Francesco Abbate, Managing Director of Spazio Lighting is a man who does not rest on his laurels. Despite founding and running one of the leading lighting companies in South Africa for 30 years, one of the things he enjoys most about his job is continuously staying up to date with the latest trends and technologies, along with observing other businesses’ strategies to help him to improve the company.
Sparks: Where were you educated?
FA: I completed a Diploma in Science from Liceo Scientifica Rodolfi in Milan, Italy.
Sparks: How long have you been involved in the lighting industry?
FA: I was trained by my father, Mario Abbate, in the lighting industry. From the age of 10 I used to visit the Milano Lighting Exhibition with my father, if only for a few hours. When I was 14, I used to earn pocket money by assembling electrical track adaptors for my father. During our summer holidays, at the age of 16, I used to work full-time at my father’s factory, in the warehouse. This experience has been extremely valuable because it has allowed me, from a very young age, to have a clear picture of the work that is required on the operations side of the business that I currently run.
Sparks: When and where did you start your career?
FA: My career started in South Africa when I decided to import light fittings from Italy in 1986. Then in 1989, when the South African market was facing an uncertain future, I decided to open Spazio Lighting and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sparks: What are the greatest changes you have seen over the years?
FA: Throughout the years, I have seen several technology changes, however, the few that stand out for me would be the fluorescent technology, the low voltage technology and today the LED technology.
Sparks: What major projects have you worked on and what is your greatest accomplishment?
FA: Some of the projects that Spazio has contributed to that really stand out for me include the Cape Town International Airport, Green Point Stadium in Cape Town, Gateway Shopping Centre in Umhlanga, Pick n Pay stores throughout the country, the Houghton Mosque as well as many hotels in South Africa and abroad, including 15 on Orange in Cape Town. I feel that my greatest accomplishment is the fact that after 30 years, Spazio is still one of the leading lighting companies in South Africa and that most of my staff have worked with me for all these years towards this achievement.
Sparks: Who has been your inspiration or have you had a mentor who has influenced your career?
FA: My father was a great teacher and I have learned a lot from him, however, I take mentorship on a daily basis, looking at how other businesses are run and how the world’s leading brands operate. Reading about and observing other businesses’ strategies is what allows me to improve my company.
Sparks: What, to your mind, is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry at this time?
FA: The misconception of LED in general also being fuelled by the poor quality of some of the products on the market is a big challenge. Customers and consumers still believe LEDs to be an endless source of illumination and do not take into account that different LED sources will have variations in quality.
Sparks: What do you enjoy most about your job?
FA: What I enjoy most about my job is the challenge to continuously stay up to date with the latest trends and technologies and introduce products into the South African market that are not only up to standard, but are also economically viable for the South African market. This continuous challenge and the satisfaction I receive from achieving these goals is what I enjoy and what motivates me on a daily basis.
Sparks: How do you motivate your staff?
FA: I view fairness and understanding each person as a key factor of my management skills. I think that working together and not working for me is what my staff enjoys.
Sparks: If you could ‘do it all again’, would you change anything? If so, what would that be?
FA: I would probably look for a partner with a lot of money and not build up the business from scratch.
Sparks: Would you advise a person leaving school to enter the lighting industry? And why?
FA: Yes, I would advise someone to enter the lighting industry because it allows a person with a strong electrical or technical knowledge, together with a good sense of aesthetic and design, to apply this technical knowledge to design.
Sparks: What is your advice to electrical contractors, electrical engineers or lighting designers?
FA: • Don’t go for price first.
Analyse your customer’s requirements and expectations.
Spend a little extra time to do your installation 100% accurately.
Sparks: What is your favourite quote?
FA: Don’t do tomorrow what you can do today.
Sparks: Name three things on your ‘bucket list’.
FA: Take a six month holiday, sail from Mexico to the Caribbean and swim with sharks.