Industry stalwart David Smithson has been reflecting on his 40 years in the catering equipment sector ahead of his retirement at the end of this year.
The CEO of Winterhalter Group in the UK, which also includes the Classeq brand, is synonymous with the warewashing sector and is well-known across the industry.
He said he will leave the industry with so many highlights to look back on.
“It’s been an incredible delight to have had the opportunity to experience being immersed in all aspects of the hospitality industry and of course there has been time to smell the ‘coffee’ along the way whilst also being serious about the business.
“I should also like to thank our customer base for the faith that you have placed in us that has been key to our success and the mutual respect within these relationships across the broad spectrum of national accounts, distributors and consultants.
Smithson started his career in the hospitality sector by completing a HCIMA course at Bournemouth’s Hotel & Catering College.
From there, he headed to Sweden to put his learnings into practice and two years later, having cut his cloth, he managed Keith Floyd’s Alma Road restaurant.
In the 1970s he joined Hobart as a catering specialist before moving up the ranks to sales manager and later group sales and marketing director. He spent 17 years there before accepting Winterhalter’s offer to take over as CEO.
Over the next 25 years he grew the business from a £6m base to a £50m group of companies in the UK covering international markets such as USA, Middle East, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
He said: “I took a look at Winterhalter and really liked the culture and agility that was clearly part of the business philosophy. It was absolutely ripe for development as a well-respected brand owned and managed by a strong family unit that actively encouraged entrepreneurial thinking combined with a group board that was also prepared to seriously invest in product development, a service organisation and most importantly talent.
“Some great people joined me – like Brian Croney as service director and we built a national service network from scratch which is still one of the best in the business today. Andy Blake took on the role of sales director. It was altogether a fantastic team and thankfully customers soon came to recognise that.
“We were the first to offer extended warranty with life-cycle guarantees and fixed rates, but this meant that we had to build our service division fast whilst ensuring our machines had longevity alongside the back up to deliver our promise.”
The late 90s were a tough period for the industry after a couple recessions, which led to Smithson finding a way for the business to access the price-sensitive end of the market.
“We realised that when we looked at the customer opportunity pyramid that whilst Winterhalter was right at the top of that game, there was a real need that spanned two thirds of the market for smaller, more compact, and value-based machines – hence Classeq was born, which has grown to be a major force in UK hospitality warewashing.”
Smithson’s expertise has also benefitted the wider industry over the years, due to his involvement with the FEA, or CESA as it was at the time.
“It has been a pleasure to have served on FEA council for many years and to have the honour of being chairman 2001 and the opportunity of helping to shape the direction of such a robust industry organisation and I wish Keith Warren and his team all the very best for the future,” he said.
Following his retirement, the Winterhalter baton will be handed to Stephen Kinkead and Classeq to Andy Salter.
Meanwhile, Smithson and his wife, Tri, have moved back to Bristol where identical twin brother Richard lives – founder of the Aqua restaurant’ chain.
Smithson concludes: “If I could do it all again – I wouldn’t change a thing! Well, maybe a few things but not much…”