The Smith School was established in 2008 prompted by the generosity and Commitment of Sir Martin and Lady Elise Smith and their family. Their commitment reflects widespread recognition that any comprehensive plan to address climate change and the environment requires a deep appreciation of the nexus between enterprise and the environment, as well as research, teaching and engagement programmes.
"The idea of the Smith School had its origins in a family conference in 2003 between myself, my wife, Elise, and our two grown up children, Jeremy and Katie. The children, having gamely supported a wide range of their parents' philanthropic interests for many years (focussed mainly on the arts and science), volunteered that perhaps it was time to start thinking a little more about the next generation. It transpired that this was code for the environment, and as we started to learn more about this topic we began to sense that this might be where we were most likely find the elusive 'grand project' which we had been seeking ever since becoming interested in philanthropy some 10 years earlier.
A chance encounter early in 2005 with a friend who was advising an Oxford college led to the thought of setting up the first environmental college at Oxford or Cambridge. But further research quickly convinced us that in fact the really big opportunity was to create an entirely new research and teaching institution at a world class university, based upon linking academics working in the environmental field to the people who are in a position to act, namely governments, corporations and powerful individuals. The then Vice Chancellor Dr John Hood gave immediate encouragement to this idea, which led to recruitment of Sir David King, retiring Government Chief Scientific Advisor, as the first Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, which opened its doors in September 2008.
Our first 5 years at the Smith School were focussed on reputation building. This was done through the recruitment of a wide range of top class resident and visiting academics, a large number of government and corporate research projects, a programme of lectures and seminars, and four major Annual Forums involving high level government, corporate and academic leaders engaged in the environmental field.
We are thrilled now to be embarking on the second phase of our development under the leadership of Dave King's successor, Professor Gordon Clark, working in affiliation with Oxford's world leading School of Geography and the Environment. His plan of focussing on the impact of environmental change on economic policy, enterprise management and the behaviour of financial markets is ideally suited to a world in which the initiative for change is increasingly being seized in the market place rather than relying on intergovernmental negotiation. Despite public inertia, more and more business leaders are realising that society is destined to change rapidly and massively as we inevitably move towards a low or no fossil fuel economy and abandon the wasteful practices that were developed in the era of cheap coal and oil. I believe the Smith School, operating within the wider Oxford community, is rapidly establishing itself as an institution uniquely positioned to understand and advise on this transition, and to teach the leaders of the future the skills required to run our planet better. We feel immensely privileged to have played a role in creating this inspiring initiative."
Sir Martin Smith completed a degree in physics at Oxford University in 1964, then after five years in industry went to Stanford University in California. It was there that he met his American wife Elise who was attending Law School. After Stanford he joined the management consultancy McKinsey for a brief spell before beginning a 25-year career in investment banking and investment management. The Smiths, in addition to their commitment to the Smith School, have been supporters of a wide range of classical musical interests as well as creating the Smith Centre at the Science Museum.