It began innocuously enough. In a casual conversation, Shelley Wang of WAC Lighting and Nathan Frampton of Fanimation observed a lack of networking opportunities for young members of their industry. And it was from this banter between friends that the youthful presidents of their respective companies created the American Lighting Assn. (ALA) Young Executives Task Force to foster and solidify relationships among future leaders in the field.
The group meets at trade shows and the annual ALA Conference, providing members a forum to share ideas, discuss emerging technology and explore issues at the forefront of the industry. To Wang, it addressed a glaring need for community among the fresh faces in lighting. “We didn’t have the networks or opportunity to get to know each other the way our parents did, and it’s a great help to have a peer network,” she says.
Spearheading the creation of the task force is nothing new to Wang. Her tireless work ethic makes her “an outstanding leader by example,” according to Leonard Schwartz, WAC’s former Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
Wang continues to earn distinction for her forward-looking views on technology, environmentalism and design combined with a care for her employees and community. “She represents the next generation of lighting industry leaders,” says Frampton. So it’s not surprising that Wang’s colleagues, customers and even some competitors voted her the recipient of the 2009 Residential Lighting Industry Leadership Award.
At an age when many of her peers are just gaining a foothold in their careers, Wang has ascended to the top of her game. Taking over the executive leadership of WAC Lighting this year, the 29-year-old rose from the ranks of Executive Assistant to President, replacing her father, who remains as the company’s CEO. In her new role, Wang’s duties expanded to overseeing operations, finance and product development, in addition to managing human resources, marketing and sales.
Despite her increased workload at WAC, Wang remains involved with the ALA because “she cares about the future of the industry and about growing it,” says Eric Jacobson, ALA’s Vice President of Membership. Wang assists in the organization’s membership efforts and provides input to the manufacturing steering committee, which gets involved in energy efficiency and sustainability issues affecting the industry.
Wang put WAC’s commitment to “green” practices front and center when she rebranded the company upon becoming President. With the new tagline “Responsible Lighting,” she captured WAC’s holistic approach to business, encompassing its commitment to energy-efficient lighting, eco-friendly manufacturing processes and respect for employees.
“Responsible Lighting” is more than just a marketing slogan to Wang; she puts the words into practice. Recently, the young executive provided the lighting for a Long Island residence constructed to highlight energy-efficient building. True to her hands-on leadership style, Wang worked closely with the builder, traveling to the home to select product that would complement its design. In August, she hosted an event there to highlight WAC’s full breadth of energy-efficient lights, including the company’s INVISILED™ LED accent and display lighting in the kitchen, compact fluorescent pendants, low voltage lighting in the bathrooms and a custom fixture in the foyer.
The home also showcased Wang’s commitment to expanding WAC’s catalog of decorative products, moving beyond the functional, utilitarian fixtures the company has been known for and gaining positive response. “Architects and engineers are talking about WAC in a way that never happened before,” says Jim Krupp of KTR Assoc., WAC’s sales representative in the New York/New Jersey market. “That has a lot to do with her leadership.”
Lighting showroom customers are also responding to her push for energy-efficient products, according to Michael Lichtenstein, owner of The Lighting Gallery in Huntington, NY. While commercial has been ahead of residential on the adoption of energy-efficient fixtures, he sees the category gaining traction in the mindshare of consumers, leaving WAC well-positioned in the market since Wang “looks for the newest and latest in cutting edge in emerging technologies,” says Lichtenstein. “But she doesn’t just chase the next hottest trend. She sees what WAC does best and pursues that.”
While making new strides in marketing, technology and design, Wang stays true to the family atmosphere her parents, Tony and Tai, fostered within the company during WAC Lighting’s 25 years. “As they worked with me, it was always ‘how can you be more generous with our employees, how can you be more understanding, how can we treat them more like family?’” Shelley Wang says. Their attentiveness spanned to all staff, both in America and abroad.
“I’ve been to their factory in China and it was one of the nicest factories I’ve seen,” Frampton says about the complex, which features a soccer field and swimming pool for workers. “You can really tell they care about their employees.”
Tony and Tai Wang made themselves a tough act to follow in that regard. Not only would Shelley be taking the reins of an established company, she would be taking them from her parents — no simple task, as any family business can attest. “Just because you’re in the family and in the position doesn’t mean you’re automatically respected,” says Frampton, who himself succeeded his father at Fanimation. “You have to prove you’re a hard worker.”
Lichtenstein has seen Shelley Wang’s hard work firsthand. WAC’s President has gone so far as to work Saturday shifts at The Lighting Gallery to obtain insight into the minds of customers. “She’s constantly driving to be involved in what the customer is looking for and what the showroom is looking for,” says Lichtenstein.
Even prior to joining WAC, her work ethic was apparent. As a human resources consultant for Deloitte & Touche after graduating from Cornell University, she needed 12 certificates to be an HR professional. “Usually it takes many, many years to go through the process,” says Tai Wang. “Shelley got eight out of 12 within one-and-a-half years — a record.”
Yet Shelley Wang knew that hard work alone wasn’t going to make her successful in her role. When her father initially asked her to work for the family business, she set some conditions. “One [condition] was that her mother and I have to treat her professionally,” Tony Wang says, laughing. “It was hard! But she really wanted to get things done, didn’t want to be treated as a youngster. She wanted us to be professional here [in the workplace].”
Her father says that some observers are skeptical of Shelley’s leadership abilities initially, either because of her age, gender or assumptions of nepotism, but she quickly commands respect when people see her in action on the job. “She’s tough and direct, goes straightforward and gets it done,” Tony Wang says. In fact, he says her management style is more direct than his had been, requiring an adjustment period and a few disagreements between the pair before he gave her space, confident that she knew what she was doing.
The newly minted President also shows that leadership in other areas of her life. Shelley Wang has been actively involved with the New York Asian Women’s Center (NYAWC), a shelter for victims of domestic violence where she’s volunteered for the past eight years and currently serves as a member of its Board.
“Over the years I’ve volunteered on the hotline,” she says. “I used to help with the language and cultural immersion for the women at our shelters. We help teach them basic English so they can get a job and hold a job.”
Tony Wang says Shelley’s work with NYAWC is remarkable. “It really impresses me when I see her there,” he says. “She very gently shows leadership around there.”
Others also express admiration of her dedication to the Center. Larry Lee, the organization’s Executive Director met Shelley Wang more than a year ago when she volunteered to help transform the Center from an industrial-looking shelter into a more welcoming space. “Shelley used her expertise and involved friends and relatives to help us – installing new lights in all the bedrooms and hallways,” he says. “I am most impressed with her ‘can-do’ attitude and how she backs it up by making things happen.”
So what does such an enterprising young woman enjoy doing in her spare time?
“Absolutely, fishing,” Tony Wang says without hesitation. “She has her own boat. I don’t really want to mess around with a boat, but she’s got a big boat.” He says gardening also plays a prominent role in her downtime, a passion that is happily shared by her parents. The Wangs have separate gardens where they grow salad standards like cucumbers and tomatoes, as well as more unusual fare, like okra and Chinese turnip. And just as the younger Wang cultivates her garden, her father believes she is well suited to grow WAC Lighting.
“I’m sure her talent, wisdom and strong will can really lead our company to another level,” Tony Wang says. “I think she’s outstanding. She has tremendous vision and knows how to build the company’s strategy for the future.”