This month’s Core Connections Feature profiles Francis Smyth, CEO/President of Century Engineering, Inc. With more than 20 years of experience at Century Engineering, Smyth is Chairman of the B&O Railroad Museum and holds degrees from Princeton University and Loyola University’s Sellinger School of Business. He and his wife Autee reside in Hunt Valley, MD and have three sons.
How do you lead differently now than you did 5 or 10 years ago?
Today I am more of a manager than the doer. I have evolved into a team builder on projects where I once attempted to accomplish challenges by myself. I believe the power of many minds/talents working together can more completely accomplish a goal than an individual working alone. There is still a role for the individual talents to excel but once those talents are united to the end game, we can achieve a more comprehensive result.
Tell us about a time when you took a substantial risk that paid off (or backfired!)
As a non-engineer, buying Century Engineering was a complete out of the box risk. Almost as a rule, engineering firms are managed by engineers for obvious reasons. Coming to the table as a non-engineer really challenged the market and our staff to view things differently. Immediately, folks wondered how things were going to work. I didn’t threaten their existence because I didn’t have their skill set. But, I did have a business skill set that every company needs. Together, we set the course for our success, built trust with one another and 22 years later we are five times bigger than we were, folks are enjoying the success of their jobs and we have a bright future ahead.
What’s your next big goal?
Century’s current goal is 75 by 20 – or growing to $75 million by the year 2020. Goals and growth plans are important for the culture of an organization. For me, growth provides constant change to make sure we are on our game, upward mobility for ambitious employees that want to grow in their careers, and a steady stream of profits to annually reward employees with a good work environment, competitive salaries, satisfactory benefits, and maybe a nice bonus at the end of the year.
How do you stay competitive?
Each year I set personal goals that I want to achieve. By setting stretch goals, I am always pushing to prove to myself that I am still relevant. Those goals often require me to learn more, work harder and lean on other people to stay ahead of the reaper.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a mentor?
No one has a monopoly on good ideas. Everyone, no matter their role in a company, can influence the success of the endeavor.
Who inspires you and why?
Folks with real challenges in life truly inspire me. Whether it be a physical malady or a societal obstacle, people who can rise to a challenge and face it with a fierceness, enthusiasm, and commitment, win or lose, have the best stories to tell.
What’s the best way to judge if someone is a good fit for your organization?
I like to talk to people off script from the usual interview or resume review. If I can get them to show me their passion by finding a topic that excites them, I can read true character in that reaction.
What keeps you coming back each day? What’s the best part for you?
People on the job bring me back each day. From my fellow employees who I count as teammates, to our clients who provide a problem to solve, the engagement is contagious. Uniquely, everyone has their own style and working together to achieve an end result, is ultimately rewarding.
Coke or Pepsi?
Best place to vacation?
Anywhere with my family. My wife is my best friend and I really enjoy the people who my kids have become.
What snack can you simply not live without?
Pretzels and jerky. Probably not the best for me to eat if I want to be 120 years old.
What’s something about you that people are surprised to find out?
I like yard work, carpentry, and other activities that require manual effort. I find it therapeutic and you get a feeling of accomplishment immediately.
If you could time travel, what would you want to say to the college-age you?
Take risks, they always pay off.
One piece of advice for young, aspiring leaders:
Do the “old fashioned” stuff. Get to work early, work hard, be friendly and polite, use proper grammar, open doors for ladies. It all matters and it quietly impresses everyone.
What’s a lesson that you had to learn the hard way?
Always treat people fairly. Inconsistent application of rules always comes back to haunt you.
Photo credit: St. Paul’s School