The 2011 Women Leaders in Consulting: Chell Smith

Leadership Award

Chell SmithChell Smith
Ernst & Young

It’s hard to believe, but once upon a time, Chell Smith was in plastics. Well, she was the IT programming department of a plastics manufacturer. At that point of her career, Smith says she would get bored and change jobs every few years. She told an executive recruiter that there were two things she didn’t want to do—work downtown and work for a consulting firm. Of course, she accepted a job doing both.

“I feel very lucky to have entered the consulting world when I did. It was a time of tremendous change being driven by technology, and a time where there was unprecedented need for talent,” Smith says. “It meant that there was tremendous acceptance of anyone who had talent—regardless of gender, ethnicity, or anything else really. It was just about talent.”

That first consulting job in downtown Minneapolis has led to a lifetime of leadership positions, including her current role of Americas Advisory Markets Leader for Ernst & Young. In between, she was recognized as one of Consulting magazine’s Top 25 Consultants in 2004. Today, Smith’s main focus is on enabling Ernst & Young’s Americas organization through heightened levels of capability and collaboration.

So what is it about consulting that has kept Smith engaged over the course of her career? “Three things,” she says. “The people, the constant challenge, and the constant change. Every day I get to work with smart, hard working, driven people on continually changing difficult business issues that require fresh thinking, new perspectives, and constant innovation. That’s the environment we are in every day. For me it’s tremendously energizing, it keeps me guessing, and never becomes dull, routine or boring.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that Smith says she believes her biggest accomplishments are still ahead of her—no matter how “corny” that may sound after more than 25 years in this industry. “I’ve done lots of good things, and lots of fun things—and I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way.

But I’m motivated by, and always looking for, the next opportunities and the next challenges,” she says. “It’s an exciting time to be at Ernst & Young. We’ve been building a new consulting practice from the ground up, and I am thrilled to be part of it.”

—Joe Kornik