Lighting New South Wales’ public schools is a big ask. With varied requirements, complex logistics and wide geographic dispersion, this cornucopia of challenges would stump most lighting companies. Not Pierlite. The long-running commercial lighting company was selected as part of the tender and is running ahead of schedule for the project.
“I’m proud of Pierlite’s successful appointment by School Infrastructure NSW (SINSW) to provide up to 1,000 schools with innovative, energy-saving LED light fittings,” says CEO Gus Arianto.
“This is the result of a successful tender, and I’m so proud that Pierlite products will be used to improve student learning and save energy across the state.” It’s a reflection of the company’s longer-term view of its capabilities and the strategic direction Gus is taking it as Australasia’s leading lighting company for industrial, commercial and healthcare applications.
But after 70 years of growth and development, Pierlite is diversifying into adjacent technology areas to provide complementary services to its broad range of customers. Labelled Beyond Light, this divergence from its core product stream is the company’s primary strategic focus, Gus explains.
It includes sensor and analytical technologies that will play increasingly important roles in commercial, industrial and healthcare buildings, and provide much more than light at the flick of a switch. “Beyond Light is about providing innovative solutions that empower people to do their best work,” Gus shares.
When i entered the pierlite business, the first thing i did was implement a repositioning strategy that we call ‘mile deep, inch wide.
“Traditionally, lighting has been about making a room bright. Today, we are offering light fittings that monitor air quality, manage building occupancy and can even provide clean, safe air. Our Beyond Light proposition is taking light to the next level by combining light with other technologies to expand its capability and give light itself new capabilities not currently in the market.”
The company is expanding its product range by integrating sensor technology, analytics tools, wireless networks, cloud computing and the Internet of Things through Pierlite Connect. It can offer sensor-based products that support COVID-19 ‘safe return to office’ processes by detecting foot traffic hotspots and monitoring “Our challenge is the need for continuous innovation,” Gus adds.
“Innovation in the lighting industry is about more than just ‘brighter bulb, less wattage’. We see innovation as bringing lighting products and even smart connected technologies to market that can truly empower our customers and deliver health and performance benefits.”
Building in lights
Gus is luckier than most. He has found a career sweet spot that fits both his experience and his lifelong interest in building. With a Bachelor of Engineering degree under his belt, he began working as an engineer designing gearboxes for David Brown Gear Systems.
A sideways step into the building industry lit his passion for it, and he began working on building information modelling software for engineers and architects. In 2004, he joined James Hardie in a sales role, and eventually led the sales team in several states.
Then, five years ago, he joined Gerard Lighting, working as Regional General Manager and Executive General Manager, and then stepped into its subsidiary Pierlite as CEO in June 2020. “The building industry is where my passion lies,” he affirms.
“I’ve transitioned from building design software to building products and now into electrical – lighting, sensors and controls – which is such an important part of the construction ecosystem.
If we all play to our strengths and do work based on our strengths, we can empower the business to do much bigger things.
“My reason for joining Pierlite is simple: I wanted to be involved with a truly market-leading business. Pierlite is just that – we are one of the largest lighting businesses in Australia and New Zealand. We also have a market pedigree as one of the oldest, with more than 70 years of history. Pierlite allows me to be involved in the building industry while maintaining my passion for technology and innovation.”
Transformation through innovation
When Gus first sat in the CEO’s chair, he concentrated on three major opportunities that presented themselves. Two of those focused on technology and innovation, bundled with a closer analysis of what Pierlite customers were seeking.
The third was more interpersonal, finding bonds between the company and its customers, and developing partnerships that could stand the test of time.
“When I first came to the business, our range of products and market segments was broad and in need of focus,” he explains. “We had more than 50,000 products that we supplied across too many market segments. This commercial approach meant we could not focus enough on impact and innovation.
“When I entered the Pierlite business, the first thing I did was implement a repositioning strategy that we called ‘mile deep, inch wide’. We spent time remapping our market opportunity and narrowed the segments we wanted to play in. The markets we now focus on are commercial, industrial and health care, and the products we offer in these segments run a mile deep. These are segments with enormous market opportunity for Pierlite in the years to come.”
Instituting newer technology provided a second opportunity in moving from traditional light sources to LED. Lighting technology changes quickly so, once the move to LED was completed, Pierlite aggressively pursued innovation in emerging technologies such as smart connectivity, IoT, sensors and analytics.
Lighting up to 1,000 NSW schools
School Infrastructure NSW appointed Pierlite to provide and install LED lighting in up to 1,000 NSW public schools in the state government’s statewide LED Lighting Upgrade Program for the wellbeing of students and teachers, and also deliver energy savings. It has been designated as a COVID-19 economic stimulus recovery program. Pierlite is supplying LED products to replace fluorescent lighting and cut energy consumption by more than 50%. The majority of components and labour is sourced from businesses based in NSW and manufactured at the company’s Padstow facility. Its range of Vandalux and Unilux EP upgrade kits is used in classrooms, gymnasiums, offices, halls and corridors. Aside from energy savings, the fittings reduce environmental waste. The project has created new jobs at Pierlite, its suppliers and service providers. It improves indoor lighting and creates a more conducive study environment across NSW public schools. “This is a strategically important contract for Pierlite and we are proud to partner with SINSW to ensure successful outcomes for NSW public schools,” Gus says. “We are delighted with the job creation and local manufacturing opportunities this contract provides. We are delivering products that result in lower energy usage and less maintenance for NSW public schools, and will support student learning for years to come.”
“Today, we can supply well-orchestrated, intelligent ecosystems to buildings that include light, sensors, controls and analytics. We can also provide human-centric lighting solutions – lighting that changes colour temperature during the day to synchronise with our circadian rhythms, improving wellbeing and productivity,” he reveals.
But perhaps even more importantly, he saw an opportunity to transform the company’s culture to become a brand doing more than supplying products to brighten rooms, and instead provide products that improve alertness, wellbeing and help people to perform better.
“To do this, we must continually challenge the status quo by pursuing innovation and striving for excellence,” he asserts. “We must see ourselves as a trusted partner and not just a supplier, and work together with architects, building engineers and designers to create customised products. This is the cultural and positioning opportunity I saw.”
Gus has realigned the company’s outlook to focus more determinedly on its customer base. That involved a major overhaul of its operating and record systems to move to a cloud-based platform. The results have been spectacular in time and cost savings, he says, but especially in direct connection with customers and their needs.
Pierlite can count on both local reach and global know-how in its partnership network, and works closely with suppliers in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and China. It works as much as practicable with Australian manufacturers, and has developed tight partnerships with many of them.
The company’s successful tender for the SINSW school lighting program was predicated on a supply chain using comprehensive Australian capabilities. Internal systems also needed an overhaul to meet Gus’s management priorities.
New cloud-based CRM and ERP systems were introduced to centralise customer management and operating workflows, and the company also switched to a new sales incentive and measurement model, which had a transformative impact.
“Many companies usually offer incentives to sales staff when they are achieving sales numbers,” he says. “When I came to Pierlite, I saw an opportunity to reconstruct the model so it rewards the execution of the process itself. We recognise that the complexity of each project is different and there are people working very hard to advance the delivery of projects, but not necessarily winning numbers. What happened as a result was truly transformative. Everyone is now working to their strengths and working on what they can control.”
Gus looked outside the somewhat closeted lighting industry when searching for new staff to enlarge Pierlite’s talent pool. It is hiring designers, product managers and engineers from outside the industry to inject fresh blood and energy into the mix. He’s confident this will open the company’s horizons to new ideas and, in due course, to new markets.
“It’s important to hire lighting industry talent, but we need to open ourselves up to a larger innovation landscape,” he insists. “This doesn’t just mean evolving our product offering to LED or building the Pierlite Connect offering. It’s also been about evolving my senior leadership team to align with our future strategic priorities.”
Gus’s leadership team is now a broad group of people in both gender and capability. It includes more women in leadership roles and more female staff in its ranks. He has recruited technology experts from inside and outside the lighting industry to cement his vision of a leading technology company implementing the Beyond Light platform.
“The balance of lighting experts and technology experts outside lighting is important to me. As we move Beyond Light, I rely on the expertise of technology leaders with broader innovation backgrounds,” he says.
In this way, Gus can encourage all employees to look beyond the obvious and try to make a difference, whatever their position in the company. As such, he describes himself as a servant of the company and its goals. “I believe my personal leadership style is servant leadership. My responsibility as CEO is to serve, and I also try to empower my executive team to serve more,” he reflects.
“I’m not running a business where the higher you are, the more you sit down. I love that I can empower people. Our vision as a company is to empower our employees, customers and community to do their best work. Through my role at Pierlite, I have the biggest opportunity to empower everyone I connect with to do their best work.”
He believes that empowering people is at the core of Pierlite’s corporate values. Throughout his time as CEO, the company’s transformation has included a reappraisal of its corporate culture, with positive results in more way than one. According to Gus, culture is an asset the company actively invests in through several avenues.
“We run professional wellbeing programs across the ANZ region, and have introduced frameworks to ensure our staff understand their role in the team and feel confident to undertake bold initiatives. We are also introducing a range of cultural activities that will not only empower our employees and their families, but also the broader community.”
Those activities include working towards opening the Pierlite University, a program for employees, customers and their families offering free sessions covering specific university topics with a slant towards helping the community. Some topics include ‘navigating your career’ and an ‘introduction to finance in the workplace’.
“We are also in the final stages of rolling out a plan to feed homeless people in Sydney via a food truck,” Gus adds. “This is an initiative our staff elected to do together, rather than a social activity like going to the pub. If it’s successful, which it no doubt will be, we intend to roll it out to more cities in Australia and New Zealand.”
He points to a quote often attributed to Albert Einstein as he pays close attention to in his role as CEO: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” “I try to apply the principles of this quote every day in my leadership,” Gus says.
“What it says is that you can’t judge everyone by the same criteria. Everyone has a unique role to play and strengths to offer, and success is about harnessing those natural strengths. Even in my own career, I’ve been harshly judged by others due to my background or having come from a different, seemingly unrelated, industry. But I see this diversity as a strength and my track record has proven it.”
To that end, Pierlite will always be an organisation that focuses on everyone’s unique strengths to create success, he says. “If we all play to our strengths and do work based on our strengths, we can empower the business to do much bigger things. This principle has enabled my success in running the business as well as striving in my professional life.”