Distinguished Lecturer Judy A. Smith Charts Her High-Powered Life
The real-life Olivia Pope, "professional fixer" Judy Smith, the high-level crisis management executive and Washington, D.C. insider who was the inspiration for TV's Scandal, gave Kean University insight into politics, presidents and television production. She spoke to a full auditorium at the STEM building, as the latest lecturer to take part in Kean's Distinguished Lecture Series.
Smith was co-executive producer of Scandal, and told the Kean audience that her life is often confused with that of her fictitious counterpart. In a conversation moderated by Kean Vice President of University Relations Karen Smith, Judy Smith said her real life is not as glamorous as Oliva Pope's -- or as dramatic. "I don't move any bodies from crime scenes," she joked. "I did not have an affair with the President."
Smith is the founder and president of Smith & Company, a leading strategic advisory firm with offices nationwide, and author of the book, Good Self, Bad Self. During the lecture, she took questions from audience members, walking through the auditorium and interacting one-on-one with students and others. Saying her successful career in public relations, politics and Hollywood is "not by design," Smith encouraged Kean students to "take risks and don't place limits.
"When I started my firm, I didn't have any money, didn't have a strategy, didn't have a plan." she said. "I found the greatest growth for me personally has been when I step out of my comfort zone."
Smith has handled some of the biggest public relations challenges in modern history, including the Iran-Contra investigation; the 1991 Gulf War; the congressional inquiry of Enron; the President Clinton scandal involving Monica Lewinsky; and the Sony Corporation hacking crisis. Originally scheduled to be at Kean in December, she had to reschedule to attend the funeral of President George H.W. Bush, for whom she served as deputy press secretary. She shared numerous anecdotes and stories from her career -- including seeing the Bushes in their pajamas in the White House residence -- and took time after the lecture to pose for pictures and selfies.
Before her lecture, Smith met in a more intimate setting with a small group of students from a variety of academic programs, including communication, political science, global business and psychology. She told them about her "internship from hell," which challenged her and often brought her to tears, but taught her that "being good or okay is not good enough; you have to be excellent." She encouraged the students to look ahead to where they want to end up in their careers and lives, and work backward from there to achieve their goals.
About the TV drama Scandal, she said that she had a few demands — that the Olivia Pope character "look like me, be strong and confident and good at what she does." But in a reality check, she added, "I don't look that good every day at work. I can barely walk in heels."
From her first challenging internship to her most high-profile client, Smith has grown and achieved. "I really like and enjoy what I do. It's constantly evolving," she said. "The thing that's really good about what I do is I never get bored."