Interview: Mick Slein, CEO of Robus LED

New ROBUS LED CEO, Mick Slein, talks success, challenges and becoming one of the most significant lighting brands in the world...

Robus LED CEO, Mick Slein.

Mick Slein was promoted to CEO for Robus LED Group earlier this year. The Irish-owned family business has a global presence and a reputation worldwide for first- class customer service and products. Founded in 1984, the company’s aim is to become customers’ most trusted LED lighting supplier and one of the most significant lighting brands in the world.

What are the main priorities and goals in your role?
My main objective is to propel the business to the next level of growth and for the company to become a real global player in the lighting world. We have a very clear strategy and significant growth plans to deliver on. The short-term goal, similar to many businesses, is to manage through the turbulence of 2020. We are incredibly pleased with how the business and every individual in Robus has responded to the global crisis which has minimised the damage to the company.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO of Robus?
I took over as CEO in February, a month after the first known death was reported due to Coronavirus. Every week since then we have had to make significant decisions in response to the effects the virus is having in our various markets – Ireland, United Kingdom, France, Holland, South Africa, Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand.

We have approached this difficult period as three distinct phases: protection, opportunity and the unknown. The priority has always been to protect our people, protect their jobs and protect the business, which, so far I believe we have done an excellent job navigating through. The current period is the opportunity phase as markets reopen and we close on sales opportunities. Finally, we will face the ‘unknown’ phase and the effect it has on markets when government supports disappear and we begin to understand the actual economic impact of the pandemic.

What was your first proper job?
I always worked in the family business growing up; picking orders, unloading containers during school holidays and so on. In college, I worked as a delivery driver for the local Chinese takeaway and even had a stint selling flowers one summer in the local area and at car boot sales around Dublin.

When I finished my degree, I expected to start working for Robus, but my father didn’t want me involved in the family business without first getting experience elsewhere. I got a job with Enterprise- Rent-A-Car on their graduate program and within two years became the youngest branch manager in the history of the company. Shortly after, I moved to Australia to take up a role as an external sales representative for Robus.

What inspires you to go to work every day?
Our vision is to become our customers most trusted LED lighting supplier, and when we can deliver this we will ultimately become one of the most significant lighting brands in the world.

This inspires me, and I almost view work as a sport or type of competition, intending to become number one in each of our key markets. Even as a sales representative, I had this goal for my own area in Australia. The key objective now is for Robus to take the next step up as a business in terms of growth.

How do you like to fill your spare time?
I raced karts between the ages of 10-22, and when I moved back from Australia in 2016, I started competing again in the Irish and World Championships with the latter held in Le Mans each year. Unfortunately, there has been limited racing this year, and very little travel with work. However, this has given me the chance to pause and spend much more time in Dublin which has been one big positive I have taken from the pandemic.

At the weekends, I am either cycling to Howth with my wife, Emer, for a dip at Balscadden beach; having a BBQ in our back garden; down in Brittas Bay in Wicklow spending time with my extended family at Staunton’s Caravan park; cycling the hills of Howth with a group of pals from school or watching some form of motorsport.

As a business leader, describe your best qualities. 
I am very ambitious, driven, but also realistic about what we can achieve. I believe this inspires our staff as individuals, inspires our teams, and ultimately allows the organisation to progress as a single entity.

I understand that without excellent staff we won’t achieve our goals, therefore, the business has a strong emphasis on our ADR program which involves (A)ttracting the best people, (D)eveloping the best people and therefore (R)etaining the best people. I have a strong commercial understanding and natural intuition of how the business works, which helps me make sound decisions with the senior management team around the different divisions within our global organisation.

…and your worst?
I have been called a perfectionist which can be a good and bad trait. I have had to understand that this can be bad when people always worry about making mistakes, letting others down or not measuring up to impossibly high standards.

What has been the most satisfying moment in your career?
Becoming CEO is an obvious one. However, on my 33rd birthday, I had to tell our staff over a Microsoft Teams virtual meeting that they were staying on a pay cut due to the pandemic. It’s a birthday I will always remember, but for the wrong reasons. A month later, I was able to tell everyone that they were moving back to 100%. This was hugely satisfying as it had a direct effect on every individual, and I know how much of a financial burden and mental challenge 2020 has been.

If you could work in a completely different sector/industry, what would it be?
I have always been interested in the stock market and wanted to become a trader but was always put off due to the amount of reading and research required to understand the markets and various commodities properly. I have been actively trading small amounts of money since college and get enjoyment from the interest it creates by simply having some money invested in a company. I then end up following companies with greater enthusiasm and also have the benefit of seeing why they have or have not been successful. I have had some shockers over the years from oil research companies drilling off the coast of Africa to more recent success with Tesla.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated? 
Very simply, by driving the growth in the business, which then creates excellent opportunities for our employees. When the business grows, we develop new roles and people move up within the organisation. We always aim to recruit from within, which therefore creates more opportunities for other people within the business as we must backfill each position. Out of 25 management positions all, except two, have been hired from within the organisation. During more challenging times, the most crucial aspect needed is open, honest communication and I need to be able to look everyone in the eye and explain any difficult decisions we have had to make.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?
I have discussed openly my disappointment that some companies can provide a product that does not meet the regulations. Several lighting suppliers are providing misleading information about fire rating, lumen outputs, UGR rating, which ultimately puts peoples’ lives at risk. It should not require events like Grenfell or more recently the death of Frank Finnie, a pensioner at Aberdeen Market earlier this month due to issues with emergency lighting, for the industry to be accountable. Ultimately, it’s about education and holding companies responsible for providing products and services that meet regulations.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?
The buzzword in the industry for the last 8+ years has been around IOT. Most reputable suppliers now have an offering and last year we launched our residential smart range called Robus Connect, which offers one platform for all smart residential needs. We started with lighting from GU10’s, fire-rated downlights and GLS lamps and are now launching doorbells, sensors, indoor and outdoor cameras. It’s been a huge success so far.

The next trend is Human Centric Lighting, which Lighting Europe has outlined in its product road map for several years. We have developed an advanced range called ‘Humanitas’ and have already won projects with this product. This is a significant milestone for the company as we lead the market in terms of developing ground-breaking technology that most of the largest lighting brands in the world are still developing. As a business, we are now playing Champions League football and taking on the superstars.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to your position?
Win the morning, win the day – The first hour of your day is the most crucial and the importance of having a good routine will then allow you to win the day and achieve what you want, rather than get pulled in various directions as the daily requests come your way. If you win each day, you can win the week, win the week, win the month, win the month then win the year.

Continuous improvement and development – There is always something you can improve on, and if you are continually making small incremental gains every day, you will have achieved an enormous amount over the year. What good habits should you do more of and what bad habits should you delete?

Everyday interview – Sometimes, it is tough to see the next level of progression. In your current role you are essentially doing an interview every day for the next promotion. If you consistently perform, you then become the obvious choice for the next promotion when it becomes available. Make yourself the obvious choice and don’t give your boss an option when it comes to the next opportunity.

Passionate – You must be passionate about what you do and enjoy your job, and if you do not, now is the time to make a change.

How has Covid19 impacted your business strategy? 
Covid-19 has had zero effect on our strategy, which, importantly, has remained constant during the entire period. Our vision is to become our customers’ most trusted LED lighting supplier and to achieve this we need to deliver on our value proposition, which is the reason why our customers buy from us. We want customers to:

Trust Robus to provide high-quality lighting products – Currently, our failure rate is 0.52%, and once we continue to deliver high-quality products our customers will keep coming back.

Trust Robus to provide market-led product innovation – We need to continue to deliver on new innovative products as this is the lifeblood of the business. We have had several key product launches in the last 12 months with our Vegas LED Strip, Humanitas HCL range and more recently our 184lm per watt High Bay and our new Dallas backlit LED panel.

Trust Robus to be easy to deal with – Very simply, ensure doing business with us is easy for our customers and their customers. We do this by having excellent stock levels; processing orders on time and accurately and dealing with all our customer requests in a timely fashion.

We can only do this by having outstanding people who are aligned to our company values (ambition, fast- paced, always do what you say you will do, customer focus, and empowerment) and this again emphases the importance of our ADR program (attract, develop and retain).

How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?
We have spent a significant amount of time planning for Brexit, and this was one of the reasons we opened our UK warehouse facility. We now have substantial levels of stock located in Dublin and North of London. This is an essential aspect of our Brexit contingency plan but also supports our strategy of being easy to deal with as this reduces the delivery time in the UK.

The main challenge so far has been around currency. In 2015, at the peak for every GBP£1 we received US$1.57 and at the lows in 2019, that reduced to US$1.14. This has a significant negative impact on the business, especially when the UK is our largest market in terms of turnover.

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?
The essential piece for me is having a balance in my life, as there is no point in excelling in work but having a terrible relationship at home, for example. Success is spending good quality time in each area of your life from your relationship, health, career, social life, sport, personal development, family and finally, but not least; having your finances in order.

Each year I set myself BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and some ‘normal’ goals. I monitor these monthly. They vary from work to personal items, and I do my best to enjoy the journey rather than whether I achieve them or not. It’s so important to have fun along the way.

If you could employ anybody from the worlds of business or sport who would it be, and why? 
Elon Musk is very current and springs to mind. He would undoubtedly deliver in innovation, bring wackiness to the office, inspire and develop some exciting lighting products.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business? 
This is advice from my late grandfather, “The first price you offer is the best price you will pay”. So if you are buying a car listed at €10,000 and offer €7,000, then €7,000 is the very best price you will purchase it for. He always said offer a crazy price first because the worst you will do is offend somebody.

What have been your highlights in business over the past several years?
The business has grown from my father selling light bulbs from the back of his car to a global lighting brand employing over 200 people, and it’s easy to forget the humble beginnings we started with. I love looking at our timeline, which highlights vital strategic moves from expansion into the UK, France, Holland or Australia and the various product innovations we have made from the first DOB downlight to our latest high bay producing 184 lumens per watt.

What’s next for your company?
We have positioned the business for a growth phase, and we are excited to move these plans forward. Our strategy will remain constant, and we will continue to deliver in terms of service, product innovation and quality.