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Shaping a new SMART

September 17, 2013 | Telepresence Options

Neil Gaydon

Story and images by Amanda Stephenson / Calgary Herald

New CEO confident he can turn around tech company's fortunes

Neil Gaydon would like everyone to step back and consider the big picture when assessing SMART Technologies.

The CEO, a U.K. transplant, doesn't need reminding it's been a rough couple of years for the company he heads. Calgary-based SMART - which rose to global prominence with the success of its patented interactive whiteboards - crash-landed shortly after going public in a highprofile IPO in 2010. The school boards that once clamoured for SMART products stopped spending, the company's sales slowed, its stock plummeted and investors revolted.

In April 2012, executive chair David Martin and CEO Nancy Knowlton - the husband-andwife founders of SMART - resigned their executive roles amid tumbling profits.

Gaydon, who was brought in as CEO last fall and tasked with turning around SMART'S flagging fortunes, is philosophical about the difficulties the company has encountered. Speaking to the Herald for the first time since being hired, Gaydon said SMART'S struggles have been a "bump," nothing more.

"It was a bad bump, but it happens to every company at some point," said Gaydon calmly, seated at a board room table surrounded by different models of SMART whiteboards and flat panel displays. "There was a whole confluence of events that happened outside of SMART'S control.

"We had the biggest recession since the '30s, if not the biggest recession of all time, and education spending was slashed in key markets like the United Kingdom and the United States ... But, for 20 years before that, this was a company that had 20 per cent compound growth every year - every year! You have to look at what SMART has done."

Gaydon, 53, believes in the SMART story and considers Knowlton and Martin "giants" who completely transformed education with their vision and technological expertise. If he didn't believe this, he never would have moved all the way to Calgary from Yorkshire, England where he had just wrapped up five years as head of television set-top box manufacturer Pace.

He isn't afraid of a challenge, either.

When Gaydon took the helm at Pace, the company was losing money. Five years later, revenues had increased ten-fold and the company had become the global industry leader ahead of Motorola and Technicolor, he says.

"That company was a very big turnaround story," Gaydon said. "So, when I saw SMART,

though it certainly wasn't in the state Pace was in ... it looked to be a very tantalizing opportunity." Gaydon came into SMART convinced the company's foundations were sound, it just needed a new operating model - one that aligned more closely with the needs and wants of customers and had a clear vision of what it was trying to do.

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