Steve Gold, 55, along with his son Bryan, co-owners of landscape lighting firm Brilliance LED, based in Carefree, Arizona, wasn't always in the outdoor business. And he certainly wasn't always a resident of sunny Arizona.
Gold was born in the southern Minnesota community of Albert Lea, not far from Mankato—but he was actually raised in Newtown, Connecticut, where his father was a stamp-and-coin dealer. After graduating from Newtown High School, Gold started to think about college. His parents told him that if he wanted to go to college, he’d have to pay for his education himself.
“But I didn’t have two nickels to call my own,” Gold recalls. “So I joined the Air Force, and they put me through school.”
Gold’s stint in the Armed Forces can be labeled Act I of his professional life. He spent nine years in the Air Force, as a Crew Chief on F- 4 Phantoms, stationed mostly in Europe. He has mixed feelings about his service time. On the one hand, he’s immensely grateful that the Air Force paid for his education and gave him the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Europe. On the other hand, Gold feels like it was not a great time to be a serviceman. “It was the Cold War,” he remembers. “Promotions were not common, so I had to take a long look at my future. I chose to leave, and it was likely one of the best things I could do.”
So ended Act I of Gold’s professional life; on to Act II.
Gold returned home to Connecticut. There, he went into the insurance business, as an insurance broker. Over the course of the next 20 years, he built the business to 3,000 clients. But, as many people learn, success does not always bring happiness. “After 20 years, I was burned out.” Gold admits. He knew he needed a change.
The opportunity for change was quick to appear. “One blustery winter night, my wife, Patti, came home from work and asked, ‘Honey, how would you like to move to Arizona?’” Gold recalls. “My response was simply, ‘I’m ready. Let’s go.’ I had no hesitation. That was twelve years ago. We had three teenagers at the time, ages 14, 15, and 16.
“We decided to have them finish out their schooling in New England, which clearly paid off. Our son Bryan is now my business partner and head engineer at Brilliance LED. Our daughter, Kristen, is now a marketing director for an international law firm; she works in New York City. Our other son, Tyler, just finished a master’s degree program. Relocating to Arizona for Patti’s work was a wise choice.”
So ended Act II, and Act III has brought many new beginnings.
For his first two years in Arizona, Gold was essentially retired. “I did a little of this and a little of that. But I can tell you this—wherever I sat in Carefree, whether it was a restaurant deck, a backyard patio or my truck, I would get ‘beamed’ in the eyes with the sun’s reflection. And it puzzled me as to why this happened on a daily basis, “somebody was clearly trying to tell me something.”
“We bought a house in Carefree, northeast of Phoenix,” Gold relates. “And there were numerous issues with the outdoor landscape lighting. I called the company whose name appeared on the lighting fixtures to ask some questions, and the company sales rep came out to visit our home. When we got done talking, he asked me whether I might be interested in working in this business as a landscape lighting contractor. I thought about my constant annoyance with the Arizona sun, and it hit me like a ton of bricks: This is what I’m supposed to be doing—I should be in this business.
Shortly thereafter, Gold and his son Bryan went to work together as landscape lighting contractors. They named their company Let There Be Light and today it is a successful landscape lighting firm servicing the Northeast Valley.
Gold didn’t stop there. Four or five years ago, he had an epiphany . . . one night he sat upright in bed, in the middle of the night, with the realization that the entire outdoor lighting business would be moving toward energy-efficient LED lighting, sooner rather than later.
That led Gold to start Brilliance LED, a firm focusing specifically on LED outdoor lighting. It took a year for him to find the right electrical technology. They searched out many engineers and eventually ended up partnering with a Utah-based engineer, Dr. Densen Cao.
“Dr. Cao holds the patents to a plurality of diodes on a heat sink,” Gold explains. “My son does the design engineering in Arizona, and then Dr. Cao does his magic. The technology is amazing. Because of our practical experience as contractors, we have an edge. When we develop a new lamp, we can test it in our projects around Carefree, in the Arizona heat.”
Gold is optimistic about improvements in LED technology, acknowledging that four years ago the technology for landscape lighting was in its embryonic stages. There were issues with heat management particularly, and real skepticism that LEDs could be used in a landscape setting. Now, if the engineering, over-voltage (lighting) and thermal issues are correctly handled, Gold says that LEDs are here to stay.
“One of the biggest problems is that many contractors don’t ground the transformers when they do the installation.” Gold explains, “Many LED problems could be prevented if they followed this simple practice.”
So, what does this self-made entrepreneur do to relax? The Golds have recently purchased a small Spanish hacienda in need of refurbishing on Gold Mountain in Cave Creek, Arizona. “We did not even know there was a Gold Mountain,” he remarked. “We fell in love with the property at first sight.” They’re particularly fond of antiques from the American Southwest, and Colonial antiques from Central America and Spain. Their home is the perfect haven for these.
With a dog named Rudy, and a great view of the Arizona sunset from their back patio, Gold is content to sit, relax, and plan which of his many saguaro cacti he will light up next!