Russell Smith: a very human visionary

A tribute to the Christchurch IT entrepreneur

If the value of a person’s life is best measured by the extent to which they enriched the lives of others, then Dr Russell Smith thoroughly deserves the respect that was accorded to him last week.

It has been well documented that Russell enhanced the lives of tens of thousands of blind and visually impaired people around the world, with specialist products that helped them to live and work independently.

I would also like to reflect on Russell’s other great contributions to society because he was a really nice person with a good heart — an entrepreneur with the most admirable of aspirations.

With his managerial and technical abilities, Russell was the driving force behind HumanWare. A humble man, he clearly had that crucial ability to gel people behind his cause. He had a passion for — and thorough understanding of — his technology. Well-known for working 70–80 hour weeks, Russell was incredibly committed to the success of his organisation.

Russell had the long-term future of his 70 local staff in mind when, in January of this year, his company, then called Pulse Data International, acquired a Canadian competitor, VisuAide, to form HumanWare.

I worked closely with Russell on the Canterbury Electronics Group. He was a leading light of the local ICT sector, a man who recognised an opportunity — indeed a responsibility — to nurture something greater than his own organisation.

Committed to building our collective hi-tech capability, Russell has significantly influenced Christchurch’s growth to become the hi-tech capital of this country. He was utterly reliable and very generous with his time, particularly with his strong support of initiatives to help grow smaller businesses.

Russell was very aware of the importance of education to our industry, and was a member of the University of Canterbury Council.

It is utterly tragic that Russell, and his wife Marian, lost their lives flying — a passion that Russell and I shared and often discussed when we regularly met.

Russell Smith should rightly be remembered for his remarkable achievements, founding a company that grew to achieve annual turnover of about $70 million, with exports to more than 30 countries.

But I will most fondly remember Russell Smith for his nature. This month we not only lost a visionary hi-tech industry leader — we also lost a very special person.

Chick is CEO of Tait Electronics

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