Robert McAnally, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Appalachian Lighting Systems, Inc. (ALSI), says the most important lesson he learned from his previous jobs might have been simple—but it was also powerful: “There are solutions to any problem,” he recalls. “And the ideal solution is one that solves the problem once and for all.”
McAnally is trying to do just that at ALSI, an Ellwood City-based developer and manufacturer of high-powered and ultra energy-efficient LED streetlights and sign illumination as well as parking lot, warehouse, indoor office, and other specialty lighting.
Repurposing Lessons from Successful Career
Though McAnally’s brother David is president and CEO of the company, a history of success and expertise—not nepotism—led the former to ALSI.
McAnally, a Texas native who received an undergraduate degree in math and computer science from The University of Texas at San Antonio and a masters of science degree in management from Regis University, ran a business advisory group that counted Fortune 50 multinationals and the U.S. Department of Commerce among its clients.
“I had successfully led many technology projects, including hands-on projects in eight different countries, and my brother David knew I had a certain level of expertise in sorting operations and putting together operational solutions,” McAnally explains.
So, in 2008, McAnally began the interview—yes, interview—process, meeting with the entire ALSI team many times. They pressed him on how he would approach problems and meet challenges; what would inform his business philosophy; how he would formulate the company’s goals and bring true value to it.
After three months of talks, McAnally got the green light to join the management team of a company that is essentially about green lights.
Outshining the Competition
McAnally says that even with “hundreds and hundreds” of companies doing what ALSI does, his company consistently rises above its competition.
“The secret sauce is balancing energy efficiency with reliability and price,” he says. “By doing that, we’ve won more than our share of sales.”
ALSI products utilize only LEDs, which means they operate without a incandescent bulb’s filament; instead, they pass electricity through a solid state compound that produces light. That technology allows for an astonishing 70 to 80 percent decrease in energy consumption when executed properly.
The ALSI difference is that their products solve an inherent problem that LEDs encounter: they produce heat. And the more heat they produce, the shorter their lifespan. ALSI tackled the problem head-on by creating a variety of patented energy design features, the most notable being an advanced passive cooling process.
“The maximum temperature we allow is half of what our competitors allow,” says McAnally. “The process is a trade secret—but third-party validations have proved that our thermal goals can be achieved with the right materials and design.”
What all this means for customers’ bottom line is that the cost of installing the lights is more than underwritten by the savings the lights produce; in fact, McAnally reports that, with ALSI’s Energy Solutions program, a typical customer can have ALSI’s products installed with no out-of-pocket expenditures over the program’s 10-year period, and enjoy substantial reductions in their electricity bill.
This sort of innovation was what ALSI’s Founder and Chief Science Officer, James Wassel, envisioned. Wassel’s dedication to rigorously testing each new design has won ALSI some big clients since it started doing industrial installations almost five years ago. Some of them include the Pittsburgh International Airport, Allegheny County Jail, and Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, with new work coming from a community college, a multinational manufacturer located in Ohio, and clients as far away as the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada.
Next Up: Products That Last a Generation
McAnally says that a typical day on the job entails staying on top of production, checking in with suppliers (ALSI typically creates component specifications for the products they want to produce then has suppliers create them.), helping out with marketing and sales, and servicing high-profile accounts. Yet even when he’s knee-deep in the logistics of running a business, McAnally never loses sight of why he enjoys his job so much.
“The satisfaction of watching the company grow and prosper in the midst of recession is immense,” he says. “Despite those constraints, we’re winning contracts and gaining momentum because of our world-class products.”
McAnally is excited for the future of ALSI, a company that from the get-go has been primarily self-funded. First, there are all the new projects and products on the horizon: ushering along several major pending contracts and bringing two new customer-requested products to life. Then there’s a bold goal of creating products that will last at least 20 years.
“Our goal, within in the next two years, is to design, build, and sell lighting products that will last a generation,” he says. “Today, people replace a bulb after nine months, but there’s no reason we can’t design products that your children replace a decade later.”