Meet the entrepreneur turned Australian icon

Dick SMith

Dick Smith left school when he was just 15 and landed himself a job in a factory. He quickly realised the only way he would see success would be to set up and run his own business.

By age 24, he was working for two-way radio company West Way Electronics, which decided it was no longer going to service Manly Cabs. Smith saw his opportunity and grabbed it, and with $600 of his own money and $10 from his fiancée he set up a business fixing the two-way radios for Manly Cabs. It wasn’t long before Smith realised there wasn’t much money to be made servicing radios, so he began selling them too.

From these humble beginnings, Smith went on to found Dick Smith Electronics, Dick Smith Foods and Australian Geographic, and is now one of Australia’s most prominent businessmen and personality.

In this Q&A interview, Smith discusses how business has evolved over the years, how to deal with change and why most businesses fail.

Q. What makes starting and growing a business harder now, in comparison to 10-20 years ago?

It is harder today because globalisation means most businesses are huge. With globalisation there’s so much competition and so many big companies that it would be very difficult to do the same thing.

Q. How did you go about building the Dick Smith Electronics brand we know today?

I did quite well from the start; my accountant actually told me after 6 months that I had made more money then the Prime Minister of Australia.

I then realised that even though I was doing well, making money through labour was not going to help me become wealthy. It wasn’t till I walked into an electronic components shop where I received poor service that I decided to start my own business.

Within 10 years I had 50 shops around Australia and eventually sold it to Woolworths for $25 million.

Q. What skills would you look for in a new business partner now versus 10-20 years ago?

I look for people who are disciplined, who work hard and can stay focused. They have get up and go, an enthusiastic energy and are happy to ask for advice. I think these characteristics are very important.

Q. How do you deal with certain changes in business?

I love change because I’m a risk taker, whereas most people hate change. In business you have to go with change given that society changes all the time. I used to always look ahead of my time, knowing that things were going to change.

Q. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in business?

The most important lesson I have learned is to learn from your mistakes. I have made every mistake possible in business but I have never made the same mistake twice.

Q. What was the main reason you started your own business?

The main thing for me was to have freedom in what I did. Because I had no qualifications and didn’t do too well academically, I thought that if I started my own business it would be the best thing for me and where I was heading.

When I started my own business I had no idea that I would be wealthy. I saw a company called Howard Car Radio at Chatswood, which had 4 employees. I said to my fiancé at the time, “wouldn’t be great if we could open up our own business and have employees working for us?”

My accountant actually had to sit down with me and tell me that I was a millionaire – up until that point I wasn’t aware that I was even a millionaire!

Q. What are some of the reasons why most businesses fail?

Most businesses fail because they don’t look at having decent profit margins and they don’t look at keeping the overheads low.

Q. What drives you in business?

The adrenalin pumping excitement that success gives, I love responsible risk taking, I love competition, I love winning and being the best.

Q. What is success to you?

You really judge success in a business by being profitable – you have to look at it in a monetary way.

Q. What piece of advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to start or grow their own business?

Ask for advice and model the success of others. Find someone who is successful and ask for advice.

Surround yourself with quality people, people who know more than you. My success is a direct reflection of the people I have mixed with over time as well as my modelling others who are successful, keeping focused and asking lots of great questions.

This interview and article is courtesy of Alex Pirouz.

  • Justin

    I’m always eager to hear what Dick has to say, call him what you will but I think he’s so charismatic and a true visionary.

    It’s funny that I see myself heading down a similar path to Dick now I have my own business. I really look up to him. I’m hoping to put myself into a position to launch my own charity revenue raising business (the iTunes of fundraising)….watch this space……hopefully.

  • http://creative-web-designer.com Scott @sydneydesign

    Hi Great post, inspiration from a Aussie entrepreneur

  • http://rubysketch.com/ Andrew

    Great to see an Aussie succeed, I hope more Australians can do the same. I have modeled my business on promoting Australian products over an above the rest of the world. . The problem that I am getting is I am having troubles finding Australian business. The internet has nowhere that I can find only Australian business and manufacturers in the building industry. I have now put a strictly Australian manufacturing business on my website and I hope Aussie business can find me so I can help like minded people find them.
    Feel free to contact me if you know someone or you own and Australian business as I would love to get you on the list.

    email me on rubysketchmedia@gmail.com or visit our website http://www.rubysketch.com

    Dick if you read this. I would like your input I know you are passionate about our country. Your advice to get Australians together would be something we can work on together.

  • http://summitleadershipsolutions.com.au/. John Drury

    Thanks Alex and Dick Smith for the valuable insights in this brief interview.

    Dick is certainly someone who has been continuously successful over the years and has a great heart to contribute back into Australia.

    I agree that focusing on profitability and profit margins is one of the keys to building a successful business. I work with many who are running very tight margins who have great difficulty in keeping their overheads down. So many assume increased cashflow means increased profitability and so they watch the income but do not keep a close enough watch on the overheads and the cashflow peaks and troughs.

  • Mike Conroy

    I really appreciate that Dick is genuinely trying to do something to protect & help us .

    I wish I could meet the man and talk to him for 20 minutes about Wealth distribution, long term job creation, defying deregulation and sub market economy.

    but keep up the good work, i say thank you, sincerely

    Mike Conroy

    Aussie defender thru & thru

  • Mike Conroy

    But Dick how does someone meet someone like you, I would really like to pick your brain to make sure that I am on track to bring jobs back to Australia and be competition to Capitalists

    • e.g. John Smith

      Hi John
      Just curious, did you get a reply on how to contact Dick?

  • Michael Jones

    Mr Smith,

    I am worried about international investment in our farming,

    The property called Cubbie station in QLD has the capacity to grow 200 km² of cotton.

    The station is licenced to take 460,000 megalitres, the station is often derided for its large water usage requirements in a time of extreme drought in Australia and damage to the Murray Darling river system.

    Imagine if they used that same farm to grow hemp?

    The cotton plant needs about 50 percent more water per season than hemp, which can grow with little irrigation.

    That is 230,000,000 litres of water in a very dry country very used to drought.

    Hemp can be used for:
    Body care products – moisturizers, soaps, shampoo
    Building materials – Hempcrete, fiberglass, Fiberboard
    Ropes
    Clothing / textile
    Food & Beverages – Hemp is the only plant that contains all of the essential fatty acids and amino acids required by the human body.
    Paper – Paper made from hemp lasts hundreds of years longer than wood-pulp paper, The USDA reported in 1916 that an acre of hemp produced as much paper as four acres of trees annually!
    Fuels for vehicles
    Carbon sequestering, – A field of hemp will sequester around 22 tonnes of carbon!
    Plastic – The new lotus has parts made from hemp
    Chemical cleaning of soil – Hemp was grown in Chernobyl to help clean the soil some 250 – 400 plants per year were grown in Chernobyl.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemp
    http://www.daff.qld.gov.au/26_14356.htm

    The simple act of growing, harvesting and processing hemp on Cubbie could triple their income within months, Hemp grows at a rate of up to 13 feet in 90 days!

    Time IS running out!

  • Adam Richardson

    Dick Smith is my inspiration and I need his help .I have an invention that could be huge the world over please contact me,i need guidance ph 0437 684407

  • mickydebricky

    G’day dick. I was wondering if you might be interested in helping to find “Doctor Death”;
    VH-MDX. It has been missing since 1981. You reported on it in your website.
    I’m pretty good at finding things if i put my mind to it.
    I have been thinking that i could mount a foot-mounted expedition myself if so needed.
    I would not dare venture into such rainforest country without someone with me, at least to hunt the snakes away. I have located missing aircraft and people before, from an aircraft.
    … makes the job a lot easier, eh ?

    If you would be willing to offer your services, I would get my arse into gear and study the plot to the “nth” degree so that our search area would be confinded to a very small area.

    My nickname is “Mickey”. You can contact me by my mobile phone 0422271829.

    Ta.

  • http://n/a Annie cocerned

    Great Aussie, Dick Smith,
    I along with many others are also worried about the selloff of our wonderful farming land.
    Ever think we won’t need world war 3 because they own us anyway.
    that’s how it feels.
    Beware

  • Campbell Quiney

    Hi Dick you are an awsome Aussie and there needs to be more like you to help our country, keeping our products Australian with fully 100% Aussie companys.
    My son and I have decided to start buying your products to help our Aussie companys,workers and towns but one thing came to our attention a couple of weeks ago on Acurrent Affairs.
    We watch a program about Aussie Orange growers that were bulldozing thousands of tones of there Oranges & there orchids into the ground, they were willing to sell there oranges to Coles & Wollies for as little as 17 cents a kilo but could not sell them and I continue to see oranges from over seas for sale in there fruit department which i refuse to buy over seas friut when we have better fruit in Aus with out chemicals that have been band.
    One farmer said he had bulldozed enough oranges to fill 840,000 250ml bottles that is a waste of our beautiful fruit and a lot of hard work and Aussie money gone to ruine/waste.
    How about a Dick Smith brand juice, may be there is already one but where I shop I have not seen them, I thought may be even Dick Smith reconstatuited juice in 250ml cartons to mix with 2lt of water.
    Thanks for your time and I hope this gets a lot of peolples attention.

    Cheers Campbell.

  • http://Nil Steve Davis

    I’d like to commercialise an invention and wondered if Dick Smith ,or anyone he knows, is interested. I can send details if you wish.
    Kind regards
    Steve Davis
    0422 989 703

  • http://www.reptilerescueandrremovalserviceinc.org.au Ben Harvey

    I would like to get in contact with you Dick as we would like you to become an Ambassador for our organisation. Can you please make contact with me through our website.

  • http://www.reptilerescueandremovalserviceinc.org.a Ben Harvey

    I would like to get in contact with you Dick as we would like you to become an Ambassador for our organisation. Can you please make contact with me through our website http://www.reptilerescueandremovalserviceinc.org.au

  • http://www.reptilerescueandremovalserviceinc.org.au Ben Harvey

    We really need your support.

  • jim ver ginis

    Dear Sir,I am 67yrs old ,i have a similar back round to you,i left school young ,became self employed,worked very hard in the motor trade .I wish to say that i admire your efforts & thoughts about our local shopping habits.I am constantly rabbiting on to people about what is happening to australia.The other day i opened a can of peaches ,it said aust made.But where do the peaches come from?the govt should make a law ,that the label must say in bold letters its is grownfrom aust or mongolia. What happened to the tassie farmers is disgusting and un patriotic.the govt is pathetic. Farmers pay taxes & employe people also.
    This country is going on the wrong tram unfortunately,i am not a racist, my parents came here before as migrants before the 2nd WW.So i see both sides.
    Dick I love your jams.Keep up the good work ,you are a champion.

  • Jim ver ginis

    Dear Sir ,I think you have a big following in australia,and it should be controlled.If we could all form a combined group to then put pressure on govt may be we could get somewhere.I mean the people who are doing it tough would join in definately.
    This is about our future ,our kids,our grand children future.
    Its not about large corp with faceless people and large amounts of money who have NO preference for country.eg will go any where ,any place ,even sth africa where the that wealthy country Ch ,is buying up in leeps &bounds.

  • Tracy

    Dear Dick,

    I know this is a comments box but in honesty I really think you should run for a political party. I am a mum of three also a carer of my mum who has a mal functioning heart and recently became a grandmother. To look at the world today makes me sad. I have been squatting in a house with my family trying to make ends meet just like so many others. Struggle to put food on the table and pay bills. Can’t even find a job in my home town or surrounding towns no matter how hard I try. My dream was to actually take someone off the street who shelter wherever they can and bring them into my home and help them get back on their feet. Now I too am about to find myself out on the street. Our house is to be bulldozed early next year and I cannot get a place to live that I can afford. I am now unsure what to do. Ministry of housing no longer do emergency accomodation due to the fact that there are so many people now in the same situation as I am. Its sad that the government waste so much valuable money to allow for the growth of this country when so many people are now having to live on the street. Thank you for being you. You see what most people don’t. You do your best to keep the country with its people. The government could learn a lot from you. For those who see this and ask the question why I am able to post a comment that I obviously have internet access. Yes I do I dont have much more but need to find a job and without internet you are very limited especially when you know you have dropped resumes in just about every store in town looking for work.

  • Andrea

    I am a little confused. I admire Dick for his commitment to Aussie farmers/businesses, but wasn’t his money made exactly the same way as Woolworths/Coles? By from China or external sources, make a great margin (as Quoted above) and try to keep overheads low. Then sell to the very company that is destroying out country for $25 million.I know reflection and wisdom come at later stages in our life but everything in the interview above is the model these monopolising companies use, at a great cost to our country.

    Some people in this country forget that we have a wonderful working support system that many people over many years have fought for, eg 4 weeks annual leave, sick pay, maternity leave, paternity leave, paid superannuation etc etc etc.This costs money and too many are too tight to pay an extra dollar or two to keep these companies that have to pay these benefits. Then they whinge when Australian owned disappears. I think the strangest benefit we have is holiday loading. i can never understand why you should be paid more to NOT be at work!

    I don’t profess to know the answers but i do see the hypocrosy. There is definitely good in what Dick is doing now, but lets not lose sight of how it is made possible.

  • Wendy Shepherd Harrison

    It is possible for me to email Dick directly on a conceptual idea?
    Merry Christmas and a happy New Year
    Wendy

  • http://www.trimestercushions.com.au Glen Racovolis

    just inquireing if you have any handy hints on keeping control of my patented maternity pillow [australian desighned]

    feel i need some help in this department

  • Kerry Chadwick

    I have had this idea for years but I don’t know the first thing how to promote it.

    I propose to tax EVERY wage earner at least $5 a year to form a fund to help Aussies who suffer from bushfires and floods. Pensioners and those not working need not apply.

    This fund will provide much needed funds such as emergency relief as in food, clothing, fence repair, stock feed, repair/replace water tanks, transportation etc. This fund would help relieve the funds state and federal governments use for such things. It could be used to buy much needed equipment to the SES and rural fire brigades and also relieve the stress on charity groups such as the Red Cross. Concerned people would no longer feel the need to donate because the money is already there to help.

    Working with the ATO just $5 a year will provide millions of dollars to those that need it. A tax free fund where the excess will be used to help Australian businesses thrive.

    Think about it! It wouldn’t be all that hard to set up but it should be governed by a non government body.

    It should be called the Aussies Helping Aussies Fund.

  • DENNIS OSULLIVAN

    have a bush and grass fire fighting system based on a simple 200Ldrum .fitted with a spray boom and a small air tank and air reducer so not to burst drum under pressure. This unit can be set off using radio or a set timer.these units can be pleased in frount of the fire to protect homes ect. Or in a line eg grass fire and set off from a distance or by the house owner.easy to make ect.i have had this idea for years but the reseant fires have made me push this system.about me I am 68 yo live dorrigo nsw truck driver for 40 years retired. Private pilot’s licence no longer used however I fly with my mate in a 280 fx enstrom chopper can fly these no problems. I would be happy to talk about this as a lot more to this unit that I can email you with. My phone No is 0266571725.name is dennis osullivan.this is the only way I can think of to contact Mr smith sorry about spelling.do not send emails a lot.
    DENNIS OSULLIVAN DORRIGO
    .

  • John Whiteman

    Is there a contact number/email where i can get in contact with Dick Smith? I have an invention that i feel will be used in every home in australia and overseas. Thankyou

  • Kris Feeney

    I have a business idea that i would like to put forward and would like feed back from Mr Smith. Could he please contact me at the above e-mail.

    thanks

  • stephen

    hi i would just like to say that i would like very much to see dick smith and other business men like him be a true australian and give generously to the people of bundaberg and laidley and ipswich and nsw who were affected by the floods i have given what i could i infact donated my entire months wages to help out we never hear about what the mega wealthy do to help and i am not talking about given a jar of aussiemite or peanut butter so cmon aussie lend a hand

  • micki

    I have seen you, Dick smith, several times on TV and I love you spirit, courage, honesty, and Patriotism. Through your inspiration I have invented a gadget (prototype). I would appreciate very much if you have a look at it, and help me take the next step!!

    Looking forward to meeting with you soon!

    Micki .

  • Trish Robinson

    Hi how are you my husband Craig Robinson, would know that when he was about 10 years old, he use to go over to see dick Smith at Artarman
    & talk to him about things that they should have for kids.
    My husband would like to meet up with dick smith we are living in Lismore we can come to dick smith would like you to get back to us thank you for time

  • Eion Lindsay

    Good morning Dick

    I am hoping to contact you about getting a photograph of you for “Augusta’s Wall of Faces” that you have been nominated for.

    The Augusta Chamber of Commerce, Western Australia has been working on this Urban Art Project for 18 months now and we are now requiring pictures and permission to use the picture from various people. Hence me contacting you.

    If you go to the Augusta Chamber website -http://www.augustacci.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=52&Itemid=65 and all the infomation about the project is there for you perusal.

    We would be pleased if you are able to forward a picture of yourself for inclusion on the wall

    If you require further information please contact me

    Kind regards

    Eion Lindsay
    Member ACC Urban Art sub-committee

  • Lizbett Barron

    Hi, my name is Liz and I need your help. I have many inventive ideas, that I and others believe to be very good, but I need help to make these. The ideas I have range from front doors, guns for the police, trailers( which have since been made), aeroplane seats( which would save lives and a natural environmentaly safe energy source. I have no know how or finances on how to put most of these together. Please let me know if you are able to help in any way. My e-mail address is Ttebzil@hotmail.com. Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.

  • Domenica

    Hi Dick,
    Just wondering if you know what the new owners of Dick Smith are doing to your name. If I were you I am not sure i would want my name on this.

    I hope you read this

  • Timothy Devonshire

    Good day,

    My name is Timothy Devonshire and I am a 34 year old from Mangerton in Wollongong NSW, and I am asking for someone to give me a go to change my life around and to help give other people a chance as well.
    I am asking for help for someone that would like to invest in a project and to receive a profit for interest as every cent borrowed will be returned with interest the per centage of interest can be decided by you because I want to get started a Housing Complex for people and families who can not afford the current rental market, because I know how much people are looking at renting properties here in the Illawarra alone.
    I have done so much research including the cheapest Home kits to have built and also the size of land that is needed.
    I would like to tell you what I have planned to see if you would see if you believe that you would like to change the Housing Crisis.

    I would like to get a block of land of above 3 acres to build 1 and 2 bedroom houses also a large warehouse which will be for Farmers to come and sell their produce like they do at Flemington Markets but instead of just letting them sell first thing in the mornings I would like the Farmers to sell their produce all day.
    In Wollongong we don’t have anything like this, we are forced to purchase fruit and vegestables from major Supermarkets and Fruit and Vegetable retail chains, whose prices are matched with the major Supermarkets.
    I am now sure if you are aware but here in Wollongong at least 65% or the Population are on Centrelink Benefits and I have seen even children go without fruit and Vegetables because they are just too expensive so if I could get the Farmers to sell their produce direct like at Flemington then people on Centrelink Benefits no longer will have to go without out.

    I have received quotes and have found the cheapest but with the best quality promised to me.

    Please believe me I feel so embarassed because I too am on a Centrelink Benefit and want to change this and to better my life and to help other people as well, I have seen banking and financial institutes for help but because of my Income or lack of they have stated that it is a risk.
    I understand this is a risk because i am only on a Centrelink Benefit but I am so determined to make this work I just need a step up to get this started I really do hope that you can see that this will work and will be a excellent return in profits.

    I hope that I can get a opportunity to disguss this in more detail with you.

    Thank you so much for your time and patience

    With the kindest regards

    Timothy Devonshire

  • http://www.marrung-pa.com.au Tracey

    Hi dick I’m looking for donations to continue my well needed service I offer to indigenous communities …if you have a look at my web page you will see how I operate …I have found it so dame hard to get a foot in the door for any funding being a new indigenous business and committed in this dream I have had for some time to continue to help my mob…have alook and please see if you can assist .
    Tracey

  • Michel Rahme

    Hi Mr Smith,

    For a number of years now I have been buying Dick Smith food and electronics to support Australian made. However I have now decided to boycott everything Dick Smith, and the reason is because it’s now clear your age and mentality has become irrelevant to us – the new generation. Specifically, I mean, your thoughts and conclusion on renewable energy and its potential is clearly wrong. Your assumption and message that a centralised power system is the only reliable option for Australia is false and misleading – and we will prove you wrong Mr Smith!

    Battery storage and molten salt storage are not fantasies Mr Smith, they are realities – today! Combinations of Solar, wind, Geothermal, wave, tide, biomass, hydro, along with other new emerging technologies – using natural conventional gas as a transition only- is what stimulates us – the new generation Mr Smith. Not nuclear and old coal Mr Smith.

    Flying around in your helicopter making documentaries about energy consumption is not only hypocritical, it’s disappointing. I am disappointed in you Mr Smith, because I thought you were an Australian. To be an Australian these days Mr Smith one needs to be a leader, be daring, and willing to innovate and find ways to make sustainability and environmental balance a reality.

    Your ideas and your solutions will be proven to be wrong and outdated and of the ‘old people’s’ thinking. Time for you to move over and retire Mr Smith – we need Australian leaders who want to put there energy towards changing the status quo not maintaining it. We will beat you and those you represent Mr Smith – that I promise!

    I suggest you read reneweconomy.com.au on a daily basis so you can educate yourself.

    Goodbye Mr Smith, tomorrow I will not be eating my Dick Smith cereal nor my Dick Smith peanut butter tonight!

    Michael Rahme

    Sent from my iPad

  • Di Perkins

    Hi Dick – I have an urgent request to make, please.. I am a writer and have a book called “Wallaby Stew – Inspiring Stories from Down Under” that is to be launched in Brisbane on Sunday 27th October at 10.30a.m. The books themselves will be ready for collection tomorrow night in Melbourne and could be brought up here either late tomorrow night or Saturday. We would only need perhaps 4 boxes of books to be brought up to accommodate the needs for the launch. I am reaching out to you, Dick, in case either you are travelling up here or know someone who could bring them, please. The profits from this book go to the Mater Children’s Hospital. My phone number if 0738926915. Trusting you have a solution, please… Thank you..