Alumna Serves as a Catalyst for Minority Business in Allegheny County
As director of Allegheny County’s Department of Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Ruth Byrd-Smith works to empower small businesses within the county and the community. Throughout her career, Ruth has empowered herself through education, first at CCAC and then at Point Park College.
Ruth was raised in a small community in North Versailles. She and her brother spent most of their free time picking fruits and vegetables on her grandparents’ chicken farm. Ruth attended school in the East Allegheny district and graduated from East Allegheny High School.
Ruth married young and preferred to be a housewife rather than pursue a full-time career. She enrolled at Computer Tech in Pittsburgh and learned how to key punch. She was soon hired at Mellon Bank, working the third shift. “Prior to modern PCs, everything was a mystery with computers,” she says. “I just wanted to make some ‘pin’ money.” Ruth was soon promoted and in 1977, chose to leave Mellon to work as an IT manager in operations for Volkswagon of America in New Stanton.
At Volkswagon, Ruth reported directly to Germany, which she claims was very interesting. “All major decisions were made by legislators in Germany,” she says. “It was a unique experience.” While working for Volkswagon, Ruth enrolled in classes at CCAC’s Boyce Campus in 1987, determined to complete a degree.
In 1988, Volkswagon decided to transfer their operations to Mexico and Ruth found herself without a job or a college degree. She continued taking classes at CCAC and in 1989, decided to start her own company, Ruth Byrd-Smith Consulting. “I figured I’d do this until I found something I liked to do,” she says. “As I continued to talk to people and network, however, I guess I became good at what I was doing because I kept getting more clients. It was a lot of hard work, but I liked what I was doing.”
After opening her own business, Ruth left CCAC in 1989, but vowed to return. She worked diligently to establish relationships with her clients and to increase her business. Ruth jokes that she became an overnight success only after a period of 10–12 years of hard work. Although her clients did not care whether she had a degree, Ruth was determined to graduate from CCAC. She re-enrolled at Boyce in 1998 and completed her associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences on May 8, 2000.
Although she graduated from Boyce Campus, Ruth says she took classes at other CCAC locations. “It’s really convenient and you can make your schedule work for you,” she says of CCAC. “The community college seemed to be a great way to get my degree without carrying a lot of debt. I had great instructors and was happy to get my degree because it gave me a sense of self-satisfaction.”
Ruth continued her education at Point Park College, where she enrolled in the adult education program held on Saturdays. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Corporate Communications in 2003.
In February 2004, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato selected Ruth as the new director of the Department of Minority, Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (M/W/DBE). As director, Ruth is responsible for promoting business opportunities within Allegheny County and the community at large, showcasing M/W/DBE firm capabilities, building productive partnerships, exercising effective program management and advocating M/W/DBE business concerns. “Every day is a little different—no two days are alike,” says Ruth. “There is satisfaction in helping these businesses, especially when they begin to grow. I’m sort of a matchmaker because I connect County business with local businesses. It’s a satisfying job and I enjoy it a lot.”
Ruth has served on many boards and has been recognized for her work with the M/W/DBE. She is a founding member of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors and was its first female president. In April 2004, she was appointed by Governor Ed Rendell as chairwoman of the state’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs. She was named the US Small Business Administration’s Minority/Women Business Advocate of the Year in 2005 and the Minority Business Champion of the Year in 2006 for the mid-Atlantic region which includes Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia and West Virginia.
In 2007, she was an honoree of the YWCA’s Tribute to Women. She was also one of 10 women to be named to Onyx Woman Magazine’s Amazing 10 list and in 2009, was once again honored by Onyx Women Magazine with the 2009 Special Lifetime Achievement Award in Business.
As director of M/W/DBE, Ruth says she often has local business owners ask her about beneficial educational opportunities in the region, to which she shares information about CCAC. “Community colleges are good resources for a community,” she says. “CCAC’s Community Education offerings are a nice resource for our area. The classes are affordable and if you like to cook or want to learn how to work on the computer, it’s a great outing.”
In her spare time, Ruth enjoys traveling and spending time with her son Jerry and daughter-in-law Lisa, who live in Virginia Beach. She also enjoys reading and gardening.
Ruth offers the following advice for current and future CCAC students: “Take advantage of everything CCAC has to offer. It may not mean as much to you today as it will 10 years from now. Everyone is familiar with the community college and it’s a great place to be. Take advantage of CCAC’s articulation agreements with other colleges, transfer your credits and complete a four-year degree.”