How a Promising Musician Embraced Business

Daniel Smythe balances his love for music with his career in consulting.

October 04, 2019 Eric Lindberg

People who knew Daniel Smythe ’95, MM ’97 as a USC student might be surprised to learn that today he is a senior executive at a top business consulting firm. With a master’s in guitar performance from the USC Thornton School of Music, he seemed destined for a career in the arts.

“I like to tell young people that you can always change paths,” he says. “My story is a great example. I was squarely going down one path and then everything shifted, and it all worked out.”

That valuable lesson helps him guide major clients through challenges in his role as managing director at Accenture Strategy in Boston. Smythe oversees the consulting firm’s travel industry practice in North America. He also has worked with major retailers like Target, CVS, Neiman Marcus, Walmart, Best Buy and Staples.

But growing up in Carlisle, Massachusetts, he was all about the guitar. He was into heavy metal before switching to classical guitar after watching a video of USC Thornton professor William Kanengiser ’81, MM ’83. Later, as a music major at UCLA, Smythe saw the renowned guitarist play live for the first time. He was blown away.

“I met him backstage and said, ‘I want to study with you,’” Smythe recalls. Kanengiser replied: “Come to USC.”

Smythe graduated summa cum laude from USC Thornton and then earned his master’s. He envisioned a career in performance and teaching, until a fellow Trojan persuaded him to take an arts management role at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “I discovered a whole world of other things I could do,” he says. Eager to rise in the ranks, he enrolled in the University of Chicago’s MBA program.

He initially planned to put his newly honed business skills to use in the arts world. Then an internship in management consulting captured his imagination, and he joined Accenture in 2002.

Smythe found that consulting work has many parallels with music, including performance preparation, conveying confidence and making an audience feel comfortable. Those skills come in handy when helping a client negotiate a multimillion-dollar deal.

Music is still a big part of Smythe’s life. He has long-term plans to get back into the arts in a leadership role, using his business expertise to help arts organizations thrive amid today’s many entertainment choices. In the meantime, he plays guitar for friends and family, attends Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts and cultivates a large vinyl collection, which he admits is lacking “anything that came out after 1988.”

He has also been building stronger ties with the Trojan Family through alumni events. It helps that his wife, Shana (Nadel) Smythe ’97, holds a degree in vocal arts. He is encouraged to see their older daughter, 15-year-old Betty, has taken to wearing her parents’ old Trojan sweatshirts. He has high hopes that Betty and her siblings, Sonny, 12, and Lilly, 9, will consider USC among their college options.

And if they ever worry about life taking a surprising turn, he’ll be ready with a little advice.

“As a wise friend once said, you need to find the intersection between your skills and the world’s needs,” Smythe says. “It just took me a little longer to find that intersection.”