Written by Olga Kennedy
Interviewed by Don Emmett
Warm, inviting, creative, dynamic, empowering and wise—these and so much more can be used to describe Judy Smith, President of Smith Seal of NC. From her early days as a secretary and interpreter for GE at Italy’s first nuclear power plant, the only woman in a crowd of 1,000 men, to circumstances that led to her becoming President of Smith Seal and growing it into a highly recognized industry leader, the personal and professional life of Judy Smith is simply awesome.
From the moment we walked in and sat down with Smith, Don Emmett and I were given the opportunity to learn about the seal industry, enjoy the décor of her building, including the beautiful artwork created by Smith herself, and come away with some exceptional words of wisdom.
When Smith and her husband purchased the business in 1986, Smith had been taking care of the financial aspect of the business. In 1993, her husband passed. The day after the tragic event, she received a phone call from someone who said that he had “heard there was a death in the company and that there was a distraught widow.” The caller also indicated he heard that the company was for sale. When asked with whom he was speaking, Smith replied, “I’m the distraught widow” and the company was not for sale.
At this point, Smith knew she had to take hold of the reins and make Smith Seal of NC her own. To this day, she says it was a good decision, that “it’s a fun business.” As Smith spoke about the sealing industry and all that it offers to the world in which we live, we could see and hear the passion that she has about her business—the business of sealing and providing exceptional customer service.
Without any hesitation, Smith proudly says of the sealing industry, “We contribute a lot to making the world greener and safer… the seals that perform in products for service and safety equipment, healthy and clean ecological environment, the high tech industry in nuclear valves, our nation’s defense system…” Seals are a commodity. Anyone or anything that connects one thing to another needs a seal. Whether it’s for Black and Decker, Duke Energy, Goodyear Tire, the government, a dairy farmer, the medical industry, health and safety, pharmaceutical, nuclear, Anti-terrorism, brewery or anyone who needs to seal machinery, Smith Seal of NC is a specialized company, there to provide the appropriate seal for the appropriate application. The company is ITAR registered and is ISO-9001-2008 certified.
In the past 20 years, both Smith and her company have seen exceptional growth and have received much recognition. 2004 and 2005 brought the company the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Pinnacle Business Award for Steady Growth and Profitability. Also in 2005, Smith was selected as Entrebizneur of the Year by Business Leader Magazine.
Success was not easy to come by, as obstacles presented themselves along the way. When the company was thrown in her lap, one of the first things Smith needed to find out was whether her employees would stay. She lost one of her sales people, she tells us, because “he said he could not work for a woman, especially that woman.” In the male-dominated industry, Smith worked hard to run the business and surround herself with quality employees.
Having the right crew, she says is part of the formula to having a successful business, something she learned over the years: “There’s a saying that goes ‘Hire slow and fire fast.’ Looking back, some things I could have done a little faster. It took me a long time to hire the right people. You have to hire talented people.” She continues, “Your crew, the people that you work with, your staff, is the most important thing…Your warehouse is very important. That’s the last time you see your part and the first time your customer sees it.” For Smith, you can be as intelligent as you want to be or know everything, but if your staff does not work with you, you are nothing.
When asked what advice she would you give to someone starting out, she replied with a smile, “Take a deep breath and go for it. Cry your eyes out. Depending on what situation you are in. Don’t take it personally. Having a business is a great picture.”
And certainly Judy Smith and Smith Seal of NC is a great picture.