Lutron: A little romance, a lot of efficiency

When a  missile engineer named Joel Spira invented the solid-state dimmer in 1959 and formed a company called Lutron Electronics, he wasn’t selling energy efficiency. He was selling mood lighting and romance.

A Lutron magazine ad promised “exquisite lighting moods for every room in the house.” A mid-1960s dimmer was dubbed the Capri (!) and packaged to appear like a bottle of perfume.

Turn the lights down low” sang country-pop crooner Marty Robbins back in 1965, surely to Spira’s delight.

Today, Lutron is a lighting powerhouse and, while it still sells dimmers for the home, it has expanded to offer more than 19,000 products for homes and commercial buildings. Privately-held (and intensely private), Lutron is headquartered in a small town called Coopersburg, PA, where Spira, who is 85, still comes to work four days a week.

I met recently in Washington with Tom Ike, Lutron’s vice president for global sales, and Susan Hakkarainen, who is vice president of marketing and communications as well as Joel Spira’s daughter. They told me about Lutron’s history of innovation and commitment to quality, but they kept me in the dark about its business, declining to reveal its revenues, profits or even how many people work for the firm. They did say that Lutron is global in scale, selling in more than 100 countries and manufacturing in Mexico, China, St. Kitts and London, as well as in Pennsylvania and Ashland, Virginia. [click to continue…]