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Fords in Four: Nafis Smith ’99

In Fords in Four, we ask a Haverford School alumnus four questions about his time at the School and life after Haverford. This month, we interviewed Nafis Smith ’99, a member of the Haverford School's Board of Trustees and Alumni Executive Council. He is a 2022 graduate of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, earning his MBA in Finance and Strategic Management, and holds a BA in Economics from Cornell University. His career with Vanguard has developed from his work as programmer in 2003 to now serving as Head of Taxable Money Markets and Senior Portfolio Manager. 

What advice would you give a recent Haverford graduate?
My encouragement would be to intentionally seek out people and experiences that disconfirm your preconceived notions about life. It’s easy to surround yourself with like-minded people, but one seldom expands one’s worldview or sharpens one’s ability to think critically by constantly seeking the familiar. Challenge yourself to experience things that take you out of your comfort zone. This is where the most learning and growth will occur.

Describe a crucial moment or decision that greatly influenced your life or career.
The most pivotal point in my life directly led to my discovering and ultimately attending the Haverford School. In the early 90s, I met the man who’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a father, Craig Hoffman, at a Salvation Army in North Philadelphia. Mr. Hoffman was a Haverford Crew coach at the time. He was interested in introducing young men from Philadelphia to the sport of rowing. A chance encounter on a basketball court at the Salvation Army led to me discovering rowing talent that I didn’t know I had. More importantly, this encounter led to my attending the Haverford School and receiving a life-changing education. From this experience, I learned that it is incumbent on us all to be generous with our time and talent and to look for ways to bless others.

What's a lesson that you carry with you from your Haverford days?
This will likely sound cliché, but it’s an important lesson that I picked up both in class as well in rowing, and that’s the importance of teamwork and learning to collaborate with others to accomplish goals. It can be tempting to attempt to go at things alone, but as a mentor once shared with me, “it’s possible that you’re the smartest person in the room, but it’s impossible to be smarter than everyone else in the room collectively.” We should all understand that all of us have different strengths and different life experiences. Tapping into the diversity around you can be extremely valuable when trying to solve business problems, accomplish athletic goals, or negotiate life in general.

How do you maintain your Haverford School connections and relationships? 
Admittedly, I didn’t do a great job of maintaining many connections to Haverford following graduation, despite being immensely grateful for my experience at the School. So, when I moved back to the U.S. from Australia in 2016, upon reflecting on the profoundly positive impact Haverford had on my life, I made a concerted effort to simply reengage and get involved in anything that would provide exposure to the Haverford community. This led to my discovery of some of Palmer House’s work through the Alumni Executive Council. Shortly afterward, I began participating in the Haverford Leadership Council.