This year Maxim celebrates half a century of serving the lighting industry. In honor of their golden anniversary, we asked the family to detail their journey over the past five decades.
Q. Let’s talk about the early days. How did the company get started?
A. Jacob Sperling’s entry into lighting was fortuitous. In 1965, he immigrated to the U.S. following his service in the Israeli Army in hopes of greater opportunity. While enrolled as a student in an engineering program, he worked nights at a local lighting manufacturer. It was there he discovered his true passion and life’s mission: Design.
Shortly thereafter he set off on his own, experimenting with bending glass in his duplex kitchen oven and constructing the finished fixtures in his basement. He would drive up and down the West Coast with samples to showcase. Some years later, his brother Zvi moved to the U.S. and joined Jacob in expanding the business. Hard work and a united vision set the foundation.
Q. What was the origin of the company name?
A. In Hebrew the word (maxeem) has a number of meanings. In one definition, it means “charming” or “lovely.” In another, it is similar to its English transliteration meaning “the best.” Jacob had an affinity for the word, and for that reason he imparted the name on his passion project. Over time, it has become a maxim within the company that we always operate at our best to deliver the best in service to ourselves, our customers, and in overall quality of design. Likewise, in its related definition, Maxim set out to create a feeling and an environment of the charming and lovely.
Q. What was the biggest challenge?
A. The biggest challenge Maxim faced is the same that most young entrepreneurs face ― capital. Jacob came to the U.S. without any money and without any parental financial support. Israel was a young country at the time and his parents were not wealthy. In part, that is what framed his spirited initiative and resourcefulness. He was forced to succeed.
Jacob – ever vigilant of the world and shapes around him dictating and influencing fashion, art, architecture, and even politics – worked tirelessly on translating it into design and executing such designs at a price point that the masses could accept. He shared his samples with lighting showrooms, carefully taking note of their feedback. When Zvi joined the company, he continued this history. Zvi’s ability to meet and uncover strong sales representatives added a national – and then international – network of sales representatives to continue to pass information and push these prized product throughout. Nimble and lean processes plus a direct line of communication helped define the product back then and continues to define the product today as a premier leader in the industry.
Q. At what point did the second generation come aboard?
A: Jacob and Shelly Sperling never hid the commitment and tenacity needed to protect and grow a business. They shared with their children that while there are good times, there may be difficult times, too. If any of their children wanted to join the business, they would need to first decide for themselves that this was something they wanted to do. Be that as it may, it was hard for any of them to deny a love and respect for the business.
Naomi Sperling, COO, recalls her love of Maxim born at a time when manufacturing was still well-established within the U.S. market. She recounts stories of skating through the factory and jumping on the assembly line to help finish fixtures. She set her life on its path to join the company after spending high school and college summers – along with other siblings – in China and college weekends at a local showroom. Upon graduating from University of Southern California (USC), she entered the business full-time.
Nathan Sperling, Director of Product Management, also shared a long-time affinity for Maxim as well as for design. Wanting to contribute in a unique way, he studied architecture and construction management at Cal Poly, San Louis Obispo. While in school, he worked with Swedish construction and development giant Skanska, where he gained a unique perspective and vision of the future. Upon graduation, Nathan moved to China and became fluent in Mandarin as well as Maxim’s overseas operation.
Adena Sperling, Marketing Director, similarly talks about a dual passion: medicine and graphic design. Ultimately, and while working in the business during college, graphic design won out. While continuing to work at Maxim, she realized the value she could add by earning a Master’s degree in Marketing.
Dahlia Sperling, Studio M’s Sales Director, took a slightly different route. Upon graduation from college, she set out in the field of Marketing and Sales, earning top accolades and promotions at the companies where she worked. In time she felt prepared to bring value-added sales leadership and development to Maxim’s new subsidiary, a specification company called Studio M.
Michal Sperling, having worked in equity research at a prestigious M&A firm, has more recently joined the company to assist in business development by applying his experience in thorough research.
While not all of the second generation have entered the business directly following a formal education, all have used education – including real-world experience – to influence the decisions for Maxim. Each one has that essential passion and commitment for the company and a respect for all it offers.
Danny Roizman – a cousin not technically within the 2nd generation – is a member of the family that has also contributed heart, care, and dedication to Maxim. Following his service in the Israeli Army, he moved to the U.S. and apprenticed with Jacob for many years. He gained experience in various departments and divisions, ultimately laying the ideal foundation to direct the company’s builder business.
Q. You all have different strengths. Can you detail the different talents of each person and how you complement each other?
A. The common thread linking is a resolute work ethic and an ability to both receive and act upon constructive criticism for a greater and unified goal. Individually, we all have uniqueness that allow us to flex and strengthen the deliverables of whatever project or goal being pursued:
Jacob Sperling - an inherent desire to deliver the best of himself every day, a commitment to his word and a responsibility to his community (employees, vendors, and customers)
Zvi Sperling - an ability to forecast people’s response in a sales deals or newly implemented program
Michal Sperling - detailed research on a topic from all angles and calculate risks
Naomi Sperling - steward of productive implementation: collecting relevant information, identifying key people for the roles, and defining the best path for existing and new business
Adena Sperling - effective in adapting all mediums of communication to influence brand building
Dahlia Sperling - fearlessness in opening new markets and meeting new people
Nathan Sperling – pragmatic read, understanding, and execution of any project
Danny Roizman – exceptional follow up and an ability address obstacles
Q. What are the top 3 lessons the younger generation has learned from their elders?
A. Always close the circle. Many times projects are assumed to be finished and forgotten, but continuing to follow up and follow through is the only way that goals are achieved.
Communication is fundamental. Whether it is understanding a custom request or resolving a concern, questions and conversation are key. Reticence can usually be resolved by reaching out to your peers.
Always favor feedback over sentiment. It is easy to feel assured by your actions or have strong feelings and opinions, but you must listen to others and adapt to change, taking note of your unique perspective.
Q. What do you admire most about your older relatives in the business?
A. With Jacob, we admire his persevering and resolute work ethic; an unfiltered honesty; and confidence to ask questions and share opinions. With Zvi, it’s his knowledge of the industry and our customers; plus staying current.
Q. What are Jacob and Zvi most proud of regarding your children?
A. Their heart! It is their heart that drives them to succeed and work tirelessly to positively impact change around. They value an open forum and both seek – and are receptive to – constructive criticism. They map out their individual goals and then cross-communicate for holes and enhancement opportunities. It is their heart that propels them to do all of this swiftly. It is their heart that makes them consider their impact on their fellow employees, vendors, and customers as their responsibility. They have taken all the best of us and made us better. We are forever proud.
Q. What do you think have been the second generation’s contributions to the family business?
Naomi Sperling – her contract reading proficiency and negotiations have grossly benefited new deals
Nathan Sperling – being fluent in Mandarin and living abroad has increased transparency and deepened relationships with our suppliers
Adena Sperling - her Master’s degree in Marketing has translated to enhanced efficiency and effectiveness in both organic and traditional brand building efforts
Dahlia Sperling - the number of trade shows and networking events she personally hosts leads to brand equity and greater than projected yields
Michal Sperling - his viability research into new business ventures has laid the basis for investment
Danny Roizman - his direct relationships within the builder business network established Maxim as a top contender
Q. What part of working together has had the greatest learning curve?
A. New technology and systems have put earlier generations at a disadvantage. I think more than this, the growth of the company over the past 50 years has now expanded our capabilities and sales channels beyond what it was before. No one person can manage all aspects of the company. Familiarity with e-commerce channels, LED specifications as they apply to commercial applications, smart lighting systems…these are things that the second generation will be naturally more comfortable with and capable of handling.
Q. How do you see the company evolving over the next 10 years?
A. Even as we expand into contract and commercial work, we understand that the foundations of America have always had a humble aesthetic when it comes to design. No matter what we do in terms of our product, you will always see the early years of Maxim ― and what was important to our customers then is still important to the new customers who learn about us. Maxim is driven to be ahead of the curve, whether that means trying new styles – like we did when we introduced ET2 – or new technologies, like our early adoption of LED technology and our partnership with Philips Hue. We want to make that clear about who we are. Now that Maxim is well-established among our current base, we think it’s time to pioneer into different sales channels and introduce ourselves to people who have not had the chance to meet us yet. We have been reaching out to new market segments and our product line will grow according to customer requests. We don’t want to force change on anyone, but we welcome any organic growth to grow our business.
Q. What has been the Maxim family’s greatest accomplishment?
A. Like its namesake, Maxim has always aspired to be the best. Over its 50 years, it not only continues to boast a wide and varied collection of fixtures that at any given time is in the high thousands, it does so with attention. Quality and technology have always maintained at the forefront of its objective, delivering high perceived value designs and earning top honors throughout the industry.
Not afraid to take risks, Maxim pioneered tape and task lighting, making it a mainstream item within lighting showrooms. It developed a proprietary method of marine-grade material for outdoor applications. Visionary in its approach to design, Maxim was the first to bring the Contemporary market to the mainstream. As early adopters of technology, it was the first to embrace LED technology for the residential community, later developing the code around JA8 requirements and the first full-spectrum smart home LED integrated devices. Design, quality, and technology are not all that define us. It is a unified force, a loyalty, and a family that extends beyond simple DNA. Each decision takes careful consideration on the impact of others. As such, Maxim is proudest of its employment tenure. Boasting the industry highest retention, Maxim believes in its community. Guided by this course, Maxim has surpassed pre-Recession heights and is confident that together it will continue to be best-in-class in design and quality for 50+ more years.