Jacqueline Smith: Always up for a challenge

Since the dawn of humanity, humans have been using paint and coatings. Humans used to paint images on cave walls. This provided us an idea of what their daily life was like. Some of those ancient cave paintings still exist today. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that industrial coatings became a regular feature in American life. The first paint mill in the US was established in 1700 by a man named Thomas Child in Boston. One hundred and fifty years later, in 1867, D.R. Averill patented the first ready-mixed paints in the US.

Today, protective coatings can be found everywhere from street lettering to industrial machines. They play immeasurably valuable roles in delivering high-quality foodstuffs, durable goods, housing, furniture and thousands of other products to the market. In particular, industrial coatings extend the overall lifetime of materials, which in turn curbs replacement costs. As one of the leaders in this field we asked Jacqueline Smith “Jackie,  President, New Kent Coatings to share her story of being a part of this highly competitive environment.

“This is not a job for the fainthearted. The work environment requires precision, discipline and a strong focus on safety. Mistakes can bring unacceptable amounts of damage and derail client operations”, shares Jackie.

But why would one enter such a fragmented industry like this? Jackie founded New Kent Coatings in 2010 after realizing there was an acute need for a contractor focused on the industrial coatings industry. Never known to back away from a challenge she wanted to inject a straightforward and considerate vibe in her business while maintaining a strong focus on safety.

“Sometimes businesses do not understand that when done correctly, coatings can have the biggest effect on whether an industrial business can sustain continuous operations. We approach all our work in a step by step fashion. We make recommendations or follow an existing spec, understand the work environment and then make suggestions on how to best approach a particular situation. This draws upon our vast industry experience”, shares Jackie.

Safety is a primary concern for Jackie. “We are dealing with very potent chemicals and processes. I do not compromise when it comes to safety. Therefore, I invest in people-safety and quality-control training”. 

Jacqueline Smith, President, New Kent Coatings

Jacqueline’s particular approach to her business is a result of her personal management style. Industry buzzwords don’t impress her. She is meticulous, straightforward and team oriented. “I don’t micromanage my employees. While I might mentor someone on a case by case basis, I expect my employees to be self-motivated. This is especially important since they work in highly volatile environments where working conditions can change on a dime. Therefore self-leadership is a must”, shares Jackie.

This is no doubt a challenging job. Obviously, we asked Jackie about the challenges she has faced on a personal level.

“This is a very male dominated industry. While it is changing slowly, you will not find many women working in this field. Many people are surprised when they learn that I am involved in this business. Once I was in the field preparing a case study for a client. There I faced one of those subtle expressions which women usually face from men. Most of it is people doubting my ability and questioning my suggestions. When I finally revealed myself for who I was, people get flustered and embarrassed”, laughs Jackie. 

Does this bother her? “Not at all. I usually ignore such incidents. People are still not used to a woman in an industrial setting”, smiles Jackie. “However, it does motivate me to push forward and keep breaking stereotypes. While I could compete with any man in the industry, I prefer my work to do the talking. Nobody can question you if your work is fantastic and this is how I prove the naysayers wrong”, adds Jackie. 

A solid strategy for sure. This made us curious. We wanted to know more. So we asked her: ‘As a leader, what is that one piece of advice she wanted to share with entrepreneurs starting a business.’ “Hire professionals”, exclaims Jackie. “It is an easy mistake to make. One can be very excited about starting a business. You are full of drive and optimism. Your business models can be fantastic. But if you don’t assemble the right team, it won’t work. In the first few crucial months it is essential that you have a team that works well together. They must be personally invested in the success of the business. They must be flexible in switching roles and assuming new responsibilities. Do that and you will find that life is considerably easier. If not, things will become tough. This is something I learned from hard experience”, says Jackie while reminiscing about the past.

No doubt, readers will find her thoughts and ideas inspiring. But who inspires Jackie to become a better leader and a person. “That would be my mentor ‘Rod’ Rodriguez at Bay Mechanical. Working with him taught me the value of surrounding oneself with smart and honest people. The other would be Ronald Reagan. He genuinely liked people, and always approached challenges from a place of positivity. These are some of the qualities I would like to cultivate within myself as a person”, concludes Jackie.

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