2014 30 Under 35 Profile: James Smith


James Smith
Senior Sales Representative, Osram Sylvania

By Joe Nowlan

For those who think nothing ever gets done in Washington, James Smith has a story to tell.

As a senior sales representative for Osram Sylvania in Washington, D.C.-Baltimore, Smith played an instrumental role two years ago in getting LED lights installed on Washington’s National Mall.

The re-lamping project involved extensive collaboration with the National Park Service and other government entities.

“The main part [of the mall] that we focused on was from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument,” Smith explained. “And they had these really ornate fixtures there … basically since they built the mall.”

The lighting at the National Mall had become outdated but the National Park Service did not want to change that ornate look and feel.

“So we worked with them on a LED retrofit solution where they wouldn’t have to change the look and feel [of those ornate fixtures],” he said. “It ended up being a 65% energy savings for them.”

Smith has been with Sylvania for 11 years. He went through the company’s associate development program before working in the company’s marketing division.

After speaking with some Sylvania colleagues, he decided that sales were the best way to make a mark in the company and five years ago he made his move to that side of Sylvania.

Smith grew up in the Cleveland area and attended (and played football at) Hiram College, “a tiny school with about 1,200 students,” he said.

In his spare time, Smith gets involved in his local church group and helps rebuild homes in rural areas. One recent location was in rural West Virginia.

“You see people who really don’t have too much,” he explained. “It makes you appreciative for what you have. We do a lot of home repair and restoration….The last time we went we put a roof on a house which was pretty intense.”

That makes for pretty hot work in the middle of July, which is when the group visited last year.

“When we were on that roof, we were burning up,” Smith laughed appreciatively. “That was a tough one with the sun beating down. I gained much more respect for what a roofer has to go through.”

Smith is an avid runner and expects to run his third Tough Mudder obstacle race later this year.

“The training is harder than the race,” he laughed. “It involves a lot of running but a lot of core workouts – the stomach, the back, and all that.”

Smith is also a guest lecturer at Howard University in Washington.

“I’ll talk to the students about lighting applications and different types of lamps they could run into in their job,” he said.

“I’ll also talk a little about potential careers in the industry [so] they can take their expertise and what they’ve learned in class and find a job.”

Q. What advice do you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?

A. I would say soak up as much knowledge as possible. Find a mentor, someone that has been in the industry for little while and will help you learn the ropes.… And join some of the different associations that are out there. There are many events and many different organizations such as the IES, the US Green Building Council, and NAED. Go to those and learn more about the industry. Also be flexible. Lighting is changing and the industry is changing rapidly. There will be a lot more opportunities for new and different experiences. So just be open to going down the new paths that lighting has taken us. [That] will greatly help their careers.

Q. If someone approached you during your freshman year of college and said someday you be working in the electrical industry, what would your reaction have been?

A. (Laughs) I would’ve said no way! It was something I never even thought about when I was in school. It is an industry that, frankly, is one you don’t really think about. Back then, I thought a light bulb was a light bulb was a light bulb, right? Take a 100W light bulb and screw it in somewhere and then wash your hands of it. I didn’t really know the depth and the broadness of the industry.

So back then I would never have thought I’d have a career in lighting.… It’s funny now that I think of it because I was back in Cleveland [recently]. Where my family lived was about five minutes from GE’s headquarters. People always ask me how I didn’t end up at GE and ended up at Sylvania because I grew up right around the corner from GE.

Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at

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