Randal Wahl, Managing Director at Regent Lighting Solutions (RLS) has overseen the growth of the company from one with a desire to develop lighting for domestic homes in the early 1990s into a multi-disciplinary lighting company with world-class design and manufacturing capabilities. His passions include lighting, developing his staff, and his family.
Sparks: Where were you educated?
RW: I attended Krugersdorp High School and then Witwatersrand Technikon to study Marketing Management.
Sparks: How long have you been involved in the electrical industry?
RW: I have been involved in the lighting industry since 1992, so 27 years. I started out not knowing much about the industry but believed that an opportunity existed in the family manufacturing business to build a division that offered more value added product than casting components.
Sparks: When and where did you start your career?
RW: I started at Wahl Irrigation which had begun manufacturing two lanterns, our Classic and Capri, a few years prior. They traded as Wahl Irrigation and started selling these two fittings through the specialised lighting retail network in South Africa.
Sparks: What are the greatest changes you have seen over the years?
RW: Disruptive technology has been by far the biggest influence in the lighting industry; companies that have not embraced the changes have unfortunately fallen away. Offering lighting solutions rather than just products has allowed lighting to become a design element in the built environment rather than just a functional element. The transition from electric to electronic has completely changed the lighting field. Lighting controls have become multi-faceted and LED has allowed luminaire designers to control light with far greater accuracy and also to reduce the size of fittings.
Sparks: What major projects have you worked on and what is your greatest accomplishment?
RW: I think our greatest accomplishment is being able to adapt and embrace change in our industry, not to be arrogant and to listen and learn from lighting designers, architects and electrical engineers. In doing so we have been able to grow our staff from the initial two in the early days to over 275 being directly involved in RLS. Regent has been involved in so many large projects throughout the years, including Canal Walk Shopping Centre, Monte Casino, Emperors Place, Gold Reef City, Madinat Dubai, the Creek Yacht Club Dubai, and more recently Nelson Mandela Square, Mall of Africa, V&A Waterfront and The MARC.
Sparks: Who has been your inspiration or have you had a mentor who has influenced your career?
RW: Working in a family business, my father, Neville Wahl, mentored me initially with regards to business ethics and instilling the correct values, treating suppliers with the same respect as our customers, making decisions that are long term orientated and always investing in innovation. Robert Alexander, being my partner in the early days, understood the consulting field and opened up many opportunities to develop luminaires for specific projects. His professional experience allowed me to learn and grow as a young person starting out in a new market. I still work closely with Robert and his advice and ideas are greatly appreciated.
Sparks: What, to your mind, is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry at this time?
RW: The biggest challenge facing the industry today must be the financial position of many of the major construction companies. This makes providing credit more difficult as the credit insurers have become extremely risk averse. The other would have to be market sentiment and the reduction in capital expenditure by government as this impacts the downstream suppliers like ourselves.
Sparks: What do you enjoy most about your job?
RW: One of the things I enjoy most about Regent is developing product that acts as an import substitution for international and local clients. Challenging our design team and pushing the boundaries has allowed us to develop some world class products. Witnessing staff grow as individuals and seeing many graduate with different qualifications gives me an immense sense of pride. Visiting different parts of South Africa and Africa and actually seeing the impact our lighting has on all the projects we work on makes all the efforts worth it.
I am extremely passionate about Regent and sometimes that passion has been channelled into the wrong areas. As I have become older and more experienced I have become far better at doing the small things better. I firmly believe that Regent’s large dedicated staff component is what sets us apart from many of our competitors; we have committed staff who go way above and beyond to ensure we live by our company values of Trust, Respect, Integrity and Team. I have become a better listener and I trust each staff member and believe in them. The individual counts – I really enjoy the fact that Regent is long term focused and customer centric.
Sparks: How do you motivate your staff?
RW: I motivate my staff by being myself, by being present and committed to them and Regent, having a deep loyalty to all the staff and believing in our team. To persevere and stay with the problem longer and, above all, live a life of meaning. Never take life for granted as there is always someone worse off than you.
Sparks: If you could ‘do it all again’, would you change anything?
RW: If I could do it all again, the only thing I would change is that I would have not attacked the individual but rather the situation in the early days, and understand my circle of competence earlier.
Sparks: Would you advise a person leaving school to enter the electrical industry?
RW: For a young person who is interested in entering the electrical industry, my advice would be that you need to be committed and have a thirst for continual learning as things do not stand still. Be observant and learn from your experiences, and have a positive attitude as that will make all the difference.
Sparks: What is your advice to electrical contractors and/or electrical engineers?
RW: My advice is that lighting is a critical element to any built environment and that the correct lighting design with the appropriate product will enhance any project. The impact that lighting has in education, retail, office, industrial and commercial applications is often underestimated, and in many instances the incorrect person is making decisions that can have drastic long term implications to a project. Lighting is a medium that, if used correctly, can change people’s lives.
Sparks: What is your favourite quote?
RW: If you can’t change the person, change the person.
Sparks: Name three things on your ‘bucket list’.
RW: To watch the French and Wimbledon Open Tennis Championships with my wife, travel the West Coast of America and attend all my children's graduation ceremonies.