Jon Smith is best known in stock market circles as chief executive of £9.6 million First Artist Corporation, whose clients include Premiership football manager Harry Redknapp, Sky TV footie pundit Andy Gray and LA Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit.
A highly influential and much sought-after media figure, Smith’s views on a football industry awash with cash are often aired on TV and radio. What is little known, however, is that Smith has long used his connections and clout to financially further two causes dear to his heart.
Smith is patron of The British Stammering Association (BSA), the only national organisation for adults and children who stammer. Its mission is to promote awareness of the condition and support research into therapies for stammering.
The condition is one about which Smith feels ‘very strongly’, having suffered from a stammer as a child. ‘It is such a bad disability and there are three-quarters of a million people in the UK alone who are affected,’ he says. ‘Sufferers become hermits in their own existence. I had a stammer for 16 and a half years, during which time I couldn’t communicate. In fact, I used to call myself Jon because I couldn’t say Jonathan.’
Smith says he was eventually cured at a class in Jersey, via a rather unconventional treatment involving a degree of physical violence. Today, Smith is a successful public speaker, equally at home batting away questions from City analysts as dealing with tigerish television anchormen such as Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman.
Stammering, also known as stuttering, is a speech difficulty that causes the sufferer to have speech blocks, prolongations or repetitions of sounds. A stammer does not arise from any personality or intellectual disorder, and people who suffer from it know what they want to say, but sometimes find it difficult to produce speech physically. One per cent of adults in the UK stammer, and men are four times more likely to be affected than women.
‘I get asked to do a lot of TV and radio work around football, and First Artist represents many TV personalities,’ he says, pointing out that many well-known entertainment figures are erstwhile stammer sufferers and hugely supportive of the BSA.
A helping hand
Smith is actively involved in the BSA movement, presenting in front of sufferers to encourage them to beat the disability:
‘I have used my influence to get some key people on board as big supporters of us and we have managed to get support from MPs for early testing of kids, which has
the potential to eradicate 90 per cent of stammering overnight.’
Smith is also leveraging his financial and business success to help fight leukaemia. He is trustee of The Lee Smith Research Foundation, a charity founded in 1982 in memory of and named after his late wife, who died tragically of leukaemia at the age of 29.
The Lee Smith Research Foundation, best known for its efforts in helping children with leukaemia, identifies the best life-saving medical projects, and its doctors and scientists have been working on gene therapies for cancer, leukaemia and immunodeficiency. The foundation is heavily involved in funding research into prostate and breast cancer, while the results of its life-changing treatments are published for the benefit of all.
‘We have unashamedly used emotion as well as my connections to raise funds for the foundation from the sports and entertainment community, and we put on events and showcases such as balls, galas and dances. Over the years, we have raised in excess of £10 million to £12 million for the foundation,’ recalls Smith, with justifiable pride.
Many of Smith’s sporting and entertainment celebrity clients are enthusiastic supporters of the foundation and its worthy mission. Moreover, despite the negative headlines that often go hand in hand with footballers and their supposedly excessive lifestyles, Smith believes that the football community has a collective heart of gold, which often goes unsung: ‘They get a lot of bad press but, whenever I have asked, footballers have been immensely supportive of what we are doing.’