Planning for the next 129 years is daunting, but Hale Smith, Groton School’s first and thus far only chief financial officer, considers that task each day, sometimes late into the night.
Hale arrived on the Circle in 1995, wooed from the world of big banks and financial institutions by a headhunter charged with finding the school’s first CFO. Groton’s trustees recognized that the school’s financial complexity had outgrown the business manager model of its first 111 years. Changes in accounting rules and regulations had increased the need for professional financial management in independent schools. Federal and state laws required the School to abide by new tax, environmental, employment, and accessibility codes and demanded that it be more intentional in its approach to building, cleaning, repairing, hiring, and firing. In short, the school needed a CFO, one who would consider the big picture, be strategic in the institution’s financial management, know when to summon outside expertise, and replace well-worn routines with streamlined systems.
Having graduated from The Governor’s Academy, Hale was familiar with the rhythms and attractions of a boarding school life. As a student, he had even mused about the life of a teacher in an independent school community—teaching during the day and coaching in the afternoon. The Groton position offered him an opportunity to apply his Harvard MBA training and CPA credentials to a mission-driven organization, to meet the School’s day-to-day needs while also shaping its long-term fiscal sustainability.
Initially, Hale commuted from his home in Milton, Massachusetts. In 2000, when their oldest son, Alden, was boarding at Milton Academy, Hale, his wife Tucker, and son Oliver ’05 moved onto campus full-time. Tucker immediately threw herself into life at the school, coordinating the Groton Community Service program (GCS), among other activities. Oliver attended Groton, and Hale became a dorm affiliate. When not at his desk, Hale enjoys skiing out west with his family and twin brother, traveling, hiking, and visiting Maine during the summer.
Hale has seen significant changes during his 18 years at Groton. These include an enrollment increase from 321 to 370 students, commensurate growth in faculty and staff, the reshaping of Business Office systems and functions, and numerous campus improvements, including the Children’s Center, the Athletic Center, the Dillon Art Center, the Campbell Performing Arts Center, the Brooks House expansion and renovation of all dormitories, seven new or purchased faculty houses, and major boathouse improvements. Use of technology and the Internet also grew during his tenure. When Hale first arrived at the School, the entire phone system shut down when the switchboard closed each afternoon. One of the first changes he oversaw was the installation of a new telephone system, still in use today. As charitable giving rules and regulations grew increasingly complex, Hale worked closely with the Development Office on policies, procedures, and systems to support and track the school’s philanthropic activities.
To Hale, all of these roles have one primary purpose: to support, though indirectly, the teaching, coaching, and mentoring of students. He works to balance current needs against the School’s long-term interests and to prioritize investments, all with an eye toward Groton’s long-term success. Hale’s guiding principle is to look not just at today or the coming year, but at the next century, and to ensure that Groton is positioned to thrive.