by Caleb Talley | Photography by Meredith Mashburn
In life and in business, Cameron Smith has never met a challenge he wasn’t up to. When he sees an opportunity, he won’t let it pass him. And it was that dog-on-a-bone mentality that earned him a lasting softball legacy, a beautiful family and an exceptional business built by him and his bride.
And there’s no greater example of Smith’s tenacity than his courtship of Monica, his wife of nearly 25 years. Had it been anyone other than Cameron Smith, the two would likely have never even met.
“We were both in Las Vegas on vacation,” Cameron says with a grin, sitting across from Monica in the Rogers office of their company, Cameron Smith & Associates. “I went with a bunch of friends to watch a Holyfield fight. She was there with her girlfriends. I went down to get some breakfast, and I had on a ball cap, gym shorts and flip-flops. She came walking up, dressed to the nines. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, look at this woman.’ One of my friends says, ‘Why don’t you go meet her?’ And I said, ‘Yeah right, look at me.’ She was stunning, and she didn’t have a wedding ring on.”
Cameron spent the day playing golf with his friends but couldn’t get the woman he’d seen that morning off his mind. She had to be staying at the same hotel, he thought; maybe he would run into her again.
“I recalled that we had to write our name down on a register,” he says, thinking back on that day in 1991. “I went, still in my golf shoes, to look at the register. And there she was, four spots ahead of me: Monica Tucker.
“I went back to my room and called the operator. I said, ‘Hey, I just want to see if my friend is here, but don’t ring the room. Her name is Monica Tucker.’ And the guy rang the room. She answers, so I did the only thing I could think to.”
Cameron put on an accent and pretended to be a hotel employee. He asked to speak to Mr. Tucker. There wasn’t one. So, he told her the computer system had gone down, and he would have to reenter her information. Believing he worked for the hotel, Monica gave him her address and phone number.
Then Cameron gave her a late checkout.
But to his dismay, Monica lived in Russellville. At the time, he was living nearly 1,600 miles away in Laguna Beach, Calif., having recently transitioned from a career as a professional softball pitcher to executive recruiting. For a moment, he thought it just wasn’t meant to be. But that moment didn’t last long.
“I kept thinking about her,” Cameron says. “I found that old napkin I’d written her number on, and I called her. It was a dentist’s office in Russellville. She answered. I asked, ‘Were you in Vegas about six weeks ago?’ She says yes. I asked, ‘Were you wearing a brown polka dot dress?’ She says yes. I asked, ‘Do you recognize this voice,’” he asked while using the accent he had when posing as a hotel employee. “Click. She hung up. I called back. Click. I called back. Click.
“I finally told her, ‘Look; obviously I scared you. I’m so sorry. Here’s my phone number. If you’re ever out in L.A., give me a call. My intentions were honorable, and I just went about it the wrong way.’”
For anyone else, that would have been the end of it. But not for Cameron Smith.
“Three months later, my answering machine was blinking,” he says. “I pick it up, and I hear, ‘Hi, this is Monica from Arkansas. I’m just calling to say hi.’ Click.”
His persistence had paid off.
“He called back,” Monica says. “The number he had was my work number, and that was awkward, to say the least… I’d gone through a divorce, was living in a tiny town. I didn’t really want to date because everybody knows everyone in a small town. But I thought, maybe, we could meet for coffee.”
So, they both planned a trip back to Las Vegas. And in the weeks before the trip, Cameron and Monica spoke on the phone every day.
“By the time Vegas rolled around, coffee had turned into a date,” says Monica. “He rented a limo. And I’d never even seen him. He’d seen me, but I hadn’t seen him. But we just had an amazing night. Here I was, Ellie Mae from Arkansas, and he made me feel like Cinderella.
“It was a blind date,” she adds. “But after that, we never went a month without seeing each other. He’d fly me and my kids out to go to Disneyland. He’d fly to Arkansas. We did that for a year. Then, he decided to move to Arkansas. I would not move to California.”
Cameron interjects, “I lost the coin flip when it came to who was going to move.”
Cameron moved to Arkansas in 1992, and the pair married in 1994. Soon after, they moved to Fort Smith and then further north.
Cameron had hoped he could keep his existing business going in California but soon realized it would be impossible. He’d have to start from scratch, this time, with his new bride by his side. And in the process, Cameron and Monica would stumble on the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I started recruiting for Entergy,” Cameron says. “I was doing searches for them, and I stumbled upon an opening for a bicycle company calling on Walmart. I had never even been north of Fayetteville. So, I called the bicycle company, and they awarded me the search. I came up [to Bentonville] to look for potential candidates.
“At the time, there were about 45 to 50 Walmart vendors here. I, ultimately, filled that job. But during the course of my meetings with these vendors, they kept saying, ‘We can’t understand why every vendor for Walmart wouldn’t have an office here.’”
After doing some research, Cameron found that Walmart did business with more than 20,000 vendors. He and Monica set out to recruit as many as they could to Northwest Arkansas.
“I would go to Walmart, turn over boxes and get the 800 number,” says Monica. “We would send them letters or call on them.”
Cameron adds, “Of course, I sounded like a headhunter trying to close a deal. So, I went back to the existing base and had them write me testimonials for why being here was a game changer for them. These were very compelling. I brought them to companies, and it opened the floodgates. I couldn’t hire recruiters quick enough.”
Fast-forward to today, and there are now more than 1,600 Walmart suppliers with offices in Northwest Arkansas. Cameron Smith & Associates is responsible for more than 500 of them, having facilitated the filling of over 5,000 positions. And through it all, Cameron and Monica worked as a team.
“When we started making money, I started doing the invoicing and paying the bills,” Monica says. “It grew from that; I’m self-taught. But I love it. I call myself the chief bill payer. He tells me I’m CFO, but I don’t claim that.”
Cameron nods. “She’s CFO.”
The pair built their company with hard work and a dream. But they’ll admit that the job of recruiting top talent to Arkansas has gotten much easier of late.
“Back then, people thought we were a bunch of hicks running around in our bare feet,” Cameron says. “It’s not like that now. When we were first recruiting someone here, I’d tell them, ‘I have an opportunity. But trust me when I tell you that where this opportunity is, is the best part of the opportunity.’”
Monica adds, “In the early years, it was the wives who didn’t want to come. When they get here, they don’t want to leave. They’ll get promoted back to corporate, and they’ll come to Cameron asking to be moved to another company so they can stay in Arkansas.”
Their efforts to bring in Walmart vendors from around the world to Arkansas has contributed to the region’s boom. With every new vendor comes high paying jobs. With high paying jobs come individuals who are contributing daily to a growing and thriving economy.
“When the story is written, years later, it will be said that the suppliers to Walmart ignited that boom,” Cameron says. “With 1,600 companies that are here now, some with over 100 people on their team, there are over 10,000 people that we refer to as Vendorville. These people come in with their high paying jobs. They want nice homes, nice restaurants, nice amenities. That all plays a role.”
Cameron Smith & Associates now maintains a global presence, with 26 recruiters working to recruit for C-Suite positions, gender diversity on public board seats, accounting, finance, construction management, retail and IT.
“We just recently got into construction management,” Cameron says. “We had a couple of local companies reach out to fill positions out of state. I have great recruiters here; they’ve been doing it for years. We filled the job. But during the process, we found there was such a need there. There are so many cranes in the sky all over the country. You have the high end – president and vice president – but there’s a middle management area – project manager, superintendent, facilities managers – and nobody’s playing in that space.”
Despite how busy they’ve been building an executive recruiting empire, Cameron and Monica still find time to sit back and reflect on all they’ve accomplished. They serve as complements to one another, and they both credit each other for the company’s success.
“He’s the dreamer. I’m the realist,” Monica says. “He walks in every day with a new dream, and I say, ‘Okay, what about this, what about that.’ I reel him back in.”
“I couldn’t have done it without her,” Cameron says. “Even our accountant is blown away because her numbers are spot on every time, every year. She watches it like a mother hen.
“We’ve been extremely blessed,” he adds. “We were in the right place at the right time. We found a niche and exploited it. We believed in it, and we grew it.”
Now, with 10 grandchildren, Cameron and Monica are finding that being grandparents is just as rewarding as any corporate accomplishment they’ve amassed. “Between writing checks, I’m bouncing babies,” Monica jokes. “I work from home, and that allows me to do a little bit of everything.”
But while Cameron approaches his 67th birthday, slowing down is the last thing on his mind.
“My theory in business is to never stop growing,” he says. “I’m going to be 67 in February, and I have no desire to retire. I love the people I work with. I love the culture we’ve built here. I’m sure there will come a time when I want to slow down, but right now, I’m having a ball.”