60 Seconds with Unitherm CEO Mark Smith

14. 23. Photo - Mark Smith

Describe yourself in three words.

Team-oriented, Curious, Big-picture

What’s your biggest professional achievement?

I have spent my career working to create great small and medium size businesses, and I count, as my most important achievement, the development of the people who are running, or playing significant leadership roles in those (and other) companies today.

How did you get to where you are today?

My background includes a mix of finance (banking and private equity) and entrepreneurship.  The CEO role at any company calls for the ability to lead its team members in the work of scaling the business effectively.  At Unitherm, specifically, it also helps that I have some experience with manufacturing and food safety (as a result of working with Daydots and Ecolab).  All of these things come into play on a daily basis as we work with our customers to help them optimize yield, quality and safety in a food production environment, and in turn, grow Unitherm as a company.  

What does a typical day look like for you?

Part of the fun in leading a business is the variety in the job, but my primary focus, day-in and day-out is helping our team make investment decisions that lead to great experiences for our customers. That takes on a lot of different looks.  In the course of a given day we could be meeting with our innovation team on new products, on the phone with customers around the world helping them address challenges they are facing, or sitting down with our purchasing and manufacturing teams to make sure we have the right machines in stock to meet market demand.

What have been the highlights of your company’s history, in your opinion?

Unitherm has always been known as an innovator in thermal food processing solutions. Our founder, David Howard, built the company on that basis, so the highlight, as I see it, is our proven ability, year after year, to partner with our customers in solving their problems and improving their products.

What is your pet hate?

I get really frustrated (whether I am a customer or just an observer) when I see companies that, in my opinion, allow themselves to provide poor service.  There is just no excuse for it. Leaders have the responsibility to set high standards and create an environment in which their team members take ownership of problems and fix them. That is certainly our mindset at Unitherm.  

Give us a positive prediction for the food industry over the next 12 months.

I think we will continue to see good growth in the consumption of all kinds of pre-cooked and packaged foods as disposable incomes rise in developing economies around the world.  We are also seeing a consistent emphasis on food safety and the implementation of processes and technologies (such as Unitherm’s AquaFlow Water Pasteurizer), that reduce the occurrence of food recalls and foodborne illness. That’s good for everyone.

What do you consider to be the most important attributes for a leader?

A couple of thoughts:

  1. I think the most important thing is character.  Allen Forte, a close friend of mine who had an incredible 20 year career in the U.S. Army, once gave me this advice:  “As a leader, you want people to follow you because of who you are, not because of what you know or the position you hold.”
  2. You have to help people solve their problems. That doesn’t mean you have all the answers. It means you are willing to sit down and collaborate with people to figure things out. If you stop doing that, people perceive that you don’t care, and they will not see you as their leader.

Who do you most admire?

Certainly I admire people who have exhibited great vision and the persistence and ability to articulate that vision in a way that moves people to change.  Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela come to mind.  I also have great respect and admiration for entrepreneurs like Mike Milliorn (the founder of Daydots) and David Howard (the founder of Unitherm), who have a vision for a business and the guts to pursue it and make it a reality. It is a joy and an honor to work with people like that every day.

Which people/organisations or companies are the ones to watch right now?

I think there are a number of mid-size food companies that are in a great position to take advantage of the global growth in pre-cooked, packaged food consumption. Many are Unitherm customers, such as: Ruprecht, B. Robert’s Foods, Pronaca, Etihad, Quantum Food Group, and Baho Foods to name a few.

If you weren’t in your current position, what else might you be doing?

Looking for this position.

Tell us something about yourself that few people know.

Several people on our team here at Unitherm are soccer, or should I say, football, players, and they have been urging me to take up the game. So I have purchased a pair of “boots”, as they call them (I’m originally from Texas, so to me, boots are definitely not the type of shoes in which one would play football), and I will soon start playing.  No idea what I’m doing but it should be fun and great exercise.

Any vices?

Chocolate chip cookies and milk

How do you relax?

I am blessed with a great family, so I love hanging out with my wife and kids.  I also enjoy being outdoors – golf, fishing, snow skiing, and soon, soccer!

How would you like to be remembered?

As a person of integrity and an effective leader who cares about the people he works with, not just the jobs they do. And, of course, as a good husband and father.

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