“I know it may sound somewhat cliché but it really is important to be resolute and determined in everything that’s relevant to your business. As a young female minority I have faced a lot of skepticism and criticism as a business owner, way more than I initially thought.” – Laura Guiliano, CEO, TerraGlo
KissMyCountry is pleased to publish our most recent ‘CEOs Saving the Planet’ interview with Laura Guiliano, CEO of TerraGlo. TerraGlo is developing LED lighting solutions – and is just about to present them at Lights of Philadelphia next week! Laura is a young CEO and we know you’ll enjoy hearing about how she identified the opportunity for LEDs and is building her company. Don’t miss reading about her ‘dream trip’ below – it will give you even more respect for this young woman!
KissMyCountry: Laura, you majored in Political Science and International Relations at Lehigh University. How did you make the jump to designing and manufacturing commercial LEDs and running an architectural lighting company?
Laura: I began working at Cal-Chip Electronics which is owned by my father, Jerry Giuliano. Through my work experience at Cal-Chip, I became familiarized with LED lighting technology. Cal-Chip Electronics had the intention of distributing the LEDs or the diodes themselves. However, upon completing some research on the emerging technology, I realized the tremendous potential of the LED luminaire or lighting fixture market and decided to launch an entirely separate company. My educational background is not entirely relevant to the LED market but this was a tremendous opportunity that presented itself right after college graduation. My undergraduate focus was political science with a plan to attend law school. However, I was really looking for something that was an extension of my interest in the environment. As a green technology, LEDs offered me an opportunity to pursue a career and launch a business that was relevant to my personal interests. I became aware of many environmental issues through the environmental law and political science courses I took as an undergrad at Lehigh. In fact, after these courses, I strongly considered becoming a lawyer specializing in environmental law. So it just seemed that everything fell into place at that particular point in my life.
KissMyCountry: You are a young CEO. As you operate in the business world, in what ways is being young a plus, and where do you find it can be a challenge?
Laura: In one aspect, I think being young is beneficial in trying to decipher what’s important to younger generations because these individuals are going to be the future consumers, especially in the green market. I also find that in a way it’s beneficial to be ‘techier’. It’s easier for me to pick up on and learn technology. As a small business owner, I need to be versatile in many aspects of our business such as social media networking and computer programs. Also, branding and marketing are two business aspects that I am extremely comfortable with. As a Generation Y baby, I have been doing my own personal expression and marketing for a long time. I remember being ten, twelve years old and designing my AOL profile; in a way, that is arguably learning to and actually marketing oneself. Finally, I think being young with less personal responsibilities enables me to be focused entirely on my business. At the moment, all of my efforts are dedicated towards growing and managing TerraGlo, with minimal distractions. The greatest challenge I’ve faced as a young CEO is getting credibility in the business world at large. I’m finding that age can be somewhat of a discriminatory factor. And while age can be related to lack of experience, it is not an indicator of someone’s abilities or determination. What I’m doing now is seeking some professional accreditation and furthering my degree to try and give me the background that will bolster my business resume and put me on the same level as some of the other older CEOs and key decision makers.
KissMyCountry: What do you find the most exciting about LEDs from an environmental perspective? Why should everyone be excited about the growing use of LEDs in commercial and residential lighting?
Laura: It’s difficult to pinpoint one exciting aspect about LEDs especially from an environmental perspective. However, the greatest technological attribute in my opinion is their enhanced efficiency. They can last anywhere from 10 to 12 years and that not only offsets one’s carbon footprint, but it also saves people money. What I think is really interesting is that LED technology is an entirely different lighting technology – it’s something that people are not familiar with. There are no bulbs, tubes or ballasts to replace. This saves money on recycling fees, as well as avoids mercury-containing bulbs ending up in a landfill. Our products are also, as with all LED luminaires, 100% recyclable. Another exciting feature of LEDs is that heat is actually diffused through the back of the fixture given that it has the proper thermal management design. An incandescent bulb gets hot to the touch when it’s on for a few hours. However, when heat’s managed through the back, a homeowner or business owner ends up saving a significant amount of money on their air conditioning costs. In another sense, there is research being conducted now on the directionality of LEDs, meaning you can control the beam angles on the lights. This helps avoid some of the issues with ecological light pollution or that ‘sky glow’ you may see at night in more urban areas. Consumers should be very excited because those who are familiar with LED technology strongly believe it to be the lighting future. Using LEDs for general illumination is now an emerging and developing trend. You can see them in exit signs, traffic signals but usage for everyday purposes is something that’s entirely new. There’s certain legislation such as the Energy Independence and Security Act that aim to gradually phase out some of the higher wattage lights. Consumers should be looking into their lighting options to decipher what exactly is the best solution for their application, as well as researching the manufacturers that are going to be the most reputable and most reliable.
KissMyCountry: What can we expect from TerraGlo in the way of new products? Where are you focusing your energies for the next few years – and why?
Laura: We incorporated in early February 2009 so for the past year or year and a half we’ve been focusing solely on product and business development. We’re getting ready to launch our product line in mid-September at the Lights of Philadelphia Show. Our first product line is comprised of several interior lighting solutions for the commercial and industrial applications. However, in the future, within the next few years, I hope to expand or launch a separate line of exterior lighting as well as residential lighting solutions. But throughout these developments, TerraGlo as a company is always going to have to remain cutting edge. Like I mentioned before, LEDs for general illumination is still fairly new, new efficiencies and prices are going to be fluctuating and improving. It’s essential that we stay on top of these market changes and provide our customers the highest quality products. Furthermore, because the necessary standardization has yet to be provided in the industry, some buyers are shying away from LEDs. Without the standards in place, they may purchase LED lights that promise a lifetime cycle of ten to twelve years but they’re actually dying out within a year or two. Energy Star and other standards will be key factors in the processes of marketing and industry growth.
KissMyCountry: Laura, many young women would like to start their own company, and have ideas they’d like to set in motion. What would you like to say to encourage young women your age who want to start their own company?
Laura: I know it may sound somewhat cliché but it really is important to be resolute and determined in everything that’s relevant to your business. As a young female minority I have faced a lot of skepticism and criticism as a business owner, way more than I initially thought. If another female my age is interested in starting up her own company, I would like to say that given the current financial circumstances, support, dedication and perseverance are extremely important. But if you can survive and hopefully thrive in this economy, that says a lot about not only your character but also your business idea and its structure. I also would encourage them to check into WBE or Women’s Business Enterprise certification. I just received mine in April for TerraGlo through WBENC and I’ve had so many great networking opportunities. The organization helps women business owners get in touch with the right people, the people who make all the purchasing decisions. Additionally, what I have found is that this certification gives my business and personal abilities some credibility in the business world.
KissMyCountry: Who seems more grateful for the relationship – you, who has the support of your father in starting a company, or your father, who has a daughter who found a new opportunity in the marketplace?
Laura: I believe we are both equally grateful. My father and I have always had a very close relationship and I’m finding that our mutual respect and family love is translating into a great working relationship. For me, I realize how fortunate I am to be in this position at such a young age. I realize that my father’s business expertise and experience is a great resource and I’ve been using that throughout the process of establishing and running TerraGlo. Most fortunately, he’s realized and respected my independence as a young executive. However, while it is my company, he’s been and continues to be such a great mentor and father. I’m very lucky and grateful to be in this position with his incredible support.
KissMyCountry: At KissMyCountry we ask ‘Where do you love?’. What are your favorite places to live or travel?
Laura: As you can tell from my last name, my family is 100 percent Italian. I clearly have a love for Italian culture, food and history. I’ve traveled to Italy three times in the last six years and I’m always looking to go back. I really enjoy the smaller towns on the Amalfi coast, not so much the larger cities because I really believe there’s something incredibly unique and fascinating about the immersion in a country’s genuine culture. I especially enjoyed my stay at this one smaller town called Taormina, which lies on the eastern and southern coast. I was there four years ago when Italy won the World Cup. As a former competitive player, it was such an amazing and one-of-a-kind experience.
However, through TerraGlo, I’m also visiting U.S. cities I’ve never been to before. I am appreciating just how much this country has to offer. I was in Miami and Las Vegas earlier this year and in November, I’m going to Chicago for the USGBC trade show and convention, Greenbuild. I’m really excited and eager to continue traveling the country, seeing the different cities and all of their unique features.
KissMyCountry: Do you have a dream trip that you’d like to take some day? Where will you go and what will you do?
Laura: I was adopted when I was four months old from South Korea. I have yet to travel back to the country but it’s a trip I have always wanted to take. I’m actually hoping to plan a trip within the next few years. I would love to see where I was born, absorb all the culture and try the food. And then hopefully meet my birth parents and foster parents. That of course depends on how my search pans out, which I began last October. I would just love the opportunity to thank them because I’m very grateful for and happy with the life that I have today.
KissMyCountry: TerraGlo is in Bucks County, Pennsylvania – a popular destination for people in Philadelphia and New York that want to ‘get away’ from the city. What are some of your favorite spots in Bucks County? Where do you like to take people when they visit?
Laura: I grew up in New Hope, Pennsylvania which is a small town on the Delaware River, bordering New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The small town attracts tourists and visitors from all over. It really never ceases to amaze me how many people know of and/or heard of such a small town. New Hope is something that I’ve really grown to appreciate. Recently, I have developed a new appreciation for all that New Hope has to offer and I’m extremely thankful for the town I once thought to be unexciting. In town, you can find a lot of small, unique boutique shops and restaurants. On a breezy summer day, I enjoy going to The Landing and enjoying a great dinner at sunset on the river. I also am a huge sushi fan. There’s this amazing sushi restaurant called Ota-Ya in Lambertville, which is across the bridge (not technically in Bucks County), but I have yet to find one that’s comparable in the surrounding area.
KissMyCountry: We would really love to stay in touch. We’d really like to come back to you in the next couple of months to see how things are going. Your story is fascinating. We want to hear about your plans for going to South Korea.
Laura: Definitely! That would be great. If you need anything else in the meantime feel free to call me.