profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities
No. 93 in a continuing series
European Sales Director, Strand Lighting
Like a lot of people in the lighting industry - David Caterall found his way into the business rather by accident - and stayed because he loved it.
A highly conventional education culminated in a BA honours degree from Durham University via a spell at Durham Business School and a very attractive offer to go into international banking. However, a firm desire not to "drive a desk" led him to a change of direction into the transport industry, firstly in a company of 180,000 employees and secondly in a company of 50,000. A few years' work experience quickly led him to the very firm conclusion that selling was his future, and that he wanted to be working for a small company, where everyone counts.
That's when Zero 88 found him. "My company screwed up a trade show shipment in such a spectacular manner that Zero gave me my own desk and a phone in their reception as I tried to fix up the mess," he explained. "One thing led to another and suddenly, in 1985, I was in the disco business!"
Over the next few years he learnt about business the easy way - from the bottom up - selling, marketing, manufacturing, product design, accounts and building trade show stands. "Where else can you be exposed to the whole of a working machine than in a small company?" Not being certain he could survive in this industry of specialists he found it prudent to widen his experience by studying a Diploma in Management and joining the Chartered Institute of Marketing - something he feels has helped him enormously as the industry has grown and matured along the way.
Eleven years with Zero brought international sales travel and the international lighting trade show circuit. Zero 88 grew and grew and moved from disco to theatre and from St Albans to South Wales. It was a time of growth in the industry too, and in early 1996 he answered an approach from ETC who were busy setting up their fledgling European business.
"Looking back," says David, "I can see that at both Zero 88 and ETC I was lucky enough to be exposed twice to a marketing phenomenon better known as a ‘home run' product - something that catapults your company forwards and you can't make enough of them and they are the envy of all your competitors. Honestly, I believe you are fortunate to get one in your career, but two in a row is exceptional indeed. Mine took the form of the Sirius lighting desk with Zero 88 and the now famous Source Four with ETC. Both these products effectively put their respective companies on the map and though they were no means certainties when designed or introduced, they hit the market at the right time and in the right way. Such a phenomenon catapults a company forwards in unforseen ways and creates growth to die for."
Then in 1999, and certainly earlier than he planned, David was on the move again - this time with another US-based manufacturer in the form of High End Systems. His new and challenging role was to merge the recently acquired Flying Pig sales business into the whole. "This was rock and roll and I loved it. I stayed five years - long enough to set up a new European sales team and HQ in London around the core of the Flying Pig business and to end up as MD of the operation."
"Both ETC and High End are US based companies and their ‘can do' culture remains very attractive. In my case I was able with both ETC and High End to have the best of both worlds working for US manufacturers who still retained a stake in UK manufacturing."
Most recently, in September 2003, he made his latest career step - to Strand Lighting as European Sales Director. Says David: "It's ironic that so many people working all over the industry started out with Strand whereas I have worked all over the industry before getting to Strand. With almost 100 years of history the challenge today is how to adjust to the new climate of the industry where competition is fiercer and equipment prices come ever downwards. I hope that my 20 years of experience thus far will stand me in good stead to meet this challenge. I wouldn't have it any other way - working for a UK based Lighting equipment manufacturer in search of another elusive ‘home run'."
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