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From Carnie to the C-Suite

The summer after your freshman year of high school typically marks a ton of excitement that school is out, you press pause on homework for a few months, and best of all…you get to sleep in! That was the typical summer for most unambitious teenagers, but not Harmon Smith. The year was 1978. The setting was a small farm town in East Texas. The summer after his freshman year, Harmon had 2 choices –spend his summer working for local farmers doing hard labor in the Texas heat or take his best friend up on his offer to join the family business traveling to state and county fairs across the Midwest (mostly Illinois) selling corn dogs and sugar water with lemons, aka Lemonade. Harmon chose the latter and started his career as a “Carnie”. For those of you attempting to Google “carnie” on your phone, a carnie is simply someone who works in a carnival.

For the next 5 years, Harmon spent his summers traveling to state and county fairs. At 17, he took on his first challenge of running a stand without adult supervision. That summer, a total of 9 young boys between the ages of 15-19 from the same small farm town took off on a 3-month adventure of a lifetime. Imagine the stories that they can tell! In that same summer, Harmon negotiated a deal with a local Walmart store manager in Springfield, Illinois to sell corn dogs in their parking lot. He developed a business mindset at a very early age.

When Harmon went to college, his friend’s family bought a franchise in the same town so he could manage it. You’re probably wondering, how lucrative is the corndog business? For Harmon, it was very lucrative. So much so, that he was able to graduate college debt free, bought his first car with cash, and made more money during the summers of managing the corn dog stand than his first job out of college (and he was a CPA). Thirty plus years later, his friend’s family (now four generations) are still serving up corndogs and lemonade at state and county fairs across the country.

So what has Harmon learned from his humble beginnings as a “Carnie” to now “Chief Operating Officer”? “Do it right or don’t do it at all”. In the corndog business, you were the “first to open and the last to close, and it was very important to take care of the people who took care of you”, and these are mottos that he continues to live by.

In light of his recent retirement, home office celebrated 30 great years at Pulte. Harmon Smith ended his career the way he begun his career, one corndog at a time.

 

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