When Daniel B. Smith (Hist’77) became U.S. Ambassador to Greece in 2010 he embraced an honor that was also the greatest challenge of his career.
Deep in debt and reeling from the global financial collapse of 2008, Greece had just accepted a demoralizing $146-billion bailout from European neighbors and the International Monetary Fund. In return, Greek leaders had promised tax hikes and pension cuts that were taking a painful toll on ordinary citizens.
Smith immersed himself in Greek society, listening to anyone who would talk — olive farmers, shopkeepers and titans of industry alike — and sought to stoke the economy through tourism initiatives and entrepreneurship programs, especially for women and farmers.
“Dan is as approachable as they come,” says Virginia Bennett, Smith’s deputy chief of mission in Athens. “He was always engaged with the people, and that engagement translated directly into the kinds of relationships we needed to help keep Greece steady at a difficult time.”
The son of late CU-Boulder history professor Daniel M. Smith, Dan Smith attended Fairview High School, then came to CU.
As a doctoral student at Stanford in the early 1980s, he specialized in U.S. foreign economic policy and took the notoriously difficult Foreign Service exam on a lark. He did well, was offered a commission and went to Sweden as a consular officer.
“Since there were few opportunities in academia at the time, I decided to try the Foreign Service and found that I really loved the career,” he says.
More than three decades later, Smith has held posts in Stockholm, Ottawa, Bern and Istanbul, as well as in Greece, learned three languages fluently — German, Swedish and Turkish — and served as a prominent instrument of American policy abroad.
During the first Gulf War, he lived in Istanbul and traveled to Iraq to deliver aid to Kurdish refugees. In Canada in the 1990s he worked on negotiations that helped lay the foundation for the North American Free Trade Agreement. In Switzerland he helped negotiate the return of Holocaust-era assets in Swiss banks to their rightful owners.
“You get a bird’s-eye view of what is going on all over the world and an opportunity to serve your country in a really unique way,” says Smith, who has three sons with wife Diane. “I have loved every minute of it.”
Now back in Washington as assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, he believes reforms implemented during his ambassadorship have proved helpful. But with Greek unemployment above 25 percent and unresolved systemic financial challenges, he worries.
“They are proud, entrepreneurial people,” Smith says. “But the environment there has not been hospitable to entrepreneurship.”
While additional rounds of international debt relief have been necessary, he says, there’s still a “fundamental need” for regulatory and tax reforms to make the country economically competitive.
“Much will depend on whether and how successfully reforms are implemented,” he says.
Photography courtesy Daniel B. Smith