“Are those LEDs?” Jan Paul Teuwen and Eric Senders subject the spotlights in the ceiling to immediate scrutiny when they walk in together for an interview. Both Dutchmen work for Lumileds, the San Jose-based division is fully focused on LEDs. Lumileds is a pioneer in the development of sustainable LED lighting, but global competition is cutthroat. And that’s precisely what makes working for Lumileds so appealing to Senders and Teuwen.
“It’s a fierce competition,” says Teuwen, who has been Lumileds’ Financial Planning and Analysis controller for the past year and a half. His job involves several tasks related to forecasting and financial performance analysis for multiple stakeholders located in the US and in the Netherlands. “LEDs are a growth market for Lumileds,” Teuwen says. “But we have to keep innovating, because other companies are also trying to develop the most efficient and powerful LED, with the best color characteristics.” The company’s competitors include Samsung, OSRAM, Cree and LG.
According to Senders, Lumileds’ Marketing Manager, the enormous demand for LEDs is easy to explain. “LEDs are environmentally friendly, efficient and sustainable, and you can create a large variety of ambiences with them.” Senders has been with Philips for eleven years and introduced the very first LED bulbs to the European market in 2006 and 2007. At Lumileds, he works to promote LED technology in shops, hotels and restaurants. Lumileds doesn’t sell light bulbs, but provides the LED (or light-emitting diode)to other manufacturers, who encase it in a light bulb or a light fixture. In addition to the illumination market, Lumileds is also developing products for the automotive industry and flash technology for cameras in mobile phones and other devices.
An LED is a semiconductor that emits light when voltage is applied. Senders says that unlike many traditional light sources, there are no harmful substances such as arsenic and lead used to manufacture LEDs. However, price remains the LED’s drawback; on average, LED lamps can cost four to five times more than compact fluorescent lamps. But corporate clients who use large quantities of light, such as supermarkets, can quickly recoup their investment because an LED consumes much less electricity, Senders says. Moreover, the LED’s efficiency and performance have drastically improved in recent years; he expects continued innovation to rapidly drive down the price of LEDs, even for individual consumers for whom price is currently the stumbling block.
The first LED was created in 1962 by American physicist Nick Holonyak. Japanese researcher Shuji Nakamura is credited with inventing the blue LED that is the base of most LEDs today. Hewlett Packard manufactured the first red LEDs in 1968 for use in the first portable calculators. American engineer George Craford was working on white and orange LEDs at HP in the 1970s. That technology took off in the 1990s, and in 1999 Lumileds spun out from the department Craford founded at HP. Craford is still a well respected member of the Lumileds community and serves as an advisor to the executive management.
California has always been home to Lumileds. Almost 700 people work in the San Jose office, most of them on research and innovation. It’s important, and useful, to be located in the San Francisco Bay Area, Teuwen says, because it’s easy to find excellent staff in the region, in large part thanks to the proximity of chip companies like Intel and universities such as Stanford and Berkeley.
About fifteen of Lumileds’ employees in the Bay Area are Dutch. Teuwen and Senders say that the company is so international, its corporate culture can’t really be compared with that of an American company. As Dutchmen, they adapt easily, Senders notes. “But I do think it’s very Dutch to keep asking questions, to stay critical,” he says. Being Dutch, he doesn’t just blindly accept everything as true, he notes. “I regularly say, ho, wait a minute, explain exactly how that works again, maybe there is a better or more efficient way of doing this.”