H&J Smith keeps top role in the family

LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 24/08/2013
Acton Smith
OUTGOING: Acton Smith is stepping down as the H&J Smith managing director after 31 years in the job.

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After 31 years on the job, H&J Smith managing director Acton Smith has retired - but it will still be all in the family for the iconic Southland business.

Mr Smith's eldest son, Jason Smith, has now stepped into the managing director role, becoming the sixth consecutive member of the Smith family in the job since siblings Helen and John Smith opened the business in 1900.

Acton Smith, who became managing director after his father, Jock, finished up in 1982, said that, although retirement had been on his mind for some time, it took a bout of pneumonia in Fiji to make him realise it was time to go.

"I ended up in a Third World country hospital for five days and that was enough for me.

"I said, right, that's it."

His time on the job had been marked by many highlights and a few challenges, including surviving through the uncertainty of Rogernomics and the 1987 sharemarket crash, which had hit the store's rural customer base hard.

However, the business had made it through the hard times because he had been taught to put the business first, he said.

"My grandfather used to have a saying: look after the company first and then the company can look after you, and that's the way we've lived."

Mr Smith Sr would make no predictions about the future of the company but said he had faith in the next generation to lead it into the future.

Jason Smith, who was officially made managing director last week, said he was humbled to try his hand at a job with such a large family history behind it.

It was an exciting time to be leading the company, with developments and refurbishments under way in Queenstown and Invercargill, he said.

His father had taught him the importance of valuing people, and he was looking forward to having a bit of fun and laughter with staff, "and, of course, the required hard work", he said.

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