A Tree Grows in Lighting

A Tree Grows in Lighting

The benefits of mentoring branch out in many different directions

By Tom Butters

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never sit in.”
Ancient Greek Proverb

A Tree Grows in LightingWe all have people in our lives who have steered us to be where we are now—parents, friends, coworkers and supervisors. From a professional aspect I have been blessed to have a number of individuals or mentors in my life. Luis Picanco taught me the value of hard work and integrity, Lindsay Turriff impressed upon me the importance of attention to fine details (“Read the spec!”) as well as having fun while working hard. Probably the one person who has had the biggest impact on where I am today is Martyn Timmings.

Martyn took a chance on me as an individual who had an interest in lighting, having taken as many courses as I could, but was unable to speak in public, to hire me as a facilitator/program manager at Canlyte’s Lighting Concept Centre. For the first six months I threw up every morning from the nerves caused by speaking to a group. Martyn assured me speaking in public could be a learned skill. He saw something in me, which I most certainly did not see in myself. He mentored me directly by showing me the value of the constant endeavor to try to reach perfection. He showed me I could make a difference. I also learned what you can achieve by hard work and putting in the time required no matter how much that is. It will be rewarded. I owe a lot to Martyn K. Timmings.

I asked a number of IES Members and staff about their experiences and their mentors. While the answers were all different they did have some comparable themes: passion, hard work and the desire to pass it on.

Tim Licitra, IES Executive Director, mentioned mentors who helped him learn about nonprofit management, how to work with a volunteer Board of Directors and how to better understand people. A third mentor was Mark Roush who continues to help “me to better understand the IES’s history, its membership and role in the lighting industry as a whole. Less than six months into my tenure and before my first LIGHTFAIR, I had the opportunity to attend Light + Building with Mark. I spent three days walking through all of the exhibit halls listening and learning from Mark about quality lighting, the roles that different companies play in the industry, how IES interacts with these different parts of the industry, and getting introduced to many important individuals from the world of lighting. I consider myself lucky that I was able to have such an amazing learning experience with one of the most knowledgeable individuals from IES that I have met.”

Brian Liebel, IES Director of Standards and Research, lists five people who have shaped his professional life. Dr. Ron Helms “introduced me to lighting and electrical engineering as a career path.” Louis Michel, teacher of light and architecture and author of Light: The Shape of Space. Dan Dibble “taught me to look at everything differently and demand the highest expectations of myself.” Jim Chase, “who believed that teaching was the combination of giving back and leading by example.” Sam Berman “taught me the value of critical analysis and truth seeking.”

Peter Ngai, a pioneer in lighting design, said while he did not have any mentors, per se, he had many individuals who were major influencers in his career development including Dan Finch, Ron Helms, David DiLaura and Domina Spencer. Individuals that either directly or by observing gave him the passion and determination to pursue his career in research.

Lisa Reed, Envision Lighting Design, says, “I have been so lucky in my career to have many people who have influenced my career, encouraged me and helped me develop professionally. Clay Belcher, Gary Chase, Jerry Solar, Dennis Downes, Tim Lenz, Chip Israel, Lesley Wheel, Carla Bukalski, Andy Powell, Terry Bell…the list goes on.”

FX Morin, Leviton and IES Board Member, named one mentor, Roger Allard, who “enabled me to become who I am” and stated “that over 75% of what I know he taught me.” “Since I started my career in lighting, I always abide by Roger’s rule which says: ‘If it is too good to be true, it probably is, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.’”

Mentors at Different Stages. Several of the people I asked experienced different mentors through the different stages in their careers.

Paul Mercier, Lighting Design Innovations, mentions, “I had multiple professional mentors depending on where I was in my development. As a young designer I had a direct supervisor who helped me with understanding the importance of quality design documents. As a designer responsible for staff production I had a mentor who helped me with understanding how to direct design without micromanaging as well as providing clear direction. A third mentor helped me with client management and the last how to define who I was as a designer and ownership qualities.”

Brienne Willcock, Illuminart, adds, “I’ve had three mentors that have made a huge difference in my career. My first bosses, Stefan Graf and Robert White. A former professor, Karl Geil, who was my lighting teacher, and then friend and now a coworker. I also look up to Shirley Coyle.”

Bryan Lockwood, D+R International: “Starting off at my current company, I did have a mentor named Dave Ryan. Working with Dave improved my ability to explain complex ideas to a variety of audiences. As my role transitioned from the technical side of lighting to management of efficient lighting projects my mentor became my supervisor, Sheila Flick. Working with Sheila provided me with opportunities to interact with important market actors. Doing so propelled my confidence.”

Kim Mercier, Lighting Design Innovations, has had “several over my career and several now. Earlier in my career, they were people who were my supervisors, but at this time, they are colleagues, friends and people who report to me. Anyone can be a mentor to anyone.” One even had the misfortune of calling yours truly a mentor.

Samantha Boernsen, Westburne-Rexel, mentioned two mentors. “First was Darrel Irwin. Day after day he would nag me to join the IES. ‘It would be great. You will meet so many fantastic people.’ Second is Tom Butters. I took a position in lighting with no real lighting knowledge, just an interest. It was not until my first visit to the Concept Centre that my eyes were opened to the world of lighting. I mean really opened. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but Tom’s pure love of lighting fascinated me and I was hooked from that moment on.”

The Tangible and the Intangible. A large variety of skills—both tangible and intangible— were credited to the mentors. They range from economic and project management software tools to passion and generosity.

Willcock: “Shirley Coyle has been a good IES mentor for me because her fairness and disposition in leadership roles are a good example of how credibility can be established and/or maintained by how you react to others’ opinions, strengths, weaknesses, etc. I admire her ability to work within, or lead, diverse groups of people with (at least outward-facing) ease.”

K. Mercier: “Patience. And then, when you run out, more patience.”

Liebel: “Helms – passion for engineering. Michel – passion for beauty of light in space. Dibble – passion for creating something new with each design, and following through to completion. Chase – passion for embracing challenges, and spreading that passion to others. Berman – passion for accuracy and challenging inaccuracy.”

Reed: “Chip Israel gave me advice—that I actually took—and gave me the confidence to start my own firm. I learned the concept of abundance. I learned to be generous with projects and to be generous when assigning responsibility to my team. He continues to be available to me and still offers advice anytime I need it.”

Boernsen: “Tom Butters undoubtedly is my biggest fan and I would not be where I am today without his encouragement. He has introduced me to lighting professionals I would never have the opportunity to meet and invited me to meetings of some of the greatest lighting minds. Just the opportunity to listen to that collaboration of minds is extraordinary.”

The Gift—or Tree—That Keeps Growing. New to the lighting industry, Josh Harrison names Samantha Boernsen as his mentor. “She has given me the opportunity to expand my lighting knowledge and showcase my ambition which has turned me into a certified lighting nerd.” Josh offers his eureka moment: “Just last week I was explaining in depth to an end user who had no previous knowledge (of class rated applications), and was like ‘wow, it’s me that actually knows this.’ The customer now calls me regularly saying he feels comfortable dealing with me. It doesn’t get much better than that.” Asked if he cared to share anything else, Josh stated, “Keep it lit, but not too lit. You might just be trespassing, or messing with sea turtles. I love the IES.” The passion lives on.

So if you have a mentor, give them a call. Thank them. They may not even realize the impact they have had on your success. As Martyn Timmings enjoys his retirement on various cruises, I wonder if he is aware that the curiosity and passion of lighting that Josh Harrison now revels in comes from the seed he planted all those years ago. I wonder how many people like Josh Harrison are out there. I’m going to give Martyn a call.

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Tom Butters

Tom Butters, LC

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