A Conversation with...Jeff Smith, Electro-Spec

A former athlete at Notre Dame, Smith's shop was named the No. 1 plating shop in the Products Finishing Top Shops Benchmarking Survey

Jeff Smith is president of Electro-Spec, an Indiana electroplater that has been in business since 1959. A former athlete at Notre Dame, his shop was named the No. 1 plating shop in the Products Finishing Top Shops Benchmarking Survey.

 

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Jeff Smith, Electro-Spec

 

PF: What was your reaction to finishing at the top of the Products Finishing Top Shops benchmarking survey?

JS: I was both excited and relieved; I felt that the competition would be significantly better than last year. We received a lot of recognition from our peers, customers and suppliers for our award last year, and my hope was that we would be fortunate enough to obtain recognition for a second straight year.

 

PF: How important is it to benchmark against others?

JS: Statistics, metrics and analytics all serve a purpose in terms of how we measure ourselves and set goals. You can’t have a strategic plan if you don’t have goals in place to achieve the plan. Finishing is a value-added business, and when you add  the complexity of the different finishes, substrates, processes and components that are used, it makes it extremely difficult to understand how well you are or aren’t doing. By implementing a survey of similar businesses, there is finally a system in place to benchmark what we are doing against those providing similar services. In the past, we would have to rely on auditors or customer feedback to understand where we stood. I think this survey is a great tool for our industry to understand what we are doing well and what we are deficient in.

 

PF: In 2003, you lost your entire plant in a fire. Did you ever think of giving up?

JS: There isn’t any word or sentence I can provide that truly captures the feelings and thought process as you stand there watching your business burn to the ground. As a business owner, you take risks and have a sense of invincibility at times, irrespective of the circumstances. When those circumstances are out of your control—for example, when a fire occurs—you realize how family, friends and faith play a part in your decision making process. I never second guessed that we would rebuild bigger and better than ever.

 

PF: You ran track and lettered at Notre Dame, then competed in Europe. Do you still compete?

JS: If I tried to do any of those events today I would seriously injure myself. Those days are long gone.

 

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you were given, either personally or professionally?

JS: There is a definite difference between managing people and leading people. I truly believe that you manage with your mind, but you lead with your heart. Leading is about serving others and making sure they are successful.

 

PF: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

JS: I worked for Economy Plating, which changed its name to Electro-Spec in 1989. I wired parts for plating and brushed parts by hand on a brush wheel for hours. It was hot and dirty work and, because I was going to college at Notre Dame at the time, I wanted to prove to everyone that I could stick with it.

 

PF: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?

JS: My first car was a hand-me-down Subaru from my grandmother. It was the ugliest car on the road. I don’t have a dream car yet because I need something that my wife and four kids can all fit into.

 

PF: What did you want to be when you grew up?

JS: An inventor; I was always trying to come up with new things. My wife will tell you that my mind is not normal because I am always trying to develop something “new and different.” I guess in actuality I am still a 10-year-old at heart.

 

PF: If you could trade jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be?

JS: A politician. I think the general consensus is that any one of us could do a better job in Congress than those that are elected and serve there. Conversely, it would be great for them to experience life as a business owner and see the many regulatory issues we deal with on a daily basis. I don’t think they have any idea what we go through to build companies, employ people and provide for the community.

 

Get to Know Jeff

Family: Married to Sarah for 25 years, and four children: Katie, Grace, Sam and Owen.

Favorite hobby: Anything sports related

Favorite movie: “Little Boy,” a World War II drama

Favorite book: When Will the Heaven Begin?: This is Ben Breedlove’s Story

What’s playing in your car CD/radio: Classic rock

 

Originally published in the April 2016 issue.

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