Whether it’s babysitting, tutoring or working at the Gora Aquatic Center, Galt high schoolers have a knack for finding a way to bring in a little pocket money. But Chad Smith took it a step further, transforming what started as your typical after-school job mowing lawns into a thriving business in its own right – then taking those skills to a career with SMUD.
“It started with mowing some of my parents’ rental properties, my grandma’s and St. Christopher’s (church). Both my older brothers mowed those lawns before me,” Smith said. “When Corey, my middle brother, went to college when I was in sixth grade, I was the next in line to mow those lawns. I also, at this time, started fixing and maintaining my own equipment: building lawn mowers, engines, whatever it took to make more money for my little business.”
By the time he started high school, the business had grown from six initial clients to over 30. Between school, football, track and FFA, he couldn’t always finish the work, so he started hiring some of his friends to help him on the weekends. The business continued to grow.
“After I graduated high school (in 2003), I bought a brand new Walker Mower for a little over $9,000, which was more than I paid for my truck when I was 16,” he said.
He moved to Sacramento to attended California State University, Sacramento, where he studied business. He took a job pumping concrete over the summers and continued his lawn business, now up to more than 60 clients, two days a week. Smith graduated with his bachelor’s in business in 2008.
“After college, I revamped my business plan for the lawn business and (it) started growing,” he said, adding that he had around 140 accounts at its peak. “In addition to mowing lawns, I was a small engine mechanic on the side.”
In 2015, Smith and his wife Jamie were expecting their first child, but unexpected complications meant that she spent the last three months of the pregnancy in the hospital, and their son Michael was born a month early. Though mother and baby were fine, Smith recalled that the medical bills “were sending the lawn business into the red.”
“I saw the writing on the wall and either had to take a big risk to expand the lawn business even more or find another job,” he said. “The opportunity to work at SMUD landed in my lap. My middle brother, Corey Smith, is a line foreman for SMUD and told me about the opening in the tool room.”
Thanks to the repair work he’d been doing for years, his skillset was a great match for the position and he got the job. Smith has now been working as a tool repairer at SMUD since 2016.
“We have an inventory of around $16 million in tools at SMUD, and I track and repair around 90% of it,” Smith explained. “I manage two contracts and track the expenses, and keep in contact with the vendors. I am responsible for the calibration of tools at SMUD, as well.”
Since starting at SMUD, Smith has sold most of his lawn business.
“(It was a) big challenge giving up my business to change careers,” he said. “I never had an exit plan for the business and never thought I would shut it down because of uncontrollable expenses.”
Still, Smith believes that everything happens for a reason, and he feels that he is able to have a positive impact on the community through his role at SMUD, particularly with the pole inspection process, which allows him to help identify and prioritize which poles need to be replaced before there is a problem.
“At SMUD, we use what are called resistographs,” he said, “a tool that drills into a pole and measures the resistance of the wood. If the wood is strong, for example, there is a lot of resistance and will show that the pole is good. If there is a void or weak wood, the tool will show that there is low resistance. I am one in only a handful in the country that knows how to work on these machines.”
In his free time, he can often be found building 55-gallon drum BBQ smokers, repairing engines on anything from lawn mowers and motorcycles to kids’ toys, or spending time with his wife and their three children.