The Ian Cerfontyne Interview
Managing Director,
WE-EF LIGHTING Australia / New Zealand

The Fagerhult takeover, working with AILA, the launch of the Black Book, a renewed focus on landscape lighting. 4 years into the job, WE-EF LIGHTING Australia / New Zealand Managing Director has plenty to talk about.

Landscape lighting would seem to present a wonderful opportunity for people to understand lighting better. Traditionally viewed as simply a ubiquitous product whose sole reason for existing is so people can see after dark do you think now is the time for people to develop a greater appreciation for what lighting can achieve and how it can literally make living more enjoyable?

Absolutely. Lighting has a huge impact on our interpretation of the space, it adds interest, drama and enjoyment. Landscape Architects invest huge levels of energy into making outdoor spaces both interesting and fun, plus of course fit well into the broader environment they are part of, lighting can emphasise the design and indeed help it take on a different personality by night.

Australia is a huge country where people enjoy an outdoor lifestyle with many homes built on the proverbial quarter acre lot. Why is it do you think outdoor lighting has not been more widely promoted by manufacturers and embraced by consumers? 

Probably for the same reason that residential developers will invest in “Stainless steel European” appliances in the kitchen and yet install low cost, often unattractive, downlights, namely lighting just has not been thought of as important. Fortunately that is changing, there is a broader awareness of lighting, especially outdoor lighting, and its positive impact on our environment. Traditionally outdoor lighting was primarily considered about safety, now it is as much about fun.

Do you believe the renowned Vivid Lighting Festival in Sydney has made the general public more aware of what can be achieved these days especially with all the new digital technology?

Very much so, Vivid is a lot about theatre, which of course is entertainment so it is changing perception of lighting.

The new focus on landscape lighting must be a huge opportunity to grow your business and showcase new products and innovations. Are you planning anything particularly special in the way of events or communications to further your cause?

Yes, to coincide with our partnership with AILA we have brought out a new publication, our Black Book. This is aimed at assisting in product selection by guiding the designer through how the product performs as well as how it fits into its environment.

It’s been four years since you took the lead role at WE-EF. What changes have you made and are you pleased with the outcomes?

Probably the biggest change has been to create focus. We are a specialist in outdoor lighting, we have immense faith in the quality and performance of our own products yet we must retain strong focus on the service aspect of product supply. We have shortened response times, increased our ability to deliver, our on-time performance has been on or around 99% for quite some time now, and supported this with a 10-year warranty for LED products. The results speak for themselves, we are close to twice the sales level we were 4 years ago, so yes, it has been a good investment in time and energy.

Which projects are you most proud of?

Tough question! I am very happy with the way Cairns Regional Council have used our CFT street and area luminaires in Fogarty Park, I love Mornington Pier on the Mornington Peninsula as we live so close, and the fact that our products are so close to the ocean, and the Goods Line in Sydney are probably the stand-outs.

In January 2017 Fagerhult announced the acquisition of WE-EF LIGHTING. How will the merger affect your business model? What will be the benefits for customers?

Honestly here in Australia, very little. Fagerhult is very much a “buy and leave alone” business. They focus on successful businesses and recognise that they are successful and therefore rarely need a lot of change. We are very proud that Australia is the largest WE-EF business in the world when compared to market size, so locally we will see next to no change. The benefits will be more from the access to technologies that a business the scale of Fagerhult are part of, plus of course access to a large talent pool of people!

Are there any synergies between the two companies that can be harnessed and used to produce better products / business practices?

Fagerhult is actually a group of many companies and yes we look at resources within the group and seek out areas of expertise that can be of benefit. The rapid pace of LED advancement has provided many opportunities but I am sure many manufacturers would also admit to more than a few headaches, so having new colleagues to collaborate with on some of the challenging areas is certainly a benefit.

Will there be a cross pollination of ideas?

At all levels. There is a regular “meeting of minds” in Sweden looking at strategy and the future, and at the same time we do the basics such as looking at supply chain management. Johan Hjertonsson, CEO of Fagerhult, was in Australia within weeks of the acquisition and delivered a really positive message: people are there to help and at the same time we should contribute our experiences. This is really encouraging when you transition a company.

WE-EF has recently supported AILA’s Not In My Backyard Festival, and presented the AILA Sustainable Lighting Seminar. Were these events worthwhile and what has been the feedback?

It’s always amazing and inspiring to see how much interest lighting topics attract in other industries once you start talking about them. Everybody has a lighting question and the best way for us to answer these questions is by showing what lighting actually does and achieves. At the AILA 2016 Festival in Canberra we had an opportunity to show how simple design interventions and lighting in particular can bring to live public spaces. Building on the interest and feedback we received after the Festival, we now offer seminars and talks on how lighting works and what lighting does in exterior spaces. It’s a really good conversation to have, especially when we engage other stake-holders like landscape architects and councils.

Will you be working with AILA again in 2017?

Yes, a common desire for both WE-EF and the AILA team is a long term and meaningful relationship for both parties. One of the key reasons we are stepping up from state sponsorships to the Principal Corporate Partnership with AILA on July 1st is that we share many desires and beliefs. Our role of the manufacturer is to support the design team, including helping understand rapidly changing technologies.

Light & Building was a huge success for WE-EF in 2016, with a lot of new products on show? Have these products filtered onto the Australian market as yet and if so how have they been accepted?

They have indeed and well. The theme of our more recent product development has been very much around what we consider Architectural elements, which of course AILA members have enjoyed. In our increasingly energy-conscious world, performance is a given for WE-EF but we must at all times remember that our products will also be visible when they are not in use, namely by day!

WE-EF launched its Black Book at an industry event in Melbourne. We hear by all accounts it was a big success?

Well Alena, our Marketing Manager, said at the event that we wanted a party and the Black Book was just the excuse, but yes it was a great night. We had a really strong turn out and some really pleasing feedback on both the Black Book and our relationship with Landscape Architects, which of course compliments our long-term relationships with Lighting Designers, Electrical Engineers and Councils.

What message do you want to get out to the design community?

That lighting has so many facets to consider but never ignore glare!

How can people get in contact with WE-EF in Australia?

I think is probably the easiest for most.

WE-EF is a fabulous brand with an enviable reputation for quality and innovation. Are there any breakthrough announcements planned that you can talk about now?

Thank you! If I did, though my product development team or marketing team would lynch me. Our focus right now is to cement our national relationship with AILA and get our Black Book out into the market.

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