October 24, 2017
Michael Gentile, President and CEO of Philips Lighting Canada, has had a long and distinguished career in the electrical industry and more recently the lighting industry. None of this is by chance. Always in decision-making circles since beginning his career, Michael spends the first 10 years first at Siemens, and subsequently in lighting at Osram as Vice President Finance and Vice President Sales and Marketing. After that, he joins Philips Lighting.
Michael agreed to share a few moments with us to discuss his career trajectory, the industry, trends, worries, and wishes. A tour of his career is also a tour through a key period in the industry and a reflection of its adaptability to new technologies — from an expert’s point of view.
Michael Gentile defines himself as a demanding leader, demands that he says he imposes on himself, both in his personal and professional life. He says without hesitation it’s not something he wants to change because it is an important motivating factor.
At school a young Michael studies commerce, but it is finance that interests him and it’s at this level that he starts his career at Siemens, then at Osram (owned at that point by Siemens). Still part of Osram, he becomes Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Sylvania. He has been with Philips Lighting since 2005.
“I’ve always wanted to work in large companies,” says Michael. “I wanted to start my career in a company that gave me a global career outlook.”
While with Siemens, his first employer, he will work in Germany for the finance department. German is one of four languages he speaks. The others: English, French and Italian.
Constancy in his career?
“The one constant has been a connection with the electrical industry. I’ve always been connected with electrical distributors, other electrical manufacturers, and industry associations throughout my career. With the rapid pace and evolution of technology, the electrical channel has had to adapt. At first, the product cycle could be 50 years. In our segment today, the life cycle of a product can be as short as six months. Industry and technology today are growing faster than the distribution channel, and it is essential to have players who know how to adapt quickly.”
Progressing within a constantly evolving industry presents many challenges. What has been your biggest challenge?
“Acquisitions and mergers are very demanding changes. There were a lot of them before we arrived at Philips Lighting Canada. In this process, where four companies were brought together, each decision had an impact on people. There is no manual to deal with these difficult situations, and when your company occupies a place like ours in the industry all eyes are on us. Adapting is essential.”
But these situations do not keep Michael awake at night because, he says, “I have good teams at work and at home.”
Happy at work and in his personal life, is there still something he would like to change in the industry?
“I could honestly say that I would not change anything, but our industry has players who have been around for years, who have invested a large amount of money in infrastructure and in training their employees. Today, with rapid changes in technology, we see new players setting up in Canada that are unable to offer a positive customer experience, and this affects the entire industry.” There should be a formula to provide value for those who have invested. “We cannot be governed by a search for the lowest price, but since I can’t change this situation I maintain that I wouldn’t change anything. Instead, we must all adapt to competition and demonstrate the added-value we bring.”
What about workforce renewal?
“This is a challenge. We take it seriously. We have a scholarship program, but we need to make the younger generation more aware of the electrical industry, which I agree is not the sexiest industry, but we do have exciting career opportunities.
“It can be difficult now to find people to work in the trade, but I believe that very soon we will be an industry of choice because of our eco-friendly technology and the financial benefits we offer.
“To get there, we all need to adapt the working environment to attract Millennials. Their expectations are different from ours.”
Michael confides he is not an expert on Millennials, but he is the father of two members of this generation, a son and a daughter. He must know a little more than he admits, as the new Philips Lighting Concept Centre inaugurated in June shows: http://lighting.electricalindustry.ca/changing-scene/1865-philips-lighting-opens-new-lighting-concept-centre-in-markham-ontario.
An exciting, quickly evolving technology that has an impact on people’s lives, on how to conduct business, new players, new partners… In this context, what technological development are you watching and preparing for?
“Clearly the digitalization of light creates a tremendous opportunity. Previously, the light source was providing light. Period. Now for every light source the opportunities are endless. This is only the beginning of connected lighting. It is a cutting edge technology that allows you to modify and create custom environments at home, in the office, in businesses, and in cities.
“Data access changes the way you manage those spaces. We are now presenting customers with what we call a system and services. We introduce products with an operational efficiency. Socio-economic factors are involved in this rapid evolution of technology, including environmental concerns. The population is aging, so we need more lighting, but energy-efficient and connected lighting. We have incredible opportunities ahead of us.”
Evidently Michael’s desire for a career full of challenges will continue.
I indicated at the beginning of this article that Michael Gentile’s career path is also the story of an industry to which he has always adapted himself. Do you have a mentor who has helped you to pursue such a demanding career, I asked.
“Yes, I had that opportunity — the president of a former employer who convinced me to leave finance for sales and marketing and ultimately senior management. He is no longer in the industry, not even in Canada, but I am still in touch with him. This man had the ability to teach us the essentials without us realizing it. He built a great team of believers who all worked towards a common goal. This is the model that I have adopted.”
Line Goyette is Managing Editor of LDS; firstname.lastname@example.org.