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In competitive swimming, there are four main strokes and, among champions, the consensus seems to be that the butterfly is the most difficult. It requires a great deal of strength. One coach called it ‘the four-wheel-drive of strokes.’ Siân Smith is a swimmer, and once you learn a little about her, you won’t be surprised that her specialty is the butterfly. Her career is a story of courage and strength.

Siân worked for 13 years at EMCO and five more at Noble, including some high profile roles such as Vice President of Procurement, the first female Chair at the Canadian Institute of Plumbing & Heating (CIPH) and Chair of HRAI’s Wholesaler Division Board of Directors. “A male-dominated industry is a great place for a woman to succeed,” says Siân, “because things are changing, and in this fabulous business there are a lot of terrific people, who will welcome you if you share your knowledge and expertise and show them that you care about their goals.”

Siân’s husband Peter and their two daughters are also swimmers, and Siân’s new company is called Riptide, a swimming metaphor for its philosophy. “When swimmers are caught in a riptide, the instinct is to swim back to shore,” says the web site. “Unfortunately, that may end up being the most dangerous and fruitless path…In late 2017, the team at Riptide recognized that the tides of change within the plumbing industry were gaining strength, driven by heightened consumer expectations for speed and access to a broader product assortment. It was time to dive in and embrace the flow.”

Siân’s company in Milton, Ontario, stocks more than 5,000 items, including unusual SKUs, and provides wholesalers with same-day shipping. “We don’t sell to consumers and contractors, because we want to serve as an extension of what our wholesale customers have to offer,” says Siân. “When a customer watches a home renovation show and decides she wants the French Gold steam shower kit or almond coloured toilet, the wholesaler doesn’t need to have it in inventory, because they can get it from us in a hurry. They can just pull up the Riptide online portal and see what we have in stock.”

“Master distributors are not new to Canada, but it is new to offer branded products rather than a private label or offshore items.” Riptide stocks Blanco, Kindred, Duravit, Franke, Kohler, Moen, Delta, and Rinnai, with plans to expand into many other brands. “Today’s customers seem to have higher expectations than ever before around speed,” she says. “Everyone is busier now and they don’t have 2-4 weeks to wait --they need it tomorrow. If a product is sourced from another country, that adds a lot of time, so it’s valuable for a wholesaler to be able to get that special item quickly from Riptide.”

Siân’s Master’s Class competitive swim team broke the FINA world record in 1999 in the 4x50 relay medley. She still runs, swims, and is a Director on the Board of the Milton Marlins Swim Team. “I’m a big believer in target setting and chasing dreams. You can set an ambitious goal without knowing how to get there, then surround yourself with great people and find a way to achieve it and more.”

She describes her new team as passionate about providing service, and with high-level credentials in relevant fields such as customer relations, logistics, and modern packaging. “Keeping the focus on people is important,” she says. “I’m not afraid to make myself vulnerable and let my teammates know when I need help. We all rely on each other to make it happen.” A few years ago she started The Women’s Network at CIPH, which now stands at more than 300 members. “It’s a great opportunity to share stories and support one another.”

Asked about the advice she would offer to young people just starting out, she says: “Be true to yourself. Get out there and do what you’re great at… I’m most proud of my willingness to take risks. Leaving Noble was a big risk, and also an opportunity to learn. We have to learn and we have to engage with each other respectfully. HRAI and CIPH are both tremendous organizations. I love being involved with them and meeting wonderful people as we develop strategies for our industry to keep up with a changing world.”

Swim coach and writer Terry Laughlin study top swimmers like Michael Phelps and Dana Vollmer. He talks about the strength required for butterfly but adds that “You’re more likely to be struck by their rhythm and grace. The power in their strokes is more inherent than overt. Indeed, it’s while swimming butterfly that humans most resemble those most graceful of all swimmers–dolphins.”

Congratulations and best wishes to Siân Smith and the other dolphins at Riptide.