Smith, chairman and chief executive of American giant Intuit, used to teach karate and likes to write poems, three of which are framed in his Californian home.
At the company’s QuickBooks Connect conference in San Jose last year, he strode the stage before
5,000 small businesses and mingled with speakers including Oprah Winfrey, author Malcolm Gladwell and Robert Herjavec, a judge on Shark Tank, America’s version of Dragons’ Den. The evening’s entertainment was a concert by rock band Third Eye Blind.
Meanwhile, in the lime green corner, Britain’s Sage Group hosted 15,000 delegates to its 2016 Summit in Chicago, with fluorescent sock-wearing chief executive Stephen Kelly interviewing Sir Richard Branson, rubbing shoulders with actress Gwyneth Paltrow and going on stage with The Killers.
Both companies claim to be the world’s biggest accountancy software supplier but Intuit dominates in financial might and US presence, with a $30bn (£23bn) stock market capitalisation on Nasdaq and a 92pc share of the US accounting software market.
Sage meanwhile says it processes more than one billion payslips and is market leader in Europe.
“There’s always a debate about who is the world’s largest and we’d have to get into the math to determine that,” Smith says carefully. “We’re in different continents.”
Intuit has offices in its six prioritised overseas markets of Canada, Brazil, the UK, France, India and Australia and customers in more than 100 countries.
However, Smith plays down the Sage rivalry, saying Intuit competes mainly with H&R Block in US tax-filing and with New Zealand’s Xero for worldwide cloud-based accounting for small businesses.
He also prefers to identify the company’s chief competitor and main opportunities in a different way.
“What’s interesting is that in the US only about 8pc of the population have adopted accounting software for small businesses,” he says. “In the UK, that figure is 24pc.
“Our biggest rival in the small business market is a shoebox full of receipts or an Excel spreadsheet. But now with the cloud and the platform shift, businesses need to be using something.”
The logic of the cloud pervades Intuit’s expansion model. In the 1990s, Intuit’s desktop accounting software expanded through acquisitions and organic growth to have bases in 24 countries.
However, most of these have now gone and it is only in the past two years that the company has opened new offices in France and Brazil.
“What we found was that it was very hard to beat the local competition with a product that was retro-fitted,” says Smith.
“So we sold most of the overseas offices in the early 2000s and only stayed in Canada and the UK.
“With our cloud product, however, 80pc of it is the same around the world and the other 20pc can be easily localised so we’ve now started to move back into a global footprint.
“In the seven countries we’re in, we’ve opened up our market to more than 800m small businesses, including 5.5m in the UK.
“We currently have only 1.5m customers in the cloud so we really don’t need to open up in the eighth, ninth or 10th country right now. We need to continue to penetrate the markets we are in.”
Indeed, Intuit calculates that it has 29m small business prospects in the US alone. Currently, 70pc of new customers choose the cloud and 30pc choose desktop software, but Smith believes the tipping point has already been passed.
“For Millennials, the only thing they think about is wanting to have access to everything on all their devices from the cloud,” he says.
Intuit is also targeting the self-employed in the new “gig” economy. Self-employment is reckoned to account for one-third of global workforce with some economists forecasting that this will grow to 43pc by 2025.
That makes it in Smith’s eyes, the fastest growing part of the world’s economy. And he sees huge potential from the new generation of Uber drivers, food deliverers and internet handymen, saying US tax deductions worth up to $4,300 a year are available to gig economy workers who track their mileage with recognised software.
Founded in 1983 and headquartered in Mountain View, California, next to the headquarters of Google and LinkedIn, Intuit announced net income of $979m on revenues of $4.7bn last year.
Its regular workforce of 8,000 more than doubles to 17,000 in the January-April US tax-filing season and about 35m tax returns are filed each year using the company’s cloud-based TurboTax personal income product, with another 30m returns made through software that Intuit sells to chartered accountants.
“Our vision,” says Smith, “is to make the things that we do for you basically disappear. We’re very clear that the things we provide with our compliance products are not things that people get excited about.
“No one’s excited to wake up and pay taxes or to do the books or pay bills. What we try to do is through the cloud take all the data we have already gathered on you and through others like you, and get that work done so you don’t have to do anything.”
A native of Kenova, West Virginia, a town of just 3,500 inhabitants, Smith is proud of his Southern roots and a friend of John Chambers, the Cisco Systems executive chairman who also grew up in West Virginia.
Smith spent a year after high school at the US Military Academy at West Point before returning to take a business administration degree and working for PepsiCo and business services groups.
Intuit meanwhile was co-founded on a kitchen table in Palo Alto, California by a former Procter & Gamble worker to create a better way for his wife to balance the family finances.
Much of the company’s corporate history is dominated by an attempt by Microsoft to take its business, first through a competitor product called Microsoft Money and in 1994 – a year after Intuit floated – with a $2bn takeover offer that was blocked on competition grounds by the US Department of Justice.
“They then came after us with a direct competitor product half a dozen times and each time they were unsuccessful,” says Smith, who joined Intuit in 2003 and became CEO five years later.
“The last time they had a direct assault on the business was from 2005-07. We’re very good partners now.”
The company’s stated mission remains “improving people’s financial lives so profoundly that they can never imagine going back to the old way”.
“It’s on every wall in every one of our offices around the world,” says Smith. “Our company was set up to find a simple way for every man and woman to be able to make the best out of their personal situation.
“That matters to me because what that translates into is that our job is to eliminate poverty; to help the 70pc of families who live from pay cheque to pay cheque to live better lives and to help small businesses thrive.
“I grew up in a very rural town. My Mum and Dad didn’t get to finish high school and I knew what it was like to see families around me who lived a life while we were trying to figure out how we were going to get from pay cheque to pay cheque.
“What I love about this company is that it’s a cause bigger than itself. It’s basically trying to leave the world better than it found it.”