Eric Smidt 101: Entrepreneur & Philanthropist
Zatrun Published at May 17, 2024

Eric Smidt, a prominent American businessman, is the driving force behind Harbor Freight Tools, a retail hardware empire with a nationwide presence. In this in-depth exploration conducted by, we delve into the life and career of Eric Smidt, uncovering the remarkable journey of a self-made entrepreneur with a profound commitment to philanthropy.

Early Life: Triumph Over Adversity

Born in 1960 in Los Angeles, California, Eric Smidt’s early life was marked by challenges that would shape his future. Raised by his mother, Dorthy Smidt, who battled multiple sclerosis, and his father, Allan Smidt, whose overwhelmed circumstances led to a difficult decision, Eric’s resilience shone through.

At just nine years old, he found himself in an orphanage, but four years later, he began a new chapter by moving in with an aunt in Tennessee. Eric’s determination was evident as he returned home after two years and celebrated his 16th birthday in his own apartment. He completed his education at Grant High School in Van Nuys, a Los Angeles public school.

A Visionary Entrepreneur’s Genesis

Eric’s entrepreneurial journey began at the young age of 17 when he co-founded Harbor Freight Tools in 1977, alongside his father. The company, initially known as Harbor Freight Salvage Co., started as a mail-order tool business with a unique approach. Eric introduced an innovative concept of cutting out the middleman by sourcing tools directly from factories to customers. This groundbreaking approach would later revolutionize the tool retail industry.

Eric’s entrepreneurial spirit and vision quickly propelled him forward. By the age of 25, he was named president of Harbor Freight Tools, and he continued to serve under that title until 1999 when he assumed the role of CEO.

His transformative leadership style and commitment to innovation were evident throughout his tenure. In 2001, Eric Smidt’s exceptional contributions earned him recognition as one of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurs of the Year, highlighting his enduring impact on the business world.

Eric Smidt: A Legacy of Philanthropy

Eric Smidt’s commitment to giving back to the community is embodied in his role as the founder and president of The Smidt Foundation. With assets totaling approximately $200 million, the foundation’s flagship program, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, stands as a testament to his dedication to skilled trades education in U.S. public high schools.

Eric’s philanthropic endeavors extend to the support of charitable organizations in the Los Angeles area. Notably, he funded the establishment of a public high school in Los Angeles named “Smidt Tech” or Alliance Susan & Eric Smidt Technology High. His advocacy for vocational education was further demonstrated in the “Tools for Schools” program, where he directed Harbor Freight Tools to donate $1.4 million in tools and equipment to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Career Technical Education program.

In 2018, as Harbor Freight Tools marked the opening of its 500th store near Chicago, Eric Smidt announced a generous contribution of $100,000 and donated tools to support Chicago Public Schools in advancing skilled trades learning and internships. Eric’s commitment to philanthropy has also included support for veterans, police and fire departments, and public education causes through Harbor Freight Tools’ programs. In a significant act of generosity, The Smidt Foundation made a historic $50 million donation to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 2018 to establish the Smidt Heart Institute.

This donation, the largest in Cedars-Sinai’s history at the time, was designated to fund cardiovascular disease and cardiology research efforts, reflecting Eric Smidt’s dedication to healthcare advancement. In times of crisis, Eric Smidt and Harbor Freight Tools have stepped up to support disaster relief efforts across the country with substantial donations to organizations such as the American Red Cross.

A Commitment to Community and Beyond

Beyond his philanthropic efforts, Eric Smidt has been actively involved in the political landscape as a prominent Los Angeles Democrat. He has hosted fundraiser dinners for notable figures like Bill and Hillary Clinton and counts former Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa among his friends. Eric’s financial contributions to Democratic campaigns in 2012 amounted to $114,300.

In 2010, Eric Smidt faced a legal challenge when he was sued by his parents for alleged financial improprieties related to Harbor Freight Tools. However, his commitment to his business empire and philanthropic endeavors remains unwavering. As a collector of modern art, Eric Smidt also serves on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, further highlighting his passion for supporting art and culture.

Eric Smidt’s journey from a challenging upbringing to building a business empire is a testament to his unwavering determination and entrepreneurial spirit. His commitment to philanthropy, vocational education, and healthcare advancement demonstrates his dedication to making a meaningful impact on society.’s comprehensive exploration of Eric Smidt’s life and career offers a unique perspective on the journey of a modern-day entrepreneur who continues to shape the business world while giving back to the community and beyond.

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