Truckers, Racism and Inspiring Mentors Dotted Jason DaWayne Smith’s Road to Success

Today, he leads with a focus on humility

a man on a hammock with his two sons
Jason DaWayne Smith is the chief business officer of Location Services. Courtesy of Jason DaWayne Smith
Headshot of Jess Zafarris

Jason DaWayne Smith’s early career was nothing if not multifaceted. 

He grew up in what he calls “stereotypical” circumstances on the South Side of Chicago. But after traveling to New York for school, he found himself working 18 or more hours a day in a kaleidoscope of roles: paralegal work, deejaying and managing 47 truckers at Fink Baking, one of whom threatened him with a knife during an attempted theft. 

These experiences gave him courage he uses today. “Grit, confidence and bravery came out of it,” he said. “I go into a meeting and I work with clients, and I know the worst thing they can do is tell me no.”

Over the course of his career, those clients have included Ace Hardware, A&E/History Channel, American Family Insurance, Geico, Kimberly-Clark and Sleep Number. 

Nowadays, he’s back in Chicago working as chief business officer at data intelligence company Location Sciences. But even after he stepped into the advertising industry, Smith learned some sobering lessons and overcame serious trials.

After starting out in The Wow Factor division at media agency Mindshare, he shifted to working under then-director of out-of-home (OOH) media Heather Armstrong at GSD&M. 

Smith recalls a shocking moment at a GSD&M work dinner when a high-ranking prospect made a racist comment toward Smith. Luckily, Armstrong immediately shut down the situation, ended the dinner and halted all business with his company.

“The moment told me a lot about character and how and when to use it as a leader,” Smith said.

At Location Sciences, Smith has grown the company’s relationships by 315%, which contributed to a 120% revenue boost since he began. At the start of the pandemic, he and the rest of the executive team took pay cuts. As a result, the company has not been forced to lay anyone off. 

Going forward, Smith said he’s committed to helping the industry find ways to work more efficiently and transparently.

“I left the ad agency industry because of its inefficiency and how it prevents business from growing at the speed they’re capable of,” he said. “I think revisiting that is a critical part of what’s next.”

Big Mistake

Smith was once asked to leave an account at Horizon Media because he didn’t take advantage of teamwork and collaboration and it showed in his work.

“I don’t know it all,” he said. “Most of the time I’m wrong, so I need other good people around me to help make good decisions. No one goes through this thing we call life perfectly, and usually when you hit a big bump, you need someone that can support you and say let’s see if we can find another path.”

What’s Next?

After the news came out about a noose being found in Black Nascar driver Bubba Wallace’s garage, Smith said his 8-year-old son asked him what a noose was.

“That has driven me to find the best possible way I can with my little bit of influence to influence how we spend on diverse businesses and how we represent each other,” he said. “That is a big focus for me—doing everything I can to move our industry to a more accountable way to at least be more thoughtful about how we represent underrepresented communities.”

How He Got the Gig

After working primarily on OOH campaigns, Smith broke into digital media under Donald Williams, chief digital officer at Horizon. Williams would then introduce him to CEO Mark Slade at Location Sciences.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 16, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@JessZafarris Jess Zafarris is an audience engagement editor at Adweek.