Honorary Member David Smith looks back on 50 years of dedication to the industry
New SELECT Honorary Member David Smith looks back on an eventful career
David Smith has spent many years promoting the cause of small, independent operators and has also shown how any Member, no matter their background, can become President of SELECT. In recognition of this outstanding service to both the association and the electrotechnical industry in Scotland, David was recently made an Honorary Member of SELECT at the 2023 AGM in North Queensferry.
The ceremony was a fitting moment for such a pivotal figure in SELECT’s history, and someone who has come a long way and seen plenty of change since his early days on the tools.
“I’m very proud to be a member of the association that would become SELECT”
David said: “When I became a member of the Electrical Contractors’ Association of Scotland (ECAS) many years ago it felt to me like it was very much like an old boys’ club, with a lot of big companies having sway. I felt that the association would be of more use to smaller companies than larger ones and over the years I think we’ve worked hard to redress the balance.”
David’s life of dedication to the industry began in the 1960s when he started his apprenticeship as an instrument technician at Clyde Iron Works. “That’s where I first got my taste of engineering,” he said. “If people ask, I always describe myself as an engineer.”
It was at a time of big changes in the industry and David’s career reflected wider developments. He became a control engineer in the Iron Works’ power station and then moved to Clydebridge Steelworks as a fuel engineer.
“Ironically, the steel industry at that stage was very ‘green’ orientated,” he said. “It produced all its own gases and ran them back into the system. It was magnificent engineering and I think back on that period as a glorious time for the industry, as well as for me as an engineer.”
Despite its glory, the industry was shrinking, and David realised it was time for change. He joined boiler makers NEI Thomson Cochran as contracts manager and got involved in the business side of the operation.
He said: “I enjoyed the work but could see that there was a shortage of good quality engineering firms to act as suppliers – a role that I could fill.”
From ECAS to SELECT
After consulting a few trusted advisors, David set up David WH Smith Heating & Electrical Services and – recognising that being part of a trade association would help his new business – he duly joined ECAS.
He said: “I’m very proud to be a member of the association that would become SELECT. It’s a great organisation and makes you feel very much part of the industry.
“When I was considering membership, some good friends were in the organisation and they spoke very highly of it.”
After he joined, those same friends persuaded David to become Vice Chair of the Glasgow & West of Scotland Branch, which was the first of many official positions he held.
He explained: “I moved on to be Branch Chair, running the Branch meetings. That’s when I got put into the Central Board membership and got to see the workings of SELECT.
“It’s very much based on branch input, so if the branches are not operating properly it’s difficult for SELECT to do the same. I’m a great believer in democracy and I think the leadership team feels the same way. It has to be the Members who make the decisions and the secretariat who make things happen.”
According to David there have been several highlights along the way. He recalled: “One of those was when I was asked to be chair of a finance sub-committee of the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) in England and Wales.
“The sub-committee, ESCA Estates, handled the sale of ECA’s London headquarters during the 2000s. SELECT had given a donation to help buy the property in the first place. The sale was a major undertaking and eventually the building was purchased for a lot of money.
“Notably, SELECT managed to negotiate a significant return and I remember that Financial Director John McGhee was cock-a-hoop! Meanwhile, ECA subsequently bought a new property in London near Wapping, Rotherwick House, and that’s where they still are today.”
While his influence within SELECT grew, David’s business flourished too, as he revealed: “In the early days I took on a close friend as a business partner. I’d known him for many years, since we were both involved in the Scouting movement. As well as general electrical installation we focused on specialist radiant heating and high efficiency boilers. I travelled throughout Europe, training heating engineers to commission this equipment.”
On the electrical side, the company worked with Portakabin on both temporary and permanent building projects. In time, the firm that produced the heating system was bought over and David decided to focus on smoke fire damper projects.
“At one point our workforce grew to between eight and 10,” said David, “and it was then that we started taking on apprentices. Over the years we have had between 15 and 18 young people come through that route.
Those that we took on were usually Scouts. With that background we knew they could work under pressure, as a team and do all the things you’d expect an electrician to do.”
Most of the firm’s apprentices went on to have their own companies. “I think that speaks volumes about the way that we trained them,” said David. “We helped them think for themselves and we’re very proud of that. Similarly, the training we got from the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT) was first class.”
The high standards on offer from SECTT were symptomatic of developments at SELECT. David said: “The biggest change I’ve seen is the increasing professionalism of the secretariat. It’s a real strength and allows us to have greater influence.”
“We used to say the future is electric. But, we’ve moved on, and now is electric”
He believes that power to have an impact has also been increased by devolution. “When the Scottish Government needs to get some information on the electrical industry, they listen to what we have to say,” David said. “Often, we’ll send a report to Holyrood and it ends up being quoted by a minister. Obviously, at the moment we’re fighting to get professional status for individual electricians. It’s been an up and down struggle, but I think we can get there.”
Despite semi-retiring more than three years ago, David still takes on occasional smoke fire damper projects, commissioning and project managing the job to completion. “A lot of it’s done on Zoom, or through a phone call,” he said. “After that, I may do a visit to get the job up and running. Luckily, it’s not difficult or strenuous.’
Looking back he said it’s been a joy to be part of the SELECT team. “I’d like to say thanks to all the different people I’ve worked with. They’ve always been very welcoming. The secretariat deserve praise and sometimes they don’t get appreciated fully by the Members. I’m impressed by many of the new Members who have come to the fore and I have no qualms about the future of SELECT.”
“The awards I’ve received always come as a total surprise, but are wonderful. I’ve given my time and my company’s time because that’s the way the industry should operate. We should all do our bit. It’s good for you and for your firm. It increases your knowledge and you find that when you have a problem you have people you can turn to. I’m really proud of the Honorary Membership. It’s humbling to be beside some of the names on that board. I feel that this wee boy from Rutherglen has done alright.”
David remains involved in the Training and the Electrotechnical Committees at SELECT, explaining: “Those are keen interests, but I’m wise enough to step back when it’s appropriate, as I’ve made clear to the people who run the committees. Luckily, they’ve kindly said that they’d like to keep using my knowledge and skills.”
His long experience also gives him a keen perspective on the way ahead, and he says he is optimistic: “The future is extremely positive, especially with the emphasis on green energy. Lots of sectors have no option but to change over to electric, which means there will be an even bigger call for electrical engineers.
“We used to say the future is electric. But, we’ve moved on, and now is electric.”
Thanks to the efforts of David and others at SELECT, this is a future that all firms, large and small, can share in.
Football lover has hat-trick of other interests
Away from the electrical trade and SELECT, David has three passions: Clyde FC, the church and the Scouting movement.
“Clyde are the ‘Rutherglen club’ and I’ve always supported them,” David said. “As a youngster I’d go to Shawfield with my brother and friends. There was a time I drifted away because of work commitments. But one day I realised that, while I was working on the weekends others were going to the football and enjoying themselves so I decided to go back. Now, as a member of the Clyde Community Trust, I’m a part owner of the club. We’re currently exploring the possibility of moving to the Crownpoint Sports Complex and building a new 8,000 seater stadium. All we have to do is find the money!”
“Now, as a member of the Clyde Community Trust, I’m a part owner of the club”
A lifetime church-goer, David is a member of Rutherglen West & Wardlawhill Church of Scotland. As with other parts of his life, he takes an active role. “I've just come back from the General Assembly where we discussed the difficult time the church is facing,” he said. “There are too many churches and too few people going. I'm now involved in an implementation group to bring churches together and sell properties.”
Not content with just that, David also helps out at another church close by, where an organisation runs youth groups that attract about 300 young people every week. What’s more, he acts as an ‘assessor elder’ at the neighbouring Toryglen Community Parish.
As if that’s not enough, David enjoys a high position in the Scouting movement. He said: “I’ve been involved all my days as assistant cub leader, assistant scout leader, scout leader, and group scout leader before moving into district and area positions. Among other things, I ran Greater Glasgow Scouting Council during the 2000s. I’m currently on the local appointments committee and feel very fortunate because I get to meet young and enthusiastic people who are coming in to help lead the organisation.”
The SELECT Verdict
WORDS BY: Alan Wilson, Managing Director
David Smith is quite simply a legend at SELECT and across the wider electrical industry in Scotland, well known and equally well respected by all who have had the pleasure of dealing with him down the decades.
I have benefited from his wise counsel on numerous occasions over the years and I know my colleagues at The Walled Garden are also grateful for his input and guidance across numerous committees, working groups and social occasions.
As you will have read on these pages, David’s continued enthusiasm for the industry is an example to us all as we face continuing uncertainty on so many fronts.
“he is a perfect example of why our trade association continues to thrive and why Members will always be our lifeblood”
His continuing attendance at Branch Updates and interest in developing technology is testimony to both his genuine passion for the industry and eagerness to see how SELECT can keep helping his fellow electricians grow and prosper.
After winning the SELECT Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, most people would have been content to rest on their laurels, slow down and enjoy retirement but David is not most people.
Instead, he is a perfect example of why our trade association continues to thrive and why Members will always be our lifeblood.
I know that David’s fellow Office Bearers couldn’t think of a better recipient of Honorary Membership and I hope that he will continue to contribute plenty more years of experience and enthusiasm.
David WH Smith Heating & Electrical Services
BRANCH: Glasgow and West of Scotland
PHONE: 0141 647 2634