“More than half the people in the U.S. hate their jobs,” says Ben Pouladian, Co-Founder and President of Deco Lighting. At their corporate offices in Commerce, California Ben and his partner Sam Sinai (CEO) are using technology and culture to make manufacturing cool.
Ben knows something about hating your job. He worked as an investment banker and couldn’t stand anything about it; from the cubicles to the backstabbing to the ties he had to wear around his neck.
He left that job to partner with Sam to launch an innovative new enterprise manufacturing LED lighting fixtures—ranging from parking lot lights to avant-garde custom pendants.
From the beginning the partners chose to treat their employees the way no employees were treated. Like heroes—literally.
Everyone at Deco Lighting gets to adopt a personal super hero whose powers represent a trait they connect with. Ben chose Wolverine and Sam picked Iron Man. Giant super hero images are pasted to the walls and superhero bobble heads grace every employee’s desktop. Sam and Ben say it’s about creating the kind of friendly, dedicated culture in manufacturing that you find mostly in startups.
Deco ensures that their manufacturing and assembly division remains as fun as the departments where they design and sell the products. Everyone is on the same level and the separate divisions are all located in the same building, separated by doors and walls made of glass, to ensure transparency.
Every employee has access to the same amenities (the obligatory ping pong table, for instance) and walking through the place, you get a sense that people enjoy their jobs. “Every detail and every person matters,” says Ben, proudly. “From the engineers to the cleaning lady, we celebrate our wins together.”
Those frills aren’t a gimmick. “If you put someone with skills and talent into a crappy environment, over time it dilutes their ability,” Sam explains. The two are always on the lookout for new talent, but they insist they’re more interested in philosophy and personality than skill.
When pushed to list the skills they look for in a good employee, they insist that skills aren’t the issue. Ben points to a robotic arm stacking components behind him. “You don’t need to be an engineer to use this machine,” he says. “It takes a couple hours of training to learn the logic. Anyone who can use an iPhone can use it.”
Speaking of robots and machines, they’re integral to Deco’s success and have allowed the company to expand and hire more people. “This industry was dominated by American companies ten years ago,” Ben explains. “China wasn’t a player. Now they copy what we do here and throw cheap labor at it.” Machines allow Deco to compete on cost without sacrificing quality.
It all started when they found they couldn’t count on their suppliers to deliver on time. So they bought one machine, and then another and another. They’re always looking for ways technology can make the job safer and more productive for their workers. “Robots multiply your efforts by 1, 000,” Ben says, gesturing as his employees put together new lights.
Not only does Deco implement automation in their production process, but they also implement automation in their products. The patented DecoMesh-enables LED luminaires that are equipped with integrated lighting management software to accrue information from an illuminated space, and make it a more interconnected user experience through a unified building management system.
Keeping their manufacturing in-house allows Deco to make custom products extremely fast. They can design, build and ship just-in-time for their buyers.
Ben and Sam tend to recruit smart, passionate employees capable of generating ideas that push the limits of traditional lighting. They often target workers who know little or nothing about the lighting industry or manufacturing in general. As Sam puts it, “These are people who think outside the box because they’ve never been inside the box.”
And it’s these people, empowered by machines, who fuel Deco’s growth. “We come up with these crazy innovative ideas,” Sam says excitedly. “We don’t care. We’re gonna hire people to do it. Whatever it costs, however long it takes, we’re going to throw manpower and money at it to develop what we want to develop. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but we get something out of it. We’re young, we have gas in our tank, and we want to make a difference in this world. It’s a big market and we want to be the leaders.”
Walking through the bustling shop, Ben stops to pick up a long, flat panel with an array of sparkling LEDs. “This is our biggest seller,” he says, boasting like a proud dad. “We’re just kicking ass. It starts from an idea. You can see the potential. You can feel it.”
There’s something fulfilling about actually creating things that go out into world. Ben recounts a recent trip to take his daughter to a candy store. He looked up and saw Deco lights. “Those are our lights!” he blurted out, more excited than his kid (literally) in a candy store.
When these two founders talk about making manufacturing cool, it’s that passion they’re trying to harness. Technology allows them to hire energetic people with larger-than-life ideas capable of growing the business at lightning speed. The company culture enables everyone to tap their “superhero powers” to make this happen. It’s a model that can and should be replicated.
But it’s not just about making money. Ben could have stayed in his finance cubicle for that. “People with only selfish money motives tend to fail at the end,” he declares. Sam jumps in: “We don’t do it for the money, we do it for the challenge to reinvent an industry built on stale coffee and stained carpets. We do it to change the way people think about manufacturing.” It’s a “people first” mentality that encourages accountability and a sense of pride in all Deco employees. Look to Deco Lighting to lead a new generation of manufacturers in an industry ripe with opportunities to explore cutting-edge technology. “It’s not just about light bulbs anymore,” says Sam. “Lighting is digital now, which means that your light fixture can be a data collection point for things like beacon technology, which monitors customer traffic in grocery stores. We intend to lead our industry into this new world of lighting as a service. This is where we shine.”
With a team of empowered, passionate super heroes, Deco Lighting is assured to reach its goals.
*Article rewritten from Google original by Anthony Augusto, Deco Public Relations Coordinator