Like countless other students through the decades, Craig Smith’s first memories of McMaster involve unloading boxes from his parents’ minivan. Those boxes made their way to the “submarine room” – a long, skinny room directly across from the elevator on the fourth floor of Woodstock Hall, and the friendship between Smith and roommate Stacy Joseph was born.
A co-ed residence and a roommate named Stacy led to some confusion for Smith’s parents — “they actually thought I was a woman because of my name,” recalls Joseph – but after they departed, the pair headed to the quad.
“We decided we needed to rent a fridge as soon as possible, so we could get the beer cold,” says Smith, who still remembers the two of them lugging the mini-fridge up to the fourth floor.
More than three decades later, the friendship that started in the oddly-shaped residence room is still going strong.
Built on the shared experience of a gruelling first year in the Electrical Engineering & Management program and three years as roommates, the friendship has stood the test of time – running the gamut from out-of-country work assignments to the pressure of balancing family with careers in leadership roles.
“He’s always been the friend that I can count on – a steady constant and a good sounding board, both personally and professionally,” says Joseph.
Today Joseph, who graduated in 1993 (a year after Smith as a result of an internship program), is president and CEO of Beam Semiconductor Ltd., a Toronto-based company focused on developing high-performance wireless transceivers.
Also in the Toronto area, Smith is now president of SICK Ltd., the Canadian subsidiary of global sensor manufacturer SICK headquartered in Germany. He also serves on the board of directors for SICK Brazil.
“I am responsible for all sales, marketing and operations within SICK’s factory, logistics and process automation business segments in Canada,” says Smith. “I started in the role in 2011 with 16 employees. We are now over 50 employees and have more than quadrupled our revenues.”
Despite a joint passion for electronics that helped the two quickly bond – “we were typical computer geeks,” laughs Joseph – both men have built their careers around the management side of their degrees.
Joseph says the 16-month internship position he took with IBM after third year encouraged him to move away from technical work.
“I didn’t want to be one of those guys who sat in the corner and wrote code or designed hardware,” he says. “Software people have great jobs today, but back then it really wasn’t glamorous at all.”
His current role sees him raising capital and working with investors and customers around the world, but his career has also included responsibilities in the areas of product design, sales, marketing and strategic business development.
In a previous position with Silicon Optix, Joseph managed product development and planning for the Emmy Award-winning Realta video processor architecture, the first fully software programmable video array processor capable of performing over 1 trillion operations per second.
While their careers have diverged, Smith says the friends have continued to support one another professionally.
“I don’t believe there are any ‘new’ business problems in the world,” he says. “We share the challenges we’re facing in our leadership roles, and can offer each other advice from our own experiences.”
His role as a leader is something Smith takes very seriously, so it was a career highlight for him to see SICK Ltd. recently certified as a Great Place to Work. The third-party certification, based on anonymous employee surveys, identifies the company as one of Canada’s best employers.
“This was one of my objectives, and I think it really validates our organization’s leadership style and the success we’ve achieved over the last eight years,” he says. “While some leaders attract followers based on their knowledge and competency, I think leaders can also have success by creating vision and energy for those around them.”
While the pair have helped each other pass tough university courses and solve professional problems, Joseph even takes credit for helping Smith find true love.
“Craig would never have met his wife Jessica if it weren’t for me,” he says. “My decision to take the IBM position after third year opened the door for him to get new roommates at our off-campus house. And guess who showed up – Jessica!”
Joseph served as best man at the wedding 24 years ago, and Smith says his teenage daughters love to linger at the dinner table when his university roommate is over for a visit.
“We often share funny stories from our past, and my daughters laugh. I think it lets them see me in a different, non-parent light,” he says. “And Jessica also went to Mac and graduated the same day as I did, so the bond of McMaster in our life is constant.”