The Founders

Sir Martin and Lady Elise Smith, founders of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment

The Smith School was established in 2008 thanks to the generosity and commitment of Martin and Elise Smith and their family. This initiative reflected their strong belief that any comprehensive plan designed to address the problems of environmental change must focus heavily on the interaction between public and private enterprise and the environment. They believed that this in turn provided an extraordinary opportunity for a great University such as Oxford to contribute to this, the greatest challenge currently facing mankind, by the establishment of a School offering a wide range of ambitious programmes of research, teaching and engagement designed to address these complex issues.

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Sir Martin & Lady Elise Smith, with children Jeremy and Katie

"The idea of the Smith School had its origins in a discussion in the early 2000s between myself, my wife, Elise, and our two grown up children, Jeremy and Katie. Having gamely supported a wide range of their parents' philanthropic interests for many years (focused mainly on classical music and science), Jeremy and Katie suggested we might like to start thinking about ways of including the environment in our portfolio of activities. As we started to learn more about this topic we began to sense that there might be a serious opportunity 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. We put this idea to the then Vice Chancellor Dr, now Sir John Hood who gave his immediate encouragement. This 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.

The first 5 years at the Smith School were focussed on launching ourselves, and beginning to build a presence in the University and further afield.. This was done by recruiting a range of top class resident and visiting academics, securing a number of government and corporate research projects, establishing a programme of lectures and seminars, and creating four major Annual Forums involving high level government, corporate and academic leaders engaged in the environmental field.

The following 5 years under the direction of Professor Gordon Clark, a previous Head of the Department of Geography, was a period of consolidation.  We formally affiliated ourselves with Oxford’s world leading Geography Department, thus enabling us to start taking on graduate students, and during this period the School was greatly strengthened organisationally, financially and in terms of establishing links with academics right across the University.

The School is now in the third phase of its development under the leadership of Professor Cameron Hepburn. He and his outstanding team have now established a first class track record in rigorous research, transformative teaching and deep engagement with public and private enterprise. This, combined with an unprecedented increase in the public recognition of environmental issues, is enabling the Smith School  increasingly to be seen as an institution uniquely positioned to understand and advise on these crucial problems, and to teach the leaders of the future the skills required to deal with them.

We feel immensely privileged to have played a role in creating this inspiring initiative and are greatly looking forward to watching the School develop even further in the future.”

Sir Martin Smith completed a degree in physics at Oxford University in 1964, then after five years in industry went to business school at 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. Elise built an important collection of period instruments, which was given to The Royal Academy of Music, and she founded The Tetbury Music Festival, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2024.