Sparks Electrical News

Marthinus Smit, has been the technical director at Shuttle Lighting Control Systems for 20 years His principles and business fundamentals which, he says, he learnt from his long-term business partner Reg Smith have ensured their company’s staying power as a force to be reckoned with in the electrical industry.

Personality of the Month JuneSmit says that solving problems is the most enjoyable part of his job, and it is no doubt that this passion has ensured Shuttle Lighting Control Systems success on the local and international markets.

Sparks: Where were you educated?

MS: I matriculated at Hoërskool Brandwag in Benoni and then enrolled for a degree in electrical engineering at Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg), where I obtained a Doctor Ingeneria (D. Eng.) degree in electrical and electronic engineering.

Sparks: How long have you been involved in the electrical industry?

MS: Since I left university in 1993.

Sparks: When and where did you start your career?

MS: I had a bursary from the CSIR and joined a military research division directly after university. I moved to one of the commercial divisions of CSIR two years later, where I had my first exposure to the commercial environment.  After another two years and two engineering colleges, I left CSIR to start a company with others, and this eventually evolved into Shuttle Lighting.

Sparks: What major projects have you worked on and what is your greatest accomplishment?

MS: I was part of the team that developed a 16 MVA, 132 kVA offline cable tester. Besides tremendous electrical and electronic challenges, we also faced mechanical challenges since the equipment weighed 16 Tonnes!

My biggest professional accomplishment is being part of a team that takes initial product concepts from whiteboard design to a compliant commercial product.  Some of our designs are in products that are patented in seven countries, have been featured on programmes in the US and are available around the globe. It is extremely rewarding to see our products on shelves and know that we are delivering value to our customers.

Sparks: Who has been your inspiration or have you had a mentor who has influenced your career?

MS: It is always easy to mention people such as Branson or Jobs as an inspiration, but for me, it's much closer to home.  As a technical person, my university mentor, the esteemed Prof. JD van Wyk, is my continuous inspiration. He instilled a discipline of fundamental engineering principles: understand every aspect of the design, calculate twice and measure five times and any technical problem can be solved. 

In the business world, my long-term business partner, Reg Smith, is my biggest influencer. He taught me the fundamentals of business and technical marketing and the importance of business integrity as well as staying power. His mottoes, “an error of commission is better than an error of omission” and “just do the right thing” have become daily principles.

Sparks: What, to your mind, is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry at this time?

MS: Our electrical industry seems to be in a continuously cost down spiral and therefore easily succumbs to the lures of cheaper non-compliant products or cutting corners to reduce costs. However, in doing so, we eventually cause damage to the integrity of our industry, if not physical damage when a building burns down. In many cases, a lack of knowledge and policing by our authorities are to blame.

Sparks: What do you enjoy most about your job?

MS: The continuous challenges and satisfaction of solving problems.

Sparks: How do you motivate your staff?

MS: I think any person is inherently motivated by the promise or vision of a better future. In our case, the vision of what new technology can offer our company and how we can improve our products is a natural motivation for our team members.

Sparks: If you could "do it all again", would you change anything? If so, what would that be?

MS: Looking back the journey, I would probably not change it too much. Each step, each hardship and each disappointment shapes one’s personality as much as the successes and joys and all these are a learning curve one must go through.

Sparks: Would you advise a person leaving school to enter the electrical industry? And why?

MS: Yes, our industry is dynamic and we face new challenges every day, which makes life exciting! We need people to understand the challenges and we must work hard to create our own technology and local manufacturing to be competitive in the local and international markets.

Sparks: What is your advice to electrical contractors and/or electrical engineers?

MS: Make sure the products you install or design comply with all specifications and requirements.

Sparks: What is your favourite quote?

MS: “There must be a better and simpler way of doing it.”

Sparks: Name three things on your ‘bucket list’ (things you want to do before you ‘kick the bucket’).

MS: I want to travel through rural China with my wife and ‘walk the rice fields’; see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and I want to study further.


Contact Sparks Electrical News

Title: Editor
Name: Gregg Cocking
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

Title: Advertising Manager
Name: Carin Hannay
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

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