Eric Smidt is an American businessman. He is Chairman and CEO of Harbor Freight Tools, which operates over 700 retail hardware stores in 47 states and generated revenue of approximately $2 billion according to an April, 2012 Moody’s Investors Service report.
Eric L. Smidt was born in Los Angeles, California in 1960 to Allan Smidt and Dorthy Smidt. He graduated from Grant High School in Van Nuys, a public school in Los Angeles. In 1977, as a teenager, Smidt started Harbor Freight Tools with his father in a small building in North Hollywood, California. Originally known as Harbor Freight & Salvage Co., the company began as a mail-order tool business. Eric introduced the company’s defining innovation of cutting out the middleman and began to source tools directly from the factories to the customer.
In 1985, Smidt was named president of the company at the age of 25; he served under that title until 1999 when he became CEO. In 2001, Smidt was listed as one of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurs of the year
Tenure as Chairman and CEO
In 2008, Eric responded to the turbulence in the global economy by implementing a company-wide reinvigoration plan. Eric and his team drove growth in company performance and a culture of continuous improvement. The team drove improvements that led to new products and lower prices for Harbor Freight customers.
Smidt has been a long-time supporter of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, University of Southern California and UCLA. In 2012, he funded a new public high school in Los Angeles known as “Smidt Tech” (also known as Alliance Susan & Eric Smidt Technology High) for Alliance College-Ready Public Schools (an independent non-profit charter school manager).
In January 2013, Smidt directed Harbor Freight Tools to donate $1.4 million in tools and equipment to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) Career Technical Education program after learning that its annual budget was cut to one quarter of what it was two years earlier. He named this program “Tools for Schools”. He observed that “for far too long vocational education has not been given the attention and funding it deserves,” and added that, “at a time when a well trained workforce is essential to compete in the global economy, the United States too often falls short.”
In August 2013, Smidt expanded the Tools for Schools program by donating a $100,000 gift of tools and equipment to vocational schools in and around Dillon County, South Carolina.
Marking the opening of the 500th Harbor Freight Tools store near Chicago, CEO Eric Smidt announced the contribution of $100,000 and the donation of tools to Chicago Public Schools to support teachers and students in skilled trades learning and internships.
In 2016, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans honored Harbor Freight Tools with its Outstanding Corporate Partner Award in recognition of the company’s support for homeless veterans.
Under Smidt’s leadership, Harbor Freight Tools has supported excellence in Career Technical Education to benefit teachers and students, providing donations to vocational classrooms via Donors Choose, to the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers in New York City and Domus Academy’s Work and Learn Program in Stamford, Connecticut. Additionally, new auto lifts were purchased for CEC Middle College in Denver, Colorado.
In 2015, Harbor Freight Tools established a program to fund requests from non-profit organizations in the U.S. to support veterans, police and fire departments, and public education causes.
To help fund disaster relief efforts across the country, Smidt, on behalf of Harbor Freight Tools, made a $250,000 donation to the American Red Cross.
Smidt reportedly contributed $350,000 to support Mayor Eric Garcetti’s effort to help Los Angeles secure the 2024 Olympic Games.
Smidt is a collector of modern art and serves on the boards of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Portland Art Museum.
Smidt is a prominent Los Angeles Democrat, who’s hosted fundraiser dinners for both Bill and Hillary Clinton. He is a friend of former Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa, and he has donated money to help pay down the Mayor’s ethics fines. On March 4, 2013, LA Weekly reported that Smidt donated $50,000 to the Coalition for School Reform to elect Kate Anderson and Antonio Sanchez to the LAUSD Board of Education and to re-elect incumbent Monica Garcia. He also contributed $114,300 to a number of Democratic campaigns in 2012.
Smidt has trained as a jet aircraft pilot with over 30 years of experience.