Robert Smith started his engineering career as an apprentice tool maker, before completing a degree in Mechanical Engineering at North East London Polytechnic (University of East London)
As you’d expect from an engineer, he is passionate about planning, processes and efficiency. But, what makes Robert different is that he is as focused on the people side of the business as he is on the processes.
Robert has had a varied career in manufacturing and production – with senior positions in quality control, business operations and business management. He has also worked across a huge range of products from fuel tanks to wing spars, and wheelchairs to armoured troop carriers! All of this gave him the experience and knowledge ready for his next move.
In 2015, Robert took a change of direction – and a bit of a leap of faith – when he joined Columbus.
He wasn’t just attracted to the role because it was based in his hometown of Cheltenham. However, having spent many hours on the road (and in the air) in previous roles, being able to work much closer to home was certainly attractive!
He was drawn to the size of the business. Having previously worked in large organisations, running multiple factories of over 400 people each, he had sometimes felt like a ‘small cog in a large wheel’. But, at Columbus, he felt like he could really make a difference, and it was the new challenge he’d been looking for.
But the real draw for Robert, was the traditional nature of the business: the culture, the products and the processes. They had been largely unchanged over the last few decades – which was exciting for two reasons. The first was that he had the opportunity to make changes which could make a significant commercial impact quite quickly, and the second was that he saw a real gap in the market for the bespoke, low volume / high value, and customer-focused nature of the business.
Looking to the future is exciting. Robert is clear that the next chapter for Columbus is all about growth. And to achieve that growth, he has set three main priorities for the next 5 years:
Technology – although there is definitely a need to invest in technology, it’s important to choose the right technology, to ensure that we can continue to give our customers what they need.
Environmental credentials – expanded polystyrene (EPS) is recyclable, and the production of it has a low impact on the environment: EPS has never contained CFC (chlorofluorocarbon), HCFC (hydrochlorofluorocarbon), or HFC (hydrofluorocarbon), which are harmful to the earth’s ozone layer. However, we know that there is more we can do to enhance our environmental credentials through the whole supply chain.
Sales and marketing – we know that our current customers think we’re great – but, we’re still seen as a best-kept secret, so, over the next few years there will be a real focus on sales and marketing.
Since joining the business, Robert’s mantra has always been to put the customer first – and he is personally in contact with many of Columbus’s customers on a day to day basis.