Jim Decker has a lengthy record—of awards, that is. In fact, over the years Progress Lighting’s Vice President of Brand Management has earned more than a dozen honors in recognition of his many and varied accomplishments. In that respect, the 2005 Residential Lighting Industry Leadership Award bestowed upon Decker during this year’s American Lighting Assn. (ALA) Conference is part of a long tradition.
Even so, Decker is far from complacent about being singled out by his peers.
“This award is definitely a high point of my life,” he says. “It’s very humbling, but it really makes me feel good to know that I have so many friends and associates who think enough of me not only to nominate me, but also vote for me.”
Presented each year at the ALA Conference, the Residential Lighting Industry Leadership Award gives retailers, manufacturers and sales representatives the opportunity to recognize individuals who exemplify a commitment to quality and service. This year’s nominees appeared in the July issue of Residential Lighting magazine (which previewed the conference), along with a ballot, and readers determined the winner by popular vote. Despite his winning record, Decker was truly surprised by the outcome and modestly appreciative during his heartfelt acceptance speech.
Nature vs. Nurture
Decker has always stood out from the crowd—a fact that became obvious early on. Whether by dint of innate talent, hard work or a fortuitous combination of the two, he seems to have always risen to the top.
Decker’s wife, Jill, whom he married in 1998, believes his parents are at the root of his success. “It’s how he was brought up,” she says. “His parents obviously taught him well. They were loving, they were there for him, and they always praised his accomplishments.
Decker was born in February 1961 to Alfred and Catherine Decker in Catskill, NY, a small town in which the achievements of even the youngest were regularly chronicled in the local newspaper. His mother was rightly proud of her son, who seemed to amass more recognition than most kids his age, and she was constantly adding to the box full of photos and newspaper clippings of his achievements. From his roles in grade school plays and on Little League teams to his selection as Vice President and Salutatorian of his high school senior class, Decker has always brought pride to his family.
On the Fast Track
Decker graduated in 1979 from Hunter Tannersville High School in Tannersville, NY. He went on to attend Clarkson University, graduating in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Distribution. From there, he landed his first job at Midland Ross, an electrical supply business that is now a division of Thomas and Betts. It was at Midland Ross that he had the opportunity to join an executive training program modeled after the one at General Electric, a program which Decker credits with helping him advance his career.
“Every week on Monday morning, you would have to do a presentation for the executive management team and basically sell them on something,” he recalls. “Here I was, a 22-year-old kid, standing in front of all of these senior executives. They teach you very quickly to have a lot of confi-dence in yourself and how to prepare.”
Midland Ross recognized and rewarded Decker’s talents and abilities, and he was invited to participate in the company’s sales program. Later, he was promoted a second time to Product Manager. In all, it was a hugely valuable and formative experience.
“I consider myself very fortunate to have gotten a good start in business,” he says. “The executive training program did a lot in terms of helping me understand very quickly what it takes to do well. I got a lot of personalized attention from the people that were in executive management at Midland Ross, and I really think that gave me a head start.”
Yet the accomplishment of which he is most proud was still a few years off. In between came positions at Industrial Dynamics, which specialized in quality control equipment, and Capri Lighting, where he was hired as Product Manager and later promoted to Marketing Manager by Scott Muse. When Muse left Capri in 1993 to become President of Progress Lighting, he brought Decker with him to be Progress’ Vice President of Marketing. At the time, Progress was classified by its owner, U.S. Industries, as a “discontinued operation.”
Asked what could have possessed him to climb aboard a sinking ship, Decker says he felt it was possible to revive the venerable old company and move it forward.
“Progress was founded in 1906 and had always been known as one of the pinnacles on the residential side,” Decker notes. “The other unique thing about Progress was that it had a direct factory sales force, rather than manufacturers’ reps. What impressed me was that these people had stuck with the company through these tough times. Third, the products and customers were there. It was a matter of getting everything straightened out and headed in the right direction, but all of the elements were there to bring it back to its former success.”
The first years were tough, but Progress regained its footing and once again enjoys a position at the forefront of the residential lighting industry. Those who know Decker credit him for helping the company’s new management rejuvenate the business.
“He has a real vision for the market,” says Charlie Harris, Progress Vice President and General Manager, who also worked at Capri and has known Decker for some 15 years. “His biggest strength is anticipating market needs. He’s very much in tune with product and channel dynamics. Jim has that strength, that vision, to see what the market will need in three to five years.”
Alfred Pill, co-owner of 16 Northeast locations of Ralph Pill Electric Supply, which carries Progress merchandise exclusively, has known Decker for many years and makes the same obser-vation. “I think he’s somewhat of a futurist in terms of understanding trends and that sort of thing,” Pill says.
A Shining Example
But the words most often used to describe Decker are ones like “professional,” “helpful” and “nice.”
“I know Jim quite well and have worked quite closely with him in various areas,” ALA’s Larry Lauck says. “He’s easygoing and very likable. What makes Jim stand out is, first of all, his offering to help others and following up on his commitment. He’s very dependable. If Jim volunteers, he will do the task very professionally. He has that sort of personality about him.”
As is so often the case in the business world, a true measure of character can be found in the way one treats subordinates. And in that regard, Decker also scores high marks.
“He’s supportive, a strong mentor and always there to back you up,” offers Colleen Visage, Senior Product Manager at Progress. “People who work with Jim and have contact with him have a high respect for him and value his contributions.”