Aug 27, 2020

The northeast regional sales manager for Ecosense Lighting tells us about his non-traditional path into the industry.

Chris Smith-Petersen
Chris Smith-Petersen, Ecosense Lighting

You began your career as a psychiatric clinician. Tell us a little bit about what you learned and how you apply it today.
I began my career as a psychiatric clinician in an emergency department. The pace and the emotional intensity of the job eventually got to me and I started to lose my focus. In my own moment of need, the chief psychiatrist became my mentor, teaching me to treat the person rather than the diagnosis. Believe it or not, I regularly apply many of the skills I learned from that job in my professional life today.

Success requires empathy, understanding and knowledge. Light has the power to positively affect people in many ways. I did not appreciate this when I joined the lighting industry, but as I grew to understand it, I found a new passion. I am now a member of a complicated team collaborating on lighting projects with complicated goals and requirements. Our success is partially measured by our ability to use light to positively affect people, and, as I learned in the emergency department, innovative solutions are not based on treating symptoms alone.

What are some of the most interesting developments in the intersection between lighting and human biology that have taken place over the course of your career?
I have watched three things happen in parallel over the last 20 years which will change our lives forever: new research on circadian entrainment, deepened understanding of how the sun’s spectral power distribution affects biological functions and expansive developments in LED technology. Although the study of circadian rhythms is not new, the research conducted this century has shown us how light profoundly affects many biological functions. The study of spectral power distribution is not new either, but over the last 20 years our understanding of the sun’s spectral power distribution and the specific wavelengths affecting circadian rhythms has grown tremendously. Finally, although the first LED to emit light within the visible spectrum arrived in the 1960s, LEDs did not become commercially viable until the early 2000s and even then, they required significantly more energy than fluorescents to produce lower quality light. Fast forward to 2020 and the light emitted from some LEDs approaches the spectral power distribution of the sun.

What do you hope to see in the next few years within this space?
We have done a great job evolving standards and codes, but we need to continue. Energy codes may not improve safety, but they are essential for reducing costs and stress on our aging power grid. I think the race for energy savings is almost over and we need to shift our focus to standards designed to ensure human comfort and health. We know that circadian entrainment is essential for many of our biological functions. Entrainment requires exposure to light and its effectiveness is influenced by the time, duration, intensity, location and spectral power distribution of the light source. Underwriters Laboratories and the Well V2 standards are starting to address human lighting needs. I hope to see these standards continue to evolve and possibly merge, resulting in one common standard adopted on a large scale. Most of all, I hope the success of these voluntary standards evolve into required codes which all human beings will benefit from.

You’ve worked in various roles within the lighting industry. How has this affected the work you do now in sales and business development?
I have worn many hats both inside and outside the lighting industry, all of which influence me today. After working in the emergency department, I became the webmaster for the hospital and then later moved on to a software company as their webmaster, where I learned that marketing success is largely a function of knowing your target audience. My initiation into the lighting industry was at Color Kinetics as an inside salesperson. Eventually I became the regional sales manager for Chicago and St. Louis. The rep agents and lighting designers patiently helped me and showed me what my products could do, how they should be used and why. My focus expanded from making my quota to helping people with their lighting projects which led to my taking the IES Fundamentals of Lighting class.

After four years in Chicago, Color Kinetics was purchased by Philips and a new role was created to help expand sales growth. I was hired as the new North American product marketing manager and I became the liaison between sales, marketing and product management. Once again, I was developing tools to help the sales team, but I was 10 years older and I knew what the sales team needed because I had been a salesperson. Websites evolved along with email marketing software and webinar platforms. Everything I had done in my career lead up to this point.

From there, I expended my focus to building relationships with industry leaders. I also started attending IALD and IES conferences. In 2015 I joined Ecosense Lighting as their northeast regional sales manager. Once again, I get to put innovative new lighting products in people’s hands. I continue to develop new AIA presentations for our sales team and occasionally I get to share my learnings as a speaker at conferences.