By Alan Smith, operations director, Matrix Risk Control
Alan Smith always knew he would have a ‘phase two’ career. He talks to us about his transition from detective superintendent to company director.
The decision to join the police force at 18 would establish Alan Smith’s career path for the next three decades. It was, however, his final role as detective superintendent with operational responsibility for major and organised crime investigations that would determine Alan’s next steps.
His position with what was then Grampian Police had a unique and ultimately career-defining additional element: it included jurisdictional responsibility for policing the North Sea, which involved leading investigations into offshore fatalities.
Over the years, Alan was exposed to a number of high-profile tragedies. This enabled him to identify a trend in the inability of large operators and service providers to perform good-quality consistent and robust incident investigations when they had a ‘near miss’ or minor incident.
He said: “It’s a fact that organisational safety improvement begins with the ability to learn from previous incidents or failures.
“The last major incident investigation I was involved in during my policing career was the capsizing of a Norwegian vessel in 2007. Eight people, including the 14 year old son of the vessel master, lost their lives. Like so many other tragedies before it, this one was preventable if not predictable.”
Alan is in no doubt that this incident triggered a thought process in his head, which ultimately led to him founding Matrix Risk Control with former police colleague Mhorvan Sherret in 2008.
“It was clear that there were gaps in the industry surrounding quality incident investigation,” he said. “Mhorvan and I believed – as we still believe today – that our policing investigative backgrounds could bring something of genuine value to the business world.”
In the early days of Matrix Risk Control, both founders were based from their respective kitchen tables, in between fulfilling various requests from around the globe for training and incident investigation support.
“The international aspect of the business gathered pace very quickly and continues to grow today,” Alan said. “One of our most memorable contracts, which gave us the confidence to expand, was the provision of investigation training on a major liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline project in Queensland, Australia.
“The majority of the training took place in a tiny town called Chinchilla. The journey there involved a flight in a small fixed-wing plane from Brisbane to an outback runway littered by wallabies. It was a far cry from policing in Aberdeen!”
The change in his working environment is not the only difference that Alan has encountered between his public and private sector careers.
“Any sense of importance can be left on the doorstep of police HQ,” he joked. “As a service provider, you quickly become aware that you are only of importance when a client needs you.”
Thankfully, much of the skill set he developed at Grampian Police has stood him in good stead. Alan cites relationship building and trust as being essential components in both posts and relishes the ongoing variety in every working day. The vast majority of the Matrix Risk Control team come from policing backgrounds and he believes that their culture of discipline and attention to detail is appreciated in the business world. Another plus is the ability of his staff to communicate at all levels, from the shop floor to the boardroom - an essential when carrying out Matrix’s training programmes or conducting independent investigations into organisational incidents.
Today Matrix’s team tally stands at 14 and the company has recently moved to new, larger headquarters at Aberdeen’s Waterloo Quay. The leadership team has also been bolstered by a CEO – whose introduction to the company in 2015 is a story in itself.
“Some readers may recall an advertisement in which the user of a famous electric shaver liked the product so much that he bought the company,” said Alan.
“Matrix had an equivalent experience when we delivered our first ‘Day from Hell’ corporate manslaughter training course to the executive team of a north-east building company.
“Their chief executive Bill Beattie liked it so much that he invested in the company – and he is now our own CEO.”
(As published in The Press & Journal, 5th May 2017)