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Lutron Executive Brian Dunbar Offers Advice to Business Students

by Tom McNamara ’92, M’21 Mar 22, 2024
2024 Fainor Executive Forum_DSC0649

“Keep yourself uncomfortable.”

So was the advice from Brian Dunbar, vice president - general manager of global services for Lutron Electronics Co., Inc., to a group of DeSales University students and faculty on Wednesday, March 20, in the Gambet Center Auditorium.

“If you are comfortable, you are not learning,” he clarified, referencing that during a person’s career he or she is often asked to do something unfamiliar. And that was the best time to learn. In Dunbar’s case, he was asked to open a manufacturing plant in Mexico—something he knew nothing about but learned over the course of a year.

Dunbar, who oversees customer service, field service, and technical support centers in North America, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, London, Mexico, the Middle East, and Singapore as well as all sales activities in East Asia, was on campus as the guest speaker at the Fainor Center for Financial Services’ Executive Forum.

The forum features a conversation between a local executive and a member of the DeSales business faculty. Thomas Craig, Ph.D., associate professor and Edward A. McCabe Chair of Business & Society, posed questions to Dunbar about his career, significant challenges faced, and advice for graduating seniors.

Dunbar, a 1988 Penn State electrical engineering graduate, was recruited by Lutron at a college career fair. “I was attracted to Lutron because they needed electrical engineers and that was exactly what I wanted to do—real engineering.”

However, as Dunbar’s career progressed at Lutron he was asked to serve in a variety of roles, including procurement and other projects he did not want to do. Wondering if he should resign, Dunbar began to see these tasks as opportunities for learning and growth, commenting that he feels he is on a “36-year rotation program.”

This constant challenge, as well as the excellent people with whom he works, has kept him at Lutron for almost 40 years. He called his coworkers a “deep bench of flexible people to do the work.” The work ethic at Lutron stems from the philosophy and spirit of Joel Spira, who invented the dimmer switch and founded Lutron in 1961. Spira was quoted as saying “good enough isn’t” and in illustrating how despite having an excellent product you have to sell it, “fried chicken doesn’t fly into your mouth.” Spira passed away in 2015.

Asked by Craig about any significant changes or challenges, Dunbar spoke of the time when the U.S. government mandated the limited use of incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact fluorescent lamp bulbs that were incapable of dimming. The dimmer switch is Lutron’s signature line in both commercial and residential buildings.

Lutron then had to shift its focus to retrofitting its products with already existing incandescent lighting. Because of the mercury content in CFL bulbs and the increased popularity of LED light bulbs (which can dim), General Electric stopped production of CFL bulbs in 2016.

Giving advice to the students present, Dunbar said to take advantage of the Career Development Center and to above all be flexible because “your career may look different than what you think it is because you are most likely going to be taken in different directions.”

Chris Cocozza, professor of business and chair of the Division of Business, welcomed the audience to the event and Father James Greenfield, OSFS ’84, Ed.D., president of the University, offered an opening prayer.

Following the forum, students and faculty were given the opportunity to mingle with Dunbar and the 10 Lutron employees from various departments, including sales, information technology, and human resources, who accompanied Dunbar to the event.

The forum is named in honor of Scott Fainor, a 1994 finance and marketing alumnus and former Trustee of DeSales, who launched Fainor Holdings in 2019 following a distinguished career as a bank executive for 39 years.

Fainor is a member of the Federal Advisory Council of The Federal Reserve Bank of Washington, D.C. He also served on various committees with The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and PA Bankers Association throughout his banking career.

The Fainor Executive Forum, established in 2022, honors executives in the business community and provides a showcase for the Division of Business’s activities and future leaders.