A Slalom Trail to National Honors: PPAG’s David Smith

David SmithDecades before capturing the #10 spot in the Legends Division of the 2013 USA Snowboard Association National Championship, David Smith was clearing the gates in one of America’s toughest political environments—Trenton. A disciplined competitor and quick study, Smith has navigated one of the more unusual pathways to Capitol success.

Asked about his prominent perch at the state’s top lobbying firm, Princeton Public Affairs Group (PPAG), he demurs with an answer about hardworking partners and co-workers. “I’ve learned a lot” over the past twenty years at PPAG from firm founders Dale Florio and Brad Brewster. “This town is a notoriously tough, competitive environment. They founded this business around the idea that we would win together, as a team—that’s the well known ingredient of our success.”

Well known for pre-dawn emails and weekend phone calls, Florio says Smith’s reputation for client service is “a major reason why we’re number one in the industry. David doesn’t manage clients, he serves them. It’s the kind of off-the-trail approach that allows him to solve problems that others may miss altogether.”

David Smith is a lesson in agility on and off the mountainside.

In the mid-80s, Smith’s teeth-cutting start came with a stint with the New Jersey Dental Association. Mastering policy nuance and delivering solid committee testimony ultimately earned Smith a job offer from legendary State Assembly Speaker Joe Doria (D-Bayonne), leading to an assignment as director for policy and planning—the Democrat’s top policy post.

To keep an edge in the fiercely competitive government affairs industry, Smith serves on an array of national and international industry boards, including the trade association for representing America’s state-based lobbyists. The latter role allows him to keep fresh tactics on the ready in an environment increasingly impacted by sophisticated messaging strategies—far outside the scope of traditional lobbying.

For Smith, the wider profile is part of keeping up PPAG’s competitive advantage.

David SmithBut there’s another, often unseen dimension to Smith: a dogged determination to keep the twin universes of work and family in perspective. Even the process of wooing his wife Diana had to be different. Instead of dinner and a movie for the first date, David captured her full attention in between runs on the chairlift. It’s a connection that’s grown into a partnership in parenting and the rest of their full life.

“It’s all about balance,” he says. For David, Diana, and their two boys, Shane (15) and Tyler (12), success has meant keeping free from being completely subsumed by his Capitol identity.

Achievement was never going to keep David Smith from allowing his family to experience the richness of his early life.

In the 70s Smith was the native son of a much smaller but still largely rural Hillsborough, New Jersey. It was a middle class life he describes with quintessential Wonder Years recollection. “It was an amazing childhood. We were completely protected from the outside world.”

His father, one of a handful of elementary school principals and teachers who located to his corner of the burgeoning new development, was a constant force. “My dad was a great example. We saw what he did,” said Smith. “He held doors for women. He held hands with my mom.”

“There’s no question that David genuinely cares about people. He knows your kids’ names. He really wants to know about you and how he can help you reach your goals,” says PPAG colleague Sonia Delgado. “David Smith is a good role model for anyone interested in government affairs.”

David’s resume is as deep as it is wide. On any given weekday, as a lobbyist, motion picture commissioner, non-profit founder, board member, or political commentator, you’ll find David’s passions distributed with an unrivalled focus and intensity. But life beyond the bio is where his greatest passions live, as the best friend to Diana, and the dad, co-competitor, and coach to Shane and Tyler.

For David Smith, the good life is a balanced one—on or off the slopes.