A Quintessential Englishman
Armada Asset Finance has now been trading for 40 years and Founder, Chairman and Managing Director, Kirk Smith, is still very active in the business and soon to celebrate his 70th birthday, so I wondered what had inspired him to start Armada and what continues to inspire him?
Back in 1974 the banks and other lending institutions were not interested in supporting the hospitality and tourism industry in the South West, where tourism was the largest employer and biggest revenue earner. I saw a gap in the market that was screaming to be filled.
Having built the business over 40 years my goals are to see my family enjoy the future from my efforts and to have a bright and secure future for my colleagues, who have helped me develop the company.
Is the Armada of today anywhere close to your initial vision in 1974?
I suppose that originally I would have loved to see Armada as a national commercial lending operation, although I couldn’t conceive how that could be achieved. Now, through the superb broker connections we have we are doing significant business around the whole UK every day.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced over the years and how did you overcome them?
Without doubt the biggest challenge has been coping with the 2007 banking crisis but with the loyalty and closeness of the Armada team we were able to overcome the problems in just 2 years. We also had considerable good fortune throughout that time.
What advice would you give a young entrepreneur with the same dreams you had as a young man starting out in the financial sector?
Always be honest and truthful. Be interested in the other man/woman and their business and spend more time asking questions and listening to the answers than you do talking.
You have managed a number of people over the years, what is the key to good management? What makes a good leader?
I’m not sure I am a good leader but I have always believed in the importance of delegation and then trusting your colleague and not looking over their shoulder.
How has the finance sector changed since 1974?
Would you like me to write a book about this question? The biggest change and in my opinion, for the better, is that in 1974 the banks were almost the sole funders to the commercial sector of the UK and asset finance was miniscule. Through the banks’ failure to manage their businesses and total failure to learn from their own mistakes they now represent a much reduced influence in the commercial sector and entrepreneurs have found many other ways of funding their operations.
What do you do to relax?
My wife and I are avid gardeners, mostly spending 6 to 8 hours every Saturday & Sunday, redesigning, planting and weeding. I see our local garden centre as our second home!
How do you achieve a work life balance?
I don’t. I have never made as many friends as those around me because I have always loved my job and dedicated myself to it. In any case, who needs friends when you are married to your best friend? Corny but true.
Which brand of clothes do you favour for business and which for leisure?
Don’t get me started on brands! Just look at the Armada Pinterest board ‘An English Gentleman’. I do tend to favour Gant or Polo if it fits but these days I am not as slim as I used to be so I have to pick and choose.
After a hardworking week – what’s your favourite meal to tuck in to on a Friday evening?
I am a quintessential Englishman so of course there is nothing better on Friday evening than a good curry. Being married to a superb, trained chef does help the taste buds if not the waistline.
Assuming you have had some time for holidays, which holiday has surprised you?
Last year we spent time with the family in Northumberland – fabulous weather, fabulous empty beaches and the friendliest people you could meet.
Which current well known entrepreneur most impresses you?
Philip Green and Tom Ford have to be up there, don’t they, but sadly Anita Roddick and Steve Jobs are no longer with us.
If there was anything you could change about the policies for small businesses in the UK, what would they be?
Every government of whichever colour should recognise the importance of small businesses, their importance in creating diversity, their influence on employment and tax gathering. Being a small business owner is lonely and pressurised. Governments should stop talking and give small businesses far more encouragement and help and stop giving the impression that they are only interested in the City and major corporations. Have all politicians forgotten how important their hairdresser, local paper shop and local garage were to them before they moved to London?
What has been the highlight of your 40 years/ special moment/ greatest achievement?
The people I have met along the way. Every client has been unique and an opportunity for me to learn from them. I have never seen the sense in always learning from your own mistakes. I have learnt the good and bad from what others have achieved.
What does Armada symbolise and stand for in your eyes? How do you want others to perceive Armada?
I would love my legacy to be a company who cares and who will not waver from the right and honourable way of doing business.
What does Armada mean to you?
Armada was my baby. Now it has grown up but it is still my family.
Lots of different elements come together to make Armada successful – which do you see as the most important?
Anita Roddick’s philosophy was spot on. “Look after your staff, look after your customers, look after your product and the turnover and the bottom line will look after themselves.”
Over the years Armada has gained a reputation for being innovators of asset finance, do you agree?
As far as I am aware we were the first organisation to fund our clients and their needs in an holistic way. Companies before us funding assets required serial numbers and specific identification. We came along and funded hotels and restaurants, not only financing catering and refrigeration, but we included furniture, floor coverings and signage etc.
We were definitely the first company to support the scaffolding industry, as pre Armada scaffolders rented the equipment they wanted or funded the equipment themselves. We are proud to have made a significant change to that industry.
It’s fair to say the company has evolved considerably in its time, where do you see the company in 5 years, 10 years or more?
I hope I shall still be around to see the company continue to grow by showing honesty and care to the vast number of small businesses in the UK who need our support to enable them to grow and prosper.
What are your plans for the future?
No change! Perhaps a bit more time for gardening, reflection and learning from my iPad and to watch my family and Armada prosper.