Turning Passion into Action
“[Matt] is so passionate and enthusiastic about serving our nation and protecting our citizens. Who wouldn’t be OK with that?”
“When Laura and Matt care about something, they give it their whole hearts,” said Julie Barefoot, associate dean of Engagement & Partnerships and Leader, 100th Anniversary Celebration. “The causes and organizations they care about are meaningful to them both, and their contributions have made a difference to Goizueta Business School and other outside organizations.”
Balser and Smith met in the MBA program and began dating after graduation. Just a few months later, when the events of 9/11 changed the emotional and physical landscape of the country, another sea change began to shape the couple’s future together.
“Matt was working fulltime for IBM when his unit in the Georgia National Guard was called up for deployment to the war in Iraq,” Balser said. “If I remember correctly,” Smith said, “that initial mobilization was indefinite, which was sobering.”
It was a separation that tested their relationship. Yet, facing that challenge together cemented their bond. “We were still dating when I got called up,” Smith said. “I figured, if she can endure that, then we can get through anything. When I came home, I decided to take a full-time position with the Georgia Guard.”
“Both Laura and Matt...excel at what they do and we are so proud to consider them our best friends.”
“He told me he felt like he was born to serve,” Balser said. “He is so passionate and enthusiastic about serving our nation and protecting our citizens. Who wouldn’t be OK with that?”
While Smith dedicated himself to military service as brigade commander of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Balser similarly committed herself to making a difference.
As she made her mark on the corporate world, rising from consultant at Watson Wyatt Worldwide to her current position as client partner, executive pay & governance with Korn Ferry, Balser quietly exercised her passion for helping others.
Ron and Barbara Balser, Laura’s parents, and benefactors of an extensive collection of art to the Goizueta Foundation Center in 2011, said they’re proud their daughter is following in their own philanthropic footsteps. “Laura has natural leadership qualities,” Ron said. “Her values and her charitable work are exemplary. Matt’s deployments create a lot of tension, but we’ve seen her channel that tension into helping others.”
Barbara agreed, “Both Laura and Matt are respected in their careers. They both excel at what they do and we are so proud to consider them our best friends.”
Balser served as president of Executive Women of Goizueta from 2005-2012, followed by membership on the Goizueta Business School Alumni Board from 2010-2017.
Her efforts to aid the advancement and empowerment of women were recognized by the Pathbuilders Percepta program with their 2012 Outstanding Mentor Award and by Emory with the Unsung Alumna Heroine Award in 2014.
"What the MBA program taught me the most is how to take myself out of the equation and instead focus on engaging others"
Balser sees alignment between their focus on service and Goizueta’s approach to educating future business leaders. “In the short term, there are certainly personal or organizational benefits to serving others, but for us, personally, the real rewards come from the unexpected comment or email days, weeks or years later from a person or organization we’ve worked with, which demonstrates just how impactful one’s service is in ways that neither of us could ever have imagined.” Balser and Smith say they draw on lessons they learned at Goizueta every day to “go beyond” into acting on their passion for service.
“I’ve always been a strong salesperson, but prior to Emory, I was always focused on what I was doing, how successful I was being,” Balser said. “What the MBA program taught me the most is how to take myself out of the equation and instead focus on engaging others, bringing those who are quiet into the conversation, and balancing the contributions everyone is making to our projects.”
“For me, the perspectives I developed because of that education, and the people I came into contact with through the program produced a better diversity of thought, which have been very helpful in approaching the responsibilities of my military career,” Smith said.
Associate Dean of Leadership Development, Ken Keen, who has known the couple for many years and worked closely with Smith to develop Goizueta’s Leader’s Reaction Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, said the leadership qualities he sees in the couple are what make the biggest impact.
“It comes down to being a servant leader,” Keen said. “They’re leaders in their professional lives, but beyond that, their example of giving back serves as a great illustration for young graduates to understand how important it is to take advantage of those opportunities you’ve been given and ‘pay it forward.’”