Regional vice president of lighting sales,
By Joe Nowlan
How Lee Cush ended up in the electrical industry is, by his own admission, “a complete accident.”
A native of Australia, he wanted to travel for a while after graduating from Griffith University in 2001 with a business management degree.
“I had saved enough money doing some odd jobs to put together airfare,” Cush explained. “I went to a recruiting program in Australia. They helped place Australians at summer camps in the United States.”
Getting his cultural exchange visa, he was able to work in the United States as a camp counselor and still have time to travel around.
“I travelled basically on and off for about two and a half years,” he explained. “Toward the end of that I met a girl who is now my wife and the mother of my three kids. We were both camp counselors at the time at Camp Horseshoe in Rhinelander [Wis.]”
Cush started as a territory rep for Advance Ballast/Philips Lighting. Over time, LED in particular became a big part of his role there.
“I spent time in the Midwest and Eastern Canada as an LED business development manager and moved into retail national accounts later in my tenure,” Cush explained.
Cush liked the work but could already see how the industry was evolving.
He was familiar with Cree, which had a big manufacturing presence in Wisconsin, where he was living. And he could see that LED was a rapidly growing field.
“I took a hard look at myself and said, you know what? This lighting thing is changing very quickly,” Cush explained. “Am I in the right position with the right company? I think I owe it to myself to go out there and see what makes the most sense.”
He started working at Cree in January 2013 “It is an incredible team,” Cush says. As LEDs have become more common, Cush and his colleagues have seen a better-informed lighting customer for the most part.
“A lot of customers are better educated, but I think a lot of people see LEDs and, for better or worse, they decide that’s what they want to do,” he said. “A part of my job in being credible is helping them understand where that makes sense….But also where it still doesn’t.”
It may surprise would-be LED customers, but Cush explained that while less common, there are still lighting challenges where LED may not be the best fit.
“One application example is really hot environments were LED is more limited than the incumbent technology,” he explained. “The applications are less and less common as time goes on but there are areas that you want to be cautious around.”
In January, 2015, Cush and his family moved to Denver where he manages a remote team that covers Cree’s commercial and industrial sales in the Central U.S. He and his wife Joanna have three children: Hailey, 7; Skylar, 5; and Dylan, 3.
While he’s been back to Australia several times, this past February saw the whole Cush family visit there for the first time.
“We waited until the youngest was three and were able to pull it off,” he said. “We had a great time.”
Q. What advice would you have for other young professionals in the electrical industry?
A. First, enthusiasm is contagious—I learned that as a camp counselor and the lesson sticks with me every day. Second, I think figuring out what you want is the hardest part. Once you know what you want, it is far easier to plan and drive towards your goals. I think it is the people who do not know what they want [who struggle]. Once your goals are in place, the rest can take care of itself if you have the right dedication, personality and drive.
Q. If somebody approached you during your freshman year of college and said that someday you would be working in the electrical industry, what might your reaction have been?
A. I think at the time, because I didn’t know any better, I think I would ask what went wrong? (Laughing) Actually, I like to think I would’ve asked a few questions. Such as, in what capacity? What would I be doing and how would I be doing it? I’ve always been one of those guys who has let life guide me a little bit. I know that my ultimate fate is up to me. It is not predetermined. But if life leads me in a direction, I am always willing to look down that path and see what the opportunity is that lies in front of me. I’m a guy from the Gold Coast in Australia who lived in Wisconsin for 10 years, so who knows?
Joe Nowlan is a Boston-based freelance writer/editor and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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