A Story About Breadmakers — and Lutron’s Joel Spira

gary-lutron-breadmakers2-1115LUTRON is the defacto-standard lighting control company in the AV market.

Think lighting control, you think LUTRON.

LUTRON lost its leader of 54 years when Joel Spira passed away on April 8, 2015.

I had the pleasure of consulting for LUTRON and not only meeting Joel, but also working with him (indirectly, I will admit). But, that said, if you’ve ever worked for LUTRON in some capacity, Joel’s influence was never missing — he was intimately involved in all aspects of LUTRON and he passionately cared about the company.

I am sure there are many people who have many Joel Spira stories. Some are hilarious (e.g., the story behind why one of their buildings is surrounded by fake trees) and some are inspiring.

But, none have stuck with me like the one I am about to tell you. I may get the specifics slightly wrong, but I hope that those engineers who I reference in this story will come on and comment on this blog to give more details on the story.

So, here goes:

One time — I think this is the 1980s — he was traveling in Japan. He stumbled upon a breadmaker (yes, the kitchen appliance that makes bread) by Panasonic. He was intrigued, but more excited about the prospects this sort of thing could teach his engineers. You see, the art of making bread (prior to the breadmaker) was (and still is) very complicated and very tedious. If you’ve ever made bread made from scratch, you know exactly what I mean — you have to do everything just right or it may not rise, may not be porous or may not taste any good at all. But, the bread making machine did it all for you. Just pour in the ingredients, wait the allotted amount of time and — voila! — bread. Homemade bread.

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So, Joel flew home with a handful of these bread machines, enough to spread around the engineering department. But there was one hitch — he removed the instructions, the packaging and any markings that gave any hints as to what it was. It only had the brand Panasonic on it. He gave them to his engineers and told them figure out what the machine was for and how it worked.

And, they did! These engineers were given no hints and no specifics (and this was pre-Internet and Google). And remember, this was also before it was a household appliance anywhere in the world — it had just made its debut in Japan, so the engineers probably had never seen or even heard of one before. But they figured it out anyway.

Then Joel gathered the engineering department together and said, “OK, make our stuff work this easily. Make our stuff work without manuals. Make it so people can figure it out.”

Genius. Sure, a company owner can tell their engineers to make their stuff simple — but actually demonstrating it was Joel’s way.

I am told he was always filled with anecdotes like this — not just aimed at engineering, but at sales and marketing, too.

Joel’s contributions will be felt through LUTRON for a long, long time. And, his creative vision will be missed.