My first job in journalism was covering the kitchen and bath industry for a trade magazine, where I’d attend trade shows and meet the “suits” at huge corporations such as Dupont, Formica, MASCO, Sharp, Wilsonart, and many others. None of the top executives were particularly memorable to me, as they seemed cut from the same cloth. Then I entered the lighting industry in 1994 and was introduced to its largest and most influential companies such as Quoizel, Kichler, Sea Gull, Feiss, Fredrick Ramond, ELK, and Crystorama — and surprisingly, these weren’t public companies, but private ones run by families. I will never forget the warm welcome I received from each of them, especially by the Phillips family at Quoizel.
Many of our readers have either grown up in the industry or have been involved in lighting as their first career and therefore do not realize just how special the decorative lighting industry is as a whole. It is filled with caring and nurturing families who are as passionate about the product category as they are about the people within it.
“Ira Phillips was one of our industry’s most-respected members and I always admired him for some of his great marketing programs. Along with the rest of the lighting industry, I mourn his loss.”
— Barry Minoff of Kichler
While it might seem trite to say, “Ira Phillips was one in a million,” it is also undeniably true. I’ve heard newcomers to the industry incorrectly assume that Ira founded Quoizel — that’s how closely associated he was to the company’s brand and how successful he was at elevating the name to the consumer consciousness. In actuality, Ira started his career as a diamond salesman, followed by five years learning the lighting business at Lightolier before he was hired away by the executives at Quoizel to head up their sales and merchandising efforts back in 1964. His sales success there was so great that he was rewarded with a partnership interest in the company within months of starting. Over time, he bought out his partners and took the helm. What many in the industry might not know is that Ira was also a philanthropist, who believed in giving back by supporting the arts as well as the Israel Tennis Center Foundation.
We were all told at some point several years ago that Ira “retired,” but there he was, still working hard in the Dallas showroom year after year — either actively negotiating with customers in his “Ira’s Close-Outs” back room or catching up with customers in the Quoizel café, jumping up to fix a drink or a plate of food for someone he had just met. Ira was all about hospitality and had a genuine interest in his customers’ lives — whether the topic was the birth of a baby, commiserating over a family member’s illness, celebrating a daughter/son’s marriage, or discussing a business challenge.
Ira’s personality traits of compassion, humor, and hard work weren’t limited to the man himself; they became the hallmarks of his children (Todd, Toni, and Gene) as well as the employees he hired. Ira led by example. He knew when to play it safe and when to take a risk. Most of all, he encouraged and inspired his Quoizel family as well as its customers. In an unprecedented event last year, it seemed a large part of the industry gathered together in the Trade Mart atrium at the last June Dallas Market to sing Happy Birthday to this extraordinary titan of the industry in advance of his 90th birthday.
Ira’s tenacity and his irrepressible humor will be missed by his peers and customers alike.
“When you talk about the lighting industry and the people who built it, Ira Philips is always mentioned. He was a pillar and an icon. Through his vivacious personality and personal sales ability and grit, Ira helped put the lighting industry on the map.”
— Eric Jacobson, President of the ALA
In addition to his peers, Quoizel customers have shared their memories. Illinois retailer Nelson McMahon of The Bright Spot recalls, “We bought close-outs from Ira for many years. Once he called and gave me a page in Quoizel’s catalog and offered a large chandelier at half-price. ‘“Ira,’ I said, ‘That is simply too ugly to sell. I can’t do it.’ He replied, ‘Nelson, just buy 12. You know it’s ugly and I know it’s ugly, but at half-price your customers won’t think it’s ugly!’ So I bought 12 and Ira was right. I quickly sold them all. Ira was the sweetest, most courteous, and most upright man we ever did business with. We will remember him always.”
Mary Schulze of Garbe’s Lighting in Tulsa, Okla., recalls, “You could not walk in a room and see Ira without expressing a warm smile. He greeted everyone with an affectionate hug and you knew right there you were part of his family. Ira taught me so much about the lighting industry. He truly cared about my business and my family. I loved his stories, his adventures, his humor. I loved how he could sell anyone anything, even his ‘Trust me!’ lamps. I truly loved and respected Ira and I always will.”