“If you’re not changing, you’re dying.” Those are words to live by, said Debra Smith, co-owner of Pulliam Aquatech Pools, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder based in Fort Worth, Texas. That willingness to embrace change in her work life has led Smith on many an adventure.
It all began in rural Ohio, where she grew up with her parents and five siblings. “We were very poor, and I used to invent stories in my mind to entertain myself,” Smith recalled. “We would be working on the farm or the garden, and I’d be sweating away and inventing stories to pass the time.” Not surprisingly, she took a journalism class in high school and was co-editor of the school paper, besides enjoying accounting studies.
At age 22, she met her husband, whose oil career took them to Egypt. “I wrote down all the vivid images I saw, and interviewed everybody,” she said. “I was always interested in people’s life stories, and I kept [them in] journals.”
When Tom and Debra moved back to the States, he encouraged her to go to college and she did, obtaining a Bachelor of Science with accounting emphasis from Colorado Mesa University. The Smiths moved to Nevada, then Texas. Debra got a banking job, while Exxon sent Tom on a lucrative assignment to China. After working as an auditor at Lockheed, she became a business consultant and did several projects for Pulliam Pools.
Following Tom’s return from China, the Smiths were preparing to go to Madagascar in 1992. But Exxon cancelled the trip because beheadings in that country had made things unsafe. Fortuitously, Pulliam’s accountant quit at that time, and Debra was offered the job.
She had ideas for growing the business that worked, and before long Smith became office manager, then general manager six years later, and then vice president. When Barry Pulliam decided to close the business in 2009, Debra Smith and Sales Manager Mike Clark stepped forward with a business plan and took over ownership.
As for Smith’s writing, she completed a novel based on the stories in her journals. “I chose the title Luck of the Scarab because I lived in Egypt for nine months, and scarabs (beetles) are considered good luck,” Smith said. “My book had everything — adventure, mystery, travel, sex. That’s why I didn’t want my granddaughter reading it. So when the publisher went bankrupt before it could be published, I was grateful. I was in a different place when I wrote it.”