As vice president of Division Operations for Ameren Missouri, Patrick E. Smith Sr. leads strategy execution for customer operations and directs those responsible for design, construction and maintenance of Ameren’s electric energy distribution systems. How he made this career connection is intriguing.
Years ago, after a power outage in East St. Louis, an 8-year-old peered out the kitchen window into his backyard to see something he had never before seen. It was a Union Electric truck and crew there to restore power to his home.
“I just remember looking out the kitchen window, looking at the guy in the aerial truck, lifted up, working,” said Smith, now vice president of Vision Operations for Ameren Missouri. “It was interesting to see.”
His father, John Smith, was a police officer in East St. Louis and his mother, Dionne Smith, was an educator in Illinois and St. Louis Public Schools.
After completing high school, Smith pursued higher education at a number of schools, including Southwestern Illinois College and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where he studied engineering. He was also looking for work.
“Union Electric at the time was the only company that sent me a letter saying that they wanted me to come in for a test and an interview,” he said. That was in 1985.
He was offered what he thought was a summer job, but when told it was a permanent position he turned it down. Johnetta Carver, who offered him the job, suggested that he seek advice and reconsider before she offered it to the next candidate.
“I drove directly to the East St. Louis Police station and talked to my dad,” Smith said. “I kind of begrudgingly told him because I was in school and I didn’t know what they would think of me leaving school and taking a job. He began grinning ear-to-ear. He said, ‘Hey son, now you’re out of my pocket!’”
Carver remains a good friend and one of many mentors to Smith.
Smith worked in the East. St. Louis office as a meter reader for about 18 months. Then he bid on an apprentice lineman job. He was successful, which meant he had to buy his own belt, climbing tools and other security equipment. He bought them from a man retiring named Harry Niedermeyer.
“And when I met with this gentleman, I realized that he was the guy who had been in my backyard,” Smith said. “The guy who I first ever saw doing that work was the guy who I purchased his tools – the tools I first used to enter that trade.”
Union Electric later became Ameren and Smith moved from working onsite at customers’ homes to where he could influence more coworkers, and ultimately the firm, through management and executive roles at Ameren Missouri.
“The differentiator comes in how well you understand the people – not only the people who serve with you or you lead, but the people who you serve in the name of the customers,” Smith said. “I always felt really strong relationships with the people, keeping the coworkers as a priority, would always generate great results.”
During his 30-year span at Ameren Missouri, Smith married his wife Crystal and had two children, Brittany and Patrick Jr. Smith also went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and an Executive MBA from Washington University.
Smith said his Salute award is an honor for the Ameren team.
“I’m a proxy for just the efforts, dreams and aspirations of many people here in our company,” Smith said. “It’s personified in the fact that the St. Louis American Foundation is recognizing me, but more so in recognizing our firm as a great business.”