We've known Tamsin Smith since she was the head of Government Affairs for Gap Inc. Tamsin is smart, funny and one of the most sincerely altruistic women we know. Looking to do work that would truly give something back, Tamsin made the inspiring move to become President of PRODUCT (RED) , an initiative created by Bono and Bobby Shriver to harness private sector creativity and the purchasing power of individual consumers to help eliminate AIDS in Africa.
Tamsin Smith is the single mother of two amazing kids, Scully (5) and Tabitha (2). She lives with them in San Francisco, California.
How many hours a week do you work? Do you work exclusively in the office, exclusively from home or some combination?
I work more than forty hours a week, but please don't make me count. Our office is in Los Angeles. I live in San Francisco and work from a home office while there. My third office is Southwest Airlines and the sky miles between southern and northern California.
Could you describe your childcare situation?
My daughter is in daycare and my son in kindergarten. I have a friend masquerading as a nanny who helps me drop off and pick up the kids, provides cover if my flights are late, preps the lunchboxes, and makes sure I have a meal myself now and again.
Did your mom work while you were growing up? What did she do?
My younger sister and I grew up with a single mom who worked. She’s a cell biologist, who had her own lab at the university growing up. Now she’s the CEO of a biotech company that develops single-dose oral vaccines for global health challenges like cholera and rotavirus, which kills millions of children in developing countries. To my kids, she is GaGa . . . I believe that translates as Goddess to them. No, she’s not an easy act to follow.
How often do you have dinner with your children? What are the last three dinners you made for your kids? Did you eat the same thing they did?
I am a single mom with shared custody. I have my kids three or four evenings every week. This makes every second that much more precious, so I never miss dinner. It also means, they get their favorite. Spaghetti. Spaghetti. Spaghetti. I usually eat their leftovers, but with a very good glass of wine.
Do you travel for your job? How often? Do you try to avoid it when you can or do you consider it the great escape?
I travel constantly, but try to plan it for the days that I’m not scheduled to have my kids with me. I’m basically an air traffic controller, but what mom — working or not — isn’t.
What do you think about the so-called Mommy Wars?
I think it’s important to remember how blessed we are that such a debate can even exist. There are real wars being fought today in this world. Wars of aggression and oppression, and life or death fights against preventable, treatable diseases like AIDS. Generations of women and children in Africa are being wiped out by AIDS. Two pills a day . . . two pills costing 50 cents can keep them alive, and yet we are losing the fight.
I visited Rwanda and Lesotho in May of this year. The mothers that I met there don’t love their children any less than the wonderful circle of moms that I know in San Francisco. And yet, their choices are worlds apart.
I think sometimes about what makes my kids mad. Usually it’s a squabble over a new toy or an extra cookie — something I have the power to give them but am withholding. Control is a lesson they need to learn, but what a luxury.
It is hard for me to imagine how I would feel bringing my daughter to an AIDS clinic for testing or what I would do if both my kids were sick but I had only the pills to treat one. These are the tests that some mothers face.
Guilt is, in my experience, a destructive thing. I want my children to feel proud of their lives. I want them to use the blessings they have to do good things for their own families and for others. Privilege is a privilege and I hope to teach my kids the power of using it wisely.
I do fantasize about what it would be like to have 100 percent custody of my kids, to spend all their non-school time with them, to be perfectly attentive and gentle with them in every circumstance. A dream! But what I try to do when waking from the reverie is commit to making the moments that I do have as meaningful as possible. I am damn lucky, and I try not to forget that at the end of a long and hard day.
What is your guiltiest pleasure? Do you ever have time for it?
Surfing. Sure, can’t say no to Mother Nature.
What are the three adjectives that best describe you?
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I think simply being happy is a heck of a hard thing. I’m grateful that it’s still easy to smile.
What inspires you?
People who use their imaginations to spread goodness — whether that’s writing a beautiful song, helping a friend, or fighting for a better way.
Inspired by single working mom and PRODUCT(RED)  President Tamsin Smith's commitment to making the world a better place? Then be sure to check out our interview with My New Red Shoes founder Heather Hopkins .