By Scott Williams
Adapting to the velocity of change is top of mind for executives in every aspect of the lighting industry, including Underwriters Laboratories of Canada, an independent product safety testing, certification and inspection organization.* ULC has tested products for public safety for almost 100 years. ULC General Manager and Country Manager Joseph (Joe) Hosey recently spoke with Lighting, Design & Specification about corporate success in a time of great change.
Given the dramatic changes underway in the lighting industry, how has ULC’s mandate changed?
We’re very much focused on market opportunities and how we can innovate in response to customer needs. When we sit down with customers, we listen to what their drivers are, to what their definition of success is, and then we build our business model to accelerate their success. When our customers are successful, we’re successful. In the past two years, our lighting business has grown more than 20%.
A key area of interest for our lighting customers is the time to market. Companies large and small are bringing innovative new designs and product lines to market at an accelerating pace compared to 10, 15, 20 years ago. What we’ve done most recently is to ensure our process for certification streamlines the customers’ time to market.
A year and a half ago Andy [Saunders, ULC’s Engineering Manager] and I sat down with the engineering teams and said, ‘How quickly can we do a full certification of a lighting product?’ The result: a streamlined process for introducing programs to the market where we’ll have 4-6 weeks for full certification, depending on testing requirements — you can’t do a 2,000 hour life cycle test in less than 2,000 hours — without any cut-back in terms of customer service, testing, or technical expertise.
What opportunities do you see on the horizon for the lighting industry and ULC?
We’re finding a lot of focus on interoperability — how does the lighting system work in a home, how does the system work in terms of controlling it remotely? As a society we’re moving towards mobile everything.
From a commercial perspective, lighting is now part of a complete building system, and how is all that managed? Process and control in lighting systems is constantly evolving.
Anti-counterfeit initiatives are hugely important. We have a very robust anti-counterfeit department. We work with INTERPOL and law enforcement industries around the world, particularly in North America.
Which of these particularly engage you?
When I look at areas of focus for our organization, it’s all about public safety in commercial and consumer settings. We are very active in writing standards with industry and government and regulatory — whether building inspectors, electrical inspectors, fire marshals, etc. Here in our Canadian operation, we have a tremendous focus on fire — the ULC mark is the #1 mark in Canada for all things fire related.
Emerging technologies and opportunities are something we’re constantly looking at. UL is on the forefront of battery technology, for example. You’ve seen in the news the hoverboard issue where these things are bursting into flames. In North America now, people are looking for the UL mark, and products with batteries are now being held to the UL standard.
What do you see as your role at ULC?
My role is to put people in this organization in a position to be successful, and to support them and give them the ability and latitude to make decisions that are in the best interests of our customers, of UL, and of public safety. It’s a culture of empowerment. When you meet with teams working in various sectors, and they’re sitting down looking at ways to improve the customer experience and make our organization the best value out there, and coming up with tremendously innovative and dynamic ways of improving things, it’s a great place to be.
What sort of things have you put in place to help balance your work and personal life?
I have two sons, they’re full-time students at university. They’re terrific young men. One is studying international business and Spanish, and the other has announced he’ll be studying abroad next semester. They keep me hopping.
One thing I’ve always thought was important for them from an early age is to travel and be exposed to as much diversity and experiences around the world as possible.
As a very young man, I found myself in China on business. I lived on and off for about a 3-year period in China. I was working for a medical products company in the mid-nineties in Shanghai and the eastern seaboard in China, then opened up the sales marketing and distribution for a company headquartered in the U.S. China was very different. I’ve continued to go back into China every year, at least once a year, for the past 25 years.
What have you taken away from that experience?
One thing I learned is how connected people are around the world, as well as businesses and industries. One thing we do here at UL, which is a fast-growing part of our business particularly in the lighting sector, is we have a program called the Global Market Access Program, which helps companies get the proper UL certification marks. There are 60 to 70 country-specific product safety marks that we can deliver for companies that want to expand their distribution into overseas markets. For Canadian lighting companies that want to move outside of Canada and the U.S., we can accelerate the process not only by providing the marks for specific countries they might be interested in, but we can also help them in terms of access at various entry points in business at that particular country or region. We have access to markets at literally every continent except the South Pole.
As we look to the rest of the world, it’s the same. We try to harmonize standards where we can and make access to international markets as seamless as we can. We’re a service provider, and our services are built around the needs of our customers. It’s constantly evolving because our businesses are extremely dynamic, and we have to be as or more dynamic in terms of how we go about providing those services.
What are you reading at the moment?
A terrific book called Leading Change by John Kotter. But mostly I read spreadsheets and business plans and marketing plans. I don’t get as much time for personal reading as I’d like. They say if you truly enjoy what you do for a living, you don’t look at it as work.
What do you wish you had more time for?
I would like to spend more time with different levels of the organization, not just here in Canada. I’d like to spend more time with customers. I really like being exposed to different companies and business models, how they grow and strategies they employ, what they’re particularly good at as a competitive advantage. At the end of the day, I enjoy my kids, but they’re full-time university students so they don’t need too much time with me.
Scott Williams is Associate Editor, LDS.
* Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC) is an independent product safety testing, certification and inspection organization. ULC has tested products for public safety for 90 years and is accredited by the Standards Council of Canada. Founded in 1920, ULC is a key architect of the Canadian national safety system, administered by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). ULC’s time-tested system supports governmental product safety regulations, and it complements federal, provincial, and municipal public safety initiatives. ULC also works with other governments and international safety systems to help further international trade with adherence to local and international safety requirements. Find out more: http://canada.ul.com/.