Craig T. Smith, 53, a founder of MBNA, CEO of Experian

July 23, 2004|By Malena Amusa | Malena Amusa,SUN STAFF

Craig T. Smith, a founder of MBNA America Bank and chairman of an international credit reporting firm, died of lung cancer Tuesday at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del. The Havre de Grace resident was 53.

Mr. Smith was born in Albany, N.Y., and moved with his family to Bel Air as a child. He graduated from Bel Air High School in 1969. After earning his bachelor's degree in business management from what is now Towson University in 1973, he embarked on a career in banking, marketing and consulting.

Shortly after his graduation, Mr. Smith was hired by Maryland National Bank as a lender working with private businesses. He rose through the ranks to become a vice president of the bank.

He left in 1982 to establish MBNA America Bank with four business partners. Over the next 12 years, he was a marketing executive at MBNA, which became the largest issuer of credit cards.

Mr. Smith left MBNA in 1994 and started an international management consulting business, Hamilton Partners. It was named after a city in Bermuda that he loved to travel to, said Mr. Smith's wife, the former Diane Thompson, whom he met when both worked at MBNA and married in 1998.

He closed the company in 2000 when he was named chief executive officer of the credit-reporting firm Experian North America.

With operations across the country, Mr. Smith had to travel often. But colleagues said he always found time to talk and build meaningful relationships with people inside and out of the boardroom.

To his numerous employees, Mr. Smith was "just Craig," said Anna Williams, a switchboard operator and longtime employee at a California office of the company, who became friends with Mr. Smith.

"Some executives can be standoffish, but he wasn't like that," she said, describing Mr. Smith as a "warm human being" with a great sense of humor and radiant smile that touched many people. "When he smiled, it came from the inside out; he lit up the room," she said.

Mr. Smith was named CEO of Experian worldwide in 2002, and joined the board of the parent conglomerate Great Universal Stores PLC. He oversaw acquisitions and an expansion of operations across much of Europe. Experian has $2.2 billion in annual sales, with more than 40,000 clients in more than 60 countries, according to its Web site.

"He was very well admired and respected," said Donald Girard, public relations director for Experian North America. "He was valued for his business acumen and strategic vision he brought to the company."

He also directed the company's corporate social responsibility program that dispatched employees to community service events around the world. He also contributed funds to many causes.

Mr. Smith's daughter, Julie L. Givens of Bear, Del., said that for all his corporate demands, he remained a dedicated father.

"You would have never thought he was a chairman of a company," she said. "He always made time for family."

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer in January, he never gave up hope of getting well, family and friends said.

"He was full of hope," said the Rev. Edward Heydt, pastor of Havre de Grace United Methodist Church, where Mr. Smith was a member. "He never gave up, although the cancer took a hold on him."

Mr. Smith enjoyed collecting old cars - some of which are on display in museums. He also loved boating, reading and watching the ocean. Friends said the well-traveled executive found pleasure in water because it was peaceful.

A memorial service will be held at noon today at the church, 101 S. Union Ave.

In addition to his daughter and wife, Mr. Smith is survived by two sons, Jeffrey D. Smith of Walnut Creek, Calif., and Timothy P. Smith of Havre de Grace; his parents, F. Philip and Edith Smith of Bel Air; a sister, Wendy Long of Fallston; and four grandchildren. His marriage to the former Donna Dreyer ended in divorce.

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