Winterhalter’s David Smithson to retire

Industry veteran Smithson, who has substantially grown the Winterhalter and Classeq brands in the UK, will step back at the end of the year

David Smithson, CEO of the Winterhalter Group of Companies, will be retiring from his role at the end of this year.

Widely known, and respected across the industry, Smithson has grown the Winterhalter and Classeq brands in the UK to their current position within the Winterhalter Group – which is now one of the UK’s premier warewashing brands renowned for quality, service, results and value.

Smithson’s career started in Bournemouth where he studied for an HCIMA course at the Hotel & Catering College. From there, he headed to Sweden to put his learnings into practice and two years later he landed in the city of Bristol where he joined chef Keith Floyd, managing his Alma Road restaurant.

Smithson looks back on this period as “a real sharp learning curve, as working with such a raconteur and the ultimate ‘front man’ was challenging but the start in the art of ‘business management’ and making a profit.” Floyd was to become a radio and TV personality and Smithson says that he will “always be grateful to him” for employing him in his first management position.

Entrepreneurial thinking

Smithson joined Hobart in the 1970s as a catering specialist before moving up the ranks to sales manager and then group sales & marketing director. It was here at Hobart that he became immersed in the catering equipment side of the industry and enjoyed a successful career path within the company that was to last over 17 years.

In the early 1990s David joined Winterhalter as CEO. Over the next 25 years, Winterhalter grew 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, encompassing different brands to close some opportunity gaps in the ware-washing market.

“I took a look at Winterhalter and really liked the culture and agility that was clearly part of the business philosophy,” says Smithson. “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. 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,” says Smithson.

“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 and 2000 was really tough after a couple recessions and it’s not easy to express to a customer that there is a price to pay for a quality product and a quality service.

“However, we also 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.”

Career highlights

When talking about the highlights of his career, Smithson is quick to pay tribute to all his team. “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,” he says.

“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.

“It has also 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. I wish Keith Warren and his team all the very best for the future,” he says.

With David’s retirement imminent, the leadership of Winterhalter in the UK has been handed to Stephen Kinkead and Classeq to Andy Salter.


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