jump into the world of business and advance to become the CEO of a $4 billion manufacturing company. 

Steve is proud to stand at the helm of Amsted Industries, whose 50 facilities around the world supply to freight rail, trucking, automotive, and other heavy industrial users. Amsted is 100 percent owned by its employees through an employee stock ownership plan. 

“It is rewarding to be working for our employees, who are also our owners,” Steve says. “My job is simple: making sure we have the right people in the right places, a culture in which they can all prosper, and focused business strategies so that we are all aligned.” 

Steve also sees his role as part of a “mission to create jobs that allow people to provide for their families,” by employing 15,000 people around the world.

At Wheaton, Steve gained a global mindset from Professor of Political Science Mark Amstutz and economics professor Bob Bartel. Steve recalls the value of Dr. Amstutz insisting assignments be limited to a single page. 

“This, along with my weekly column for The Wheaton Record, were foundational in learning how to express myself succinctly and engage others in my vision,” Steve says. 

What’s Steve’s secret? His ears. 

“When I meet with leaders within Amsted, I can’t pretend to know how to do their jobs, but I ask penetrating questions, which is how I confirm leaders are being strategic and assess progress,” Steve offers. “You learn a lot more by listening than you do by talking.” 

Steve’s listening ears and business acumen landed him a seat as Board Chair of the Grant Park Music Festival, which captivates Chicagoans every summer. This is the same festival where Steve’s dad was often asked to tune pianos years ago. While Steve is far from the days of practicing scales with his dad, he has, in a way, come full circle.