Megan Smith has a knack for driving change. As an MIT mechanical-engineering student, she built a solar car and drove it in the first Cross-Continental Solar Car race across the Australian outback. In her business career, she’s managed strategic acquisitions that produced Google Earth. In between, Smith has challenged world leaders to address hatred of gays.
As director of new-business development at Google since 2003, Smith enjoys “experimenting with new ideas to find out what’s most useful to the most people.” She led acquisitions that created Google Earth and Google Maps, two of the company’s most popular tools.
Smith arrived at Google from PlanetOut, an interactive media company and series of websites serving the gay and lesbian community; she was COO and then CEO until 2001. “It was rewarding to build a successful for-profit company with millions of members who come from every country in the world,” she says. When PlanetOut was named a 2001 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Smith spoke against religiously based hatred of gays at the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “I told them that of the 2 percent hate mail PlanetOut received, 90 percent was religiously based,” Smith says. “The Vatican representative admitted this was disturbing.”
Smith’s career began at Apple Computer Japan in Tokyo, where she developed the multimedia market. She served as product design lead and then as manager of General Magic, an Apple Computer spinoff devoted to developing a PDA precursor.
“I loved all my time at MIT,” says Smith, who has stayed connected as a young-alumni member of the MIT Corporation from 1988 to 1993 and as a member of visiting committees since 1998. In 2006 Smith rejoined the MIT Corporation. “I admire the Institute’s long-standing focus on service,” she says. “I’m especially excited about its energy initiative. I hope to see MIT play a big role in solving the climate crisis.”
Smith lives in San Francisco with her partner, former Wall Street Journal columnist Kara Swisher, who now helps run WSJ digital-technology enterprises such as the D Conference and coauthors the paper’s blog AllThingsD.com. They enjoy biking and traveling with their two children, five-year-old Louie and two-year-old Alex.