Think HBR

Let's Talk With Steven Smith

Steven Smith2
1. In a few words tell us about your current role
My current role is Managing Director of Advitech – an engineering and environmental consulting firm. I have overall responsibility for the services we provide in engineering design, project management, risk management, functional safety, sustainability and environmental management.
I’m also a director of two other Advitech Group companies – Novecom and Simulation Modelling Services.
2. How have you reached this point in your professional life?
My working career started with Tubemakers of Australia as an engineering trainee where I worked across production, maintenance and engineering departments whilst completing a degree in mechanical engineering part time. At the time I didn’t appreciate just how that hands-on experience would support my career development.
After ten years at Tubemakers the division I worked for was closed down. I was offered positions in Adelaide, Melbourne … or the gate and I chose the latter. I was fortunate to join A.Goninan & Co in the Heavy Engineering Division where I had project management responsibilities for projects in the mining, power generation and satellite communication sectors.
In 1990 I was invited to join what is now Advitech as manager of the Projects Group. Since that time I have enjoyed a very diverse range of work with some really inspiring people – both in-house and with clients. That work and the associated experiences prepared me for my current role as Managing Director.
As was custom at the time, 40 years ago I thought I was going to have a job for life at Tubemakers. I certainly had no idea that one day I would be part owner of a group of companies completing projects throughout Australia and overseas and having a ball doing it.
3. When you not a work, where will we find you?
Generally you will find me outdoors – working in the garden, walking at the beach, swimming at Port Stephens or dining by the lake. Part of my time outside of work is devoted to my role as Chairman of Hunter Manufacturing Awards.
4. Where do you find inspiration?
I gain inspiration from seeing the achievements of others – whether that is people I have met or people I have read about or seen on television. When I see someone who has succeeded really well at whatever they might have done, something stirs inside of me saying ‘you can do even better’. And that is a very powerful motivator for me. That relates to many aspects of my life, not just work.
5. What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your field?
Don’t be afraid to ‘get some grease under your finger nails’ in the early stages of your career. As a mechanical engineer you can’t underestimate the longer term benefits to be gained from throwing yourself into an operational or maintenance role in a living engineering environment – whether that be a manufacturing plant, power station, coal mine and many others. You need to experience not only the technical aspects of engineering, but the interpersonal challenges of dealing with people before you pursue supervisory or management roles.
Also accept that you don’t always know everything and that you can learn a lot just by listening and observing. I’ve learnt just as much about what not to do as I have what to do by watching the behaviour of others and the resulting outcomes.
6. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
In my last two years of high school I had the opportunity to go cross country skiing in the Snowy Mountains. As part of one trip we skied to Mt Kosciusko and as we approached the summit a white-out rolled in. I found myself at the top of Australia unable to see anything. One day during that trip we were unable to venture too far from Seaman’s Hut due to bad weather. To fill in time we were tasked with building snow caves or igloos. My group chose the igloo. Our finished structure looking something like the real thing and I got to sleep in it. It was surprisingly comfortable. I don’t know if I would be so keen now. A warm fire and glass of something is more my style now.
7. How would you like to see the Hunter evolve over the next decade?
We often hear the Hunter described as a living case study on how a region can collaboratively respond to disruptions thrown in its path and then embrace the opportunities that such disruptions create. We have been doing that for many years and can be justly proud of it.
There are currently many people and organisations in this region that genuinely want to see good things happen in terms of STEM based skills development, research excellence, entrepreneurial innovation, greater diversity in our manufacturing base and the corresponding economic growth and other benefits coming from that.
In support of those objectives I believe there is an opportunity for closer alignment between the various regional industry groups and representative bodies to present a common voice to State/Federal governments on matters important to the Hunter. In saying that, I’m not suggesting those industry groups and representative bodies lose their identities as they each provide very different and important roles for their members. However, a ‘singular voice’ to strategic regional issues could yield a powerful lobbying outcome for the Hunter.
8. What’s your favourite Hunter restaurant/café/bar?
I really enjoy The Beach Hotel at Merewether in summer.
9. Are you reading anything at the moment?
I’m currently reading a biography on Elon Musk