Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

Diverse Background Leads to Diverse - and Fulfilling - Experiences for Steven Smathers '76

Steve Smathers and children
Steven with his kids
Samantha and Stevie

As chief legal counsel and managing director at Dallas-based Sowell & Co., Steven Smathers' diverse background comes in handy. Sowell buys struggling or emerging companies, then rebuilds and sells them. He's been at the company since 1991 and has worked with all manner of businesses - golf courses, hotels, gas companies, restaurants, temporary services, etc.

Sowell & Co. typically owns four or five companies at a time, Steven says. Among its current companies are Union Industrial Gas and Supply, Ophthalmic Innovations International Inc., and Sergeant's Pet Care Products. "We are as diverse as anybody you'll find," he says. "We buy emerging companies, companies we think we can grow, and then we take them back to market."

Steven said his first interest was science and his desire to become a doctor led him to his microbiology degree. He was working in OSU's School of Poultry Science on a project for the FDA when he decided that career path was not for him.

"I enjoyed it, but I didn't think it would be a life-long fit," Steven said.

He dove into law instead, admittedly unsure about what he planned to do from there. After graduation, he took a job with a large firm in Philadelphia, where he found the route he wanted to take. To give its young lawyers experience, the firm rotated its new associates through several of its divisions. Steven spent time in estates, real estate and litigation before he found his match. "I found a home with the corporate group. It was confrontational enough to be a challenge, but not enough to make my head hurt," he said. "I was very comfortable in it."

After five years, Steven moved to Dallas, and spent the next ten years at the law firm of Johnson & Gibbs, ending as corporate shareholder in the financial institutions group. It was there that he met James Sowell of Sowell & Co., which started as a client, and then became an opportunity.

"I thought I could be valuable to Sowell. I wanted to give input on the business side," Steven said. "I'd been on the sidelines for fifteen years, and wanted to get into the game. I was ready to take on the challenge. It is a good mix of business and legal."

In his position, he supervises the legal affairs of Sowell & Co.'s businesses and, in some cases, scratches his business itch by working on the business operations of some of the companies.

But Steven is not all business. He takes the time to share his knowledge and experience about acquisitions and corporate finance as a professor at Southern Methodist University. "Kids always say, 'I want to do what you do,'" he said. "But you can't start here. You need to be fully grounded on the legal side."

Much of his style, Steven said, is taken from the professors at OSU who influenced him, such as Bob Lynn and Robert Nordstrom. "My experience at OSU was wonderful," the Columbus-native said. "I learned that if I was to do well, I would have to be persistent. If I worked every night constantly, I could stay ahead - and bite off a little bit every day."

Steven has called Dallas home for twenty-five years. He lives there with his wife and their two children, but returns to OSU regularly to catch the Buckeyes in action.

Classmates and friends who would like to catch up with Steven can email him at ss@sowellco.com.