Meet the Mentor: David Smart

David Smart

The mentor not only improves companies’ success rates; they can create business superstars. But don’t just take our word for it.

“To be given the opportunity to help shape new artists’ careers and mentor them to see their dreams come to fruition is a task I welcome with open arms,” says pop mega-star Christina Aguilera.

While we can’t vouch for his singing or dance moves, Glasgow-born – he’s a lifelong Warriors rugby fan – David Smart knows his stuff when it comes to mentoring.

As the founder of DWS Associates, he believes effective mentoring is a powerful learning tool that can deliver immense benefits to organisations of any size.

“Many businesses are owner-managed and so some have limited experience outside their fields. Having access to third party skills and experience can help them deal with issues faster and at the same time provide important learning. This is the need DWS Associates looks to meet.

“There are a number of key elements that must be in place for the process to be effective,” he adds. “There’s the practical piece about ensuring a mentor has the appropriate technical knowledge and has the time and energy to be able to devote to the task.

“Equally important is the chemistry between individuals – if there isn’t that ‘spark’, it’s better to continue the search for the right pairing.

“Finally, the mentor requires listening and engagement skills to prompt the mentee to find and develop solutions rather than providing suggestions and guidance based on experience. Mentoring is about developing the individual more than about finding a solution to a specific challenge.”

David believes his team’s skills are proving invaluable to businesses.

“Over my career, I’ve developed a network of experienced colleagues, many of whom are self-employed experts in their chosen areas,” David says. “There’s a cohort of eight associates who work with the company – colleagues I respect and whose quality of work I can vouch for. We have skills in strategy, business planning, operations, finance, HR and IT and come from the private, public and third sectors.”

The mission is to provide organisations with these skills at a specific point in time, either because they have encountered a problem, or an opportunity has arisen.

David points out: “Having experience of both the private and public sectors, we can help organisations not only develop and implement effective solutions but also signpost them to other organisations who can also help them.

“The business is just over eight months old and we’re finding our skills and services are valued by third sector and development trusts. Many are facing significant changes in how they’re funded and we’re helping them to identify and realise commercial opportunities that support their philanthropic and community goals.”

David’s role is to focus on improving the sustainability of organisations through the analysis of information, leading to the development of effective solutions.

“This work varies depending upon the clients,” he notes. “Currently, it’s falling into two broad camps: strategy and business plan development and process development and improvement.

“In both cases, if organisations don’t use information and data to make decisions, they’re flying blind with a high probability of something going catastrophically wrong. There’s a very good Ted Talk by a professional poker player on why relying on gut feel is a sure way to lose badly!”

For David, the realm of strategy and business plan development tends to centre on financial analysis and involves looking at the income and expenditure of organisations then developing a set of predictions.

“These predictions can highlight specific challenges and providing these scenarios allows boards or owners to make prudent decisions on how to address or react to a situation before a crisis even occurs. This information can be vital when engaging with funders and investors.”

David underlines that an important part of the mentoring process is educational.

“For example, we tend to talk about cash positions rather than profit. Focusing on the cash position avoids lulling organisations into a false sense of security. The old adage holds: Volume is vanity, profit is sanity and cash is reality!”

For the process development and improvement part of the equation, David says organisations use myriad processes to operate but over time these can become ineffective and, in some cases, potentially obsolete as situations and markets evolve.

“Our work focuses on gathering data on how systems are working and developing alternative, more effective, ways of completing tasks. The first question is always: ‘Do we need to do this at all?’.”

David does foresee big challenges for businesses in the year ahead.

“You can’t get away from Brexit as an ongoing source of distraction,” he explains. “It’s likely to continue to take up an inordinate amount of time as new trading requirements and environments are established. When situations are uncertain organisations tend to delay investments until the environment becomes clearer.

“Anything that diverts management time away from the core activities of the business or organisation is bad.”

David also points to challenges facing firms in rural environments, such as his home base in Argyll.

“These companies must be good to survive – it’s a tougher environment with more limited opportunities and invariably higher costs. Challenges can include difficulties recruiting suitably trained staff, increased logistical complexity and costs, limited networking opportunities and higher cost bases.

“But this also drives innovation as effective solutions must be found to overcome problems. One thing I’d propose to organisations is they network and collaborate as much as possible. Invariably another organisation will have faced and dealt with the problem you’re having. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel on every occasion!”

If meeting David has inspired you to go further with your career, why not let be your mentor and guide you through the latest vacancies?

Posted on January 24, 2020