Director of Technology, Wiedenbach Brown Co., Inc.
By Joe Nowlan
As an undergraduate at Chicago’s Harrington Institute of Interior Design, Lara Cordell never envisioned herself working in electrical distribution. That was still the case after she earned her master’s degree in lighting from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center.
She was soon working for an architectural lighting design firm that designed lighting for commercial and residential projects. One of her jobs was the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.
“Atlantis was my last big project, designing around a million square feet of lighting,” Cordell explained. “This was in 2007, when they opened a new hotel and condo tower, and expanded their convention center, casino, water park and spa.”
For that project, she traveled frequently to the Bahamas, staying for as long as nine months at a time. For someone raised in Racine, Wisconsin with its long winters, it wasn’t too shabby.
“The funny thing is you’re working in a beautiful location, six days a week, 12 to 15 hours a day, surrounded by vacationers hanging out on the beach,” she said. “It’s not as glamorous as you might expect.”
Cordell later worked in manufacturing. She interfaced with various specifiers, reps, and distributors, when one in particular, national account lighting distributor Wiedenbach-Brown, approached her to work for them.
“I actually laughed, at first,” she chuckled. “I thought, ‘What would I do at a distributor?’ They thought I could bring a different take to distribution.”
Wiedenbach Brown gave Cordell the chance to tap into her lighting experience as a national account executive working closely with lighting designers. She started in December 2008, just as the economy slowed down.
“Imagine drumming up sales as construction came to a halt,” Cordell said. “Not one to sit idle, I found other ways to bring value to WB. I had a lot of experience with fixtures and became a product go-to person for our sales team. Soon I was given the title of director of technology.”
LED was “the Wild, Wild West at the time,” she explained. Many longtime customers were getting misinformation from manufacturers, so Cordell developed the LED PASS system, a Performance Assessment Screening System for vetting LED products.
“Our clients were bombarded by new fixtures and lamps, claiming to be the next big thing,” she said. “I established a set of criteria for comparing LED against their incumbent technologies.”
Cordell is 33 years old and at the time of this interview was in the seventh month of pregnancy. She and her husband Tim will become first-time parents in mid-August. In their free time, the Cordells like to travel and enjoy the Southern California beaches.
Cordell’s enthusiasm for her work is evident in talking to her. The lighting innovations that come along so often in her industry represent both a challenge as well as an opportunity.
“Technology is constantly changing,” Cordell said. “In one way, it’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work to stay on top of it. You can’t get complacent in this industry!”
It is a challenge but one she seems to relish.
Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. This industry moves fast so keep learning. Stay on top of the [lighting] codes and trends. Bring value to your clients as an expert resource.
Q. What is one of the biggest challenges of running your department in today’s economic climate?
A. For me, it’s managing growth…. I’ve had a sharp ramp up, year over year, while growing my client base… On top of bringing in new clients, and selling a higher-priced product [LED lighting], at what point is that going to plateau? It’s hard to forecast when we’re in a growth industry, but these are good problems to have!
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at email@example.com.Tagged with tED