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Moses Frye Made A Big Influence
John C. Smith, left, and Dean Christopolous are lifelong friends.
John C. Smith's plan was to get as far away from Chicago as possible. The teenager and his best friend were tired of the cold and snowy weather in the “Windy City” and looking to move so
As recent high school graduates, Smith and his buddy decided there was no better time than the present to explore the world.
“We were on our way out of Chicago, anywhere that was warm and we could have fun,” he says.
So the pair bought Greyhound bus tickets in December 1974 with fun and warmer weather as the final destination. But en route the two took a detour. It turned out to be the right path for both of them.
OSU here we come
Smith and Dean Christopolous made the decision to stop in Stillwater to visit Dean’s older brother and see what the home of Oklahoma State University was all about. Tom Christopolous was a member of the Cowboy football team, and the short visit that Smith was expecting soon turned into much more.
“I never had the intention of really going to college,” he says. “I had five brothers and sisters, and no one went to college. My parents never went to college. My father wanted me to become an auto mechanic. To him, to aspire to be an auto mechanic was a great thing because he delivered dry cleaning.”
When school started in January, Smith made the decision to enroll in a few classes at OSU. Enrolling in school allowed him to live in the dorm, which was “cheaper than living on some guy’s couch.” But classes had already started when he eventually decided to enroll for the spring semester.
“When you sign up for school seven days after the school years starts, guess which classes you get? The classes that begin at 7:20 in the morning,” Smith says.
By a stroke of luck, his morning class was taught by Moses Frye, who was legal counsel to the Board of Regents for the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical Colleges from 1962 to 1975 and also taught business classes at OSU until 1985. Frye was teaching just one class that spring semester, and when Smith walked in that January morning his life changed forever.
“I was very fortunate to have met Moses Frye. He was an interesting guy. He got it. He understood that not everybody comes from the same background as other people,” Smith says.
Moses Frye’s influence
Smith arrived in Stillwater with $600 in his pocket and “a dream of being somebody or something.” To pay for college he was forced to find a job, often working late nights in a bar. But he was still in class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning.
Unfortunately, some of his classmates didn’t see the importance of making it a priority to attend on Fridays.
“Most people on Friday mornings didn’t show up for class,” Smith says, so it was often a discussion between Smith and Frye.
“Monday and Wednesdays we had a few people show up, but Fridays I was lucky — it was our time to discuss topics far outside of business law,” Smith says. “He had an impact, a great impact, and I will always appreciate that.”
Frye would give Smith advice on which classes to take, and directed him to take as many business classes as possible. Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1977, and was intent on following in Frye’s footsteps as an attorney, taking the LSAT before making a life changing decision.
“I recognized it would be a struggle to be able to afford to go to law school,” says Smith, who was awarded an OSU graduate scholarship and earned his master’s degree in accounting in 1979. He also holds a Certified Public Accountant certificate and license.
Over the past 25 years, he has consulted with, owned or managed several technology companies through his association with Deloitte, The Williams Companies, Muzak and several investment banking firms. In 1997, while working in Medellin, Columbia, Smith put together a plan for the type of company he would like to own and operate.
“That framework developed into looking at companies that were technology based with recurring revenue, could be diversified through operations in multiple countries, and had the ability to be leveraged into other industries,” he says.
He found that company in TMA Systems, a facilities management and clinical engineering software company based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Smith purchased the company in 1999 with 12 employees who occupied three rooms in a building. Today, TMA sells its software in 20 countries and has about 90 employees.
“A lot of them are OSU grads,” he says proudly.
Growing and giving
“One of the achievements I’m most proud of is building this company that employs 90 families, making certain their children will get through college,” says the TMA chairman and chief executive officer.
“This is a community; this is not just a work place. We spend more time with the people we work with every day than we do with our own family.”
That’s not particularly the case for Smith. Both his son, Patrick, (2005, University of Tulsa), and his daughter, Caty, (2008, University of Missouri) are employed at TMA.
With clients throughout the world (he has worked in more than 35 countries during his lifetime), Smith spends over half of his time on the road. During a two-month stretch in 2015, he traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Luxembourg, France, England, Ireland, Turkey and six different states.
Smith believes it is also important to give back to the community and that’s what he’s done over the years, serving on boards for the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, the City of Tulsa, the Arthritis Foundation, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and others.
“I think it’s important to give back, period. We’re big supporters and we believe in giving,” he says. “We give to TU, we give to Mizzou, we give to OSU. You’ve got to give back to the people who gave to you because we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for OSU, and it wasn’t for TU, and it wasn’t for Mizzou.”
None of it would have been possible without getting off the bus in Stillwater nearly 40 years ago.
More stories like this are available for members of the OSU Alumni Association. STATE magazine is a benefit of membership in the OSU Alumni Association. To join or update your membership go to orangeconnection.org/join o
Uploaded on September 1, 2016