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HUNTINGTON — Brad Smith knows he faces a learning curve.

The Silicon Valley magnate tapped to be Marshall University’s next president said he has an idea of how he wants to run the institution but will seek perspectives from those with the academic experience he lacks.

Current President Jerome Gilbert will resign at the end of the year but remain at the university through mid-summer in an advisory role to help get Smith up to speed.

A Kenova native and first-generation college graduate like many Marshall students, Smith, 57, described his homecoming as the privilege of a lifetime and an opportunity to invest in those who have invested in him.

“When I left West Virginia, it was not by choice. It was by necessity. I had a career aspiration and at that time, those opportunities weren’t here in West Virginia,” he said.

Smith said he called Gilbert to ask him to rescind his resignation. Gilbert later encouraged Smith to apply.

“He’s been a great friend. He’s been a great president,” Smith said. “He was willing to coach me and give me advice on things that I knew I didn’t understand. And he’s been kind enough to say that it doesn’t end when I step into the seat, that he will continue to be a coach and mentor to me.”

During Smith’s introduction at the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse on Thursday, Gilbert said the university will be in good hands.

“With President-elect Smith at the helm, I know Marshall University has a bright future ahead of it. It is truly my pleasure to congratulate you, Brad,” he said. You are going to lead the greatest university in the nation, with the greatest people, in the greatest community.”

As president, Gilbert stole the hearts of many Marshall alumni and fans with his charisma, interaction with the community and sudden appearances at tailgates, sporting events and other places on and off campus. Smith said he looks forward to following in Gilbert’s footsteps and hopes he can live up to the expectations.

“I think if you go on my social media page and look at my 11 years as CEO, you’re going to see a lot of employees who refer to me as ‘Uncle Brad,’ a lot of selfies and a lot of pictures and a lot of costumes that I wear,” Smith said. “I’ll be happy to learn all the things I can learn from President Gilbert.”

The Wing 2 Wing Foundation co-founder and former Intuit CEO said as someone with a non-academic background, he needs to learn and understand what matters most to the Marshall community. He compared his new job to being a non-engineer leading an engineering software company.

“I can’t write a line of code, but I learned very quickly that what they wanted from me was to make sure we had a clear vision, that they had resources to do their job,” he said. “I created an environment for them to do their magic.”

Smith said he hopes to build on Marshall’s international brand, “tremendous” student body and faculty and strong programs.

He listed three priorities, the first to ensure Marshall’s curriculum is market-driven and future-focused. The second is increasing accessibility by giving students an opportunity to attend class in the classroom, at an employer site and online, so it can be asynchronous. The third is to make the university distinctive.

“It means we need resources, and that’s what I hope to really spend my time doing is growing our resources, growing our enrollment, growing our alumni donations, making sure we have strategic partnerships,” he said. “We need strong relationships with our legislators, our governor and other institutions in the state.”

A small group of protesters decrying Smith’s appointment appeared outside during his introduction ceremony. Smith applauded them for their courage to speak out.

“It’s important to have that civil discourse and diverse perspectives. It always leads to better outcomes and better decisions. It made me a better candidate,” he said. “I think it’ll help me be a better president, but it starts with a dialogue, a two-way dialogue. Let’s not look for affirmation; let’s look for information, and let’s learn from each other.”

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