Director of training and education,
By Joe Nowlan
When Julia Nolf walked into the Coopersburg, Pa. offices of Lutron Electronics ten years ago for an interview, she did so with a degree in accounting and finance from Lehigh University.
Nolf grew up in Pennsylvania, near the Pocono Mountains. Her father is a periodontist and her mother is a pharmacist. After graduation, Nolf went to work at an accounting firm in New York City.
“But it just wasn’t for me,” she said. “I was looking for a new role and I also wanted to move back to Pennsylvania.”
The Lutron interview, for an accounting position, went well. Nolf was invited back for a second interview. But that meeting was to discuss a different opening for a marketing position.
“After talking with me, they thought I might be more interested in that,” Nolf explained. “Sure enough, I was… They were starting a focus on the K-12 school market.”
Nolf thrived in the new work and the challenges it held for her. And she soon found herself wanting to learn more about Lutron and the electrical industry.
“After about a year of doing that … I decided it would be a good idea for me to go out and do technical sales,” Nolf explained. “It was really important to have first-hand experience with the customers … so that if I ever wanted to grow in a marketing role, I would know what it actually takes to sell it.”
During this time, Nolf started graduate school in a joint MBA-Masters of Education at Lehigh, one of the few schools in the country with that type of program, she explained.
“I was able to use my grad program as kind of a testing ground for a lot of the leadership and training curriculum I was writing [for Lutron’s internal training departments],” Nolf said. “I was learning a lot of adult learning concepts and learning a lot about structural design.… It was a really good symbiotic relationship.”
While at Lutron, she helped recruit promising young employees. Describing the electrical industry in general—and Lutron in particular—was a key part of her role.
“I think the struggle in the electrical world is that it is not an industry that is necessarily front and center in these graduates’ minds,” Nolf said. “Everyone coming out of business school, for example, has heard of Bank of America. Not everyone has heard of Eaton.”
In February of this year, Nolf accepted a position as director of training and education at Acuity Brands in Conyers, Georgia, outside of Atlanta. She is very much enjoying Atlanta after living in the Northeast all her life.
“There’s a lot going on and it has a great food scene. It feels like home now. [But] the south is different than the north,” she laughed. “Things are a little slower. People are really nice.… I’ve lived in New York City. I’m not used to random people at Home Depot walking up to me and saying, ‘You can get that at IKEA for half the price. I was just there.’ You would never do that [in New York City]!”
Q. What advice would you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. I would say that being flexible is key. And take advantage of every opportunity you can to network and find your mentors. I was very lucky to have worked for two mentors—well, actually more than two—in my first role at Lutron, that were incredibly smart. Two young guys who showed me a lot about the industry and a lot about construction. I’ve tried to be that to the people who have worked for me. I do stay in touch with a lot of the people who have gone through the programs that I have run in the past. They say “Thank you for helping,” and I always encourage them by saying “All I ask you to do is pay it forward to someone else.”
Q. Why are you so passionate about the electrical industry?
A. This is a small industry even though in the dollar sense it is a large industry. But it is a small world once you get into it. As someone who truly values creating and maintaining relationships with people, I believe that this is an industry that also values that. You can really grow your career and grow your knowledge by exploring what those relationships lead to. So I was very lucky spending so much time at Lutron and had amazing mentors there and a lot of good experiences. But I also connected with a ton of people in our industry and was able to then make another transition [to Acuity]. While I had other offers to go outside of the industry, when it came down to it – I had all these connections, this relationship capital that I had built—I really wanted to stay within the electrical industry.
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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