The sixth generation of the Smith family is taking over the reins of H & J Smith.
One of the South Island’s most prominent businessmen is ‘handing over the mantle’ of the family business after 31 years at the helm.
H&J Smith Holdings Ltd Chairman John Ward, on behalf of the board of directors, has announced that Managing Director Acton Smith has stepped down and his eldest son Jason Smith will take over the role.
Acton Smith, 66, said he and Jason had spent the past few years working on a succession plan and that he was “extremely proud” to hand over to his son, confident in the ability of the next generation to meet new challenges with the support of key people in the company.
Jason, 43, will be the sixth-generation Smith family member to take over the reins since the first store was opened in Dee Street, Invercargill, by brother-and-sister team Helen and John William Smith at the turn of the last century.
Helen, the store’s first manager, doubled the business and opened another store in Gore in 1905. She was succeeded by John after she died in the flu epidemic of 1919 and John went on to take the business successfully through the depression.
John’s son Jock became Managing Director in 1960. Jock retired in 1982 when Acton took over the role.
More than 110 years on and the H&J Smith brand is a Southland success story, a family business that employs more than 400 people with five H&J Smith and two Mitre 10 branches across Southland and Queenstown.
“Since he built and ran the ‘element’ sports store in Queenstown on behalf of the family and went on to develop our Mitre 10 and Mitre 10 Mega programme, Jason has become more and more involved with the ownership and direction of the family business and comes to the Managing Director position with the confidence and goodwill of the directors and family,” said Mr Smith.
“The last 30 years have been extremely challenging.
“I pride myself in the fact that the company has been nimble enough to outlast the great rural meltdown that occurred as a result of Rogernomics, 1987’s share market crash, the collapse of the Asian business market and of course the global financial crisis of 2008.
“But now new challenges, regulations and technology require a new set of management techniques and a willingness to explore and try new options.”
While Acton Smith said he and Jason had been planning for the handover for some time, it was a serious bout of pneumonia on a recent holiday in Fiji that finally made up his mind.
“That was the cue card for me to exit stage right, hand over the day-to-day running of the business to Jason, dedicate my time to finishing off the big Stadium Southland project, and smell the roses.”
The move was approved by the H&J Smith Holdings board on August 15. Acton Smith will remain a lifetime director of the company.
Jason Smith described his father as a colleague, coach and mentor, whose numerous achievements he was extremely proud of.
“Acton has unselfishly committed over 40 years to H&J Smith Limited, the Southland Building Society, Mitre 10 (NZ) Limited, and the Stadium Southland Trust as well as to the Southland and wider New Zealand business community,” he said.
“He’s been an excellent role model who has provided me with sound advice, clear guidance as required, and has supported my development throughout these years.”
Jason said he was thrilled to lead the company into a new era, with the same unwavering commitment and enthusiasm that his father brought to the role.
Major projects underway include pursuing resource consent applications to build a MEGA Store in Queenstown, and introduce new POS and merchandising systems into H&J Smith and Outdoor World. In Invercargill, the company is developing the old Mitre 10 Store to relocate the Invercargill Outdoor World Store into a new large store and is redeveloping the third floor of the original H&J Smith store.
The company operates five H&J Smith stores in Invercargill, Gore, Remarkables Park, Balclutha and Te Anau, two H&J’s Outdoor World stores in Invercargill and Remarkables Park, two Mitre 10 Stores including Mitre 10 MEGA Invercargill and Remarkables Park Mitre 10 (franchised) as well as Paper Plus Invercargill (Franchise) inside the Invercargill store, Take Note (Franchise) inside the Gore store and H&J’s Electrical Limited.
In a message to staff Acton Smith paid tribute to all those he had worked with over the years for “sharing his dreams and aspirations.”
“I’ve been privileged over my time to have worked with a group of outstanding people who brought to this organisation commitment, hard work, strong ethical behaviour and an absolute willingness to go the extra mile during the challenges we faced.
“Together we have left an organisation that is stronger and better placed than from the day I joined it.”
H & J’s is a Southland institution. It’s longevity owes a lot to the values and leadership of successive generations of the Smith family.