Tribute: Jennifer Smith

A shining light.


One of the brightest stars in our industry passed away last December. Jennifer Smith, CEO of Minnesota-based Innovative Office Solutions, will be very sorely missed, most of all by her husband Brooks, children Maxwell and Madison and their extended families. But the entire US business supplies sector – customers, suppliers, partners, competitors, employees – will mourn her deeply too.

Jennifer had become an icon in our space. She was loved and respected in equal measure – for her outstanding, often daring, business achievements as well as her unique, progressive and incredibly compassionate way of running the organisation. 

Under her inspirational leadership, Innovative grew to an almost $170 million business and was one of the pioneers of both the stockless operation and online ordering. It was also quick to realise the importance of product diversification, long before many others did. 

That aside, Jennifer built a culture at Innovative that was the envy of her peers. As close friend and business partner, Essendant President/CEO Harry Dochelli, says: “Innovative is an enterprise where everyone has a voice and is highly valued and that is entirely due to Jennifer. She ran it like a Fortune 500 company – with the messaging and branding she nurtured but also, importantly, with all the training and people development she installed in the business. Her accomplishments were second to none.”

Bob Mairena, President of Office Solutions in Yorba Linda, California, wholeheartedly concurs: “She made me a much better person and a much better businessperson too. We shared best practices and she was extremely competitive – it became a game between the two of us. She made me more ambitious because I knew I had to keep up with her and she made it a lot of fun. She was just a great person.”

Don’t let tomorrow take up too much of today

Jennifer won many prestigious awards over the years, including the Business Solutions Association’s Leadership Award, Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year, Most Admired CEO, and Minnesota’s Best Places to Work. All the while, her mantra remained refreshingly grounded and down to earth: “Don’t let tomorrow take up too much of today.”

Fighting spirit

When Jennifer passed away on 3 December, aged just 56 and with her family by her side, she had fought a long and intense battle against cancer. First it was breast cancer, diagnosed in 2018, and then, having overcome this after very aggressive treatment, acute myeloid leukaemia in 2021. 

But, demonstrating her unrelenting resilience, she didn’t die of cancer. She beat it and was cancer-free in the end, thanks to her determination and the pioneering work of City of Hope. Particular mention here goes to Dr Marcucci and his research team for whom she raised an outstanding $1 million in an attempt to help other leukaemia sufferers survive and live to tell their tale. So very sadly, Jennifer wasn’t able to, as the incredible toll from the prolonged treatments was too much for her body to take.

Jennifer was passionate about everything she did – from running Innovative, to being hugely involved in her local community, a devoted member of her family and a fervent supporter of City of Hope’s extraordinary work. 

Dochelli adds: “She was so balanced in her life – very driven and highly intelligent from a business standpoint, wanting to succeed and wanting people around her to succeed. But then she would talk about her grandchildren following some intense business negotiations. She will be very much missed.” 

To read more about Jennifer’s life and achievements as well as further industry comment, please visit the December/January issue of our sister publication Independent Dealer