Exceptional, January 2014
Vladimir Levársky is a luminary in lighting technology and innovation.
Vladimir Levársky is CEO and Founder of Slovakian business OMS Lighting, which is at the cutting edge of central and eastern Europe’s lighting industry. Having launched several examples of revolutionary technology onto the market, Levársky aims to position himself as world leader in the field.
He is the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2012 Slovakia Award winner and is also owner of his local football team, FK Senica, in the Slovak Super Liga.
What prompted you to start your own business?
Prior to the fall of communism in 1989, I spent some time as a math and geography teacher, but after that everything changed. I realized that school was not the place for me.
Everyone was looking for new jobs. I started working in construction — mainly plastering and installing suspended ceilings — but I wanted to do my own thing.
I was used to dealing with lighting, and as there were no lighting manufacturers in Slovakia, there was a gap in the market, so I saw an opportunity to make my mark. I could see the potential for growth.
Lighting affects people every day. In retail, for example, everything from baked goods to jewelry needs the right type of lighting.
How did you manage to set up a business during such a transformative time in Slovakia?
I poured all my savings and funds borrowed from my parents into setting up OMS — there was no way that you could borrow money from the banks back then. When I set up the company in 1995, we had six employees.
Success in business and winning against the competition is not necessarily about being big.
We originally got the parts from various small suppliers and then assembled and packaged them working in my garage. Step by step we moved to have our own office and then to our current factory.
My first trade show was in Russia. There were just eight companies there, and we only had around 10 products.
Luckily for us, the Russians were less experienced in business at that time, but they were very keen to buy. The business we did here and through other exports helped us to buy greater volumes of components and to start to expand our workshop.
How did you grow the company?
We started purely in production, but we now offer clients a more diverse range — development, installation and servicing — the complete lighting solution. We also developed the Lighting Quality Standard, which has been a major step.
It has more than 20 objectively quantifiable criteria such as ergonomics, emotion and ecology, which we can use to evaluate complete lighting solutions for different spaces and individual client needs. We also don’t borrow; our growth is self-funded.
In 2012, turnover was over €70m, and it has increased by 7% this year. We’ve recruited people almost every year since we started, and today we have a workforce of nearly 1,000 people.
I know at least three-quarters of the people here personally. Many CEOs don’t bother to get to know their staff on the factory floor, but it’s important for me to talk to them because I need to know what is happening in the company at every level and in every department.
What has been OMS Lighting’s critical success factor?
Success in business and winning against the competition is not necessarily about being big; it’s about being fast. Being a relatively small company means that we have good communication, can be flexible and can make decisions quickly.
We can identify customers’ needs and create a product for them very rapidly.
How important is innovation to OMS Lighting?
Right from the start, we’ve always invested in innovation. In 2006, we started using LEDs, which was a big technical change for us, and now we aim to produce more high-end, technologically advanced products.
For example, high technology includes producing lighting with no visible parts. We’re also using nanotechnology to create new and varied styles of lighting, and 3-D printing has helped us develop prototypes quickly and easily.
Crucially, we can also create very small runs of products — perhaps just 50 — if clients need them. Research and development (R&D) is therefore very much the driver of our business.
The size of our R&D department is what makes us unique, and it’s how we’ll maintain our competitive advantage.
What is the scope for growth in your business today?
Making lighting more environmentally sustainable is a big opportunity. In Europe, lighting accounts for 23% of energy usage.
Street lighting and LED lighting can help here. People also expect so much more from lighting these days, so our challenge is to ensure we are constantly listening to our customers’ needs.
There are obviously more new markets to conquer as well. So having the right technological equipment and skills to allow scalability and innovation is critical to facing the challenge of meeting changing demands.
Where are your key markets?
We focus very much on exports because that offers greater opportunities than the domestic market — 98% of our products are exported. We originally sold to Europe only, but now we export to more than 120 countries.
Our next focus is Latin America, which is a new and growing market for us fueled by its expanding construction industry.
What are your passions outside work?
I had a good education, and I’ve used it — now I want other people to do the same. We’re starting a series of management courses, and we want to offer them to people outside the company who live in this region.
I used to play football, and I even got into the national youth team. I’d like to develop FK Senica, which I bought in 2009, and recruit more players from the national side. I love football, but it’s also a great opportunity to help young people and their families from the area.
What does it take to be an entrepreneur?
I think a good entrepreneur is someone who can master the principles of maximum customization, multilevel segmentation, massive diversification and total innovation. All of this has to be supported by operational and strategic flexibility, as well as personal courage.
If you also have a way of thinking that anticipates the future, if you are able to read the trends and the market, then you are ready.