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Then & Now: Leadership Lessons

Industry Commentary

Leadership Lessons Learned From The Pandemic In The Electrical & Lighting Industry

As we continue to deal with the ongoing pandemic, we decided to compare the predictions that were made in early 2020 to where the electrical and lighting industry is today. More importantly as we look back, we wanted to examine the ways in which leaders managed these predictions and how it’s impacted the required skill sets for leaders today.

Timing & Supply Chain

In the beginning of the pandemic, business leaders forecasted an industry hiatus anywhere from 3 weeks to 7 months before returning to normal. At that time, any semblance of “how long” the pandemic could last was only comprehensible in the “short-term”. Needless to say these projections were short-sighted, because nearly 18 months later, some things are still not back to normal. Conversely, while these timing projections were significantly off for a “return to normalcy or recovery”, companies and leaders alike did recognize and accurately predict one key outcome as a result of this hiatus – the disruption and breakdown of the supply chain for everything from logistics to raw materials.

Companies and senior executive leaders across the board agreed that the breakdown in supply chain was a foreseeable and inevitable outcome as a result of the pandemic. Even with this knowledge, manufacturers and many companies were too paralyzed to act and move on this quickly. In 2020 manufacturers might have wanted to preempt any shortages by ordering larger quantities and stockpile materials in preparation for projects resuming. Today, as the supply chain breakdown continues to impact and delay the industry’s recovery, manufacturers are moving away from leaner pre-pandemic inventory models and building up a buffer stock to limit the consequences of future supply chain disruptions. Even from a talent attraction perspective, we are noticing that companies with a strong domestic manufacturing and distribution supply chain presence (even cross-border) are more competitive and attractive to executive level and leadership talent that are considering a career move.

Continuity Plans

According to a survey from International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) in April 2020, over half (56%) of business leaders within the lighting sector had no continuity or contingency plan. While the pandemic itself was a highly unpredictable event, companies that were prepared were able to hyper focus on short-term strategies to achieve long term goals. Today, the pandemic has taught businesses and leaders the importance of a strategic continuity plan for everything including:

  • The careful reorganization of where responsibilities and accounts can potentially fall if a workforce contracts
  • The ability to adapt and pivot across verticals accordingly
  • The best strategic direction for expanding the workforce for a post-pandemic recovery
  • Diversification of their supply chain
  • Diversification of products, services and markets they serve

Strategic thinking will remain a critical skill set for companies looking to hire future leaders in 2021 and 2022 who can recognize these shortcomings and build a viable continuity plan to prevent these functional and operational gaps.

Return To Office Work

In the early stages of the pandemic, 72% of business owners expected employees and teams to return to the office immediately after stay-at-home orders were lifted. Even 18 months later, as the economy has reopened with the return to offices slowly lagging behind, this prediction remains mostly true today. Many leaders and teams within the electrical and lighting industry have a strong desire to return to an in-person environment. This is not surprising since much of the day-to-day within the electrical and lighting industry depends on interpersonal relationships, visuals, spatial experiences, physical installations and more. While some smaller specifiers and architects remain more conservative when allowing external vendors for in-person visits, the majority of the workforce are ready to return to an in-person arrangement. Companies are also working to create hybrid in-person and remote working options to provide more flexibility and attract top talent to the industry. 

Industry Growth And Decline Trend Predictions

In early 2020, business leaders expected to see anything from a “slight blip in 2020” to a ~20% decline year over year. In November 2020, Electrical Wholesaling reported an industry decline of roughly ~10% year over year. While still at a loss, there were a few sectors within the industry that grew at the end of 2020. This helped boost the electrical and lighting industry including projects within the public / government, residential remodeling and healthcare sectors.

Companies that observed this trend early on, were able to pivot into these verticals and remain entrenched in these sectors. For those companies that were agile and able to pivot, will align these new verticals with the rebuilding of their core services and specializations pre-pandemic. Today, as we continue to recover into 2022 and 2023, emerging leaders and industry talent will need to remain agile, highly adaptable and able to identify opportunities in adjacent markets.

The Future Of The Lighting Industry

One of the most alarming predictions that arose in early 2020, was the fear of what would happen to the future of the lighting industry. In an IALD survey from April 2020, many leaders became fearful that Lighting Designers would be “value-engineered out of projects and [lighting design] will be handled by electrical engineering firms or lighting manufacturers.”

Luckily this fear of extinction did not pan out and Lighting Designers and the industry itself remains a highly specialized and integral part of the build process. New approaches to hybrid work environments and the repurposing of commercial office spaces will also create new opportunities for the lighting and electrical industries. As lighting plays an even more integral role in elevating the well-being and human experience in both shared office environments and mixed-use residential spaces, this will require future leaders to be persistent, innovative and growth-oriented.

Early during the pandemic, a survey revealed that overall most employees were confident with how senior executive leadership managed and navigated the pandemic (with an average rating of 8.5-9.0 out of 10). This indicated that a majority of business leaders innately possessed crisis management skills and were able to rise to the challenge.

As we saw throughout the pandemic, the theme of “togetherness” became a core value for many companies and shifted cultural values and communication towards authenticity, empathy, care, appreciation, wellness and empowerment. Today, companies are seeking leaders with a strong balance of both soft and hard leadership skill sets as we slowly navigate the industry’s recovery. Senior executive leaders will need to continue being communicative, empathetic and collaborative to lead the cultural recovery, and will need to turn to hard leadership skills to understand the facts, data and market analysis for the successful economic recovery of the electrical and lighting industry.


Egret Consulting Group is a national and international electrical industry specific, client centric professional search firm.  We are the largest firm recruiting exclusively for Electrical Manufacturers, LED Lighting Manufacturers, Wholesale Electrical Distributors, Power Distribution, Automation and Renewables Technologies. Egret Consulting Group has been named on the 2017 and 2018 Forbes list of “The Best Executive Recruiting Firms”​. 

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