"I was born here in Los Angeles and wasn't exposed to art as a child. When I joined the LACMA board, I realized what I missed in my youth and the wonderful things that can happen when a public museum opens its doors to the community."
Marking the opening of the 500th Harbor Freight Tools store near Chicago, CEO Eric Smidt announced the contribution of $100,000 and the donation of tools to Chicago Public Schools to support teachers and students in skilled trades learning and internships.
Eric L. Smidt was born in Los Angeles, California in 1960 to Allan Smidt and Dorthy Smidt. His mother had multiple sclerosis and his Father, overwhelmed, sent him to an orphanage when he was nine. Four years later he went to live with an aunt in Tennessee, returning home after two years but moving into his own apartment on his 16th birthday. He graduated from Grant High School in Van Nuys, a public school in Los Angeles. In 1977, as a teenager, Smidt started Harbor Freight Tools with his Father in a small building in North Hollywood, California. Originally known as Harbor Freight & Salvage Co., the company began as a mail-order tool Business. Eric introduced the company's defining innovation of cutting out the middleman and began to obtain tools directly from the factories to the customer.
In 1985, Smidt was named President of the company at the age of 25; he served under that title until 1999 when he became CEO. In 2001, Smidt was listed as one of Ernst & Young's Entrepreneurs of the year.
In 2008, Eric responded to the turbulence in the global economy by implementing a company-wide reinvigoration plan. Eric and his team drove growth in company performance and a culture of continuous improvement. The team drove improvements that led to new products and lower prices for Harbor Freight customers.
Smidt has been a long-time supporter of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, University of Southern California and UCLA. In 2012, he funded a new public high school in Los Angeles known as "Smidt Tech" (also known as Alliance Susan & Eric Smidt Technology High) for Alliance College-Ready Public Schools (an independent non-profit charter school manager).
Smidt is a prominent Los Angeles Democrat, who's hosted fundraiser dinners for both Bill and Hillary Clinton. He is a friend of former Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa, and he has donated money to help pay down the Mayor's ethics fines. On March 4, 2013, LA Weekly reported that Smidt donated $50,000 to the Coalition for School Reform to elect Kate Anderson and Antonio Sanchez to the LAUSD Board of Education and to re-elect incumbent Monica Garcia. He also contributed $114,300 to a number of Democratic campaigns in 2012.
In 2015, Harbor Freight Tools established a program to fund requests from non-profit organizations in the U.S. to support veterans, police and fire departments, and public education causes.
In 2016, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans honored Harbor Freight Tools with its Outstanding Corporate Partner Award in recognition of the company's support for homeless veterans.
On February 14, 2018 The Smidt Foundation made a $50 million gift to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to establish the Smidt Heart Institute. This gift, the largest single donation ever received by Cedars-Sinai, was earmarked to fund cardiovascular disease and cardiology research efforts. "It's important to support outstanding local institutions, and we wants to help amplify Cedars-Sinai's impact on human health and wellbeing here and far beyond Los Angeles. We are humbled to play a role in their long tradition of savings lives and serving our community," said Eric Smidt in a press release.
Under Smidt’s leadership, Harbor Freight Tools has supported excellence in Career Technical Education to benefit teachers and students, providing donations to vocational classrooms via Donors Choose, to the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers in New York City and Domus Academy's Work and Learn Program in Stamford, Connecticut. Additionally, new auto lifts were purchased for CEC Middle College in Denver, Colorado.