Lessons learned at Elon have lasting impact on Darrin Smith ’88

Smith followed his Elon education with a 12-year career in the U.S. Army that prepared him for his current role at chief financial officer.

Like so many Elon alumni, Darrin Smith ’88 begins his story with Elon finding him, not the other way around. “Elon College at the time gave me a chance when I really had no particular plan,” he said. “Being a soldier and officer was my goal but frankly, I did not put the work in during my high school years and was late applying to schools in 1984. But in the late spring the acceptance letter from Elon came and I now had a chance.”

Darrin Smith ’88

Through the guidance of Elon faculty members like Rudolf Zarzar, Smith decided to major in political science and economics, ultimately leading Smith to tackle tasks that seemed to be at first overwhelming. “He guided and encouraged me that hard work, persistence, organization and asking for help from faculty, staff, peers would make it possible,” he said.

With that advice in hand and to his surprise, Smith was named to the Dean’s List for the first time ever. “That was my first gift from Elon – the engaged faculty, staff and anyone else that would listen were there and really invested in my success,” he said.

Smith was also a highly involved student being a part of the ROTC, a resident adviser, Student Government vice president, as well as being a member of ODK and a founding member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. Furthermore, Smith received the ROTC scholarship, Phi Epsilon Alpha scholarship and Economics Department scholarship.

After Smith’s time at Elon, he prepared to enter the U.S. Army. Graduation day was also the commissioning day for the ROTC graduates, and Smith was commissioned as an ordnance officer on what he called the “best day of my life.”

“I can’t overstate how proud I was of those two things – bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science and commissioned officer in the United States Army,” he said. “The next day I drove to my first duty station, I was just another grad and a “butter bar” lieutenant in the Army, but I had no reservations. My time at Elon had prepared me well.”

Smith also explains that his time at Elon helped him see it through. “My Army career was really an extension of my four years at Elon and I continued to learn every single day for the next 12 years,” he said. “Duty stations in many places around the world, being challenged every day. I worked with the most committed humans on the planet who relied on each other every minute of every day. There really are not words to describe those men and women. I’ll just say that it made me commit to always be better for those around me. No matter what the task. I live the lessons of my four years at Elon and 12 years in the Army still to this day.”

Once Smith’s military career came to a close, he got an unexpected call while working in a corporate job, a call that would lead to his current role as a chief financial officer. The president of the company called him and invited him to interview for the controller role.

“It was a crazy idea but he thought I worked hard, demonstrated good analytic and decision making, and led a large organization,” Smith said. “He took a chance and so did I. Even though the career change terrified me, Elon taught me that I am capable of more than I knew.”

It was just two years later in 2002 that he was promoted to chief financial officer, which he said is “the hardest and most rewarding role in business.” Smith works for Godwin Manufacturing in North Carolina, the nation’s largest privately held dump body manufacturer with the number one market share and an industry leader in product, technology and innovation.