Tony Wang and his wife Tai can attest to the fact that America is still the land of opportunity. Like many who came before them, they sought freedom and opportunity. With their one year-old daughter Shelley, in tow, they moved from Taiwan to the United States to start a new life.
Starting over, especially in a new country, is not easy but the Wangs were determined. Tony Wang saved some money and bought a supermarket. The couple worked long, hard hours and doubled the business within a year.
He then sold the supermarket and, in 1984, started WAC Lighting in Forest Hills, New York. In the beginning, he was importing lamps from Taiwan. Slowly but surely, they began to introduce track fixtures and recessed trims and housings, and eventually expanded enough to enter the decorative and architectural market segment.
With the passage of time, the business grew, as did daughter Shelley. She attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, graduating in 2002 with a degree in industrial and labor relations. She also studied law at Hofstra University’s School of Law. With degree in hand, she accepted a position in the consulting field, where she worked for a few years. However, when your family eats, drinks and sleeps a business, that business is in your blood.
So, having gained some experience in the business world, in 2004, Shelley felt it was time for her to make her contribution to help grow the family lighting business. Two years later, she was appointed general manager. In 2009, at the young age of 29, she was appointed president of WAC Lighting.
Technology has changed dramatically since the formation of their company. The MR16 light bulb allowed WAC Lighting to begin to manufacture and produce its own fixtures, concentrating their innovative designs on luxury residential, commercial, hospitality, institutional and architectural applications.
Dirk Wald, who became Shelley’s husband, also learned the lighting business from the ground up. He’s been in the lighting business for 26 years, beginning his career working for his family-owned lighting distributor showroom. This distributor also carried landscape lighting, so Dirk was able to get a feel for the landscape market.
He later took a position with a manufacturer of crystal chandeliers as director of business development. A few years later, he left that company and ended up in the New York area, where he went to work for WAC. His hands-on knowledge has contributed greatly to the company’s growth. And, of course, it was there that he met Shelley.
Employees of the company are treated like family, and a very important aspect of WAC Lighting is community involvement. Shelley has spearheaded the Responsible Lighting campaign with continual development of sustainable products, community services and employee empowerment.
For example, the company sponsors an annual invitational science fair. In addition to supporting this event, WAC provides scholarships and prizes to the students who win in each of its categories. Philanthropy seems to be inbred within the founding family; they are active in many charitable organizations.
The company has also actively been on a fast track; the advent of LEDs propelled WAC Lighting into the future. It opened a 750,000- square-foot, ISO 9001-certified manufacturing campus in Dongguan, China, in 2007. They developed LED low-voltage track and rail systems, LED low- and live-voltage recessed downlights, display lighting, smart transformers and more.
In 2013 WAC introduced Modern Forms, a new company for LED decorative lighting that really turned the industry upside down. The same buzz was created when they decided to go into the landscape market.
The company introduced its own line of landscape lighting in January 2015. When I asked why WAC entered the landscape lighting market, Dirk responded, “We have a 1940s home, which had zero lights. We wanted to install landscape lighting that was easy to use. We looked at the market and found that everything available looked pretty much the same. I talked with Shelley and felt that we could offer something different.” What really made the difference was when the Walds lit their own home. “We thought we had something kind of exciting and different, and what a difference it has made. It actually was our home that inspired us to enter the landscape market,” said Shelley.
The company that the Wang family built, with Dirk’s input, has grown WAC Lighting into a global company, with more than 1,000 employees worldwide. It can go from concept to design to prototype, engineering, manufacturing and sales within a 12-month period. As a family-owned business, there’s no need to go to a board of directors for approval; it can turn on a dime.
With three factories in the U.S.— in New York; Los Angeles, California and Atlanta, Georgia—as well as their own factory in China, WAC has a competitive advantage. “We probably have close to 100 engineers just working on LED lighting alone,” said Shelley.
The enthusiasm and excitement that the Walds have created with their landscape lighting division is just part of growing their global company. Shelley’s brother, Thomas, is also involved in the family business. “We have no corporate plans,” said Dirk. “Our passion is lighting. If we get excited about something and we want to make it, we put everything into it, have a lot of fun, and just go for it.”
The baton is passing from the founding generation to the next. I know it will be in good hands. Shelley and Dirk Wald are passionate about their work and have that compelling drive to take not only the landscape lighting division, but the entire company, to the next level.
Enthusiasm is contagious, so hang on; it should be a heck of a ride.