Quick Questions for The People In Charge | Kenneth WM. Smith, P.E., P.L.S.

The Great Budget Debate Continues
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The Great Budget Debate Continues
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January 13, 2018

Q: What is the key to being successful in business?

In any business, it is a clear sense of purpose. That is the key. That way the people that work with you, the stakeholders in your company, and even the community you serve, understand clearly what you are about. If you can stay true to that, you are fine.

Q: How much has your industry changed from the time you started to now?

I feel very fortunate that I started in this business right before the onslaught of the computer age. I did everything old school. We didn’t have computers or anything close to this type of technology. I used a slide rule in college. By the time I got out of college, we were just setting up the first PC labs. My timing was impeccable; I really had a good base to watch the technology roll out. It’s unbelievable for me to think about where the business and our industry was at compared to today. We now have the ability to get so much more done with so much less equipment. We went from slide rules and drafting boards to now everything is done by computer and automated. The first computers we had literally could barely fit in the back of a truck, and now we have infinitely more power in the device on your smart watch. We do a lot of surveying and a great example is the GPS unit. An old GPS unit barely fit in the back of a suburban. Now there is a micro GPS on my watch on my wrist that is more accurate than that old unit in the back of my truck. And that’s just technology in 30 years. However in those years, our purpose hasn’t changed. We still want to improve the communities that we are a part of. We just have a lot better tools to help us do that.

Q: Did you see yourself in this position as a child?

I am the oldest son of seven children. At about eight years old, I was home and aggravating all my siblings, mostly my sisters. My mom told my dad, he’s got to go! And thus began my career at T. Baker Smith. I have been following my dad around here since I was a little kid. I don’t know about the position of CEO but I will tell you there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to grow up and be a part of T. Baker Smith. To be where I’m at now as a third generation owner and leader, the legacy component of this business is probably most important thing to me at this point.

Q: What advice would you give any aspiring businessman looking to start a company?

There are three things you have to have: one, you have to figure out what you going to do or what exactly are you going to provide. It’s got to be something you have a passion for. Two, you have got to be really good at it. Hopefully it’s something you have a natural talent for. And three, you have to do your research and figure out if that’s something that people will pay you for. All three of these things have to intersect for you to be successful. I believe the most important thing is the passion. That drives your sense of purpose.

Q: What is your greatest accomplishment as a businessman?

As a businessman, I am very proud of the culture we have built here. The culture is all about people. We built a firm that isn’t just about money. Before the money is the growth and development of our folks. I’m very proud to have a well-established business that isn’t rooted in just profits.

Q: The local economy is struggling. How has T. Baker Smith adjusted?

2015 and 2016 were brutal years for us. We had to really make some adjustments. Just like everyone else, we had to look at all our expenses and really tighten up. Get very efficient and very effective. Those were real opportunities for us to “get our act together.” When times are good, you can afford to make mistakes, but when things get tough, you find out what you’ve really got. That’s what 2015 and 2016 were all about for us. We did some downsizing, but we also retooled how we did things. Going forward, it has paid big benefits for us. Starting in about 2016, we started to see a pick up in our business and finished the year pretty good. In 2017, we saw about a 10% increase in work. We are very proud that in 2017 we hired over 85 people. We are very proud that the hard work and decisions we had to make to operate more efficient and effectively allowed us, once work picked back up, to aggressively bring more great folks on board. We do a lot of things for a lot of people in a lot of places. That’s on purpose. It’s diversity and stability. We’re not just going to be in one industry, we are going to be spread out. This provides stability. When one area experiences a downturn, we have others to pull us through.

Q: Do you think the economy will rebound soon? What is your forecast for 2018?

For T. Baker Smith, we cover the entire Gulf Coast region and work throughout the United States. We recently opened a business down in Mexico. We are personally forecasting about a 30% increase in our work for 2018. It’s pretty substantial. I think the mood is a little more optimistic in our region than it was a year ago.

Q: What makes a good CEO? 

A good CEO measures success by their people. It’s all about your people more than the business. You have to have leadership, but I think you need the kind of leadership where you put your people first, not yourself. Another important trait is being a visionary. But you also have to have a high level of strategic thinking, planning and execution. You have to be able to take that vision and turn it into something. You can’t be afraid to make decisions. You have to have a great ability to build a long-lasting and trusting team.

Q: If you could describe T. Baker Smith in one word, what word would you say? Why?

The one word is Stability. We have been through every war, every hurricane, every flood, every oil spill, every economic boom or bust… others have come and gone, but if you want stability, this is the place, no doubt. If you are looking for stability in your career, for family, we are the solution for you.

Q: What are your plans for the future of T. Baker Smith?

We are very excited about the future. We are looking to grow the firm. First, we will continue to hire more folks and we have a strategy to do that. We want to have a bigger footprint throughout the nation. I’m 55, and the good Lord willing, I’ll be around another 20, 25 years or so and help continue to grow this company.