October 2012 Issue
PLSN Interview

Navigator Systems' Greg Smith

Greg SmithWe recently sat down with Greg Smith, an industry veteran and owner of Navigator Systems. He details how he got started in AV support for corporate events (by being in the right place at the right time — in his case, with a friend at a bar). He also talks about how Navigator Systems and HireTrack rose to prominence, and closes with a few general words of advice on how to succeed in the live event business, even if your focus is only on “a very miniscule part.”

PLSN: How did you begin your career in the entertainment industry?

Greg Smith: In a bar! In 1983, a friend of mine found me at a hangout in Chicago, and I was asked to go on tour with McDonald’s on their summer store manager’s tour.  I had worked with this friend in high school theater, and I was like the fourth or fifth person he asked. My job was to align these old 3-gun Sony 1270 video projectors and small audio systems. It was a nine-city tour across the country working with The Spinners, and three or four trailers of gear. I had no idea that you could make money having this much fun.

 

What was the defining moment that made you want to be part of the industry?

It was about the fourth or fifth stop on that tour, and I had an old Local 2 stagehand and 477 projectionist — this was in the days of 18 projector multi-image slide shows — take me under their wings and show me how the business works from a teamwork standpoint. I really enjoy the camaraderie that comes in doing shows and working toward a common goal. You know that, come 7 o’clock, you had an audience walking through the door and you had to be ready for them. Even though you had these different departments, we all had to work together to get this show to happen at that particular time. I don’t do many shows any more, and that teamwork is what I miss the most.

 

Are there any special moments or situations that stand out in your mind about how unique of a position you are in?

I was doing wireless on a show one time in Los Angeles at the Shrine. Now this was in the days of old Cetec Vega VHF units, and so there really was a certain level of magic involved to get 24 wireless mics to work together, especially since we didn’t have all the analyzer tools that guys have today! So, I am standing there offstage, just as nervous as a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs, when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and it’s Sammy Davis Jr. with his hand out and he said, “Hi there, I am Sammy Davis Jr. What is all this?” I just about fell off the stage, because I had grown up watching this guy, and here he was, asking about me and what I do. He was absolutely delightful, and he dragged me out of the wireless room and introduced me to Liza Minnelli like I was his long lost friend. That was pretty cool. I also got a chance to meet and work with Jimmy Stewart at Mt. Rushmore.

 

What are some of the projects, concerts, installations or events that you have been involved with?

My primary business has been corporate and special events. So I was blessed to work with great companies like On Stage Audio, ProMix (prior to PRG), and Masque Sound. We did just about every drug company show that has ever existed, and special events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics. To be candid, they all kind of run together, but I remember all the people I have been so blessed to work with.

 

What is Navigator Systems?

Navigator Systems makes rental management software specifically designed for the lighting, sound and the AV industry. We have two main products — HireTrack software, a full turnkey solution that schedules and manages equipment, people and vehicles, and our RentalDesk program, a scaled-down version that schedules equipment for general hires or rentals.

 

How did Navigator Systems come to be?

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was really only one rental inventory software [product] available, and it was a DOS-based system. (I can only imagine how many readers don’t know what DOS is!) It was called HITS.  It was really good, but after Microsoft released Windows to compete with Apple, there was demand for a Windows-based system.

David Rose and Richard Cresswell were working in the U.K. as lighting techs and saw a need for a graphically-rich rental software system that was very flexible and easy to use. They spent about four years developing the software, and the end result was HireTrack.

Over here in the U.S., I had spent thousands of hours researching and trying to develop a system that would meet the unique needs of an audio company, and there wasn’t anything that would fit the bill. I found an ad in a magazine for HireTrack, and I called the U.K. and asked David for a demo copy. Once I got it installed, it took me about 10 minutes to figure it out, and I was hooked.  This worked exactly the way the production business worked, and I cranked out a full quote with equipment, labor and transportation in about 10 minutes. Something that would take me two to three hours with Excel, FileMaker Pro and Word! I decided to get involved with this company, and so we began selling HireTrack in the States and around the world.

 

What makes Navigator
Systems different?

Our experience in the business. We have slept under stages, loaded trucks, built thousands of miles of mic and lighting cables and created hundreds of show quotes each year.  That experience is manifested in the user interface of our products. We try to develop processes in the software that mirror the way a busy rental company works.  I know it sounds like a marketing slogan, but we get it. I think that is obvious the first time you play with our software.

 

Is there any advice that you can offer to
other professionals to succeed, not just in business, but life?

Put others first. That’s really the most important thing...Too many people take an “I got mine” attitude, and it really does more harm than good. You know… we are blessed to live in a world where we have the opportunity to work in an industry and a job that we really love. I don’t think I have met anyone that sees this business a “just a job,” and the entertainment business is really filled with passionate people.  Be sure to share that passion with someone. I find if I do “the right thing,” the financial rewards take care of themselves.

 

Can you share any stories or thoughts from, or about, the industry?

I have seen this industry evolve from the “Wild West” to a more disciplined and responsible industry since 1982. When financial people started investing in lighting and sound companies… with it came a level of accountability that I think has been good for the business. The level of professionalism is astounding now, and I am truly proud to be a very miniscule part of the business.

 

For more information, go to www.hiretrack.com.

 


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