Sheila Smith approached every piece of her life with a verve and energy only matched by her signature vibrant style. Despite her recent passing, her ability to build relationships and educate and promote others will have a lasting positive impact on both the turnaround and restructuring community and the world at large.

by Phil Neuffer, Managing Editor, ABF Journal

Whenever Sheila Smith walked into a room, people noticed, and not just because of her always vibrant fashion sense. Over the course of a more than 30-year career in the turnaround and restructuring industry, Smith played a role in some of the most significant bankruptcies in U.S. history, but she became even better known for her endless energy, professional drive and dedication to building and maintaining relationships and educating others.

Although her impact on the restructuring and turnaround community came from her ceaseless dedication to the profession, Smith lived her entire life to the very limit, both inside and outside of the office. She went to Woodstock in 1969, got married in Paris and visited six continents. She was also an avid gardener, a Pac-Man savant and drove a Porsche 911 — in heels no less. “I think she just wanted to have a good, fun life,” Sheila Smith’s daughter Ashley Smith says. “She wanted a little taste of everything.”


Although she was born in Anchorage, AK, in 1952, Smith, who could trace part of her ancestry to the indigenous Mi’kmaq people of the North Atlantic coast, grew up in Bay Shore, NY, a tiny coastal town on Long Island. As a child, her mother worked in a budgetary role for the local school district and would pay Smith a nickel to go through paychecks at the end of the week, portending Smith’s eventual career in the financial sector.

However, Smith initially pursued a career in early childhood education, earning her bachelor’s degree in education in 1974 and her master’s degree in the subject in 1977, both from the State University of New York at Buffalo. After teaching at a school for troubled youth in Buffalo, NY, for a few years, Smith moved to Boston, where she would go on to work for the Woburn Council of Social Concern in Woburn, MA. It was in Boston that the trajectory of Smith’s professional and personal future would take shape.

On the personal side, she first met her husband, Bruce Smith, in the winter of 1982 at a Boston bar over a few hands of liar’s poker, gambling on the length of the serial numbers of dollar bills, with Bruce Smith ultimately losing all the singles in his wallet.

A month later, Bruce Smith returned to the same bar and found Sheila Smith sitting with a young man. Bruce Smith walked up, tapped the other man on the shoulder and said, “I see you’re having drinks with my wife.” The man, likely confused, apologized, got up and left, leaving Sheila Smith and Bruce Smith together. The rest is history. “That started our relationship,” Bruce Smith says.

After seven or eight months of dating, Bruce Smith, a former assistant U.S. attorney, approached the subject of marriage as only a lawyer could: “If I asked you to marry me, would you marry me?” Sheila Smith agreed, with the two marrying on May, 20, 1983, at the American Cathedral on the Avenue George V in Paris (although they had to have a civil ceremony in Massachusetts a few days beforehand per French law).

At the time she was married, Sheila Smith was still the executive director of the Woburn Council of Social Concern, but she was also pursuing her MBA from Boston University, which she obtained in 1985. With a new degree in hand, Smith opted to take her career in a different direction, eventually landing a job as an assistant treasurer for a national lumber company in 1986. She would later ascend to the role of treasurer, which put her in the unenviable position of working on the company’s liquidation when it filed for bankruptcy in the early 1990s. However, the workout consultant on the case, Peter Pelletier, who ran a boutique workout firm in New England, was impressed with Smith’s performance during the liquidation, so he offered her a job, thus officially beginning her career in the restructuring industry.


Smith spent the next four years with Pelletier & Associates, overseeing liquidations, advising on cost reduction and revenue enhancement strategies, and providing other financial consulting services to businesses across New England. Then, in 1995, she was recruited by KPMG to join the corporate restructuring division within its global financial strategies group, where she would serve for the next five years. Then, in 2000, she was recruited by another company: Deloitte.

“Once people got to know her in the legal community, she became in demand for various workouts of distressed companies,” Bruce Smith says.

Holly Etlin, currently a partner and managing director at AlixPartners, was the U.S. leader of Deloitte’s restructuring business in 2000 and remembers receiving a phone call from the firm’s Boston office about wanting to hire Sheila Smith to augment its own practice. Etlin set up a meeting with Smith, and the two would end up walking throughout downtown Boston for more than an hour, getting to know each other and discussing a potential role for Smith with Deloitte.

“She was very goal focused and ambitious and forthright about really wanting to have a major career in the restructuring industry,” Etlin says. “We did hire her, and for many years she was my colleague and then, ultimately, also became my friend.”

Smith would rise to incredible heights during her 15-year tenure at Deloitte, eventually leading the firm’s corporate restructuring group in the Western Hemisphere. In this role, she would participate in the mega-bankruptcy proceedings of Lehman Brothers, MF Global and American Airlines, among many other prominent engagements. Through it all, Smith’s ability to connect people is what set her apart.

“She built an incredible team,” William Snyder, who would serve as co-lead of the global restructuring group at Deloitte with Smith after the firm acquired CR3 Partners in 2012.

Smith would eventually retire from Deloitte in 2015, but she remained embedded in the industry, joining Gordon Brothers as a senior advisor in 2017, teaming up with her longtime friend and colleague Ken Frieze, who is currently the chairman of the firm.

“I first met Sheila over 30 years ago. Over the span of three decades, our relationship grew from collaborator to mentor to Gordon Brothers board member to senior advisor — and most importantly, a dear friend,” Frieze says. “Sheila was one-of-a-kind. There was no one more positive and inspiring.”


Smith wasn’t just skilled at bringing people together where she worked; she also became legendary for her exceptional networking skills and the sheer breadth of her connections within the industry.

“If you needed a job, you’d call her. If you needed help on a case, you’d call her. If you needed to meet somebody, you would call her,” Snyder says.

Brent Hazzard, now the president of asset finance and head of asset-based lending at Citizens, first met Smith more than 30 years ago when he was starting out in the ABL world at GE Capital. After his territory expanded from southern New England to include Massachusetts, the first person he called was Smith, who invited him up to Boston.

“We had a two- or three-hour meeting and she just asked me a thousand questions about what my business was, about working for GE Capital, how she could help and how could we do business together,” Hazzard says, crediting Smith for helping him find the success that would push his career forward.

Smith’s ability to connect with people was a tremendous advantage in her restructuring work. An intensely practical problem-solver, she excelled in facilitating the difficult negotiations inherent in such business engagements.

“She would say, ‘The problem here is that this group is not getting along with this other group.’ She would find people she knew in each of those groups, introduce them to each other, knock their heads together, and say, ‘You guys need to work this out,’” Kathryn Coleman, a partner and co-chair of the corporate reorganization and bankruptcy practice at Hughes Hubbard & Reed, says.

“She got along with everyone, could deal with these difficult personalities and could counsel them,” Bruce Smith says. “One of her distinguishing things was that everybody that she had known, whether they were girlhood friends from high school or college friends, she stayed close to them.”


Smith may have left the world of education for a career in the financial sector, but she never stopped being a teacher, carrying over many of the skills she developed early in her professional life to her work and to her role as a mother to her daughter Ashley and stepdaughter Abigail.

“My mom was a big planner. She always had activities and things. They took me with them to all these adult events, but she would remember to bring a coloring book and crayons,” Ashley Smith says.

Because she had to travel frequently for work, particularly as she rose the corporate ladder, Sheila Smith often brought her daughter Ashley along with her on business trips, providing them with experiences they may never have had otherwise.

“I think she really liked the idea that in this sea of men in navy blue suits, she would come in with her blonde hair and red lipstick and she’d be like, ‘My kid is here too,’” Ashley Smith says.

Sheila Smith’s roots as an educator were also apparent in her dedication to mentorship, especially for younger women entering the restructuring space.

“She was such a great mentor to younger women, women coming up, especially in public accounting,” Coleman, who first met Smith in 2010 and would become one of her closest friends, says.

“Sheila’s perhaps greatest impact was as a motivator: inspiring the people who work for and with her to achieve their best,” Frieze says. “She was a teacher at heart, helping contemporaries and upand-comers with the basics and nuances of conducting business effectively.”

Smith’s passion for education within the restructuring industry itself manifested in her unflinching devotion to supporting organizations like the Turnaround Management Association and the American Bankruptcy Institute. A fellow of the ABI and a former chapter president of the TMA, Smith also served on the ABI’s commission to study the reforming of Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was a frequent speaker at industry events. The recipient of many prestigious awards, Smith was inducted into the TMA’s Hall of Fame in 2012.

“She attacked her volunteerism working within the ABL and TMA industry with the same level of passion that she treated her work,” Hazzard says. “As a result, it elevated the experience for whoever was involved and made the quality of the programming and the insights that much better.”


In 2014, Smith was traveling with her husband in Chile when her skin began to take on a jaundiced look. Upon their return to Boston, the couple went to the hospital for an MRI, which revealed Sheila Smith had pancreatic cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is below all other major cancer types at just 9%. Despite the odds, Smith fought the disease for nearly a decade, undergoing multiple stretches of prolonged chemotherapy treatment as well as the Whipple procedure, a surgery in which part of the pancreas and other gastrointestinal organs are removed entirely.

“She was really, really brave,” Ashley Smith says. “She fought it really hard.”

Sheila Smith, who was no stranger to painful medical ailments, including serious burns from a clothes fire, Eastern equine encephalitis and continuing trigeminal nerve pain in her jaw, approached her battle with pancreatic cancer the same way she approached any other challenge in her life: by giving it everything she had.

“I think that’s how she saw it. She was working to fight cancer,” Ashley Smith says.

Despite the physical and emotional toll of fighting a deadly disease for nearly 10 years, Sheila Smith didn’t let cancer stop her from living her life. She remained with Deloitte through 2015 and later took on a senior advisory role with Gordon Brothers in 2017. She also continued to tend to her gardens, shop for her signature brightly colored outfits and travel as frequently as possible, even visiting Dubai with Coleman in 2020 and returning to Paris with her husband one last time in 2023.

In June 2023, an MRI revealed that Smith’s cancer had spread to her brain, causing her health to deteriorate more rapidly. She would be in and out of the hospital for several months before she returned home in mid-November for the last time, passing away on Nov. 11.

“She braved through it. She never gave up. There are people who give up and say, ‘To hell with it, I’m not going to fight any longer. Just let it take me,’” Bruce Smith says. “She was a very, very, very brave, strong women to put up with this horror for this period of time.”


Sheila Smith became a part of so many people’s lives during her colorful and exceptional life. Although her passing certainly leaves some darkness in the world, there’s no doubt that the light and wisdom and joy she brought to her colleagues, friends, family will be what endures.

“I will remember her friendship the most,” Etlin says. “Sheila was always an ally that I could call on.”

“She made all of us who were lucky enough to be her friend just a little bit better,” Coleman says.

“[Sheila was] an inspiration to all of us — making each and every one of us a better version of ourselves,” Frieze says.

“She was just one of those genuine people. Most people wear masks; she didn’t,” Snyder says.

“I’m going to miss being able to get her advice,” Ashely Smith says. “I’m going to miss being able to call her and ask: ‘Mom, how do I do this?’”

“What would I most remember? She was my beautiful girl,” Bruce Smith says. “I sometimes still talk to her or expect her to be talking to me. When you’re married for 40 years, that person becomes part of you and you become part of them.”•