“Light is a basic truth. Everything that we see, most of what we do, and much of how we feel is touched by light.”
Zia Eftekhar is part of a rare lighting breed of industry professionals who have the hindsight of 40-plus years of experience. His first job was with Lightolier as a junior designer, a position he took so that he could earn money for his post-graduate work in industrial design. Eftekhar went on to carve out a prominent career at Lightolier, and successfully saw it through two acquisitions, first with the Genlyte Group and then with Philips. In 2010 he became the CEO of Philips Professional Luminaires and in 2011 assumed the role of CEO of Philips North America. Eftekhar continues to think about lighting's big picture, and its evolution from components to systems thinking.
What in your mind makes a great piece of lighting equipment?
I see lighting equipment falling into two categories. There is lighting to look at, something that is a beautiful part of either the architecture or the ornamentation. Then there is lighting equipment to see by, which is most of the lighting we are focused on in the industry. Then, it's not what the equipment is, but how it fits the application. It's the impact, the effect of that lighting that matters.
What do you consider innovation in lighting?
Innovation is taking great discoveries and great inventions and bringing them to everyday life.
How has the business of lighting changed since you began your career?
In terms of fixtures, there weren't a lot of large companies, and there wasn't any single company that had double-digit market share. While during the '80s and '90s a number of consolidations changed the picture for fixture companies, in the light-source business there was equilibrium of fewer, much larger companies, because the barrier to entry was much higher than in the fixture business. With solid-state lighting, a window of opportunity has opened, and there are more new entrants into lighting than there were 10 to 15 years ago.
Do you think the cycle of mergers and acquisitions has reached a plateau?
A lot of the new entrants are coming into lighting, especially from the solid-state end of it; with the idea of being acquired not building a 100 year sustainable business that brings value to its customers.
Where do you see the business of lighting heading?
I think that the future of lighting is extremely-no pun intended-very bright, because we are going through a technological transformation and we are forced to look at this whole environment of connectivity between different parts of buildings.
What did the L Prize win mean for Philips?
The L Prize was a fantastic recognition of Philips' innovation and involvement in LED science, technology and manufacturing viability. Philips committed itself to LED technology over a decade ago and we have invested significantly-more than a billion dollars. But what the L Prize did for us was that it really set the bar a notch higher. Within a very short of window of time, it motivated us to try and improve efficiency, color quality, CRI, the light, the package. It motivated us to reach further. We had well over 100 people involved in developing that light from across the organization and we knew we could be the first to meet the challenge.
Can the industry make the integration between lighting and electronics?
There are really two parts to this whole industry: the part that deals with the light source itself, and the part that deals with the fixtures. The business model itself is reasonably consistent with what we've been used to over the past 100 years. I don't see it changing that much. The difference is that instead of glass and filament, it's an electronic device that is going to generate the visible light.
What we do with that still relates to so many other factors that I don't see that [the industry] becoming a semiconductor-component business by any stretch of imagination. If anything, I believe that lighting is going to become more localized because it needs to tie in more as a part of the solution to the application rather than a component that somebody is buying.
What is Philips's legacy?
An absolute commitment and desire to bring meaningful innovation to the market that impact people's lives in a positive way.
With these technology shifts, how does that change the relationship between designers and manufacturers, and between manufacturers and consumers?
It has expanded the relationship between manufacturers and the design community, and expanded the relationship between the manufacturers and end users. We can communicate much more easily-for example, we can send an email to an owner of a building to let him or her know that the lamps they bought five years ago are reaching the end of their lives and that it's time for them to consider the next-generation lamp technology. That's taking a proactive role that is beneficial to everyone.
Is there any technology that is being untapped because so much attention is being placed on solid-state lighting?
There are still a lot of very relevant technologies that we believe have significant lighting value. I do worry, in fact, that the glamour of one particular technology is overshadowing some other energy-efficient options that offer good light quality. However, I like to think that our company is reasonably well-focused on other viable products, such as our halogen incandescent EcoVantage, or the Cosmopolis lamp on the commercial side for example. Even by 2020, some 25 percent of the business will remain the conventional business; we need fixtures for those sources.
How do you continue to innovate and grow a global business, especially under these economic conditions?
You have to keep the balance between your short-term and long-term objectives. That's essential. You may get to the point that you may have to put some of the longer-term projects aside, but you shouldn't abandon them.