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A career entrepreneur, Carey Smith founded Big Ass Fans in 1999 and served as its CEO, or Chief Big Ass as he preferred, for 18 years. While other companies made and lost their fortunes, Carey’s contrarian business practices and relentless pursuit of new markets and high-quality products led to sustained, rapid growth. By 2017, Carey had grown the fan and light manufacturer to $250 million in annual revenue and nearly a thousand employees. And he’d done it without any outside investors.

Ready for a new challenge, he sold Big Ass Fans for $500 million. The company’s stock appreciation rights program paid out $50 million to more than 100 loyal employees who shared Carey’s work ethic with 15 becoming instant millionaires.

Carey is now focused on his next business — Unorthodox Ventures. A twist on the classic business incubator, Unorthodox Ventures is a small team of fearless millennials tasked with finding companies with big potential. The group evolved from a similar one at Big Ass Fans called The Kitchen that developed big ideas totally separate from the company’s core business efforts like how to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in hospitals in Rwanda and Haiti. And when the members of Unorthodox Ventures succeed, they’ll profit, too, as they have ownership stakes in both Unorthodox Ventures and the companies they build.



Before starting Big Ass Fans, Carey founded a company that installed sprinklers on the roofs of industrial buildings to cool their interiors. For more than a decade, the company never saw annual sales rise above $1.4 million. Carey eventually used the proceeds to start Big Ass Fans, and the experience taught him you can usually tell within a short time if an idea’s going to work. In this talk, Carey shares the lessons learned from a failed business to help him pivot his focus and business model and climb to success.


Join Big Ass Fans Founder Carey Smith, as he discusses why brands prove far more valuable than intellectual property. So difficult to build and so easy to lose, brands require a core set of values that are flexible enough to evolve as your business grows. Learn how Carey ensured Big Ass Fans kept its bold brand and uncompromising quality as the company’s products evolved from fans for farms and factories to your living room.

Carey gave an honest and open presentation about how he built his business. The talk was entertaining and often funny. He wasn’t afraid to go against the common narrative and ruffle a few feathers, either!
— Ben Fletcher, founder of entrepreneur conference Fast Growth Icons