Vladimir Grigorik attributes his emigration from Belarus to Canada and his personal interest in travelling as the main reasons his Mississauga firm, GVA Lighting, is building a reputation as a global lighting specialist.Although his education in radio physics and electronic engineering in Minsk was not directly related to lighting, it led him to understand the tremendous potential of commercial LED applications that were being introduced in the 1980s.
LED (light emitting diode) technology uses 75 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent lighting and lasts 25 times longer. Its flexible design applications have revolutionized architectural lighting in the past 10 years, allowing designers to transform buildings at night and bathe them in colourful light.
For GVA, developing international markets for its special products was a natural step.
"With my international background and my personal interest in seeing different places and getting to know different cultures, it just made sense that I would want to make international sales," Mr. Grigorik said. Projects outside North America now account for more than half of the company's sales.
Some of GVA's most important architectural lighting projects include the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr Hotel in Dubai, the massive lotus-shaped Santhigiri Ashram building in Kerala, India, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and Museum of Art, and Ryerson University's Image Arts Centre in Toronto.
One of Mr. Grigorik's most ambitious projects in his homeland was the National Library of Belarus, a 21-storey rhombicuboctahedron (three-dimensional diamond-shaped) building in Minsk that incorporates a range of lighting effects on 24 panels that can mimic the effect of falling snow or circulate text messages around the building.
But Mr. Grigorik became frustrated with operating a small business in Belarus due to economic inefficiencies and corruption in its Soviet-style, state-controlled economy.
"For one simple shipment there might be 80 pages of documents and government reports that would have to be filled out," he said. "The business culture and environment is much better here. There's more freedom and no stupid controls that get in the way."
Since he and his family immigrated to Canada 15 years ago, he has watched his LED business flourish in an industrial park in Mississauga.
GVA's export strategy is based on working closely with architects and lighting designers to help them achieve their visions. They have come to trust the reliability of his products.
"Lighting is a business that requires trust," Mr. Grigorik said.
Architects, lighting designers and engineers put their reputation at stake when they specify lighting products for high-end projects, he said. Many things can go wrong when outdoor lighting products are exposed to extreme environments, from northern Canada to the Middle East. Providing reliable lighting solutions requires careful engineering.
But it is his interest in innovation and creating new and useful lighting ideas that drives the private company, Mr. Grigorik said.
"I'm not an artist, but I like to work with artistic people to create special things," he said. "I'm not that interested in money, I want to build a great company and create new lighting products that make the world more beautiful."
To accomplish that, he has put together a hand-picked research and development team with the special technical skills that are needed in LED product development – electrical and electronics engineers, lighting specialists and, most recently, industrial designers.
His latest product was inspired by a challenge to outline in lights the 72-storey First Canadian Place, headquarters for the Bank of Montreal in Toronto's financial district.
"Unfortunately, what they asked for wasn't possible then," he said. "So we took the challenge, and now, two years later, we've developed a solution that meets the project goals."
The product, named Infinity, allows for long runs of high-powered LED lighting that will outline large buildings or bridges in a single run, unbroken by power boxes.
At IIDEX Canada's national design and architecture show in Toronto last month, GVA Lighting received two gold awards for lighting innovation associated with the new Infinity product. GVA was also the only Canadian lighting manufacturer to exhibit at the world's leading global lighting industry tradeshow, Light + Building, in Frankfurt this year.
GVA has filed a patent for Infinity, even though Mr. Grigorik does not consider patents important in his business.
"Things are happening so quickly in lighting that if you're expecting a patent to protect you, the market will leave you behind," he said.
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