While studying Architecture at the Cleveland Engineering Institute in the 1970s, Jeff Dross was working part-time at Kichler Lighting as a drafter. “I was drawing one-quarter scale of every component part in the building,” he recalls. The goal was to create a parts book that would help those handling inventory and the warehouse.
After he graduated, Kichler offered Dross a full-time job in the engineering department, and with his knowledge of all of the components and his engineering training, he’d be asked to help trouble-shoot problems on the factory floor. When the manufacturing operations moved to China, Dross spent six months overseas, helping the Chinese workers understand the needs and expectations of the American consumer.
Over the ensuing decades, Dross became involved in other diverse areas of the business. When the time came to create the first catalog, Dross and the engineering manager pulled it all together. When the company was installing an ERP software program, Dross was involved. While working on the energy-efficient lighting product management team as the industry was expanding into compact fluorescent, Dross was asked to help out at the International Builders’ Show when the dates coincided with the Dallas Market. There, he was inundated by journalists wanting to know more about energy-efficiency and since Dross had read (and still reads) all of the government materials on regulations and changes, he was quoted in a variety of consumer and trade press. “When I came back from the show, I told [management] how the media was really interested in energy efficiency and that we should start promoting it more,” he recalls.
Dross’ comfortableness in front of media and seminar crowds isn’t so hard to fathom when you realize he’s a theater kid at heart. Not only has he acted in plays since grammar school, he’s also written and directed several. “I’m sure I’ll go back to it when I retire,” he quips.
Even Dross’ appearance is not like the typical engineer. “My sister and I come from parents who are distinctive dressers. I remember my dad telling me that at the time he got married, he owned 12 suits and 100 sport coats. My father was an upholsterer and my mother made her own clothes,” he recounts.
Dross and his siblings inherited that penchant for being nattily dressed. In fact, Dross is best-known for his colorful bowties. Dross says, “We’d have media people calling up and asking, “Can I speak with your [trends expert], I don’t remember his name, but he wears a bowtie.” And these aren’t just ordinary bowties — Dross’ collection of 40 to 50 hand-painted silk bowties are all by the late Chicago artist Robert Daskal.
In his current role as Corporate Director of Education & Industry Trends at Kichler, Dross is often called upon to give CEU-accredited talks for lighting showrooms’ Designer Night events as well as for members of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA).
Dross is an active member of ALA, frequently assisting in the ALA’s educational programming as a lecturer. He also reviews and provides input on the ALA’s various educational offerings and has served as Chair of the Manufacturers & Suppliers Advisory Committee of the NKBA.
“I was shocked when I received the call that I was going to receive this award,” he states. “I am very appreciative and I hope it helps people in the industry realize that there’s a whole group of people behind the scenes – like the engineers – who stay in the background, but are responsible for making sure the product looks and works great.”