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Ewan Smith's working life illustrates the advantages of adaptability when your career veers off your intended path.

Since a management buyout in April 2004, Ewan Smith has been managing director of Anchor Systems (Europe).

But among many and varied jobs he has also inspected meat in abattoirs, sold machinery and chemicals to farmers and been an air freight on-board courier. Smith's motto is: 'be adaptable - experience is everything'.

Smith was born in New Zealand in 1951 and brought up in Central Otago, the area which was the backdrop for the Lord of the Rings films. He left school at 18 and worked for two years as a farm labourer to gain practical experience before completing a diploma in agriculture at Lincoln College, part of Canterbury University in Christchurch.

After starting out as a meat inspector, Smith joined ICI Tasman as an area manager selling agricultural chemicals, and then became national sales manager for a company supplying spray machinery to apply those chemicals.

In the mid 1980s New Zealand experienced a severe recession and this was the catalyst for Smith's move to the UK.

By 1989 he had joined the team promoting the use of the American Duckbill mechanical anchoring system. The anchor was developed in the early 1970s by US engineer Robert Deike. The US military was looking for a rapid deployment anchor in emergency situations and was among the first to use the product.

Given his background, it was no surprise that Smith saw its potential for agricultural, horticulture and forestry uses such as securing windbreaks, vines and fence posts.

The target market soon switched to civil engineering and by the early 1990s the system was widely accepted for temporary works such as retaining sheet piles, underpinning basements and general structures.

In January 1995, Smith was appointed business development manager for Anchor Systems and began the process of promoting the Duckbill anchor as a permanent works solution. This was done by constantly refining the system, introducing complete stainless steel Duckbills with high yield stainless bar instead of wire tendons and increasing the capacity of the anchors from 120kN to over 325kN.

He believes the majority of civil and structural engineers now recognise it as an engineering product and understand the performance benefit which the system can deliver.

'Since becoming managing director I've focused on ensuring our anchor systems are user friendly and safe. If we're asked for 200kN I'll test to 240kN so that I'm sure in my own mind that the anchor can perform and all new anchor designs are rigorously tested before being released into the market, ' he says.

'If you're responsible for keeping the temporary Wembley Arena structure firmly in place you want to remove any areas of doubt or uncertainty as far as safety is concerned.' Smith considers continuous innovation to be crucial for ongoing commercial success. 'Duckbills are not the only mechanical anchoring solution available to engineers.

It is up to me and my team to continuously seek out those marginal improvements which will tip the balance in our favour. We like to work in partnership with consultants and contractors to develop solutions which benefit all parties, ' he says.

He says this approach has included several high-profit projects for Network Rail and the stabilisation of a soil embankment where London's M25 meets the A217 at its southern reaches. 'For applications where environmental issues predominate, mechanical anchors invariably offer the quickest, neatest and most effective solution, ' he says.

Smith puts his creativity and lateral thinking down to his father, a self-employed motor engineer, who could - in Kiwi vernacular - '. . . make honey out of goat shit.' In terms of key lessons learnt over the past 16 years, he believes it is vital that directors and managers are not afraid to make decisions.

'The best moves I've made since becoming managing director have been to overhaul my support team and to continuously invest in marketing to raise our profile in the market.

'We've not done anything fancy; we've simply stuck to the basics, made product changes and produced case studies, advertisements and mail out cards to keep us at the front.' Smith's advice for those just setting out on a career in civil or geotechnical engineering is to acquire the key skill of adaptability.

'There's nothing wrong with change, embrace it. Why stay in a job you don't like-'

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