Gen XYZ: Kimberly Smith, 38, Avenue West Corporate Housing
Kimberly Smith entered the corporate-housing world on a fluke. Near the end of her college days as a political-science major, she took a trip to Vietnam, but decided to try a business internship in San Francisco when she returned. By the time she showed up to the Golden State, the only internship left was in corporate housing - not a job little girls dream about, she said.
Nonetheless, inspired by weekend meetings her professor set up with "amazing entrepreneurs," such as the founders of PowerBar and Odwalla, Smith excelled. She worked in the corporate-housing field in the Bay area with her new husband for a while. In 1999, the couple decided they could do better. They moved to Colorado, where Smith grew up, and launched a business of their own.
"It grew way faster than we could have imagined," said the CEO of AvenueWest Corporate Housing, a multimillion-dollar venture and the largest corporate housing property management company in Colorado.
Smith, 38, attributes her success partly to good genes. Her childhood memories include stuffing mailers and licking stamps for one of her dad's three companies or her mom's 160-year-old family business. "We were always doing something related to business."
More importantly, her parents instilled problem-solving skills and a view that there are no limitations in life - two virtues Smith aspires to every day, her colleagues say.
"She's always ready to ask the tough questions and to get people to think about things in a new perspective," said Mary Ann Passi, executive director of the Corporate Housing Provider's Association, for which Smith is an elected member of the board.
One of Smith's most notable innovations came when she realized her company - which provides upscale, furnished, urban housing for corporate business people in Colorado Springs, Denver and San Francisco - wasn't fulfilling the whole need. Every week, she would get calls from owners or prospective renters wanting to rent housing, sometimes nonurban, from all over the country. "I'd have to say: That's not what we do."
So in 2005, she and her husband, who live in Highlands Ranch, launched CorporateHousingByOwner.com. "It was a little scary. You are making a product that, in some ways, is competing with your own business," said Smith, whose CHBO clients range from family vacationers to people who lost houses in the recent Boulder fire to recession casualties forced to move to find work but not ready to completely uproot.
Most recently, knowing that her company could expand far beyond her reach, Smith created AvenueWest Global Franchise. "The most rewarding part is watching other couples become successful business owners based on what we've learned," she said.
Her volunteer projects are often focused on boosting the success of women and girls, such as fundraising for Dahka Weaves, a women's enterprise program in Nepal, and spending every Memorial Day with her family working at 100 Elk Outdoor Center, a mountain leadership program in Buena Vista, where she has sponsored inner-city girls.
Smith's family, including two boys, ages 4 and 7, are her primary focus, as Smith calls herself a "hybrid," neither a career woman nor a stay-at-home mom. Her colleagues wonder how she does it, as a CEO of three companies who regularly volunteers at school.
"I wish I knew her secret," Passi said. "If she could bottle that and share it, she'd have herself yet another successful business."