July 31, 2012
C.W. SMITH CRANE SERVICE LTD.
FEATURE | Site Services
C.W. Smith Crane plans to keep reaching high
Located on the same street where it was started, C.W. Smith Crane Service Ltd. has been serving the needs of the construction industry in the Greater Toronto Area and much of Central Ontario for almost 50 years.
Now Jean Smith, the 77-year-old president and sole owner, is laying the groundwork for that record to continue — if not for another half century — at least for the foreseeable future.
The Toronto-based rental firm, which has a fleet of cranes with a lifting capacity of 25 tons to 450 tons and 16 employees, is in a state of “transition” which will see ownership eventually pass to senior management.
“I can’t say any more than that,” says Smith, when asked for details.
But she’s confident the management team will adhere to the values and service espoused by the company’s founder, and her second husband, Harold Smith.
“He named the company C. W. after his father Cornelius William, an ambulance driver in France during the First World War. He (Cornelius) would take supplies to the Front and pick up wounded soldiers.”
Following the death of her first husband, Smith married Harold in 1993 and became a full partner in the firm. “Every day he came to work I came to work. Our motto was to run the company profitably for the next generation.”
Assuming that role didn’t require a steep learning curve, says Smith. Her first husband had been in the international crane brokerage business and she comes from a family in the construction business.
But the partnership ended in 1997 following Harold’s death by a stroke just a few months after purchasing a long-cherished 190-ton Liebherr crane. “He called it his Lincoln.”
There was no thought or inclination on Smith’s part to sell the company or bring in new partners and she has resisted purchase offers including one from an international conglomerate who sent a representative directly to her office.
“He put a cheque on the table which would have knocked your socks off. I could have quit right then.”
Selling the company would have been a violation of her and husband’s values and wouldn’t have been fair to the employees, some of whose fathers worked for the company, and to senior management, who “ably run” it.
However, she remains active in the business and drives to work three days a week from her Barrie-area home. “I used to come every day until I was 75.”
Although C.W. Smith employees are required to adhere to a strict code of operations and safety procedures, Smith says: “I haven’t met a crane operator who doesn’t like what he is doing.”
To be successful on the job, operators have “to be willing to learn and have good listening skills. Or, if not, they might as well be working for the competition.”
Underscoring the company’s policy that its cranes will only lift loads they’ve been designed for, Smith says over-lifting is a practice that endangers operators and others on job sites.
At the same time, she has a high regard for the construction industry. “I respect every job site that I’m on. The construction industry built this province and this city.”
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