It’d be tempting to portray Grant Smyth, the now 70-year-old mastermind behind iconic refrigerated trailer brand, Fibreglass Transport Equipment (FTE), as a classic self-made man who, through hard work, talent, grit and a bit of luck, managed to rise from virtually nothing to the very top of the transport equipment world. Yet, the old cliché wouldn’t quite encapsulate the true impact Grant has had on Australia’s transport and logistics industry – nor would it suffice to explain just why he must be considered a true industry icon.
To truly understand Grant, you have to talk fibreglass trailer technology, not entrepreneurship. You have to experience the passion he has for the material, that deep commitment to not just selling a product, but creating a tool that will last and add real, tangible value to those using it. You need to feel that aura of authenticity that engulfs him when talking about his craft, and the gentle sense of humility underlining it.
“Some think it’s odd, but we’re all about the product and would never want to compromise it by being too ambitious on the sales front,” he says, seemingly ignoring today’s fixation on top line growth. “The product has built FTE, not the other way round. FTE is famous for producing highly sophisticated refrigerated vans from locally made fibreglass, and we want to keep it that way. They are incredibly thermally efficient and last a lifetime, which is unheard of in today’s throw-away culture.”
According to Grant, he never planned to revolutionise the concept of refrigerated trailer design, nor did he go out to disrupt the transport equipment market. Instead, he simply wanted to make a good product – that’s all there is to his success, he says.
As such, the twenty-something-year-old would have never expected FTE to become the national phenomenon it is today when he was offered a share in the business back in 1975. “People loved us because we were fibreglass specialists building transport equipment, not trailer builders trying their hands on fibreglass. Maybe that’s the secret.”
Unsurprisingly, Grant is still uncomfortable when people label FTE the Rolls Royce of refrigerated equipment. “Yes, we definitely set the quality benchmark, but it’s just an assumption that what we build is expensive. We are no more expensive than the industry standard, and often specification variance and the market determine the sell price. When you look at Return on Investment and Resale Value, I still think nothing compares to our offer.”
Ironically, it is in denying the product’s luxury status that Grant is venturing into modern business lingo, giving the modern company a taste of its own medicine so he can continue to focus on what’s truly important to him – building a great product.
Exclusive to Trailer, Industry Icons is a new series dedicated to honouring the unsung heroes of commercial road transport – the people and businesses that form the backbone of our industry and keep pushing the boundaries to ensure Australia will remain at the very forefront of innovation. Made possible by Smedley’s Engineers, Industry Icons celebrates those who dare to think out of the box and contribute to making Australian trucking safe, sustainable and efficient.