People in lighting: Phil Gray

Phil Gray - Head of Strategic Sales - Urbis Schréder
Phil Gray
Head of Strategic Sales - Urbis Schréder

Companies are defined by the people who work for them: for over a century, Schréder has been at the forefront of lighting thanks to its employees worldwide. Throughout 2021 we’ll be focusing on the people who make Schréder what it is, including their career path, landmark projects and their thoughts on where lighting is headed next.

Phil Gray is Head of Strategic Sales at Urbis Schréder in the UK. With nearly 30 years at the company, he’s helped rethink the way Britain's cities are lit, working on everything from reimagining London squares to illuminating landmark structures around the country and beyond.

I didn’t plan on working for Schréder...

I was involved in running a waste minimisation company: we’d go into a workspace and rather than just getting rid of the waste, we’d work with the customer to minimise the waste created and were paid based on the savings they’d make. It’s a similar model to a lot of circular economy companies now, but it was way before its time. It was something I felt passionate about then, and I still feel passionate about now.


We offer a solution, not a product...

We have the capability to customise metalwork. That’s a big deal because you’re offering a solution to the customer that’s holistic.

Why would someone who’s spending a great deal of money on a design project just accept something that has been done somewhere else? They want their mark on it.

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By redesigning metalwork, putting in new shapes, new ideas, you can turn it into something that really maps with their environment.
 

Lighting can transform an area...

LB Southwark, involved artists like Zandra Rhodes and Antony Gormley coming in to work on regenerating the area: there’s posts with curved brackets, structures inspired by flowers, there are interesting installations all around Peckham and Dulwich. We worked on King Street in Hammersmith, where we had to make the spacing between lighting columns look uniform, even though it’s a not a uniform carriageway width. It was a huge logistical challenge to physically get the columns in the ground, too, because so many services run along the road. The end result turned out to be stunning. Lyric Square in Hammersmith is another really exciting and innovative installation that I am personally proud of.

The bespoke urban lighting for Lyric Square in London is one of Phil's favourite projects


It doesn't have to be the most decorative project to stand out...

We’ve transformed areas that people would not use at night.

You put the right lighting in place and it can completely change the use of that space. It's really about providing a solution which fits the requirements of the people and enhances their environment.

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My role has evolved over the years...

I became a regional manager while my family grew up, before taking on a national role. It’s a good career to have, because you work bloody hard, but there’s a good degree of flexibility and variety. A lot of this stuff has to be done at night, because you have to see what it looks like in the dark, so you’re out there at 11 at night to do whatever you need to do - but you’ve got the opportunity to see how the project will look and make any necessary adjustments. 
 

And so has the industry...

The customers, the audience, has changed. Where lighting engineers were pre-eminent back in the day. It’s now far more of a partnership between the specifiers from the consultancies, the independent lighting designers, working with the Lighting Engineers, they have all got miles more input and its critical to engage with them.
Local conservation groups can hold a huge amount of influence, too. And the technology’s changed massively, we’ve gone from low-pressure sodium to high-pressure sodium lighting to LED: if you sit still and just let it happen around you’d be out of business.
 

The next iteration is going to be lighting as a digital platform...

To lead, we’ve got to innovate and the space where things are happening is the digital services field. A lot of areas have already upgraded to LED. You can’t make the same level of energy savings again, so how can you improve on that? It’s a question of incorporating a connected solution. If you’ve got a management platform like Schréder EXEDRA, how can we bring that into play for a customer to do something else with that system? Things which are beyond lighting.
 

It’s about talking to people to find out what they really want,...

and being able to offer them a solution to that problem. Do they want to save energy, to collect data to provide something to people, to measure footfall? It’s about changing the payback. For example, air pollution is a huge issue for London. If you have pollution sensors in place, why can’t you use a SHUFFLE as an indicator with a red and a green ring to show what relative pollution levels are like.
 

I’m proudest of our coronavirus response...

Safety has been the single most important thing and as far as I’m concerned the way the business has reacted has been exemplary. There’s been a constant dialogue going to make sure everyone is doing OK, in terms of health, mental health, and how things are progressing. We closed the factories to make sure they were covid safe, and we’ve got great support while working from home.
 

A bonus fact: I named the AXIA...

We designed and produced this lantern specifically for the UK market, and it sold in bucketloads. All the other products ended with an “O” and we wanted a change, so I got the thesaurus out and got thinking! That’s typical of the company, that we did the whole naming and launch in-house.