The Smith Brothers
Brothers Richard and John Smith, founders of their eponymous electrical engineering firm Smith Brothers Ltd, catch up with BQ for our latest Meet the MDs feature...
What does your role involve?
R: Our operation is structured around the many different roles within the business. John is based downstairs, and focuses on finances, sales, bidding and HR – he’s basically in charge of winning contracts. This work is then passed onto myself and the rest of the operations team upstairs where we are tasked with delivering projects on time and on budget. I take care of the project management team and ultimately the crews on-site.
J: I’m also responsible for developing and implementing company policy. This involves planning, forecasting and monitoring operational performance, along with coordinating any necessary changes. Delegation is critical to my role – luckily, we have a multi-talented team to assist with making and implementing strategic decisions.
What is it the company does?
R: We provide turnkey electrical solutions for customers with a requirement for high voltage distribution systems and new connections to the grid.
J: Our client base spans both the industrial and commercial sectors. We’re also a NERS contractor, which means that we’re accredited to complete new connections for clients as an alternative to them using their regional distribution network operator.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
R: I started my career as an apprentice at the Yorkshire Electricity Board, before moving to work in Canada for two years at a high voltage contracting firm. I set up Smith Brothers a few years after returning to the UK and have worked alongside John ever since, to grow the business to what it is today.
J: I went into an apprenticeship after leaving school too, but in mechanical engineering. Opportunities in the industry became limited, so I got into sales and studied an MSc in Marketing at Huddersfield University. After graduating, I went to work with Richard and completed an apprenticeship in electrical engineering. 20 years and a lot of hard graft have brought me to where I am now!
What do you believe makes a great leader?
R: I think a bit of everything is required to make a great leader, but being able to motivate people is absolutely essential. The ability to look forward and embrace new opportunities helps.
J: Leaders need both skills and the right instincts to be successful – planning, decision-making, problem-solving, delegation, communication, negotiation, financial and legal acumen and the ability to motivate others, to name a few! Vision is also vital.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
R: People not sticking to their side of an agreement, which includes staff, customers and suppliers.
J: Recruiting the right people for the right role.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
R: I don’t tend to get overly stressed. I know John is partial to a spot of golf, but it’s not really my cup of tea.
J: I do enjoy golf, although my handicap remains stubbornly high! I also love visiting local restaurants and pubs at the weekend.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
R: Probably an engineer of some description.
J: I always wanted to be an engineer.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
R: I hate waste, both in the office and on-site – stuff doesn’t just grow on trees.
J: I’m with Richard on this one – I especially hate time-wasting.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
R: Bigger and even better.
J: We’ve seen some tremendous opportunities unfolding, so I’d be astounded if we weren’t achieving revenues of £50m.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
R: Don’t usually give competitors advice! Also, surround yourself with people who have the right skills and knowledge for your company. There are many facets to a business and no one is skilled in every element – if you’re not an expert in a particular area, get someone in who is.
J: Find good people to help you build your business – having competent, aspirational and motivated staff is key.