Mar 14, 2022

One constant has marked the journey

By Mark Lien

I knew a guy who fell into lighting. He was shooting weddings and selling photographic equipment when he had an opportunity to manage a building center in a KMart. The year was 1975. Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album had just been released, and KMart was the largest retailer in the world. He managed the building center, home improvement and lighting areas. This preceded Home Depot and other big-box stores but was the same concept. Later KMart started Builders Square, one of the first national home center chains. This guy set up their first store and learned about all the building materials and worked with the vendors.

When his marriage collapsed, he took a job running a lighting showroom so he could have weekends off with his son. He learned more about residential lighting, hired a team and started to offer design services. His team learned at Nela Park and from suppliers. After a couple of years, the person doing commercial and industrial lighting bids got in a loud public fight with the owner. He was fired on the spot. When calling the fired colleague to ask if he would be returning to the company, he was told there was not a chance and was further advised to ask the owner about taking over the bid work in addition to managing the showroom. He asked, hired an assistant and started quoting lighting projects.

The residential showroom was growing too and a nearby building was renovated using the team that also was designing the Disney stores. “The Lighting Center” combined the residential, commercial and industrial lighting into one beautiful building. Word spread and business grew. One day a regional manager from Lithonia came in. This lighting center was specifying more of his brand than anyone else from his local agency. The regional person suggested that he join the IES and then the Progress Committee. He was voted onto the committee in 1991 and chaired it a few years later.

Computers started to occupy desk space. Software like Lumen Micro and CALA (Computer Aided Lighting Analysis) was starting to be used. Ohio State offered a class for CALA in the early nineties. After returning, he started designing projects and generating layouts for local architects and engineers. This provided an advantage selling the products on the projects he had specified. Once trust was established the projects got larger and more complicated. After he learned AutoCAD, these early layered computer lighting designs further helped his architects.

Friendships developed and he was asked to apply to teach at the SOURCE at the Cooper Lighting Headquarters near Chicago. The request came from the SOURCE manager who he knew from IES. A few years later he was teaching on every product and working with enthusiastic and knowledgeable lighting professionals. Cooper moved to Georgia and built a new SOURCE. After a few years he was managing it. A recruiter from Hubbell called and asked if he would be interested in establishing their first centralized training and education center. Hubbell wanted a unique and stunning facility within their award-winning new headquarters. He hired a staff and together they aggressively pursued developing the new Lighting Solutions Center.

Years passed and he received another intriguing phone call. An IES past president, who he knew and respected through his IES activities, called to say she was retiring and asked if he wanted to apply for her job at OSRAM. She was the director of government & industry relations. He inherited an intimidatingly impressive staff and stayed until a brilliant lighting professional, again known through IES activities, got a job at the IES as their director of standards and research. There was another position at the IES they both thought could be a good fit, so he applied. It has been almost six years and he is still there.

If you have not guessed, this is my story. It is my progression through the lighting community over a career. Notice how integral the IES is. IES relationships started early influencing the path. Perhaps it is more accurate to say directing the path, not with intent but certainly through intervention. There was no long-term goal of ending up working for the IES, but in retrospect it seems a logical progression.

The IES has been a lodestone. Once I joined, I started attending the IES Section meetings in Detroit, later Chicago, and eventually served on the Board of the Atlanta Section and the IES Board of Directors. The IES Regional, Annual, Street & Area Conferences, LD+A and LightFair have served to keep me current on our lighting community, in addition to offering opportunities for relationship building. Access to IES Member expertise has helped me ever since joining. My problems and questions about lighting designs were resolved by calling another IES Member and asking for their help, which was always generously given.

There is a camaraderie among IES Members. There is a positive vibe at IES events. War stories and learning curves are shared. There is also catching up with colleagues’ personal lives as those relationships are expanded on year after year. There are classes with direct access to the presenters and lighting celebrities. There are informed debates and from the trade shows, a sense of trends and how new technology evolves into progressive lighting products.

Does any of this resonate with you? Has the IES played a role in your career? Certainly, the standards have, as they influence most of our applications. The webinars, podcasts and other educational offerings may have helped you. IES research has a long history and continues to inform standards and change our industry. I attended a megachurch for several years. The pastor told us that we could sit in the back and take it all in but if we wanted to maximize the value of our time, we needed to be engaged. He said the experience was, to a large degree, what we make of it. Similarly, with the IES, an observer will learn something, but as an active member we can reap more benefits.

I have never promoted any company or product that I did not believe to have value. With the IES, for reasons noted above, it is easy for me to be positive. I am still on the Progress Committee after three decades. There is a frustration, though, that some take the IES for granted, as if it will just continue to exist on its own. The IES is only as strong as its members. Their involvement now pays them dividends but their engagement, in committees, at conferences, as Sustaining Members, or other related activities means a better future for them, for the IES, and by extension, our lighting community. As with most organizations, there is a core group, the same members who keep showing up because they best understand the value they are receiving and providing. About 25% of IES Members actively participate in committees. Members can choose to sit back and observe or can take advantage of the benefits of engagement.

Our lighting community is being rapidly transformed. It is growing in complexity as it morphs with other trades. As an IES Member you are positioned to better understand the future of lighting and can influence that future, not just react, and adapt to it. If you don’t know how to get more involved, email me ([email protected]) and I will get you connected to something that feeds your area of interest.


Mark Lien


Mark has designed interior and exterior lighting systems for a wide range of applications including residential, municipal, retail, healthcare and both conventional and nuclear power plants. Over several decades he has provided lighting education while working, presenting and... More info »