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JT Smith

The Ambitious Among Us

The person behind the job.

Their ambition, their strategy.

Meet the amazing business and technology minds of the Vancouver-metropolitan area and beyond.


Everyday we make many choices. Each of those choices is an opportunity to do something extraordinary. Why would you want to be ordinary?

JT Smith, 2019

JT Smith is in transition. The former executive is executing perhaps the biggest, most significant, professional activity of his life. It has no end, no metrics, and no bounds. Why? He’s pursuing a calling that is bigger than himself.

**A quick note of acknowledgement and thanks to those who gave permission to use their online content and educational videos for this article. Learn more about James Hoffmann, Pete Thorn and Tom Quayle at the completion of this article.

The Transition

JT’s transition is interesting in that he’s going from a multi-national, corporate environment to becoming a small business owner and practitioner who is engaged in his local community.  In this transition, he’s giving in to his ambition to move from success to significance.

JT aims to help others define their success, do what makes an eternal difference and be very intentional about their purpose and relationships.  This article is setup to discuss why and how JT will be successful on account of his ambition. Along the way, I’ll review some small business strategies and topics conceivably relevant to his journey.  

Let’s Start With A Secret

I know something.  And, my small business reader, so do you!  You just might not know it about yourself……yet.  It is the definitive reason why I believe JT will be successful.

What is it about your Personality, Character, Motivation and Aspirations that…?

A person’s personality, character, motivation and aspiration, together, is his or her ambition – and personal strategy.  

Personal Ambition = Personal Strategy

That is the focus of my informational interviews with ‘The Ambitious Among Us’, JT included.  It’s also the basis from which I operate Rehr Consulting – articulate your strategy to meet your small business ambitions.

My understanding is proven out in a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Seven Keys to Switching from a Big Company to a Small One,” by Michael Fertik.  He wrote:

The most practical way to adapt is to focus on learning to evaluate and trust your judgment as quickly as possible, so that you can both plan and execute along the right path for the company as a whole.

Michael Fertik, 2010

“Your judgment” refers (if not defers) to one’s fitness for ambition and personal strategy.  “Learning to evaluate” is a concept I’ll address more in-depth later in the article, though it is important here, too.  When “the company as a whole” will be JT himself, “the right path” will be calibrated by his personality, character, motivation and aspiration.

Fitness for Ambition

In JT’s case–as with all of us–his fitness for ambition is the compilation of his past experiences, observations, professional traits, network, personal mission, and so on.  An artifact of JT’s fitness is a message he shares when he gives talks on leadership:

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.  It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.

Every morning a lion wakes up.  It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle…when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

African Proverb

Fitness for ambition also includes serendipitous events and circumstances (i.e. exposure to opportunities, seeking out newness, diversity, and ideas) that have happened in his life.


In contrast, “restraints” is another term I coined to describe those attributes that work against one’s fitness for ambition.

Restraints will be those factors in JT’s past that might work against professional trajectory and instincts.  A case in point, about which we’ll learn shortly is the difference between a large company and a small business.

The Destination

There’s one more relevant point to be made here. In a past article on John Wilson, I learned about the perspective of ambition, or the ‘upward climb’.  His ascension, I wrote, “was not up a mountain, figuratively speaking, but rising out of an entrenchment.”

The point here is that every transition has a destination; every ambition has a climb.  JT’s calling is his personal ambition. I’ll elaborate on how that calling equates to his small business mission when I conclude the article.

Large To Small; Novice To Accomplished

Transitioning from a large company to a small company is not a step backwards or a minimization.  It’s just different. Author, professor, entrepreneurial thought leader and innovator, Steve Blank, famously says that “startups are not small versions of big companies.”  He also posits:

Startups need different management principles, people and strategies than large established companies [and] any advice that’s targeted to large established companies is irrelevant, distracting and potentially damaging in growing and managing a startup.

Steve Blank, 2010

Where in a large company things are often optimized for repetition–in certain contrast with a startup or small business–some finesse and experimenting are necessary to learn from the small business experience.  Learning is perhaps just as important as is succeeding; in many ways, they are one in the same.

Wouldn’t you know it?  As an accomplished executive JT is ever the novice (and to my observations, humble at that).  Competitive though he may be, JT wants to learn, understand and be involved to help others. In this way, he is a servant leader.

Servant Leadership Style

Adding to the theme of learning and humility, JT’s ambition is labeled with his own remark.  That is, he describes himself as a servant leader. Based on our interview, I’d feel safe in presuming agreement.

A definition of the term here quotes Dirk van Dierendonck, Ph.D. who is the professor of Human Resource Management at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.  In 2011 he described, “the servant leader works toward building a learning organisation [sic] where individuals are encouraged to grow and be of unique value.”  

Not only that, van Dierendonck has conducted research resulting in what he says are six key characteristics of servant leadership.

With Feeling

Harking back to the destination and the nature of the climb, I want to share a concept I learned about in grad school.  Effectual marketing planning (EMP) is a brilliant idea for startups and small businesses. Then again, I think JT could add this to his list of fitness attributes.

Peter Whalen and Sam Holloway defined EMP as the “identified, logical sequence of activities that create market opportunities through market entry and experimentation specifically designed to create actionable market feedback.”  This is indeed what JT is going through at this moment.  In lay terms, he’s feeling things out.

Translated to perhaps more familiar business terminology, EMP is a form of “lean” marketing with financial and psychological considerations.  

EMP is an experimental marketing activity with intentions to test the market, perhaps fail and fail fast, and take stock of the results to make improvements.  I’ll revisit these concepts shortly to prove yet another point about JT’s fitness for ambition.

Unlike a large corporation’s traditional marketing planning, EMP is less about predicting optimal, as-yet unknown market opportunities, and more about what Whalen and Holloway called “affordable loss.”  It’s careful, considered progress. JT is primed for this small business type of thinking already. How do I know?

JT’s Leadership Principles

When it comes to learning and functioning, JT has some leadership principles to live by.

People Are # 1 – Develop Them

Always Start With the Customer’s Perspective

Can’t Do Everything – Make Intentional Choices

Learn – Fail Often & Fail Fast

Do What Makes A Difference

Considered together, does the above list and cycle look vaguely familiar to you lean/agile practitioners out there?  How about the accompanying, representative graphic? Do you see any allusions to this representation of Eric Reis’s ‘Build, Measure, Learn’ model from his seminal book, The Lean Startup?

Until There’s A Defining Moment…It’s All Theory

After Brian Billick won the 2001 SuperBowl as Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens, he released a book entitled Competitive Leadership: Twelve Principles for Success.  When talking about that book, he said

But until there’s a defining moment for you…like standing on the podium holding the Lombardi trophy, it’s all theory.

Brian Billick, Former Head Coach of the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, 2001

JT is an experienced businessman, educated and a bonafide leader.  So how will his experience work for him as a defining starting point?  

It has already.  

Again, his personal ambition–his fitness for ambition–is his strategy.  (I’ve written about such an important connection of personal ambition and strategy before.)

Let’s look at more practical examples.

Early Learning

JT’s experience as a youth has served him well.  

He told me of a failed business he and a friend started while in high school.  JT learned that hard work is not enough to ensure success. Doing the right things was the lesson learned.  As a parable, that childhood business manifested into something more to JT than the clichéd work smarter not harder.  

I’ll explain even more about early learning through the generosity of others.

Information vs. Knowledge vs. Wisdom

Video used with permission. Citation given at the end of this article.

I wanted very much to use this “Three Mistakes I Made Early In My Career” video and the message therein. (Thank you, James Hoffman, for permission to embed; learn more about him the completion of this article.) Specifically the first mistake James describes helped me reframe my sense of JT’s ambition while researching for this article.

Hoffmann gives a profound lesson in the value of experience – both what it cannot explain, and what it can.  He said

I did not really, truly understand the gap between information, knowledge and wisdom.  I was a rabid collector of information… It made me really good at trivia games… It wasn’t knowledge.  I hadn’t converted the information into knowledge through practice. And it certainly wasn’t wisdom which comes with the function of using that knowledge over a period of time…. It’s the kind of collection of information without really the application of it wherein real learning happens. And I got that wrong for a long, long, long time.

James Hoffman, 2019

JT’s knowledge gained as a youthful entrepreneur, and wisdom later earned in servant leadership, focus and excellence will be a difference-maker in finding success through his ambition.  In effect, he has both small business and corporate experience, i.e. information, knowledge and wisdom.

(I covered a somewhat congruent, three-step approach to what Mike Wall called ‘mastery’ in a past ‘Interviews of the Ambitious’ article.)

Wisdom & Deeper Experience

Video used with permission from the producer (Pete Thorn, right) and his guest (Tom Quayle, left). Citation given at the end of this article.

The above video is called “TARGETED PRACTICING Guitar lesson with Tom Quayle/Pete Thorn GuitCon 2017.” (Thank you, Pete Thorn and Tom Quayle, for permission to embed; learn more about both at the completion of this article.) In it, the musicians discuss what I thought to be metaphorically relevant to JT’s ambition; additionally, the metaphor compounds the message from James Hoffmann concerning wisdom.

Thorn and Quayle agree that playing a scale for a beginner is an act of playing within a “shape” (or predetermined finger placements within a short span of frets/the fingerboard).  Consequently, Quayle points out, “you’re not making conscious note choices.” The two masters agree that to learn music theory is to have a “deeper musical experience.”

JT’s experience (fitness for ambition) and calling (personal ambition) will guide his successful approach.

The Business Problem: Point A to Point B

Ambition is something of which we all have a notion. Everyone has different ambitions, because we are different people.  That is the basis of the secret I revealed at the outset. (A person’s personality, character, motivation and aspiration, together, is his or her ambition – and personal strategy.) So why do ambitions appear the same from person to person in the small business community?  

Many small businesses seem to focus on the same thing. Open up a shop. Work hard. Focus on solving a problem.  Economic activities in and of themselves are uninspiring.

Why?  The results seemingly are the same.  For example, take coffee, taxes and advice.

  • There’s a coffee cafe on every street corner with the freshest cup.
  • There’s a choice of accounting firms that file taxes to save the most.
  • There are plenty of business consultants to make every business better.

Our Ambition’s Value Proposition

It’s the strategy that differentiates.  Strategy, also called competitive advantage, is what makes a business competitive in its market versus others.  A big part of strategy is the value proposition. To define it, I’ll lean on a 2018 HubSpot blog post by Lindsay Kolowich who wrote:

A value proposition isn’t just the product or service you agree to deliver to the customer — it’s the ingredient of your business that solves a problem competitors can’t.

Your value proposition is your unique identifier. Without it, people don’t have a reason to work with you over somebody else.

Lindsay Kolowich, 2018


Identity can be that value proposition.

Especially when the goal is personal, an aspirant desire with a unique value proposition requires adherence to one’s identity; otherwise, the small business is just like its competitor with nothing to differentiate.  A differentiated business is a wise business model.

According to Pepperdine University adjunct faculty member and professional consultant, Sam Rockwell, Ph.D., “organizational identity—’who’ an organization ‘is’—is one such aspect that is highly unique and not easily mimicked by competitors.”

That leads us to JT’s identity, his value proposition and his personal mission.

Knowing Christ and Making Him Known

JT’s mission is driven by a calling of his mind, heart and spirit.  His value proposition is synonymous with his identity. And with that, his identity–as I’ve argued throughout this article–is his personal ambition.  His fitness for ambition is his personal strategy and his personal mission. All of these labels and terminology come down to the same fundamental.

Our first meeting wasn’t the informational interview for this article.  A mutual contact suggested that we meet. I’m glad we did. JT seems like good people.  I’d like to see him succeed. I’m not a betting man, but I’d say he’s got a real shot.

JT said in that first meeting that he reaches his goals through leadership and measures success through execution.  Here’s the question, though.

What if there’s no one to lead and nothing to execute?  What I did not realize then is that there is.

JT is led to lead.  JT is the executor of execution.

What will he lead and execute?  JT will in his renewed role help others sow their own ambitions, be purposeful in doing so, develop relationships and achieve their definition of success.

JT’s ambition is knowing Christ and making Him known.

Plot or Protagonist?

JT’s first step is to establish a consulting business, Services Transformation Solutions, LLC. With his deep expertise in services, JT is branding himself as ‘The Service Smith’. His purpose is to help businesses transform by crafting and executing a compelling services strategy to delight customers, create new revenue streams and improve profitability.

Each individual has his or her own purpose and his or her own story.  Those stories occur over time. As such, they change. This is why I believe it is so important to learn about the person, character, motivation and aspirations of the individual to learn about the person behind the job.  Jobs change. Of course, people do, too. And careers transition. Yet, when I interview individuals, I learn up to the present where the person is in his or her life. By that point in time, the jobs are anecdotal. The person is an ongoing story still to tell.  

Interesting though JT’s career has been–the corporate success, the senior- and executive-level positions, the achievements to date–it’s his transition right now that is interesting to me.  Why? It’s the result of JT’s ambition to this point in his life. That he is wise, rigorously capable and so willing to let his leadership principles guide knowing Jesus and making Him known make JT himself a remarkable person – surely one of ‘The Ambitious Among Us’.

People make the difference!

JT Smith, 2019

JT Commits His Time To the Following

Junior Achievement

In kind with JT’s servant leadership qualities, Junior Achievement affords young students supplemental knowledge and skills to make better decisions about their professional futures.  Volunteers go into schools and help prepare young people for work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

Global Scholars

Global Scholars equips Christian faculty at universities around the world with the vision that one day every student will have at least 1 Christian professor – so that they can learn and live and lead as Jesus did.

JT’s Church

JT and his wife attend Liberty Bible Church in Salmon Creek. You are invited to attend – more information can be found on the website: Liberty Bible Church of the Nazarene

Interested In Reaching JT?

Learn More About James Hoffmann

James Hoffmann is the Managing Director of the groundbreaking Square Mile Coffee Roasters, a former Barista World Champion, an author, and a thought leader in the coffee industry the world over (his JimSeven blog).  He gives talks all over the world, has a YouTube channel, and has a free podcast.

Learn More About Pete Thorn

Pete Thorn is a world-renowned musician, a guitarist extraordinaire and recording artist.  Select your preferred platform to purchase his latest album, Pete Thorn II, or select from numerous music offerings.  You can find a dealer to buy his signature Suhr Pete Thorn Signature Series Guitar.  And, he has loads of video content, lessons, a newsletter, and much more!

Learn More About Tom Quayle

Tom Quayle is, too, a world-renowned musician and guitarist extraordinaire.  His debut album is forthcoming. Check out Tom’s signature Ibanez TQM1 here.  Tom offers session work, masterclasses and workshops, custom tracks; has a whole series of lessons across a range of music-related topics, and a bunch of video content.

Smith, JT: “‘Interviews of the Ambitious’_2nd DRAFT_large word file”. 2019.

Smith, JT: “RE: ‘Interviews Of The Ambitious’ Article”. 2019.

Fertik, Michael. “Seven Keys To Switching From A Big Company To A Small One”. Harvard Business Review, 2010, https://hbr.org/2010/10/seven-keys-to-switching-from-a. Accessed 17 Mar 2019.

Blank, Steve. “Steve Blank A Startup Is Not A Smaller Version Of A Large Company”. Steve Blank, 2010, https://steveblank.com/2010/01/14/a-startup-is-not-a-smaller-version-of-a-large-company/. Accessed 17 Mar 2019.

van Dierendonck, Dirk. “Understanding Servant Leadership”. RSM Discovery – Management Knowledge 7.3 (2011): 7–9. http://hdl.handle.net/1765/40078. Accessed 19 Mar 2019.

Whalen, Peter S., and Samuel S. Holloway. “Effectual marketing planning for new ventures.” AMS Review 2.1 (2012): 34-43.

Reis, Eric. “The Lean Startup | Methodology”. TheLeanStartup.com, 2011, http://theleanstartup.com/principles. Accessed 17 Mar 2019.

Cowherd, Kevin. “Putting it into Practice it Wasn’t Until His Team Won the Super Bowl that Ravens Coach Brian Billick Knew His Theory of Leadership was Correct.” The Sun, May 14, 2001, pp. 1E. ProQuest, https://access.fvrl.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.access.fvrl.org/docview/406471764?accountid=1129.

Hoffmann, James. “Three Mistakes I Made Early In My Career”. YouTube, 2019, https://youtu.be/nBkKwT-1CaQ. Accessed 11 Mar 2019.

Thorn, Pete. “TARGETED PRACTICING Guitar Lesson With Tom Quayle/Pete Thorn Guitcon 2017”. YouTube, 2019, https://youtu.be/iUJhD-qCWoM?t=734. Accessed 15 Mar 2019.

Kolowich, Lindsay. “How To Write A Great Value Proposition [Infographic]”. blog.HubSpot.com, 2018, https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/write-value-proposition. Accessed 8 Mar 2019.

Rockwell, Sam. “Leveraging Organizational Identity For Competitive Advantage”. Graziadio Business Review | Graziadio School Of Business And Management | Pepperdine University, 2018, https://gbr.pepperdine.edu/2018/10/leveraging-organizational-identity-for-competitive-advantage/. Accessed 16 Mar 2019.

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An expert at informational interviewing, my name is Danny Rehr of Rehr Consulting. I am a Genuine Consultant who supports the ambitions of others to meet promise and potential. My MBA is concentrated in Strategy. I have 20 years of work experience, most of which is in the field of organization development. Additionally, I informationally interview local professionals and write research-backed articles about their ambition. Rounding out my activities, I give talks on How and Why To Conduct Informational Interviews (for job seekers, networking and professional development), contribute guest blogposts, and I volunteer in the community. I love coffee and fountain pens!

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