West Virginia’s Richest Billionaire Plans To Level The Educational Playing Field In Appalachia

4 months ago
Brad D. Smith was six years old when a plane carrying the 1970 Marshall University football team crashed a mile from his home near campus in southern West Virginia, killing all 75 people on board. His cousins rushed to aid their dying neighbors as volunteer firefighters. “I watched the flames burn outside my window,” Smith remembers. “And then I watched this community rise from the ashes.”

Half a century later, the recently retired Intuit CEO’s community is waging new battles, with an opioid epidemic raging and the coal economy that once made Governor Jim Justice a billionaire on the verge of extinction. So, after 36 years away, Smith decided to take the country roads back home to West Virginia, the place he belongs—and into the President’s House at Marshall, his alma mater, which he took over in January 2022. He brought back with him a sizable fortune, accumulated over nearly four decades in business. According to Forbes’ ranking of the richest person in each state, released Thursday for the first time since 2019, he’s West Virginia’s wealthiest resident, worth $700 million.

Forbes estimates that roughly half of his fortune is comprised of 943,000 Intuit shares and options he still holds. That’s after selling 2.4 million shares during his tenure as CEO from 2008 to 2018 (and as chairman until January 2022), netting him about $300 million (after taxes and the cost of option exercises). He takes the mantle as the state’s richest from Jim Justice, whose wealth has been weighed down by debt. Smith is worth some $250 million more than the governor, who dropped from the ranks of the world’s billionaires in 2021, when it was revealed that he’d personally guaranteed $850 million of loans to his coal businesses by Credit Suisse via a now insolvent intermediary, Greensill Capital. (Justice also owns the iconic Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and other real estate assets in Appalachia; he disputes Forbes’ estimate of his fortune.) Smith declined to comment on Forbes’ estimate of his net worth.