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Byron Smith Laflin

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Byron Laflin Smith is highly-regarded as one of Chicago’s most well-respected and prominent bankers. The founder of Northern Trust Corporation, an American international financial services company, Smith had huge aspirations to grow the company to what it has become today. Building off a commitment to service, expertise, and integrity, Smith opened the Northern Trust Company on August 12, 1889. On its very first day of business, Smith and Northern Trust opened six accounts, totaling $137,981 in deposits. Known for his incredible work ethic and dedication, Smith worked without pay for the first six years Northern Trust was in business. As the bank began to grow, Smith established permanent headquarters at the corner of La Salle and Monroe streets between the Chicago Stock Exchange and the Board of Trade in 1902.

Beyond filling a much-needed void in Chicago’s financial sector, Northern Trust began giving back to the community in 1909 by setting up a fund for charitable donations. This exact charitable fund was the forerunner of the Northern Trust Charitable Trust, which was established in 1966. In 1912, Smith hired his first employees. It is important to note that he was not merely looking for average employees, but those who would go above and beyond and stay with Northern Trust for many years to come. In order to attract such dedication, Northern Trust would become one of the very first companies in the U.S. to offer employees free group life insurance and a pension plan. In March of 1914, Smith’s son, Solomon Albert Smith, took over the company after the death of his father. Just 37 years old, Smith would stand as the youngest bank president in Chicago and among the youngest in the nation.

When the 19th Amendment provided women with the opportunity to vote in 1920, bank also began responding with new services and lobby areas that were intended to speak to feminine tastes. During this time, Northern Trust established a Women’s Department, which was ran by women.

Throughout the years, Northern Trust stay true to the roots that Smith established from the get-go. The company’s dedication to giving back and commitment to its employees are just a couple of areas this is showcased best. Considered a pioneer in banking, Smith was instrumental in the way in which financial institutions are run today.

Companies and Investments

Northern Trust Company (Founder)

Lessons Learned

Remember your roots and give back whenever possible. It is important that you never lose sight of where you came from.

If you notice there is a hole in the market somewhere, think about what you can do to fill it.

Starting a business often requires self-sacrifice.

You can never do enough research when it comes to understanding your audience.

Be a leader, but don’t rule with an iron fist.

Be compassionate, caring, giving, and strong. These are all attributes that will help you run a successful business.

When it comes time for you to hire employees, make sure you have people on your team who will go above and beyond and who are committed to being with you for the long haul.

Inspiring Quotes

Byron Smith Laflin's Quotes

Influential Books